Dubai: Although the recession saw some companies struggling to survive, it also proved to be a business opportunity for others, as the founders of Heels & Deals are finding out.
Claire Fenner and Georgie Hearson set up Heels & Deals in April 2009 as a networking organisation exclusively for businesswomen in the UAE.
Look around at their meetings and there isn't a man in sight. And the ladies don't talk hair and make-up — they mean serious business. The clients are of all ages and across industries.
"In a way we're grateful to the recession because we probably wouldn't have done this had things gone really smoothly," said Claire. "Not that people get complacent, but when things are good you ride that wave and don't necessarily look hard for certain things."
Before Heels & Deals, Claire owned a free news and listings magazine for parents in Dubai, while Georgie had a company specialising in fashionable environmentally-friendly bags.
During the recession they were approached by other businesswomen looking for tips and recommendations. They quickly realised there was a niche market waiting to be filled.
"We spoke to a lot of women and they were not really doing any structured networking," said Claire. "They just spoke to their friends who happened to have a business. And we thought here's an opportunity to set something up."
So Heels & Deals "happened organically,", and is a venue for businesswomen to share their "fears and frustrations," Claire added.
While a number of networking organisations already operate in the country, the Heels & Deals founders claim theirs is the first for female entrepreneurs. In fact, many businessmen have asked about joining, but were turned down.
Another "differentiation point" is there aren't other networks globally that operate on-line and off-line as it does. The website allows members to meet online, upload flyers and promos, start discussions, and post articles with their Top 10 business tips.
The ranks of businesswomen have been on the rise despite the recession, according to Claire. She credits the trend to the availability of cheaper and better childcare, spouses earning more disposable income that allows them to take the risk of setting up a business, the need for a work-life balance, and the UAE being "an entrepreneurial place."
"We are fortunate to be in such a forward-thinking environment, and there are still niches that are currently unexplored," added Claire.
With more businesswomen emerging on the scene, the networking firm now has 160 members and 1,300 women on its database.
The most common queries they field are on setting up a company and the trade licensing options. This is because there are many home-based, unlicensed businesses and their owners want to grow and get licensed.
The pair do not claim to be experts in every field, which is why regular panels with specialists on fin-ance, IT, law and social media are hosted.
As entrepreneurs, mothers and wives, the owners of Heels & Deals say their lives often become a "juggling act." But the bonus to being an entrepreneur is maintaining a work-life balance and having flexible hours, they said.
While they cover their costs and make a profit, excess money is put back into the business to fund its growth. In time, the plan is to give Heels & Deals a regional footprint through a franchising or licensing model after strongly establishing it in the UAE.
- Who you know is just as important as what you know. Network with established business owners for advice.
- Growing a business takes patience. Learn something new everyday and do not try to please everybody.
- Use technology to get efficient, but make sure you know when to turn off the devices and walk away from them for a few hours a day.
- Hire a personal assistant to take care of daily chores, so you can focus on the core work.
- Prioritise your tasks.
- Putting the business first and tightening purse strings are a necessity, but make sure you aren't on the backburner.
- Licensing a business can be a maze. Heels & Deals recommend Virtuzone, the UAE's virtual freezone. (www.vz.ae).