The civil engineering industry in France

What does your industry look like in France ? Today: the civil engineering and sustainability sector

The building and civil engineering industry, often know in France by its acronym BTP (Bâtiment et Travaux Publics), is a large and healthy sector of French economy. Encompassing the conception, construction and promotion of private and public buildings, and with a total national turn-over exceeding 170 billion euros in 2017, this vast and confusing world weighs heavily in the French GDP. Snap-shot of the French BTP market, players and concerns.

Healthy and steady growth
According to Deloitte 14th study of the European Powers of Construction, the last few years saw the French BTP sector kick the recession into touch for good, with an overall growth figure of 0.4% in 2016 and 1.3% in 2017. The construction sector alone employed 20,000 new people in 2017 and boasted a 4.3% growth.
Not satisfied with being the European market leader and with being home to some of Europe’s largest corporations such as Vinci, Bouygues et Eiffage groups, France’s healthy building industry employs over 1.4 millions people across 536,000 businesses.

Public Sector
As expected, a large slice of this particular cake goes to the public sector. All upcoming government tenders have to be published on the Marchés Publics listings. If you are considering bidding on French tenders, I suggest you find yourself a French translator who is used to working in a civil engineering environment as they’ll not only be helping you with the tender bid and all contractual documents but eventually with all reports and drawing submissions, too.

Sustainability : a major concern of the French BTP sector
A strong contender of this formidable market is the renewable and sustainable energy sector which is not only a part of most residential projects but is also the object of growing interest from business and industrial property developers. This side of the BTP industry is responsible for an optimistic 4.8% growth forecast by Deloitte.

The energy-hungry civil engineering industry is in the spotlight of 3 major, current, European debates : climate change, resources crisis, and sustainability, leading the French government to show support to a large number of real estate projects focussing on energy efficiencies. The French thermal efficiency regulation, the RT2012 (soon to be replaced with the upgraded RT2020), leads the way by imposing limits on factors such as carbon footprint and energy production. The ultimate objective is to build BEPOS (known in English as Energy-Plus buildings) ie buildings deemed to have a neutral or even positive energy impact not only during their construction but also in terms of longevity and maintenance.


The marine industry in France

What does your industry look like in France? Today: the leisure marine sector

Put simply, France’s leisure marine industry is Europe’s market leader and the second largest in the world. French boat builders have the know-how and the traditional approach required to back up a robust international reputation, allowing them to launch modern and innovative designs and to remain at the forefront of the marine sector.

Three years snap-shot

2018 was the year which finally saw the French marine industry recover from 10 years of global recession. In September last year, after a good summer season, the Fédération des Industries Nautiques cheerfully reported 1% of growth the national market. Nothing to call home about, I hear you say, but following the whooping 23% growth recorded in 2016 and the steady 13% in 2017, it seemed the French marine industry was finally back to its pre-recession state.

Whilst just under 60% of new boats purchased in 2017 were sailing yachts, 2018 saw the trend switch, with a neat preference for power boats last year. Finally, the influx of new boats from the early 2000s which had long been carrying the second-hand market is wearing thin and boat builders were rubbing their hands last September when the Fédération des Industries Nautiques announced that the brokerage market had mostly be stagnating whilst new boat sales were up by 40 %.

The whole marine sector, including stake-holders involved in the production, distribution, accessories and servicing of boats, is currently made out of some 5.000 large businesses employing around 40.000 workers, and circa 60.000 sole-traders and sub-contractors.

The superyachts

La grande plaisance is defined as all boats over 25m in length. Oblivious to trivial considerations such as economic crisis or Trump or Brexit related uncertainty, the superyacht industry is thriving in France, not only in the gorgeous and mostly sunny Côte d’Azur where the owners of luxurious vessels from Monaco and overseas are prepared to sell their soul (or at least to apply for French citizenship) in order to enjoy the glamour of the riviera, but also along the Atlantic coast, famous for hosting world-famous regatta such as the Transat Jacques Vabres or the Vendée-Globe which attract a large audience of rich and passionate, superyacht-based aficionados.  In short, if you are a supplier to the French superyacht industry, you have nothing to fear.

How to target the French boating market?

Get a French presence – Find a marine-minded French translator to work on the main pages of your website, your blog content or your marketing literature.

Work with French dealers – A French branch is perhaps the easiest way to get started, even if it means communicating via a French translator or interpreter or budgeting for the translation of your contractual documents.

Attend French events – The Salon Nautique de Paris normally takes place in December. La Rochelle’s outdoor event, the Grand Pavois, makes the most of the September sunshine, whilst the Monaco Superyacht Show draws all the superyacht builders to its rather large pontoons every September. Find yourself a fluent French speaker or translator before you go!


What you need to know about website and software translation

It seems easy, right? You download all the text, send it to someone who speaks French for translation, they send it back and you or your web designer or programmer can simply upload it all back onto your website or software files.

Oops, the web programmer doesn’t speak French. This is going to make it difficult for them to know what to do with which part of the copy, buttons, error messages etc. Mmm, and now the translator is spending way too long on proofreading and is probably going to charge you extra. Not to mention the potential for error due to all the back and forth emailing and editing. And who is going to do all the testing in a foreign language? And now you’re getting emails in French from people who don’t understand your website or worth, have ordered products from a system that doesn’t work…

Choose a professional translator who has worked on website translation before. Better still, choose a professional translator who understands html

If your translator is used to working with CMS or html, their translated copy will be geared up to take into account the web designer’s work. Better still, they can probably upload the copy to the site themselves and proofread as they go, drastically reducing the potential for errors.

You may not need to translate it all. But you may need to add to it.

By targeting a different country, you are targeting a different culture and using a different currency (read my post about increasing your customer base by reaching for a neighbouring market). Some of your products may not apply. Some of your promotions may needs enhancing. Some of your jargon and branding may need adapting (read more about localisation).

If you’re keen to keep the cost down, consider which pages of your website are the most relevant or likely to appeal to your new customers, and start off with them. There will always be time to translate or localise the rest of your website at a later date. Perhaps you’re attending a local exhibition and need a landing page relating to the event? Maybe you’re hoping to enthuse a new market to your best seller? Or you’re only looking for local dealers at this stage?

Whatever your goal, remember that this is not just translation, it’s not just a new flag on your website, it’s the creation of the tool which you are hoping to present to your new market, it’s the information which you will be sharing countless times with prospective clients, it’s your shop window.

To make sure you get it right, choose the right language partner.

Literal or localised – almost the same thing

Is a good translation a literal translation ?

Should your translated text say exactly the same things as the original ?

Localisation – or the art of saying almost the same thing

I have had clients who tried to second guess my translations by looking for the source (english) wording in the target (french) sentence. They never find it and they end up questioning whether I’m saying exactly the same thing. And the answer is invariably: “Almost”.

If you want a literal translation, you don’t need a translator – any machine translation will do the job – but you won’t be understood either. There is a lot more to translation and copy writing than words. Local jargon, cultural knowledge, industry research, tone of voice, syntax – all of this falls under the term “localisation” and basically implies that the translation will convey the same meaning, in a similar tone as the source text, but no, it won’t say exactly the same.

I always use the example of the frog in your throat. In France, people complain of having a cat in their throat, and that’s how it should be translated to avoiding sounding odd. So, it’s almost the same, but not quite.

What to look for in a translator


What to discuss with your language provider to make sure you get the best from your translation service

Anyone considering communicating with foreign clients in any way – by means of a website, advertising campaign, social media, PR, blog or any form of commercial activity – should have full confidence in their language provider. Since you will be leaving them in charge of talking to foreign clients on your behalf, it goes without saying that you should check out your translator’s credentials in order to avoid major mishaps.

Read on to make sure you know what to look out for.

Where are they from? Where do they live ?

It’s not rocket science, but we’ll never say it enough : it is best to work with a person whose native language is their target language, ie the one they’re translating into, because growing up speaking a language is the only way to fully grasp it. This is the number one industry standard that you should adhere to, even if you decide to ignore every other piece of advice.

It is sometimes argued that translators should be based in the country of their target language, too, but the argument is a little flawed: it would be difficult, at best, to reach a decent grasp of another language without spending sufficient time reading it, listening to it and speaking it with native speakers. And where is the best place to do that?

It is true however that translators should keep in touch with their native language, so you might want to ask them how they go about that (for example, I live in the UK, but I read in French, watch French TV and listen to French radio, and I speak French to my kids).

Are they qualified ?

Seems kind of obvious now we mention it, right ? Believe it or not, being bilingual doesn’t make someone a good translator. The specialist skill of translating is learned through studying, experience, mentoring, or a combination of all of the above. In the UK, you can look for qualifications such as the CIoL’s Diploma in Translation or the ITI qualified membership. In the US, the ATA’s certification is the most common qualification. If they’re not qualified, how much and what type of experience do they have?

Are they specialised?

Think of a translator’s specialisation as their second set of skills. It’s all jolly well and good being able to speak and write in more than one language, but you need to have an idea of what you’re talking about. The clients’ requirements and objectives are not the same for a legal document as they are for a marketing campaign or a book. So, have they translated anything similar before and how much do they already know about your industry?


If your copy is written with the objective of influencing traffic towards a website, the translator needs to have a reasonable understanding of how search engines work and they need to know what keywords you’re banking on. So, look for a translator / copywriter who knows how search engines work and is experienced in incorporating keywords to their copy in a natural way.

Quality control

Even the best translators can get square-eyed from looking at the same text over a long period of time, and they’ll be the first to admit the importance of proof-reading. Proof-reading is best done either after a few days not looking at the copy, or by a different reader. It’s a good idea to discuss options with your provider. If you’d like them to proof-read their own work, make sure they have enough time to do it properly. They may suggest their own proof-reader (make sure you clarify who is paying for their time) or leave it with you to manage (read my article on the challenges of proof-reading someone else’s work).


It should go without saying that any document entrusted by a client to their translator should not be shared with anyone else but for added peace of mind, you can ask them to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

A guide to formal French

Formal French
Business French

Turn your school French into formal French

If you’ve read my “Business in France” pages, you now know that making an effort towards speaking some of your French contact’s language will go a long way to making or breaking the deal. I’ve compiled a list of expression that will sound slightly more formal than your school French. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the words : whilst remembering any of these may get you some brownie points, the simple fact that you’re trying will undoubtedly be appreciated.

Add “Monsieur” (Sir) or “Madame” (Madam) to your greetings for an instant touch of formality
“Bonjour Madame”
“Bonjour Monsieur”

If this is your first meeting, or if you’ve just been introduced to someone new, simply say:
“Enchanté” (Nice to meet you).

If you’ve met before, you may add something along the lines of “How are you?”
“Vous allez bien?”
or, if you know each other well, the more casual
“Ça va?”

Formalise your “Thank you”
Rather than “Merci”, try “Je vous remercie”.

To take your leave and wish them a good day
“Je vous souhaite une bonne journée”.
And you may also add :
“À bientôt”. (See you soon)

Stay away from your school days clichés (the only people I have ever heard pronounce the word “Sacrebleu” in my lifetime were either English or senile), and you’ll be on your way to a decent business conversation.

French Business Etiquette

When in France, do as the French do

French business meeting
French manners to observe when meeting French customers

As you’ll already know, striking the right cord when interacting with people is key to doing business with them. Your French may not be fluent, and you might not be totally confident on the subject of local business etiquette, but any form of effort in the right direction will be appreciated. In other word, a mispronounced and somewhat hesitant « Bonjour » is still better than a loud and confident « Hello ».

Follow the guide for a few more ideas.

This is serious French business.

Whether you’re here to strike some kind of French deal, to discuss a French contract or tender, or simply to discover or present a new opportunity, this is serious business and there is no need to try and make your contact laugh or smile. Don’t be surprised or upset if they don’t look particularly friendly either: it’s nothing personal (unless you’ve stepped on the boss’s foot on your way in?). In the same vein, make sure you adhere to a reasonably formal dress code (although that may depend on the industry you’re operating in) a give a firm handshake.

Formal French

You should be prepared to speak French as much as you feel capable of. This may not extend much further than « Bonjour », which is still better than nothing, but if you’d like to take it a little further, check out our phrase guide to Business French for the Do’s and Don’t of business French (Here is a free hint, you don’t say « Comment ça va ? » to a business contact unless you have met them several times and have a good relationship with them).

In the same vein, it might pay to prepare some documentation, brochure or at least a web page translated into French or written for the french market. Trust me, your contact will appreciate the gesture and if you’re going to work with France, it will be probably be needed in the long term anyway.


It goes without saying that you should aim to be on time, but don’t be too early. It’s simply not French.


The French drink coffee all day, especially in a business environment. If you decide to accept a coffee, expect a strong and small expresso-like drink presented with sugar cubes and a spoon for you to help yourself to. If you’d rather drink yours long, weak and milky, I suggest you ask for a glass of water instead and save that discussion for the Starbucks down the road, later.

Protecting your exchange rate

Protecting your exchange rate

International trade means different currencies, and whilst this was always a consideration, the recent referendum has drastically affected the exchange rates across the board. If you sell your products or services overseas (this doesn’t just concern France and the rest of Europe: although the Euro is obviously at the heart of this crisis, the financial markets have been affected all over the world), here are a few things you can do to limit the damage.

Should you invoice in the local currency ?

Although it makes sense to convert your GBP prices to invoice in EUR or USD, this may leave you to take the brunt of the exchange rate, and the longer it takes your clients to pay you, the more likely it is that the final amount hitting your bank account will be quite different from the one you were expecting. Before adjusting your price tags to overseas markets, make sure you’re ready:

Open a currency account

If this is a regular occurrence, consider opening an account in the currencies you use the most. This allows you to wait for a favourable period to change your monies into Sterling, and you may even find it useful should you need to purchase products or services in the relevant country(ies). Your bank probably offers currency accounts, as does Paypal. Additionally, your clients will appreciate the fact that they won’t have to worry about the exchange rates either.

Consider a money transfer provider

Rather than simply allowing your bank (or your client’s bank) to manage the exchange, get paid in currency and consider using the services of a money transfer provider. Compare their rates beforehand like you would the quotes of any supplier, and go with the cheapest.

Double your customer base by reaching for a neighbouring market

Small businesses can double their customer base by selling to France – but what are the pitfalls?

As many small UK businesses find it increasingly difficult to meet their targets and keep afloat, more and more of them are marketing across the Channel in an attempt to increase their prospective customer base. You can get an international marketing plan going with as little as £500, but beware of the pitfalls (check out my list of Do’s and Don’ts of doing business in France).

With technology becoming smarter and more ingenious by the minute and multilingual marketing agencies fast emerging, selling overseas has never been easier. But many companies seem unable to convert their marketing efforts in France into new business. Why and what are the most common mistakes people make?

1. Do you speak English?

Language is by far the most important aspect of selling to a different country, yet one of the most common errors British businesses make is to think that they can approach a foreign market with brochures and websites in English and get away with it.

Yes, someone does need to speak French! But it needn’t be you….

Some form of French marketing material is a must:  an English website won’t rank on French search engines, English banners won’t attract attention from a French audience, and even if you somehow manage to make contact with prospects, your literature, correspondence and other contracts will soon put them off if they can’t understand it. A bilingual contact is also paramount; you need to be able to communicate with your customers in more than what’s left of your school French, and Google translate won’t cut it either.

I once worked with a company who advertised ‘French speakers’ as part as their customer service, counting on email correspondence backed by automated translation to deliver the service. They eventually lost most of their contracts with French businesses as clients phoned up and discovered that they couldn’t communicate with their supplier.

If you French doesn’t go any further than “Bonjour, comment ça va?”, there are a few options available to any business looking to communicate with French prospects:

  1. The most affordable option is to employ a bilingual marketing agency (such as This will give you access to all the benefits of a French office as well as the experience of a French marketing expert at a fraction of the cost. They can be at hand to represent you at all time but you only pay whenever there is work to be done.
  2. A French speaker in your UK office. If you are recruiting for any role at the moment, just add the little line Fluent French would be an advantage to your ad’. It might not cost you anymore and make all the difference.
  3. A sales person in France. If you can afford their salary and the travel expense that comes with it, hire yourself a French sales person in France. A financially safer alternative is to look for a freelance sales agent to take on your products (“Carte Commerciale”), but note that the commission will be much higher.
  4. Look for dealers in France. You can start your investigations with a market report with some emphasis on potential dealers, or simply target your French competitors’ dealers. A French dealer will have the same interest in growing the business in France as you do and they will provide invaluable help with your marketing mix, your sales, your customer service etc.

2. Boss, I need to go to Paris again….

Since you mentioned targeting France as a new market to your sales team, their credit card bill is through the roof and there’s nobody in the office, yet you don’t seem to see the sales flooding in. Sounds familiar?

Don’t make the mistake of instantly booking up lots of speculative and cold meetings with prospective clients. There is a lot you can do to virtually warm up leads and seek new business before you get on that plane.  Will you need to go to France? Yes, but not to start with.

Use technology ( for some ideas) to get around the expensive trips to France: webcams, videoconferencing, teleconferencing (try, it’s free), instant messaging and your good old emails and telephone are plenty enough to get you going. If language is a problem, your bilingual marketing agent can step in to translate and help you close a deal. Obviously, you will get to a stage when you need this all important face-to-face meeting with your new representative and with your clients, but by then you can count on your French business to sustain its own travel costs.

Presence at trade shows can be invaluable when it comes to growing the business but, before you fork out several thousands of hard earned euros into an event, consider whether you could pair up with a prospective dealer to share the cost and take advantage of their fluent French – they may already be attending anyway. Alternatively, your French Marketing Agent should be able to source a French speaker to attend on your behalf.

3. They’ll just have to pay us in Sterling

Exchange rates vary from day to day, and many businesses will try and mitigate their losses due to currency variations by setting their price in pounds. This is a big no-no! If you’re selling abroad, embrace the currency and swallow the (probably small) cost of the Euro rising. If you want to try and keep it under control, check out my tips on how to protect your exchange rate, but offering products in GBP to the French is like screaming “I can’t be bothered to adjust to your culture, and I might not bother to send your order either!”. It will wipe out all your efforts in one clean sweep, and the chances are the reaction will be something along the lines of “I can’t be bothered to buy from you!”.
Just like with any other marketing exercise, keep the purchasing process as easy as possible for your clients. Don’t expect them to convert GBP to EUR, they’ll sooner walk away and buy it from somewhere else.

4. Avoid wasting money on international banking fees

If you’re sending goods to someone who is registered for VAT in France, it’s likely that you’ll be able to zero-rate the supply for VAT purposes (provided the transaction meets all the conditions outlined by HMRC: Trying to exchange cheques or BACs payment with a customer overseas can prove costly (admittedly, it may well be worthwhile for the best deals). Alternatively, if you don’t already use Paypal, now is the time to give it a go as it will make the transactions with France cheaper and easier. Ultimately, if business is likely to pick up quickly and massively, a bank account in France could well be the best option.

5. Extortionate P&P

Talk to several freight companies and strike a decent international shipping deal: unless you sell online services, the chances are you will be sending out samples and products to your newly found customers and you don’t want to put them off with extortionate shipping costs and complicated return policies. Ideally, look for a courier with branches in both countries ( Once you’ve got it sorted, make it clear in your marketing materials that delivery is no more costly with your quality UK products than it is with lesser French ones!

Stick to the basics

If your product works in the UK, there is no reason it can’t reach a similar turnover in France providing you keep things simple for your clients. The translation costs will largely be offset by the fact that you have done a lot of the leg work already when you set up in the UK.   By converting your brand and your business model to French in the right way, you’ll find a world of new prospects right across the Channel.

For more information, visit­.