Starting a business in Italy: the essential vocabulary you need to know

business in italy vocabulary

Starting your own business in a foreign Country can be tough, but mastering the correct vocabulary can be the first step towards success. While most business environments are fairly international, you will still need to be able to discuss basic company layout details, particularly when going through the process of registering your business and defining your corporate identity. We have already shared a snap guide to the types of companies available in Italy, and – depending on the path you choose – you will need to complete a few administrative steps to get your firm going. This is usually when you find that, no matter how clear the picture in your head is, if you don’t have the right words for it, it’s really hard to turn your dreams into a viable business. Here’s some vocabulary to help you out during this process.

There are a lot of words you already know!

Surprise! You are in luck: a sizeable part of your business vocabulary is simply taken from English and not translated. Words like “business plan”, “problem-solving”, “competitor” and “go-to-market” are used in their original form and in the exact same meaning as in English. You can still be a “manager” or a “CEO”, as long as you just remember to refer to yourself as an “imprenditore” rather than an “entrepreneur” (the one word of this cluster that has not migrated into the Italian language unchanged). But you can still be a “startupper” if you like.

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What is your business?

Yes, you can still call it a “business”, but you might need to be more specific at times. While the term “attività”, much like “business” indicates anything one might do for a living, there’s a difference between a “negozio” (a store or shop, catering to the general public), an “ingrosso” (wholesaler), a “piccola azienda” (generic definition of a small business) or a “grande azienda” (a large company), an “agenzia” that provides services, and a “fabbrica” (a factory, producing physical goods). All of these definitions intersect with the different types of company you can found. Most companies will simply be referred to as “aziende”, a term that covers anything from independent dairy farms to software companies to Fiat (yes, really).

Follow the money

The one time you really need to be able to understand what you are signing up to, is when you are securing financing for your enterprise and talking to your bank or your investors. Again, you will encounter several familiar English terms here, and others – such as “licenza” or “investimento”, for instance – will be immediately familiar to you. Other, such as “prestito” (loan) and “mutuo” (mortgage), will be less easy to remember, but are still extremely important to understand. When crafting your business plan, you will be asked to plan in advance for your expenses and prospective income (“spese” and “ricavi”), and you will refer to your profit as “utile”. The most important piece of information you will have to hold on to, regarding your business, is your VAT registration number, aka your “partita iva”.

Hiring and working with others

When working with an Italian team, you will also need to be familiar with a series of terms that define different roles within a company. For instance, you will not have the same relationship with your “soci” (associates, business partners) and with your “dipendenti” (employees). Or you could decide to hire as few people as possible and bring in external consultants (“consulenti”) and freelancers (“liberi professionisti” is the correct definition, but “freelancers” is used as well). If your company can benefit from training “apprendisti” (trainees) you could do that, or you could offer paid or unpaid “stages” (same word, but with the original French pronunciation) to students or young graduates. If someone refers to their team as “collaboratori” you will instantly know that they haven’t sorted out their respective roles yet. When you do hire someone, however, you should take particular care in deciding what kind of “contratto” you are going to offer them and what monthly “stipendio” (wage) you are going to pay them. Be aware that in Italy, when someone is “assunto” (hired), this is taken to mean that they have a proper employment contract. This means they don’t have to pay their own taxes at the end of the year (you have to do it for them and detract the amount from their wages) and they don’t have to pay for their own social security. You, the employer, are legally obliged to pay what goes under the name of “contributi” to the National Social Security Institute (INPS).

If you think this is too much and you’ll never be able to remember all of these complicated words, you probably just need a few weeks of “ferie”!

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She is a part-time digital nomad. She would go full-time, if only she could stay away from Berlin for long enough without pining for a Pretzel. She was born in Italy and she enjoys life as an expat, but visits home often enough and can still remember how to bake a perfect lasagna. She is passionate about writing, marketing, languages and the systematic demolition of cultural stereotypes.

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