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So you’ve had your lightbulb moment and have decided to setup your own company. What now? How do you turn that big idea into your very own small business?

There are many reasons to start your own business. You may yearn for greater autonomy or flexibility at work, or you might simply have a great idea to bring to life. You won’t be alone either. According to the UAE Ministry of Economy, more than 94 per cent of companies operating in the UAE are SMEs and they employ 86 per cent of the total private sector workforce.

For all the advantages of working for yourself however, there are as many challenges, so it’s essential to be armed with knowledge, good contacts and lots of patience.


The UAE government’s online information portal is a great place to start. It will guide you through the most basic choice of whether to setup your company on the mainland or in a free zone. Many decisions will depend on this choice, so it needs to be made carefully.

Free zone Vs mainland

Yoga teacher Nea Ferrier recently opened her own yoga school called Nilaya House in Al Quoz after several years offering classes through other venues. She has experience of both company structures.

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Good planning is the most important part of the process Image Credit:

Good planning is the most important part of the process

“My first route was using CreativeZone to get a virtual trade licence. That's when the business was a consultancy and it didn't have a fixed address. Then as soon as the business had a fixed address and that was in a local area, not through a free zone, it meant that I had to then get the Ejari and the trade licence through the Dubai Economic Department and Dubai Municipality.”

Ferrier suggests that new business owners can learn a lot from doing as much as possible of the paperwork, and legwork, themselves, rather than hiring a PRO.

“It will save you money, on the fees, and it will also mean that you get a really good understanding of exactly what's going on and you learn so much in that process as well,” says Ferrier.

This tactic may suit some businesses more than others, however, and investing in good advice from the outset may actually save money in the long run, according to Helen Barrett of CBD Consultancy.

“People often fail because they try to do it themselves. If you are looking at something that’s regulated, you need legal advice, you need the support of good service providers. It’s worth it because you don’t have to spend as much management time sorting things out,” says Barrett.

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Image Credit: Gulf News

The power of planning

She has first-hand experience of rescuing entrepreneurs who have started the process themselves and become stuck, but she says the climate now is more conducive for startups than ever before.

“I actually think, having been here for 20 years, the regulations are abundantly clear now. It’s infinitely easier to do business in the UAE now that you’ve got the online systems. The government has really streamlined the procedures. For an entrepreneur, if they’ve already identified their business premises, we’re able to set them up within a week.”

Ashlea Barber, her husband Yousaf Mubarak, and their two business partners have just opened Stash Cafe and Collectibles in Garhoud. They’re hoping to create a community space where people can soak up some pop culture as a family, play a board game or read a comic while having a meal or coffee.

Barber says good planning is the most important part of the process. “You need to take time, research and have patience. Sorting out your business concept and plan is important. It’s one of your basic tools for success,” says Barber.

“What we wish we knew before starting was how important it is to have contingency funds for unforeseen expenses,” says Barber.

Barber says it’s crucial to keep something in reserve because there will always be hidden expenses and delays that are out of your hands.