Dubai: Originally Lebanese-Spanish and French, Swiss national Sarah Battikha, 29, quit her full-time job in Public Relations (PR) when she was just 24 years old to start a beauty clinic in Geneva. Little did she know then, she would start two more clinics in 4 years, with one now in Dubai.
“As much as I was passionate about beauty, I wasn't feeling the accomplishment of doing something meaningful for people. After a long chat with my dad, I looked deep down for what I wanted to do. My father, a doctor, helped and inspired me to take the direction in my choice of career,” she said.
"A few months later, I put my passion for beauty and the love of helping people together, and started training in London, taking evening classes in a private school on skin knowledge. It broadened my knowledge, and I took some specific courses in Switzerland to start working."
Starting 3 businesses in 4 years
Although Battikha first worked in PR, within the beauty department at a French luxury brand in London, she missed making genuine human connections at the workplace. That’s when she decided that it was time for her to quit working full-time and enter the beauty business to be her own boss.
However, Battikha continued to work in PR and resigned only after the summer then because the PR firm she worked for had events scheduled, and she didn't want to disappoint anyone despite the work atmosphere at one point turning very distressing for her personally. She resigned in mid-2017.
Even after quitting the job, she took a year to prepare and launch her first beauty clinic in Geneva in mid-2018. In four years, she started a total of three beauty clinics, two in Switzerland, and a third in the UAE, in April 2022. Battikha said her two clinics in Geneva, funded her latest business in Dubai.
There were times when I would think, as people say, ‘I won't grow, especially at the beginning’
Not being taken seriously at first
Her entrepreneurial life began with people not taking her seriously, Battikha said, while adding that she often set meetings in her dad's office with her father sitting next to her, so that people would take her seriously.
"There were times when I would think, as people say, ‘I won't grow, especially at the beginning’, but my family has been and continues to be so supportive, allowing me to believe that anything is possible," she added.
After opening her second beauty business in Geneva in December, 2020, Battikha made herself a goal to open one in the UAE, given the opportunities the country has to offer. She officially opened the clinic in Dubai in April, 2022, even though preparation for the launch began in September, 2021.
Perks of doing business in the UAE
“Compared to Switzerland, there are many more entities to deal with when opening a business in UAE, so there was a lot of work to jump from meeting to meeting. But there are more opportunities in Dubai from a marketing point of view, whereas Geneva is much more traditional,” she said.
"Between securing the business, creating the company, buying the machines, renovating, staff, and rent, I have spent Dh4 million within the first year. So far, our business has a database of around 500 clients, which has increased much faster than our Geneva database.”
Moreover, Battikha also observed that people in Dubai were willing to allocate a monthly budget to their beauty-related treatments as part of their routines.
“Also, Dubai is very exotic compared to Geneva. I’m attracted to the buzz of Dubai and vibrant lifestyle. Having a Lebanese dad but living in Geneva, I felt, I was between two cultures. Dubai is the in-between, so I am highly comfortable dealing with my patients here," she said.
There are more opportunities in Dubai from a marketing point of view, whereas Geneva is much more traditional
Dubai business yet to breakeven
Battikha said that her business in Dubai is yet to break even, which she understands will take time, as per her experience with two clinics in Geneva. (At its simplest, the point of break-even is the point where you are earning as much as you are spending — no more, no less.)
"My business is still at the stage where I re-invest all the money within my companies. Whether it be for new machines or staff, it can be scary at times. I hate routine but love new challenges and knowing I must always be on top of my game, as the beauty industry is fast-paced," she added.
Entrepreneur's tip #1: Cool head is key when inexperienced in negotiating business deals
Battikha said she had spent much of her time at her parents' workplace during her growing years, who worked together (and still do!). "They taught me that money is not the end result and always encouraged me to do something I'm passionate about and that all will follow.
"I especially loved listening to my dad negotiate deals and still take his advice. He taught me to act cool when negotiating. Even though you want to buy a specific machine, the person in front of you has to understand that you can always look for another one, and no one is essential," she said.
Entrepreneur's tip #2: Discipline yourself to regard every amount as necessary
Practising the norm of prioritising purchases has helped Battikha keep her expenses in check. She said, "When the first clinic was successful, I would spend money on necessary things at one particular time,” she confessed.
“However, usually, this was unnecessary spending, and then at the end of the year, my accountant would emphasise the numbers. I quickly learnt from my mistakes after the first year. No matter how the business is doing, I double-check all spending and remove anything that's not essential."
When the first clinic was successful, I would spend money on necessary things at one particular time
When investing in machines, Battikha now looks for quality over quantity in my purchases, and she usually starts with essential machines and then builds it up over time. “I always look for the latest and best machines, mostly sticking to European and US machines,” she said.
Money tip: Figure out monthly spending as this allows you to budget for your business
Battikha still makes frequent trips between the UAE and Geneva, and this splits both her time and money. “To this day, and within my business, I know how much I will have to pay at the end of the month. This saves me from being stressed toward the end of the month from not knowing.
"Moreover, I have a very supportive system that watches over my business daily, and I am constantly in touch with my team. This helps a ton when it comes to managing business expenditures as well."