Public aid for French SMEs and micro-enterprises: what exists and where to find it

September 08, 2021 by La Place des Entreprises
aides pour les entreprises

When it comes to state aid for small businesses in France, there’s plenty out there. You just need to know where to look.

There are hundreds of different public grants, loans, advisory programs and training initiatives in the country. Countless public or semi-public organizations, associations and agencies. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to make sense of the specific options available to you. It’s as if you can’t see the woods for the trees, as it were.

But they are out there.

There is even a whole ecosystem of advisors who will help you find them, counsellors embedded within local, regional and national administrations who can guide you through the bureaucracy. They can provide assistance with all manner of requests:

  • giving occasional advice as and when you need it;
  • identifying financial aid programs;
  • offering technical guidance.

Place des Entreprises is one such public service that helps French SMEs and micro-enterprises to navigate the ocean of available public aid and find the help they need. Currently available to small and medium businesses in the north of France, the Paris area and Martinique, it is spreading to other regions. It can help in various domains, which we will examine more closely here.


Recruiting or training your employees, streamlining your workflow

If you’re hiring, advisors can give you information about the different recruitment subsidies that exist, in particular for apprenticeships, internships and professional training schemes. They can also help you find the right employee profiles, point you towards the relevant agency (Apec, CCI, CMA, Mission locale, Pôle emploi etc.), and offer specific guidance on matters such as employing persons with disabilities (via structures like Agefiph and Cap emploi). 

In terms of training and work organization, you’ll find advice on which courses would be most relevant to you, the financial aid that can help you pay for them or, more generally, the management of future job and skills needs. Such information can be found by reaching out to organisations such as Dreets and Opco.


Find advice on labor laws

Need advice on labor laws? The French work and employment ministry’s service, Dreets, offers useful information on all the relevant legal matters, from contracts and collective agreements to calculating specific salaries and sensitive subjects such as abandonment of position. Advisors will also guide you on how to put in place furlough schemes in cases of reduced business activity, so that you’re aware of the conditions and the admin issues you need to negotiate.


Economic recovery and growing your business activity

If your company is struggling, commercial development experts are also on hand and can be reached via consular groups like the CCI or CMA. They can share their knowledge of growth strategies in general or, more precisely, issues such as:

  • diversifying your business;
  • finding new clients by improving customer relationship management and strengthening your professional networks.

If you’re looking to grow internationally, you can equally seek advice from customs and excise specialists and other public partners.

Financing your investments

Public sector advisors will also identify with you the financial possibilities for which you’re eligible. There are numerous options available, whether it’s a question of subsidies, loans or tax credits for things like innovation, green energy transition or establishing a presence in specific regions. The Banque de France, CCI, CMA are among the organizations that can help in this respect. 

For real estate investments, intercommunal structures are a good place to start looking for assistance.

There are various other players that propose financial aid, depending on the nature of the investment in question (Bpifrance, regional councils), and this is particularly true for matters concerning the health and safety of your employees (Carsat).

Resolving treasury, finance or contract problems

You can find advisors who will evaluate your economic and financial situation. They will work with you to find solutions that are adapted to your circumstances, for example advances on your treasury, negotiating loans, how to spread out social charge payments and managing tax debt (Banque de France, regional councils, Ddfip, Urssaf etc.) If you find yourself in dispute with another company or public body, commercial mediators can intervene to establish amiable solutions.

Guaranteeing health & safety and hygiene rules at work

Businesses seeking to update risk assessment documents (in France, the DUERP), to train staff in risk prevention or simply to find out the hygiene rules applicable to specific sectors can also find assistance from expert advisors at Carsat, the CCI or the CMA. The same goes for companies looking to improve quality of life at work or implement remote work policies in order to boost business performance (Aract is worth contacting in this particular case).

Developing your online business

You can employ the services of digital advisors to help you create a website, put in place click-and-collect or online reservation processes, improve your rating in search engines and coach you in exploiting social media. They will also provide you with what you need to know about data privacy and GDPR compliance, with the CCI and CMA being among the people to speak to for that.

Environmental and ecological transition and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

If you have questions concerning sustainability or social and environmental responsibility, expert advisors can help you to:

  • optimize your energy consumption;
  • reduce and even monetize your waste;
  • streamline travel and transport procedures.

For more commercial considerations, you can even find guidance on integrating good sustainable practice into new product design or putting in place a concrete CSR strategy to increase competitivity (see Aract, the CCI, CMA and intercommunal structures for these, for example).

Selling or buying a business

If you’re looking to buy an existing business, the CCI and the CMA offer lists of companies for sale in your area and they can inform you on the financial aid available to allow you to acquire them. Not just that, they’ll also accompany you through the legal and financial frameworks you’ll meet along the way.
Similarly, if you’re selling your company, they’ll work alongside you to help you find a buyer, set a price and get the most value as possible from the sale.

Is this help free?

Most initial help and guidance offered by these advisors is free of charge, with the exception of some of the technical assistance proposed by the likes of the CCI, the CMA and other consular services.

For example, technical services such as the improvement of a website or consulting on energy consumption do come at a cost, but these costs can, in turn, be offset by more state or regional aid, according to public policy priorities.

So, there is plenty of assistance out there and, if you’re lost, you’ll even find advisors who will help you find the help you need.

Glossary and links:

Agefiph: Association de gestion du fonds pour l'insertion professionnelle des personnes handicapées
Apec: Association pour l'emploi des cadres
Aract: Association régionale pour l’amélioration des conditions de travail des salariés
Carsat: Caisse d’assurance retraite et de la santé au travail
CCI: Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie
CMA: Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat
Ddfip: Direction départementale des finances publiques
Dreets: Direction régionale l’économie, de l’emploi, du travail et des solidarités 
Opco: Opérateur de compétences

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