My experience of starting a business in Dubai during a global pandemic.
January 31st was my last day as marketing director of McGettigan’s, overseeing twenty-three bar/restaurants in five countries.
With newfound vigour, under no immediate financial pressure, I carefully considered my next move.
End of February brought early tremors of Covid. Potential jobs disappeared. Freelance event worked I had secured stopped.
Early March, brace for impact.
A career centred around hospitality and entertainment. Could I have chosen worse?
I had contingency plans, but not for this. The downside of tax-free Dubai is no furlough schemes or unemployment benefits.
The following two months were a roller coaster. Accustomed to hundreds of emails daily, this dwindled to several a week (banks offering credit cards). In tried to remain proactive, but too often was sucked into a social media vortex of self-righteous quotes from people “enjoying the downtime”. Home all day with a one and three-year-old, yoga and meditation was not an option.
We reduced outgoings and considered leaving Dubai. But where, and to do what?
Fight or flight.
Keep contemplating worst case scenarios and lack of jobs, or start creating my own luck. Creative Noise communications and events was born.
Impossible to project revenues in such an unstable market. Limiting start-up costs was imperative.
1) Company set up - I had a visa already, so was able to get a DED trade licence for only five hundred USD.
2) Bank Account – Mashreq Neo Biz were offering six moths free banking for small start ups.
3) Office - No need. Most people were working from home anyway.
5) Logo /Brand Design - Paid an independent UK designer five hundred and fifty USD, Half the price of Dubai.
The next steps. How to get clients:
1) Marketing – I spent five hundred USD on Google and LinkedIn ads. Generated no useful leads but helped improve web search page ranking.
2) Networking – Not easy in a pandemic. However just mailed and called people I knew. Many dead ends but also leads that came from the strangest places.
3) Value and Flexibility – Not the time to be stubborn on pricing. Adapt to what the client needs within reason.
Getting new clients is so important for self-esteem, cash flow, and to prove to yourself and prospective clients you are a functioning business.
Five months on, my wife joined the company, bringing three of her own clients, We now service eight in total, and each month brings more prospects.
Whilst our household income is still not near pre Covid levels, thankfully the focus is not on 'what ifs' but 'what next'.