A year ago, I had the brilliant idea that due to the nature of my work it will be easier to be employed as a free license than as an employee. Now logic and former experience told me that the way to open a company is simple as long you know what you want of course. You need a lawyer to help you decide the form of the company you are going to create, you need an accountant to help you deal with the taxation and you need to register in the taxes office after you fill a tonne of paperwork.
That’s what logic says but I had the information that I could get some start-up money and that was good news for the first six months. You’re probably expecting me to say that this is the point where logic stopped and Finland’s logic started. Yes and no, because it has nothing to do with the country or the laws, it has to do with the people who navigate you through this highway and they were a few in my case, each one chosen to drive me to the edge of insanity.
So, as the title says, this is part one. I had to go to a business consulting office, each has the financial help from different sources (Ministry of Labour, town hall and even the Bank of Finland sometimes), but I never really understood all this, but I gather it has something to do with the budget. Anyway, it all stems from the government and the municipality of the area you live, in my case Helsinki.
First of all there is not only one office like that despite anything they tell you. There are four or six and they are sponsored (I don’t know a better word to use since I don’t really understand how this thing works) from different…sponsors (?), like banks, private cooperation and always from one section or another of the municipality or the Ministry of Labour and the major’s office. Clear?
Next, I realized that the day you call one of these offices is the same day that 5,136,000 Finns also decide to open business, so I had to make an appointment a month in advance. To give you an idea, and I think that you will sympathize with it, it took me six months to take the big decision and I had already started negotiations with companies hoping that when my company is official I will have at least one client.
I had to postpone all my appointments and calm down. I had to keep reminding myself that now I have taken the decision I can wait because things will come slowly but smoothly. After all, I was going to have some financial help for the first six months. The second thought I had after I heard that my appointment with that office was going to be after four weeks was to phone another one and make an appointment luckily the same week. The only relief in both cases was that I found people who spoke English.
The days passed and one late Monday afternoon I found myself in one of Helsinki’s suburbs in a very old building waiting in front of a door of the man who would consult me on how to start my business in Finland. I was pretty confident with my CV, my portfolio, my education and my past work experience; I was sure that I could persuade the man that I had a good chance to make a successful business in Finland or at least make a living.
The door opened, a couple of young boys came out thanking a man in his early fifties and I was next. After our good afternoons and the introductions, the man apologized for his poor English and I apologized in return for my poor knowledge in the Finnish language. We had a quick laugh with my ‘mitä kuuluu’ and we moved to business.
As I mentioned before I was prepared for it or at least I thought that I would be…I decided to speak first, so very quickly I explained that I am a graphic designer, I showed the man my portfolio full of international jobs and proudly presented my CV full of international awards.
All this time the man was just looking at me, it seemed I was either boring him to death or his English was even poorer than I thought and he didn’t understand what I was saying.
I made my last comments about how sure I was that everything would work and I sat there waiting for him to respond. The man kept staring at me and then he checked for some papers in his office and, after picking some of them and putting them in front of him, he picked a pen and turned back to me. He apologized again because the papers had to be in either Finnish or Swedish - something I fully understood - and he asked me if I had a business plan.
Clever me, I pulled out of my folder a piece of self-designed stationery upon which I had carefully prepared a business plan with one column of the optional clients, another with expenses and a very optimistic income for the next year. The man gave me the look, which meant ‘poor guy, you have no idea!’ and the truth was that I didn’t!
‘We have a form you must fill with your business plan,’ he explained to me, ‘the form is very simple and it helps you to follow your first steps into the business world!’ Did I miss something? Did this man think that I was opening a competitor company to NOKIA? Why was he telling me about the business world? Before I could ask these very important questions he continued.
‘First of all, we have to check your expenses. Let’s see, if you have…hmm…let’s say ten customers a day and five of them get sausages with chips and another five take a hamburger, chips and a drink…hmm…let’s say a juice.’ Stop, I nearly screamed, what have sausages and hamburgers got to do with me?
The man just nodded to me to be patient and continued, ‘Now, let’s see, you need one euro for the meat for each hamburger and one euro for each sausage, then another euro for tomatoes, onion, etc., and another euro for each packet of chips. We have to think of the packaging, the cost of your working hours, how much is the rent and then if you going to hire somebody or have your wife help you!’ Excuse me, I’m sorry but I’m not going to open a grilli kioski. I have no idea what you talking about.
And on he went, ‘And how you’re going to calculate your profit? Do you know how to calculate your profit?’ I’m sorry to admit this but the truth is that I have no idea how to calculate my profit in a hamburger or a hot dog kiosk; I’ve never done it and to be truthful I never plan to do so.
The man realized that I was in shock, so he said, ‘Don’t worry, it is always difficult to open a company so the only thing you have to do is take these papers with you, your wife can help you with the translation, think about everything and come back next week the same day…hmm…six o’clock? So we can talk about it! Thank you and goodnight!’
I don’t know if I even said goodnight because I was running outside and thank god it was still March and cold so the freezing air helped me to breathe. The only thing I could think was that the man, seeing that I’m Greek, thought that I was opening a Greek restaurant and didn’t even bother to hear what I was saying.
I’m sure you think that my second appointment was just as funny. It was but I will tell you more in the second part next month!