Users of this website who have looked at the book extracts section will be aware that I have written for these publishers. I mention this not so much to declare an interest – for I have had absolutely nothing to do with this book – but because, in the course of researching case histories for their Making a Living in France, I interviewed a large number of people who were running gîtes or chambres d’hôtes here with varying degrees of success.
I found two important features of such operations that are highly germane to the subject of Jo Taylor’s book. The first is that, despite widely varying levels of forward planning, everybody found that their preparations had been inadequate. In the worst cases, the extent of preparedness was virtually nil: they had inadequate capital, little or no ability to speak French and virtually no business experience of any kind. Others had simply underestimated how much time/money/personal effort/business skills would be required.
The second facet stems from the first. Many people believed that they could make a living solely from their gîte &/or B&B business. Although some of these were catering for the top end of the market and charging very substantial rents for luxury accommodation, even these found that they needed other sources of income to make a go of it. Among several reasons why this should be so, an obvious one is that supply of this kind of accommodation has increased so rapidly in recent years that it is in serious danger of outrunning demand. My conclusion was that the best advice to those contemplating running gîtes or B&Bs in France was the same as Mr Punch’s to those considering getting married: Don’t.
Yet there is no denying that there can be much appeal in this sort of DIY catering. Those with the right kind of outgoing personalities can and do find it a very enjoyable way of life. Among them, quite clearly, is Jo Taylor, who has been welcoming guests to her gîte and B&B accommodation in Normandy since 1993. That said, the fact that she doubles this operation with writing and with being a freelance designer and illustrator tends to confirm that more than one string is needed to her bow.
For those who are determined to try their hands and believe they may succeed where others have either failed or been obliged to modify their plans, this book ought to be essential reading. Above all it offers a much-needed reality-check on an often ill-defined dream. It is very much a handbook, structured to take the reader through every aspect of the business from finding a suitable property to presenting the results to would-be guests. It is full of helpful advice and useful lists of insider tips, to say nothing of warnings if the dire consequences of, for instance, cutting corners in the paperwork.
Since for so many people who start this kind of operation this is the first business they have ever run, the book includes some very necessary explanations of the different kind of regime available in France and their implications for tax liabilities. An equally important chapter deals with marketing the accommodation once it becomes available. The detailed examination of what should be presented, by what means and to whom, should help to impose some cost-conscious discipline on those who assume marketing to be a matter of just the odd ad in the Sunday Times. If so, this section alone would be worth the price of the whole book.
The book concludes with advice on where to seek further advice, official and otherwise, on employing people under French law, on communications and, inevitably, on the importance of improving one’s French and how to do it. Finally, a series of appendices lead on to recommended reading and useful contacts.
All in all, anyone who reads this book and still goes ahead with their dream will at least be doing so with theirs eyes opened to both the pitfalls and the opportunities. Unhappily, those who need the book most will probably never read it. They will be like those of my interviewees who did not see the need for any preparation whatsoever before taking what were probably the biggest gambles of their lives.
Review by Martin Hills.
Published in paperback by Survival Books
ISBN 978-1-905503-30-4 £12.95