'Don't be afraid to ask for help'

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Meet Sophie Maillard, who moved to Stockholm from France in 2009, and much to her surprise, finds herself running a growing business in the Swedish capital.

When Sophie arrived in Sweden with her family she had no plans to start her own business.  After enjoying her maternity leave, the former-Marine decided it was time to find work – but the language barrier presented a challenge.

"I'm French and I'm not so good at languages," Sophie says with a laugh. "It was frustrating. I didn't know Swedish and it takes time to learn it. And my English wasn't perfect."

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Entrepreneurial itch

Luckily, she had an itch – an entrepreneurial itch – that drove her to create a job of her own.

"I was always an entrepreneur, but I didn't know it," Sophie declares. "And now I wouldn't change my job for anything in the world."

And after enjoying a traditional Swedish fika with a friend an innovative seed began to sprout.

"I knew I wanted to work with food or fashion, because I love both," Sophie recalls. "But I also knew I wanted to do something new, and I wanted to be an ambassador for my country and slice of French culture."

Her favourite French pastry, canelés, was unavailable in Sweden. So she began baking the soft, tender pastries with a caramelized crust at home. And they were a hit.

"My friend owned a café, and after trying the canelés I made, he asked if he could have them in his coffee shop," Sophie explains.

And just like that, what once was a happy idea began to bloom into a full-fledged career. She is now the proud owner of Sophies Canelé, an online bakery selling the pastries to various cafes and restaurants throughout Stockholm.

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The language barrier

Register her business with the Swedish Companies Registration Office (Bolagsverket) was a snap, both when she started as a sole trader and more recently when she upgraded to a limited company.

"I did it online. The whole thing was pretty fast and easy," says Sophie. However, she was struck by how little human contact was involved.

"I didn't really speak to anyone, except at the end when someone called to verify everything," she adds.

But as Sophie worked to turn her baking into a thriving business, the language barrier kept rearing its ugly head.

"I took courses at SFI and then continued at Folkuniversitetet. But I needed a more technical vocabulary for work," she recalls.

Step by step, Sophie began teaching herself the necessary terms for starting and running a business.

"First I learned kitchen terms, then business words, then sales words, marketing, et cetera," she says.

"It was a struggle, because there aren't any resources in French! As an entrepreneur speaking English you'll have no trouble in Sweden, but for me it was difficult."

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Building a network

But rather than getting discouraged, Sophie improvised. She studied, read books, attended trade fairs, and worked on creating a network.

"I talk to absolutely everyone. You might not think it's important, but you never know where you'll end up in the future. You might find a friend, a job, or a partner," she says.

By attending networking events at Stockholms Mässan, and getting involved with other organizations, Sophie's network grew slowly but steadily. One contact has provided help with bookkeeping, for example.

"You can't be an expert at everything," she says.

Sophie also did her best to take advantage of services provided by public sector organizations.

"My best advice for others who want to start a business is to go to Almi, or another such organization that helps entrepreneurs get started," she says. "They can help anyone who wants to create or innovate."

While Sophie did not receive loans from an incubator, she was granted priceless advice – including information she wished she had known earlier.

"If you're thinking about starting a company, you should really go to Arbetsförmedlingen first," she explains. "If you create a business plan with them then you can receive some funding. But I registered my company before going there, so they didn't help me."

In addition to Almi, Sophie says Start Up Stockholm was another great source of inspiration and contacts.

"You don't want to be alone when trying to start a business. It's great to be able to speak directly to people," she explains.

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Taking the next step

Currently, Sophie is on the hunt for space to open a café of her own, and so far, the process has been harder than she anticipated.

"In France, there's no problem finding space; but that's not the case in Stockholm," she says.

"It's also hard to find the right person with the city of Stockholm. Everyone seems to pass me to someone else. I still don't have a direct contact."

Still, slow and steady wins the race, and Sophies Canelé is going places.

"Swedes are very positive, and very open to new ideas and new cultures," Sophie explains. She began walking into cafes at random, simply asking them if they would try her pasty – and now business is flowing.

If Sophie had to offer one tip for any budding entrepreneur, it would be to make personal connections and use them.

"You've just got to talk to people and ask for help," she says. "You can't do anything alone. And maybe one day I'll be able to help someone in return."

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