Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bare Bone Basics of OPCAS

Attention: Update 1 January 2017: All training organizations are now required to register on the Datadock website and upload 21 documents defending and proving the quality of their services.  This website is used by all of the OPCAs in France to determine if the training organization can qualify for CPF funds.  All training organizations have a deadline of June 30 2017, after which the OPCAs will stop funding training provided by organizations which are not included in the Datadock.

Registering for an account on the Datadock is quite easy. You must have a SIRET and Numero de Declaration to register. Once logged in, you will be able to click through the list of 21 criteria. You will also have to provide a short description of each document you upload.  You can upload a maximum of three documents of proof per criteria.  

 While this process may seem extremely daunting for some it will no doubt help training organizations to enhance the quality of their training. So get started! You've got until June 30th 2017!

Original article from 2013: 
There are a handful of initialisms that strike fear in the hearts of Travailleur Indépendants. URSSAF and CIPAV are two, but careful, financial planning and a good accountant can help lower one's blood pressure.  DIRECCTE is another, but hyper time-management and an Excel fetish can help cure the hives that break out when dealing with this administrative hurdle.  

But the letters from the alphabet that drain the color from many of my fellow independents' faces are:  O.P.C.A. or: organisme paritaire collecteur agréé. In short: mandatory funding managed by a government agency for employee training in the private industry.  Warning, any sentence that includes the words "funding" and "government" means bracing yourself for an administrative migraine.

Putting up with the admin abyss and gaining access to the OPCAs can open doors to bigger clients, internal referrals for more training, multipliers at top management and ultimately, more long-term contractual commitments. 

OPCA funding 101
Different OPCAs have different rules. There are different OPCAs for different industries. But these steps should give you and idea of what to expect when you wade into that murky, paperwork-infested lagoon. Apologies for all the hedging.

Step one:  Get your Numéro de déclaration d'activité. If you don't have this registration number, or don't intend to apply for it, then stop reading.  Now. 

Step two: It depends.  If you've been approached by a company that requires OPCA funding then you might (repeat, might) be able to put Numéro de déclaration d'activité en cours on your contract and, eventually, on the fiche organisme de formation you send to the OPCA (see step six). For example, Christina Rebuffet-Broadus happily found this to be the case with FAFIEC.  You need a contract in order to get a Numéro de déclaration d'activité and you could use this first contract to get your foot in DIRECCTE's door.

Step three:  Your client should notify their OPCA of their intention to bring you on as a training provider.  You should then receive the OPCA's "fiche organisme de formation" to fill out.  
Try to stay calm. You'll likely need:
  • An Extrait K-bis (NB: Travailleur Indépendants don't have this.  They have a Certificat d'Inscription from INSEE / URSSAF.  A photocopy of this proof of your SIRET will do).
  • Récépissé de déclaration d'activité from DIRECCTE, (proof your declaration number is active. You have to request this document from DIRECCTE and, sometimes, it can take a while.)
  • Copies of your Bilan Pédagogique et Financier (BPF) from the last two years, signed by your accountant (see step two above),
  • A RIB,
  • A brochure advertising your services. A bit of knowledge of fancy word-processing software, a good eye and a color printer should do the trick. Or get it done right and pay someone to write and design a brochure for you.
OPCAs up close
Now, you may be asked to produce all of these documents in 10 days (wait...what?!).  But the good news is since the DNA of OPCAs is hoops and hoops of administration, they are likely to be sympathetic if you can't get those documents in on time. Just send them a polite letter apologizing for the delay. 

Step four: Dance a little jig in your living room when the OPCA notifies you that they've approved your dossier.

Step five:  The OPCA should then send you a separate contract for the training and ask you for a programme détaillé and a copy of the contract you signed with your new client.

Step six: Write an amazing training proposal (programme détaillé). In it, include the training objectives, the types of trainees, the number of hours, a description of the training, your methodology, materials, where the training will take place and how you will evaluate the trainees.  The time you invest writing this training proposal will help save you time down the road when your client is thrilled with your high-quality teaching and wants to renew the contract.

Step seven:  At the end of the training, send signed presence sheets and a bill to the OPCA, not your client. Payment may take up to two to three months.

Some of you may have set up a training package that lasts over a year. If so, good going!  But waiting until the end of the training to get paid can cause your bank account to collapse in fits of dry heaves.  Rebuffet-Broadus recently spoke to a very nice lady at FAFIEC and found out: "I can send the first bill after the first 10 hours of training. Then, it's up to me when I bill. I don't have to specify the billing frequency in the convention de formation (I asked just to be sure), but I can if I want."  

So calling the OPCA directly can pay off if you run into any snags along the way.

If you find all the OPCA admin utterly daunting and impossible to do on your own, but you still want to give it a shot, I strongly recommend joining The Language Network. For a small, incredibly affordable annual fee, members get access to additional help dealing with OPCAs including how to fill out the initial paperwork, writing a training proposal, billing, etc. 

Good luck on your journey!  Hang in there.  But remember: there's a reason why OPCA rhymes with vodka.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Go it alone: Go freelance (co-authored with Mike Hogan): Part 2

(This article was originally published in the mELTing Pot and has been posted here with the very kind permission of IATEFL-Hungary).  For Part 1 go here.

Invest in your brand
While you are establishing the direction you want to take your training business, it’s important to be ready to invest in its development. The word “investment” can be interpreted in many ways. For instance, you could offer free taster workshops or webinars to prospective learners or clients, or volunteer for ELT associations or publish articles about your work. In these cases, the thing you are investing is your time and energy. But when carried out professionally and sincerely, they can greatly enhance your own professional development and reputation in the community.

Another form of investment is your money. This may be more difficult in the beginning, but it is absolutely crucial. Developing professionally could involve paying for further teacher training and/or going to conferences. Or, if you have a well-established niche, consider getting the same corporate training as your clients. Sometimes finding clients means attending networking seminars, trade shows, and other non-ELT events - most of which have a cost. In addition, while there are many free ways to communicate your services to prospective clients, you will also have to be prepared to spend money on sales and marketing, if only in the form of business cards and some printed information about you and your services. This is why, in your business plan, it’s important to calculate how much you can set aside towards your own professional development and marketing.

Your online presence
As you gain more experience and invest in getting your name out there, remember, most people’s first instinct is to look for you online. Paying a web designer can be costly but there are many inexpensive or free online sites that allow you to describe your experience and the services you provide in one central location. Setting up a LinkedIn, or other professional networking profile that lists your entire up-to-date experience as well as how to contact you is a must. Consider paying a translator so that your profile is in the language of your clients.

Since your current and prospective clients will be searching for you online, so too should you. You should be aware of what can be found when Googling yourself.

If nothing comes up, try adding the name of your town or city, and possibly something like ‘English teacher’. If you still don’t see any results, neither will those who are searching for you. Is this what you want? Ideally, they’ll be able to find your online profile as well as details of workshops you’ve given, local events you’ve attended, conferences you’ve spoken at, articles you’ve written, or even a blog that you write. And what you don’t want them finding are any inappropriate Facebook photos that you forgot to take down.

Nurture your reputation
The sign of a high-quality trainer is one who is getting referred. If you’re not getting referred ask yourself (and even others) why. Collect honest and constructive feedback from your clients, learners and peers, and take it seriously. Handle negative feedback or problems immediately and professionally. Very often people will remember how well you dealt with the issue rather than the issue itself. Gaining respect and building a reputation takes time, but fixing one takes even longer. The ELT industry is a small world, and you want those you’ve done business with to think of you (and talk about you) in a positive light.

As you weigh the pros and cons of going freelance, remember your brand is your name. It’s what people think when they hear your name. It is your reputation, your work ethic, your beliefs and values, how you make others feel, and the results you get. And while developing your freelance business requires an enormous amount of dedication, time and resources, you will ultimately develop skills that will make you a better trainer and a better professional.

Further reading to get you thinking:
Cyr, L.A. (2007) Creating a Business Plan. Harvard Business School Press.
Sivers, D. (2011) Anything you want. The Domino Project.
How to Write a Business Plan’ (2012) Retrieved from (accessed 31.08.2012)

© Cagnol & Hogan 2012


Friday, March 29, 2013

Declaring your Bilan Pédagogique et Financier (BPF) Numéro de déclaration d'activité Part 2

If you've done the necessary paperwork to obtain your Numéro de déclaration d'activité (a number with 11 digits, the 3rd and 4th digits being your region) then you very likely have received a letter from the Direction régionale des entreprises, de la concurrence, de la consommation, du travail et de l'emploi (DIRECCTE) reminding you to submit your Bilan Pédagogique et Financier (BPF) by April 30th.  However, if you didn't receive this letter (I didn't for the first six years of my company's existence) you still need to submit your BPF paperwork by April 30th of each year.  So add it to your calender!

Again, your Numéro de déclaration d'activité is a declaration of your activity as a vocational training entity. It enables direct clients to declare your services using their training funding (e.g. the DIF, or, droit individuel à la formation). If you specialize in teaching students in higher-education establishments, then this number is not necessary.  But it's good to have should you wish to take on private clients, deal with OPCAs and/or apply for Appels d'offres publics et privés (Call for Tenders for public and private companies). 

DIRECCTE makes it very clear in their letter that if you fail to submit your BPF, you have a one-year grace period; after that you lose your number.  This can be a major inconvenience, especially when so many clients these days, before they sign a contract with you, ask for a Récépissé de déclaration d'activité d'un prestataire de formation which is a document from the DIRECCTE which acknowledges you are up-to-date with all your BPF paperwork.

So, my advice: tie yourself to a chair and use that long Easter weekend to get that %#&$*@ BPF filled out. 

Head to: and click on "Inscription et Connexion"
Choose one of the three choices that apply to you.
Letter A) This is if you don't yet have your Numéro de déclaration d'activité
Letter B) This is if you have your Numéro de déclaration d'activité but you haven't yet created an account.
Letter C) This is if you have your Numéro de déclaration d'activité and you have already created your account.

 If you choose C, and your number is active, then you should see the word "validée" to the left of your screen. Be sure to check this far in enough advance. DIRECCTE has been known to make mistakes which can delay the validation process.

Click on the link  Bilan Pédagogique et Financier to the left and off you go!

Tip 1:  The first time you fill out the BPF may be an incredibly daunting task.  Therefore, it's probably best to first do it in the comfort of your accountant's office.

Tip 2: In order to prepare for paperwork vertigo, I strongly suggest you create an excel file that organizes all of the required information (see questions below). That will greatly reduce the time it takes to fill out the BPF.

Tip 3: Use Google Translate to help you understand the questions. I've found it does a great job of translating the BPF's jargon. 

Tip 4: Beware, the online form times out if you leave it open over an extended period of time.  So, always take screen shots of the parts of the form you fill in, and/or put the information you need on a separate document.

The BPF will ask you the following questions (NB: the form won't accept decimal points).  If you answer "none" to any of these questions, then simply put a 0 for that specific information.

Earnings (produits) from last year
  • What is the percentage of your total turnover in the field of continuing vocational training For many of us, it's 100%. However, if you've also done translations through your company, or been paid to write materials, then you'll need to calculate this accordingly. 
  • How many total hours did you provide training last year? 
  • How many people have you subcontracted (if any) and how many hours did they work for you? 
  • What were your total earnings last year?  
  • What were your total earnings from private industry?  
  • What were your total earnings from public industry?  
  • What were your total earnings from unemployment office clientele? 
  • What were your total earnings from OPCAs.  
  • What were your total earnings from private individuals who you billed directly through your company and who paid out-of-pocket for that training.* 
  • What were your total earnings from contracts with other training providers (e.g. did you bill any language schools?) 
  • What were your total earnings from contracts outside of France? 
  • What were your total earnings from sales of learning tools?  
  • What were your total earnings for any other miscellaneous contracts related to vocational training. 
Purchases (achats / charges) from last year
  • How much did you spend on your own training / professional development? 
  • How much did you spend on the rental of any premises or tools? 
  • How much did you spend on advertising? 
  • How much did you spend on personnel outside of your company (e.g. subcontracting)? 
  • How much did you spend on taxes (e.g. URSSAF, CIPAV, RSI, etc.)? 
  • How much did you spend in financial charges for any personnel (e.g. for CDD or CDI contracts). 
  • How much did you pay your accountant or financial adviser? 
  • What is the total amount of your other business expenses minus taxes, personnel charges, advertising, rental, and accounting?
Training Figures (bilan pedagogique) from last year
  • How many hours did you provide training to employees whose training was provided by their company?  And for how many employees?
  • How many hours did you provide vocational training for unemployment offices? And for how many employees?
  • How many hours did you provide training for private training you billed directly? And for how many trainees?*
  • How many hours did you provide training to employees whose training was provided by their company but not through the DIF?  And for how many employees?
  • How many hours did you provide training for another training company? And for how many trainees? 
  • How many hours of training did you assign to another training company? And for how many trainees? 
  • How many hours of training did you provide that involved certification through the RNCP? And for how many trainees? 
  • How many hours of guidance and support training did you provide? And for how many trainees? 
  • What is your "specialty of training?"  In ELT, you will very likely choose code 136 on the BPF form "Langues vivantes, civilisations étrangères et régionales."And how many total hours did you provide training under this specialty and for how many total trainees?
 *While I'm not at all a fan of "petites cours," these figures should not include any cash clients you may have or any clients who have paid you through Cheque emploi service.

The BPF will then ask for a contact person.  I highly recommend putting your accountant, or other financial adviser, if you have one. And finally, add your own name and qualité (e.g. directeur / directrice), your phone number and then mention in which city you filled out the BPF.

Click on "valide".  You will get a pop up message that will vary depending on your income. It will also give you the address where you should send the BPF and provide a link where you can download the .pdf copy.

Download your BPF, print it, sign it and then mail it registered with acknowledgment of receipt (recommandé avec accusé de reception) to DIRECCTE. Also email a copy to your accountant just in case.

And there you have it! Again, take care of this far enough in advance to deal with any speed bumps along the way.  Good luck! 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Go it alone: Go freelance (co-authored with Mike Hogan)

(This article was originally published in the mELTing Pot and has been posted here with the very kind permission of IATEFL-Hungary).  

ELT teachers are often enticed by the idea of being their own boss or increasing their income by striking out on their own and going freelance or even starting their own small (or large) schools. There are many benefits to going freelance, but where there are possible rewards there are also risks. We may be very good at developing lesson plans and managing a classroom, but as soon as we move into a context of developing a service and managing ourselves as a business we are confronted with all sorts of issues, business issues, which have nothing to do with teaching that we need to be able to do well and do quickly.

Start with an idea and plan from there
Despite the allusion above, your business idea should be designed to fulfil a need, not just to fill your pockets. Decide which need it is you aim to fulfil when going freelance or starting a business. It could be, for example, the need for a type of teaching or training not currently offered in your area, or a higher quality than is available in your local market. It could be offering something completely new to an existing group of customers that don’t yet know they need it, or it could be for a target market which will form as a result of previous experience. Either way, you should start with fulfilling a need and reflecting on how to do that.

Creating a business plan will help. Even if you’re not starting a school but just starting out as a freelancer, you need to see yourself as a business, a one-person business, and prepare accordingly. Spend a day writing down the details of your idea, how you plan to sell it, how much you will charge for it, and so on. Your business plan will help you formulate these ideas, set realistic and attainable targets, and will have various sections which will also help you think about who your competitors are and what sort of budget for marketing or further training you’re going to work under. It will help you to see potential holes in what you’re planning or areas you might be neglecting (e.g. niche markets, saturated markets, professional development, etc.) and it will help you to think about what makes you different from the other companies and trainers who are offering the same thing.

A business plan shouldn’t have vague, sweeping demands such as: “I’d like to earn more money” or “I'd like to get more of my own clients so I can work less for language schools.” You need to have defined targets like: “I want to sign with three new clients by the end of this year.” Set yourself realistic achievable targets with regular milestones. Then, you can start to think about your strategy and how you’re going to achieve those targets.

Consider doing a SWOT analysis. You may already do this with your business English students, but why not make it a part of your own professional analysis? SWOT stands for your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and potential Threats. The GROW model, often used in coaching, is another useful one. It stands for Goal, Reality, Obstacles/Options, and Way (forward). Overall, a business plan can help you put a lot of your ideas down on paper, see them clearly and address them in a realistic way.

Finding your niche, or ELT brand
You may have gained work experience in other sectors before moving into language training. In a way you are already a specialist. Maybe you have some experience in the banking industry, or in the arts, or you are a trained lawyer. This is an amazing resource because you’re immediately differentiating yourself from the general English language training market. You can offer targeted training and, usually, charge more for it.

Perhaps you don’t have experience in other sectors, but you have achieved positive results in other language-rich areas such as test preparation, pronunciation or presentations. You can offer high-quality, skills-specific training in one-to-one or group environments. Whatever your specialized knowledge, it needs to be very prominent on your CV and online profile. Finding one’s “ELT brand” can take time. Try different options and enjoy that time of exploration.

In part two we will develop this idea further and look at what to do once you've found your ELT brand; the importance of online presence and how to build a reputation.