Jane Ashford
Jane Ashford, 63, a British expat who took her first job at 13, started her first company when she was in her early 30s, and her second business was launched when she was 50 and then again when she was 55 in the UAE. Image Credit: Supplied

"I have always wanted to earn my money," said Jane Ashford, 63, a British expat who took her first job at 13. She used to ride her bike, drop off the football pools at people's houses, and get money. "I earned about 5 British pounds a week, saved a couple of pounds a week and spent the rest."

In her growing years, Ashford travelled and lived in different places, including Japan, New Zealand, Spain and the UK. "I liked to be financially independent and have worked since leaving school.

"I went to boarding school, where we were allowed to choose the amount we could withdraw for pocket money each week. The limit was a shilling (5 pence) unless we had a special reason to take out extra.

"We would tell the school how much we wanted midweek, and they would hand out the coins on a Friday morning. We were allowed into the village at weekends to spend our shilling."

Ashford practised money-saving strategies from a very young age.

She had worked at different places, mostly in hotels and bars. "I used to make sandwiches and was allowed to make and eat them myself, saving on lunch money. I would always travel to work on a bus to save money. Friends would come to the hotels wanting free drinks and food, but I was always careful not to give away anything."

I have always wanted to earn my money.. I would always travel to work on a bus to save money.

- Jane Ashford

Why did you think of starting a firm that helps businesses launch?

Ashford started her career as a cabin crew. She has always enjoyed working with and assisting people, and has an entrepreneurial spirit.

"As a cabin crew, I enjoyed running the bar. In those days, it was all cash. We didn't carry a card machine. At the end of each flight, we would count the stock, and we would have to ensure that the cash tallied with the sales. This often had to be done in several different currencies.

"This taught me to work quickly with numbers and add money in my mind as we didn't have calculators. You had to be accurate with your additions. Otherwise, the client would question you."

When she stopped flying and had children, she started a small business in the UK, helping expats to buy properties in London. "The business was successful but proved too much of a commitment."

"When my husband and I moved to Qatar, I got a job running a business centre and helping companies open their companies in Qatar. I enjoyed assisting companies operating in Qatar, watching the companies grow, and knowing that I had helped to facilitate that growth."

Hence, the idea of starting a business formation company set in when she decided to start a business in the UAE in 2014 at age 55.

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In 2014, Ashford started a business formation and support company in the UAE, which she self-funded. (Picture used for illustrative purposes.))

How did you fund the business support company?

In 2014, Ashford started PRO Partner Group, a business formation and support company in the UAE. She self-funded the company through the fund she had acquired from a previous business in Qatar.

"As our company is in the business of setting up companies, the costs were minimal (government costs only) for obtaining the licence.

"The main costs initially were for a small two-person office and the salary of a PRO [Public Relations Officer]. I have a business partner, so the charges were split based on our shareholding, and we both worked for no compensation. It took us about three months when our revenue covered our overheads.

"I made the entire investment at the start. With licenses and office requirements, the cost was approximately Dh150,000. The licenses were about 10 per cent of the overall costs. The balance was for a year's lease."

Business Lesson #1: Due diligence is key when starting a company, especially to look for hidden costs.

Ashford said that setting up a company in the Middle East can be challenging at times, especially when starting out.

"There can be a lot of bureaucracy; finding the correct information can often be difficult. You need to do your research, and if you are looking to set up in the Middle East, if the price offered by a company doing 'Company Formation Services' seems too good to be true, then there will be many hidden costs not being disclosed."

Business Lesson #2: Consult your accountant for advice when making commercial decisions.

Ashford hired a reliable accountant nearly two decades ago, which she reveals is fundamental to running or managing any business.

"My accountant has worked with me for 17 years. I think it is essential to trust your accountant and listen to them to make the right commercial decisions. There can always be an element of risk-taking. I was lucky in that I never had to borrow money. We worked smartly, reinvested our profits and grew organically."

If you can’t keep within your budget, you most likely won't make a profit.

- Jane Ashford

What saving plans or strategies have you applied in life?

When it comes to savings and investments, Ashford explained that she always found real estate returns to be comparatively reliable.

"My husband and I have always bought, renovated and sold property. We have been very successful at this. From time to time, we have bought shares, but this has never proven as financially profitable as property,” she said.

"For instance, we had a mortgage in the UK, an endowment mortgage. These were cheaper than a repayment mortgage, but after the 25 years when the mortgage should have been fully paid off, and we should have had extra funds, we were about 50 per cent short on the mortgage amount owning."

What is an endowment mortgage?
An endowment mortgage is a type of interest-only mortgage. It is a mixture of an investment and an insurance policy.

It is essentially a mortgage loan arranged on an interest-only basis where the capital is intended to be repaid by one or more endowment policies.

‘Endowment mortgage’ is a phrase used mainly in the UK by lenders to refer to this arrangement and is not a legal term.

Unlike many others who steer clear of the world of cryptocurrencies, Ashford dived in recently and made a few investments.

"Now, I recently invested in cryptocurrency - Etherium and Bitcoin," Ashford revealed, while adding that one should be ready to liquidate the digital coins on short notice, given the volatility of the market.

Money Lesson #1: Eye the market closely and be ready to cash in your investments whenever needed.

When it comes to buying real estate, Ashford said she always bought with a location in mind, generally buying properties that needed updating or extending.

"In our younger days, we did much of the work on the property ourselves to keep the costs down. It is fun to create home ideas and see them come to fruition,” she added.

Keeping on budget or under budget is extremely important when developing properties, noted Ashford.

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Jane Ashford: "Eye the market closely and be ready to cash in your investments whenever needed."

Money Lesson #2: Not staying on budget can prove costly when investing in properties.

If one does not stay on budget, Ashford further added that it can prove to be a very costly mistake when investing in properties,

“If you can’t keep within the budget, you most likely won't make a profit. We are lucky we only failed to make a profit on one property that we purchased," she explained.

"Do your research; worst property on the best street. Always buy something that will sell quickly. The only property we lost money on was where we didn't thoroughly research the market."

What are your plans for retirement?

Ashford started her first company when she was in her early 30s, and her second business was launched when she was 50 and then again when she was 55 in the UAE.

"I have sold the company in the UAE to a much larger international group. I was a 55-year-old female when I started my company in the UAE, and seven years later, we operate in 5 countries and employ 50 staff. It is a success story, and I am proud of our success. It is, however, now time to retire," she said.

"We plan to travel a lot with friends all around the world to visit. My husband and I want to buy a boat and sail to Italy. I plan to play golf (get better), learn Spanish, and get involved in something to give back to the community (not sure what yet)."