My Studio - Mikroyrittäjän podcast

Starting a business is easy in Finland, but there are many things involved that are good to know before setting up a company. Why should you write a business plan? Which networks should you take part in? Do you have to learn Finnish to gain success? These and other first steps of a beginning entrepreneur are discussed by entrepreneur and Project Specialist Pamela Spokes and Network Manager (Migrant, young and creative entrepreneur networks) Sari Laitinen from Suomen Yrittäjät. Hosted by Markus Rytinki from Micro-entrepreneurship Center MicroENTRE.

Creators & Guests

Kerttu Saalasti Institute
@UniOuluKSI Kerttu Saalasti Institute – international research institute providing evidence-based knowledge and education on micro-enterprises.

What is My Studio - Mikroyrittäjän podcast?

MY Studio (Mikroyrittäjän studio) avaa uusia näkökulmia yrittäjyyteen,
osaamisen kehittämiseen ja yrityksen johtamiseen. MY Studio -podcasteissa
ääneen pääsevät yrittäjät, tutkijat, yrityspalvelutoimijat sekä muut elinkeinoelämän vaikuttajat.
Podcastit ovat osa mikroyrittäjyyden verkko-opintojen oppimateriaaleja, jotka tuotetaan
suomalaisten mikroyritysten kasvun ja kilpailukyvyn vahvistamiseksi.

Living as an entrepreneur in Finland – tips for a budding entrepreneur

Intro: MY Studio avaa uusia näkökulmia yrittäjyyteen, osaamisen kehittämiseen. Näissä podcasteissa kurkistetaan mikroyrittäjien arkeen ja mikroyritysten yhteiskunnalliseen vaikuttavuuteen. Ääneen pääsevät professorit, tutkijat, mikroyrittäjät ja yrityspalvelutoimijat.

Markus Rytinki: Today in this podcast we are talking about microentrepreneurship in Finland, especially from a point of view of foreign entrepreneur. And there’s two guests on this podcast today. Maybe you want to introduce yourselves.

Pamela Spokes: My name is Pamela Spokes, and I am a service designer. I currently work at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, but I also have my own company that I run that is also a business consultancy around service design. And I’m also the Chair of the Migrant Entrepreneur Network Committee for Suomen Yrittäjät.

Sari Laitinen: And my name is Sari Laitinen, and I work currently as the network manager at Suomen Yrittäjät, so I’m in charge of for example the Migrant Entrepreneur Network and the actions that we take regarding migrant entrepreneurship. And Suomen Yrittäjät is an organization that aims to make Finland a better place for all entrepreneurs, native or foreign, and we do that with offering support and networking and doing advocating.

Markus Rytinki: Okay, great. Let’s talk about networking a little bit. Obviously, it’s an important part for work for all the entrepreneurs, but what do you think, what kind of network should foreign micro-entrepreneur take part of in Finland?

Sari Laitinen: Sure. I guess the best thing would be to have a great mixture of networks, so in you own field of expertise and also with different entrepreneurs with different backgrounds. International background and native networks, it’s easy to mix it up there as well. And well, I encourage to take part in different kinds of entrepreneurial events that are organized by different organization like for example Suomen Yrittäjät or Uusyrityskeskukset in different cities. We’re in Oulu area, so Business Oulu, for example, or different startup hubs or schools and so on that offer different kinds of networking event. So, just get out there.

Pamela Spokes: I would also add a couple there. I would say maybe ones that are subject- or topic-related, so if you’re doing social media marketing, if that’s your business, so then make sure you’re out there meeting up with other marketers, seeing what’s happening out there, chatting with them. And then also, say, networks that are - in Finland we have this great Facebook group called International Working Women of Finland, so something like that where you have other professionals that you can meet with based with on some other kind of identifier. So, really, make it kind of broad.

Sari Laitinen: And another good Facebook group is Finnish International Entrepreneurs, as well.

Markus Rytinki: Okay, there we had a couple of good examples. Do you think they are normally like Pamela said topic-related or maybe industry-related, or are there any kind of general networks where you should take part of?

Sari Laitinen: I think there are general networks as well, and for example in Suomen Yrittäjät there are all kinds of entrepreneurs from all different fields and different company sizes and so on, so that for example is quite a general network.

Markus Rytinki: That's good to know. Then we have a question which probably all foreign entrepreneurs think about first when they arrive to Finland and are starting up. And that is the question that is this really difficult. Do you think it's difficult to be a foreign entrepreneur in Finland, in general? Is it difficult to maintain business operations here as a foreigner?

Pamela Spokes: Yeah. What they say generally is that it's easy to be an entrepreneur in Finland. And when you're looking at the process of becoming an entrepreneur, one application, and if you can do it in Finnish, you can do it online. It's very easy to become an entrepreneur and that's great. But, you know, what happens after is what really decides whether your process is easy. So, I would say there's two sides of being a migrant entrepreneur in Finland, and the good side is that you have other experiences, you can come in, you can see different things, you see things from a different perspective. You maybe have ideas, where you can identify gaps in certain markets. You can figure out different ways of doing things that are maybe more efficient or just different and more attractive. So, there's that side of it, that it gives you a different perspective coming in, and that's very helpful. And then the other side, which is super important, is networks, and the knowledge of how you get things done in Finland. And that's where it becomes much more difficult to become an entrepreneur in Finland. So, you know, anybody going to any other country would have those two problems. It's not something unique to Finland per se, it's unique maybe to the migrant or immigrant experience anywhere.

Sari Laitinen: Yes, and of course there's always the cultural differences. And I think I hear often in Finland that the bureaucracy can be a shock or "is there all these things that you have to go through," but actually Pamela you said that it can be really easy. So, that's good to hear. And of course there's always the great process of figuring pretty much everything out, how everything works, like Pamela said.

Markus Rytinki: Did you, Pamela, for example, before you started your own company here, did you use any of the services of the Uusyrityskeskukset or Suomen Yrittäjät?

Pamela Spokes: Absolutely. And I think this is really important for people to understand is that there are a lot of services that are out there that are free, that are accessible. You just have to know that they exist or ask somebody, you know, this is where I'm at, what might I need now, and where can I find that. But yeah, because I live in Espoo, so I was at Yritys Espoo, the Uusyrityskeskus here, so I went there and recieved services from there. I used NewCo Helsinki, I got services there, just kind of looking around. Because there are people who are natural entrepreneurs, and then there's me. It's not something that comes really natural to me, but it's something that I was always interested in in exploring. I'm a person who looks for help.

Markus Rytinki: It's good to hear that you got the help you were searching for as well. You mentioned that networking was probably a bit difficult thing to do as a foreigner in here. Do you think it's because of the language barrier? People speak Finnish, a lot of entrepreneurs use Finnish only in their business operations. Do you think the language barrier is a problem or do you have to learn Finnish if you want to succeed here?

Pamela Spokes: That's a loaded question, I think. Yes, there is a language barrier. But no, that's not the only barrier to networking, you know. Everybody who grew up in Finland, they have friends from primary school, they have friends from high school, friends from university, and all of these can be tapped into when you start thinking about a business and knowing, oh, that guy, he now works there - these kinds of abilities to get into networks. It's also a lot, especially in Finland it's a lot about who you know when you're getting into these networks. So yes, there is a language barrier and yes, it can be very difficult to overcome that. I think I'm a great example of the fact that you don't need to learn Finnish. You should probably, but you can be succesful - depending on what you're area of expertise is - without entirely dedicating a decade of your life to learning Finnish.

Sari Laitinen: I would also say that it's not absolutely necessary of course to learn Finnish, but unfortunately, very often it is required. And I think one reason for that is probably that maybe we Finns are a bit shy to start speaking, for example, English ourselves. So then, it feels easier to expect the others to speak Finnish than start using for example English ourselves. Overall, I guess with English, it's pretty easy to get along, and then probably other language face even bigger barriers.

Pamela Spokes: Yeah, that's also something I wanted to add. Of course, I come from a great advantage of being a native English-speaker, so my experience of whether I need to learn Finnish or not is going to be very different from somebody else who isn't a native English-speaker.

Markus Rytinki: Let's move on from the language conversation. Let's think about this. In my opinion, let's say in the media, how entrepreneurship is something portrayed as kinf od a difficult thing to do. It's a mountain to climb and you have to do a million things, and we Finns, we tend to create our business idea, we develop it too long before we start. If we start. So, what I'm really asking is that do you think that entrepreneurship here is seen as a risk more then an opportunity? And if you think so, do you think that something could be done about it?

Sari Laitinen: Well, yeah. Probably it is a sort of a cultural thing, I guess, that overall traditionally we Finns are not the ones out there shouting about how great and competent we are [chuckle], and our mindscape is probably very risk-analyzing in a way. Like, Markus, you said that we can keep on working on the smallest minor details just to be sure that everything is absolutely right on point, when actually you should already be putting your service or product out there. But I do think that there is a shift in this that we can see with millennials or the Generation Z. You people are more likely to start their work careers as entrepreneurs or be entrepreneurs at some point or work partially as entrepreneurs at some point in their careers. Actually in this year's student barometer, 34 % of university or polytechnic students stated that they are very willing to work as entrepreneurs after graduation. Maybe one point that I could bring is that bankruptcy is something that has been seen as something absolutely horrible happening, and pretty much your life ends there and you have no possibility of anything after that. And maybe that is shifting as well, and we're loosening up a bit with the new generations. But I think, Pamela, you probably have some very good comments on this, coming from Canada yourself. How do you see, is there a big difference in how entrepreneurship is seen in general?

Pamela Spokes: Absolutely. Looking from the outside in, you can see that Finland is very risk averse in general. And the way the system has been built is that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you are basically voluntarily removing yourself from society's safety net. It's almost like punishment. So, if you choose to go out on your own and do your own thing, then the rest of society, we won't stop you but we can't support you. Right? Because it's risky behavior, and the society stabilizes on safe behavior. I think that's also why you get a lot of immigrant entrepreneurs. They come from countries that don't have this safety net, and so entrepreneurship is natural. That is your retirement fund, that is how you will pay if you get sick. It's becoming an entrepreneur and doing it for yourself. So there's this very different relationship with risk and society. It's a different contract that people have made with the society, I think. It really benefits you in Finland to be a worker, to stay the safe course. I'm really hoping that some of these things are starting to change, and that there are going to be more ways to follow what is of great interest to you, and to provide value for society and what is considered valuable. And like Sari said, so I'm working at a university of applied science, and I'm working in the entrepreneurship and innovation team, and we're doing a lot to educate young people and people at the universities of applied sciences on entrepreneurship. How to do it in a responsible way, and how to see that there's a process to it, and it's not just like throw something on the wall and see what sticks [chuckle]. So, you're not so much on your own anymore. There are different things in society that are popping up to help teach you about how to do it well.

Markus Rytinki: Yeah. I think it's about the mindset. Because in the university, if you think about the students, if they are foreign students, the percentage of the students who want to be entrepreneurs are much higher than with the Finnish students. I think it kind of comes naturally for them. There's also the conversation about the benefits trap, how we call it in here, that basically, if you start a company, you are outside the system. Is it the same Canada, then?

Pamela Spokes: Honestly, I haven't been in that situation in Canada. I've only become an entrepreneur since coming to Finland. And like you say, many students with a foreign background have more of an idea of becoming entrepreneurs, and part of that is maybe cultural, but a lot of it is also their lived experience in Finland. The realization that they may not get the job that they want here, or their level of Finnish might not be what it needs to be or what people expect it to be. So, that's really a much more reasonable root for them to go.

Markus Rytinki: Let's move onto the first things you have to when you are starting up your own company. Do you guys think that writing a business plan is still a thing to do when you are setting up a company? I've heard that there was this kind of anti-business plan movement happening a couple of years back, where people were thinking that okay, you don't have to write a business plan, just go for it and do your thing and see what happens. What do you think?

Sari Laitinen: Well, I haven't started a company myself, ever, in my life. I might someday but haven't yet. My opinion is that yes, it's a good idea to make a plan, and it forces you to think about the bigger picture and sort of inside and outside of your possible company: what are the possibilities and the risks and the competition and the opportunities and so on. You need to make calculations and figure out what kind of revenue you maybe want and what is required and what kind of income you would want for yourself. And maybe how that affects pricing and so on and so on. I think that it's important to analyze and also then revise your business plan along the way as well. But Pamela, how do you see this?

Pamela Spokes: I think yes. I think the short answer is yes, you need a business plan, and for a few reasons. Like you said, it helps you get the ideas straight in your mind, it helps you figure out who your customers are, who you're selling to, what you have to offer, and like your said, the financials. Not more importantly, but in the logistics, more importantly, is that it's something that you'll need if you want to apply for starttiraha that will be expected of you. So, also accessing many of these free services that are there to help you, they need to understand your company just as well as you do in order to help you fully. And so they'll need something to base that on. What I would say is the long-form business plan is oftentimes, it's like a make it once and shove it in a drawer; absolutely that's what I did with mine. But you can add to that, creating something more like a business model canvas – the one-pager that gets in on one page, so you can explain it to other people – but that's also much more of a living document. You can shift things around, you can decide that you need to serve a different group of people, offer different service, something like that. And so you're gonna need your long-form business plan for certain things, but really, day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year, you'll probably mostly just use something more like a business model canvas for that.

Sari Laitinen: Yes. Make a plan.

Markus Rytinki: Make a plan and don't set it in stone, you know. You don't have to stick with it. It can over time -

Pamela Spokes: It should change!

Markus Rytinki: - and you can come back to it every now and then.

Pamela Spokes: At the beginning you are going at it without really knowing much, and so it really should change.

Markus Rytinki: Did you write your own business plan from the point of view of a part-time entrepreneur?

Pamela Spokes: Me, no. Because I started my company full-time, and I was working with it full-time for three years. And then it was actually one of the contracts that I was working for at the time that asked me to come, at Metropolia, they asked me to come in-house and work with them for a year.

Markus Rytinki: It tends to happen, I've heard, in the area of business you are operating. What kind of company type you have in your business? It is like a private trader or - ?

Pamela Spokes: Me, I just have the toiminimi, so the private trader.

Markus Rytinki: And it works for you just fine?

Pamela Spokes: Yes. Mine's very low risk in that sense. But also, when I started a company, in order to do the osakeyhtiö, the limited company, there was this 2 500 euro amount that you had into your company and I just didn't have that available at the time. That's changed now, so that's probably much better. Give people more options.

Markus Rytinki: Yeah, they took that off, that amount. You don't have to have any kind of money before you start a limited liability company. Have you ever thought that you might take your business to this other form, maybe some people say to this new level, by starting a limited liability company? Or are you happy with being a private trade?

Pamela Spokes: I belive that I will be starting a limited company some time in November, actually, for one stream of business that I have. But I will keep my toiminimi as well.

Sari Laitinen: One thing regarding the limited liability company is that maybe sometimes it is seen in a way more reliable if you're working from business-to-business. The private trader is probably not always seen maybe as reliable as a limited liability company. So, that's probably one point to consider. But of course, private trader form is easy to set up, and the risks are low and there's light administration as well, and so on. That's probably very often a good place to start, especially if you're just self-employed.

Markus Rytinki: It's also easier to quite the company or to put it on shelf, if it's a private trader compared to limited company. Okay, let's go with this kind of futuristic perspective for entrepreneurship. How do you see the field of micro-entrepreneurship developing in the near future? Let's say a couple of - a bit more, let's say ten years. What is going to happen in Finland in the micro-entrepreneur scene, in a couple of years, up to ten years? Let's do a forecast.

Pamela Spokes: I'll get my crystal ball going here. Micro-entrepreneurship is by far the biggest kind of entrepreneurship in Finland. And also, even within that, there's the solo entrepreneurship, just the one-person company. And I think the way everything's going, we've had in the mid-20002 coming up, we had the start of the gig economy, we had people starting to look to different ways of diversifying their income. We also, we saw during corona how vulnerable many people's stable incomes were. So, more and more people look to, you know, they're looking more to what makes them have purpose and how can they do that so that it isn't dependent on some other company deciding whether they need to cut back or not. I think this trend – you have more and more young people who are willing to become entrepreneurs, they see that even from the outset of their studies, that that's what they want to do and they can see themselves becoming that – that this trend will continue and go forward. People will get a side hustle that they start, and the driving purpose being the number one thing is to why you do what you do. So, I think this trend will continue. As each crisis unfolds, it shows a new level of vulnerability with the societies that we've built up and with the stories that we have in our lives and what we've told ourselves, what's safe and what's not safe. It's very different.

Sari Laitinen: I think we have pretty much the same crystal ball with Pamela [laugh]. For myself, I'm currently safely working for my employer, but of course I'm also thinking about maybe starting a side hustle and seeing where that goes. Because there's this willingness to do something that's really something coming from me. And like Pamela said, in Finland, over 90 % of companies employ less than ten people, the so-called microbusinesses, and well over 60 % are solo entrepreneurs. For foreign-backgrounded people, I guess then unfortunately maybe sometimes, the only possibility to start working might be starting your business. But of course I would like to underline that that's not a bad option [laugh] to continue on with that. And of course one thing that we really need to consider in Finland, and I guess especially now in the Helsinki area but also different parts of Finland and of course bigger cities, is that there is a huge increase already and there will be more increase in international or migrant background entrepreneurs. Currently, in Helsinki area over 40 % of the clients in NewCo – the local Uusyrityskeskus – come from migrant backgrounds. The whole field of entrepreneurship is going to be more diverse and multicultural and so on. That's an important thing to consider, and we need to work on keeping our services up to date with that.

Markus Rytinki: Okay. I thought it was a difficult question, but we got pretty long and wide-reaching answers for that one. I am sure you had rehearsed that in advance. I think that, related to this, you've probably heard about the talent boost campaign, that in Finland we are expecting or actually needing I think it was 50 000 workers, foreign workers, by the year of 2030, which means almost 10 000 workers year. Which is a pretty high goal to have. And I think that because it's kind of two divided, there's gonna be the workers in the field of nursing and stuff like that where entrepreneurship is not really valid, but then we have the high experts, which are probably more ready or in need to start their own companies. I'm also sure that it will grow, the amount of foreign entrepreneurs in Finland for sure in the next few years. Alright, let's wrap this podcast up with a simple question. Fast answers. Three most important things a starting micro-entrepreneur should remember, who comes to Finland and starts a company.

Sari Laitinen: I'd say, number one, plan. And number two, ask for help. And number three, network.

Pamela Spokes: Okay. The three that I had thought about are very similar but worded different. The first one was, know yourself and know your why: why are you doing this, what can you bring of value, how do you add value, what do you do best. That's the first one. The second one is to create a support group around you, and that includes fellow entrepreneurs, maybe a mentor, colleagues in the same topic as you. Check out the incubators that are at the different institutions or at the different cities. Built up this support group for you, because you might not have it in your family. You might be the only entrepreneur, so it's really important to have some cheerleaders. And number three, it's the same as Sari's: utilizing the free services that are all around you. Because they really do, cities and organizations put a lot of money into providing these services. Same with Suomen Yrittäjät, even though it's a membership organization, they have a ton of free resources you can use, even if you're not a member.

Markus Rytinki: That sounds like a good plan. Let's have a bonus question for the end. Often people who are listening to entrepreneurship podcasts want to know what the people who are entrepreneurs actually do. So, Pamela, now it's time to advertise your own company for the listeners. What does your company do and how can people get to reach you if they want something from your company?

Pamela Spokes: What I do mostly is, because I'm a service designer, I help companies with different services that they either want to offer or they want to improve. I do a lot of content design for companies and organizations, so working with the city to help them write better even about the services that they have. So, I do a lot of those kinds of things. Mine is often B2B, that's mainly how I work. I don't actually sell individual products or services. Another great piece of advice is to have a website, which I do. It's And it's really important, even if it's just one page. Have something available that people can see who you are and how to contact you.

Markus Rytinki: Okay. That was the last word of advice from a specialist in this field. I think I can thank you for taking part of this podcast, and see you soon.

Pamela Spokes: Thank you.

Sari Laitinen: Thank you, it was a pleasure.