8 Thoughts on Being an (Immigrant) Entrepreneur in Finland
The Importance of Networks
Networks aren’t only important because they can connect you to something else, they are also important because they can help you to be a better version of you. Networks are about connection and support. This is because there are many kinds of networks. There are topic specific networks and these are places where practitioners can meet up and discuss the current trends and what is happening in the field. They are also where you might find a mentor or even a good friend who you know has a similar interest. There are networks that are for entrepreneurs in general. These people are going through some of the same trials and tribulations as you and they may have advice for others in how certain issues were solved or how they worked around them. This might be specifically true if you can niche down; such as a network of immigrant entrepreneurs, early stage entrepreneurs, or creative entrepreneurs.
Networking, in the traditional sense also, is a great way of learning what is happening in society in general, who is needing certain services or products, or who can connect you to the right person in an organisation. It is important to that you remember to also be that person for others. Start with giving and sharing to be on a solid ground when opportunities come up.
Opportunities and difficulties (including language barriers)
Being an immigrant entrepreneur is difficult in any country. This is because there are certain things that you will inherently be missing. The above-mentioned networks are the most profound. The other thing is language might be an issue. Some languages are easier to learn, and it can also depend on how long you have lived in the country, how well you are able to blend into the new culture, and how out-going your personality is (among other things).
Creating networks can be difficult because immigrants do not have the same access different pockets of friends: people you went to school with, friends made over many years in different hobbies or interests, university friends and alumni networks, even previous colleagues, etc.
Entrepreneurship as a risk in Finland
Many times, people don’t want to really talk about the risk of becoming an entrepreneur in Finland. Which is a real risk and especially for those who don’t have family to help out or to provide any real support (either in monetary terms or in kind). You don’t have parents here you can move in with if things get bad. But it also removes you from the social welfare safety net.
The social contract in Finland is premised on safety in conformity and responsibility. This is built on the bedrock of most people being workers and paying taxes. This is safe. This is how you access the social safety net- not by going off on your own and trying something different that might fail. And it has worked well for a long time.
For many people coming from other countries, they are already not used to have such a comprehensive safety net which makes them more favourable towards entrepreneurship as a valid way to earn money. And this is one reason you will see the higher rates of entrepreneurship amongst immigrants. The other big factor is, unfortunately, discrimination in the labour market. With this factor in mind, entrepreneurship is less risky when regular employment is less of an option.
Business Plans: Old-fashioned or Necessary?
It can seem that making a detailed business plan is out of date or a waste of time but there are some very good reasons to still make a business plan. The very first reason is because in order to access any kind of grants or funding, you will probably be required to have one. These organisations want to make sure that you have fully understood what you are undertaking and that you have a plan that you can put into action from day one.
Another great reason to make a business plan is to get your thoughts in order and to make sure that you have a rounded idea of what your business is and what it could become. To make sure that you haven’t just considered the basic idea, your logo, and the website but also your financial obligations, your target customers, and to set some measurable goals.
This makes creating a business plan necessary. But you don’t need to stop here. Another great tool is to use a Business Model Canvas (BMC). Many think that this is ‘instead of’ a business plan but in reality, it is ‘as well as’. The BMC is a tool that can used to get people on the same page but it can also explain your business in a simple way. It is also perfect for iterating – revisiting and changing – as time requires. A detailed business plan is not a good place for redefining your business as the document is way too detailed. A BMC is one page that can be easily changed and tested.
The future of Micro-entrepreneurship
Micro-entrepreneurship (businesses with 1-9 people) makes up 93% of all companies in Finland while 69% are solo-entrepreneurs. These are, by far, the most popular size of company. It can be any company form (sole trader, Ltd, etc.). And more and more people are getting more confident (or seeking self-employment) by the day.
Going through the most difficult early part of the pandemic led a lot of people to question the work that they do and/or their purpose in the big picture. It was a time of great reflection and consequences (as we are still feeling). This led some to think that maybe their main sources of income should be separate from an employer who can decide if they stay or go or that their income shouldn’t just come from one source.
Micro-entrepreneurship, especially solo-entrepreneurship, can look like many things. It can be a side hustle that you do on the side of your ‘regular’ job, it can be the main thing that you do, it can be something that comes from a hobby, and some people are doing it full time. There is no one right way. One of the best things is that it can all of those things at different stages. More and more people are realising that if they want their life to look the way they want, they need to be in charge of the day to day and responsible for the outcomes.
In Finland, the idea of being an entrepreneur is losing its negative risky exterior and starting to be more acceptable as a way to earn a living and to live your life. More young people are getting involved and taking leaps of faith before they have too many worries on their minds about how this will affect things around them (like children or mortgages). This is good news. They are becoming experienced in failing and learning and they accumulate more knowledge on how owning a business works. The surrounding society is also putting more effort into the support networks around them and educational institutions are taking a role in educating their students in what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Advice for new entrepreneurs
- KNOW YOURSELF AND KNOW YOUR WHY
Knowing what you want to accomplish and why it is important to you will help you define what you offer and keep you going when things get hard (and they will get hard). Your why can literally be anything. And it isn’t something that you need to tell anyone, it is your why, not anyone else’s. You might want financial freedom, you may want to change the world, you may want to buy experiences for your child that you never got. Whatever it is, know it!
- CREATE A SUPPORT GROUP AROUND YOU
You will need some cheerleaders on your side. And you will need them to be from different areas so that whatever comes up, there is someone that you can ask or lean on. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, especially if you are a solo-entrepreneur, and having people in your corner is really important. This goes back to the networks mentioned at the beginning of this article. They should include (but are not limited to) fellow entrepreneurs, fellow niche entrepreneurs, possibly a mentor, others who work in your area of expertise (but not necessarily entrepreneurs themselves), etc.
- UTILISE THE FREE SERVICES ALL AROUND YOU
There are so many free services available – both in person and online – in Finland, that you should not be putting off being an entrepreneur if you want to because you can’t find information in it. You need to head to your nearest Uusyrityskeskus (new enterprise centre) or check out a service like NewCo (Helsinki’s uusyrityskeskus) online if you are not local. You can also check the website of Suomen Yrittäjät or any higher education institution that you have close to you.
Chair of the Migrant Entrepreneur Network’s Management Team