Setting up a business

A guide for budding entrepreneurs on the process of setting up a business in Dubai.
Setting up a business
By Diana Milne
Thu 01 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

Do you fancy becoming the next Richard Branson or are you just sick of being told what to do every day? If so then it's about time you took the plunge and set up your own business.

Starting up a business is never without risks. But, as the old saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And where better place to do it than in Dubai, where a booming economy and tax-free environment has created a fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurs.

In this feature we explain how to set up a business in the UAE - from bureaucracy to banking - so that you get the perfect finished product.

Step 01. Red tape

No matter how big or small your business is - you must be prepared to navigate your way through a sea of red tape before being allowed to set up in Dubai.

The three main government departments you will encounter on your way to setting up your business are: the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED); the Ministry of Economy and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).

Every commercial, professional and industrial company must register with the Chamber of Commerce.

Those choosing to operate within one of Dubai's free zones will deal directly with the free zone authority and will be subject to the free zone authorities' own immigration and labour laws as a well as the regulations required to set up a business.

The DED is responsible for issuing trade licences and more information can be found about the organisation on www.dubaided.com.

Dubai's Ministry of Economy oversees economic activity in the UAE.

It supervises and regulates all commercial activities in the country and gives approval to all foreign companies wanting to set up a branch in Dubai - as well as insurance companies and insurance brokers.

Dubai Chamber of Commerce's role is to promote commerce throughout the emirate to compile business related data, set standards for commercial activity and to receive commercial complaints.

The starting point for every business hoping to operate in Dubai outside a free zone is to obtain a trade licence, which is issued by the DED.

The licence defines the type of business activities they are allowed to practice and there are three different types of licence you can apply for: a commercial licence issued for business activities in general; a professional licence for services and certain professions; and an industrial licence for manufacturing activities.

Before applying for your licence you must have a clear idea of what legal form your company will take.

This influences what type of licence you can apply for and the business activity and ownership requirements your company must fulfil.

There are two main categories of company that expatriates generally can set up in Dubai: a branch of a foreign company; or a limited liability company which is incorporated under the UAE companies law.

It is also possible to set up a professional company or consultancy business which usually practices engineering and business consultancy, graphic and architectural design, healthcare, IT or teaching.

In the case of an LLC a UAE foreign national must have 51% ownership of the company's shares.

The degree of the control this gives the shareholder over the management of the company varies according to the agreement between the two parties, as Simon Adams, a partner in Dubai based law firm Clyde & Co explains.

"It's acceptable to put in place an arrangement which turns over management control to the foreign party. Ownership of the shares however remains with the UAE national otherwise the arrangement is illegal."

Cynthia Trench of the law firm Trench & Associates, adds: "The UAE companies law allows for expatriates to have 100% management control over the company. There just needs to be a clause in the contract between the two parties identifying who has management control."

Branches of foreign companies and consultancy businesses are 100% foreign owned but the company has to appoint a UAE national service agent - also referred to as a sponsor - who is responsible for assisting the company with immigration or Ministry of Labour issues - in particular obtaining visas for employees.

Again the degree of involvement the service agent has in the running of the company or its activities can vary considerably, according to Adams.

"A service agent can have whatever degree of power you care to give them. In order for the company to register with the immigration and labour authorities and therefore employ staff, the UAE national needs to make the application and sign certain forms. Thereafter every visa applied for has to be signed off by the UAE national.

"He can delegate his authority to a representative in the foreign company or a foreign shareholder in an LLC. There is a whole raft of things you could ask the UAE national to do or not to do - it's entirely a matter of negotiation between the two parties."

The agent is paid a flat annual fee or a percentage of the company's profits according to John Martin St Valery, CEO of the Dubai-based companies formation specialist firm Links. He said this is worked out according to the type of business and the number of employees it has.

"We like to look at the company's business plan to see what the projected growth in staff will be then to come up with a fair and reasonable fee."

According to Valery, the way to find a UAE national to sponsor your company - or to be a shareholder, is to approach a law or accountancy firm or a government department such as the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"You should take the advice of people on the ground both in the government departments and the private sector. It's important to look at whether the local partner has a genuine interest in your business," he says.

All companies must apply to the Dubai Department for Economic Development for a trade licence.

Companies apply for different licence categories depending on the nature of their business.

There are different licence categories for commercial, professional and industrial companies with listings of the types of activities that fall into the different categories.

For instance, banks, insurance agencies or supermarkets would fall into the commercial licence category; accountants, advertising agencies or legal consultants would need a professional licence; while companies involved in fishing, construction or agriculture require an industrial licence.

In order to apply for a trade licence companies are required to have obtained a lease for commercial property in Dubai. They then pay a fee based on 5% of their annual rent for commercial property in connection to an additional 5% of any additional leases that are held in the name of the company. Depending on the legal form the company takes and the activities it will carry on, some businesses require additional approvals from other ministries before being able to obtain their trade licence from the DED.

Those setting up a business should read the Standard Classification of Economic Activities which is published by the DED and Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry to find out if they need to register with additional government ministries.

According to Valery, 30 working days is the standard time it takes to register for a trade licence.

However, this can vary according to the structure of the company and is particularly complex in the case of branches of foreign companies.

"Depending on the structure of the foreign company's business there might be quite a bit of documentation and legal paper work that is required from outside the country in order to get the process going," says Valery.

"So for example in the case of a branch of a foreign company, you would need corporation documents from the parent company - these need to be legalised and attested in the country of origin then translated and processed here before a licence can be granted."

In addition, the branches of foreign companies must be registered at Federal UAE level with the Ministry of Economy - a process that can take up to two or three months to complete.

In order to be able to employ staff and apply for visas, companies must register with the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs Department.

This process, according to Adams, can take around two to three weeks to complete.

Companies must renew their trade licence annually. The DED will not renew the licence of a company that it believes has not fulfilled the terms of its licence, as Adams explains.

"It will not be renewed for instance, if you have been using that licence as a smokescreen to carry on some illegal or unapproved activity."

The bureaucracy involved in setting up a business in Dubai is a daunting prospective to budding entrepreneurs.

And those that get it wrong could face frustrating delays and unexpected expenses.

For this reason experts recommend those starting up a business to employ the services of a well-established law firm, which can take on the task of registering and applying for a trade licence for your company on your behalf using the power of attorney.

Alternatively companies specialising in company formation such as Links in Dubai can provide guidance, support and a network of contacts to start up companies.
Step 02. Setting up in a free zone

Dubai's free zones were set up to attract foreign investment to the emirate - and all have their own unique laws regarding ownership, taxation, and recruitment of labour.

Most significantly they allow for 100% foreign ownership of companies as they are treated as being offshore so do not require UAE sponsorship.

Companies operating within the free zones are also tax exempt and are entitled to 100% repatriation of their profit and capital.

The types of companies that can set up in a free zone include: a free zone establishment or a company that is incorporated in and regulated by a free zone; a branch of a foreign company; or a branch of a UAE company.

Companies established within a free zone are 100% foreign owned, similar in structure to an LLC, with a single shareholder, minimum capital requirements and with liability limited to the amount of its paid capital.

One of the biggest advantages of setting up in a free zone is that the free zone authorities provide assistance to companies setting up there and incorporating their businesses.

There are five main free zones in Dubai - Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA); Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZA); Dubai Internet City (DIC); Dubai Media City (DMC); and Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

The authorities in each free zone provide a ‘one stop shop' facility for businesses hoping to set up there and in return for an administrative charge will assist the business with all the necessary government procedures and bureaucracy involved including obtaining visas and work permits.

This can make the process much quicker and easier for companies setting up.

Each of the different free zones has different licensing requirements for the companies that operate within them as well as different setting up procedures and charges.

DIFC in particular has its own comprehensive legal and court system.

To find out more contact the individual free zones:

DAFZA - 04 299 5555
www.dafza.gov.ae

DIC - 04 391 111
www.dubaiinternetcity.com

DMC - 04 391 4615
www.dubaimediacity.com

JAFZA - 04 881 5000
www.jafza.co.ae

DIFC - 04 362 2599
www.difc.ae
Step 03. Office space

Government legislation requires all companies registering for a trade licence in Dubai to have first secured a lease for office space.

But sky-high rents and a chronic shortage of supply versus demand means this is no easy task for newcomers to the emirate.

According to figures published last month by the property consultancy firm Asteco, rental rates in Dubai have tripled since 2005 - rising from an average of AED100 per square foot two years ago to AED280 per square foot today.

These soaring prices have, according to Asteco, been driven by demand from multinational companies wanting to set up in Dubai - and from existing businesses wanting to expand their operations.

The situation means companies hoping to find office space in the UAE have to act fast when space does become available - or they could face a long wait.

Niraj Masand is director of the commercial advisory department at Better Homes.

"Demand for office space in Dubai absolutely outstrips supply," he says.

"At this time the vacancy rate in the commercial property market is at around 1%. All the office space has been absorbed and every new project that comes into the market is being picked up within a couple of days.

"In fact most of the leasing starts well before a project is completed," he warns.

"It can start anything between three and 15 months before a project is completed."

Demand is highest for space within the various free zones, according to Masand.

There companies can wait for up to two years to secure office space.

"Whether you go directly to the free zone authorities or to the developers it's extremely challenging to get commercial office space within the free zones," says Masand.

"It's extremely difficult to get space directly through the free zone authorities because they have very long waiting lists.

"We hear stories that there are around 1000 companies waiting to get into DMC and DIC but I can't confirm those figures."

Experts predict that the heavy demand for office space in Dubai will ease in 2009 when more commercial property projects are completed.

John Allen, director of research valuation and consultation at Asteco, says: "We expect commercial office rents to remain high throughout 2007 and 2008 mainly due to construction delays.

"By 2009, a significant amount of new supply will reach the market which will address this strong demand and ease rental increases going forward."

However, until then businesses can expect to pay through the nose - with rents having gone up 55% on average across the emirate in the last year alone.

The most expensive areas in which to rent office space are obviously the ones where there is highest demand.

Asteco's research reveals that companies can expected to pay the highest rents in Sheikh Zayed Road where rents have jumped from AED240 per square foot in 2006 to AED375 per square foot in 2007.

Other areas commanding high commercial rental rates according to Asteco's study include Bur Dubai and Karama which charge AED280 and AED265 per square foot. A 24% and a 51% increase over the 2006 third quarter rents, respectively.

Masand agrees that Sheikh Zayed Road is the most expensive place to rent office space, because of the high demand from both local and international companies who regard it as a prime location.

"By far Sheikh Zayed Road is the most popular area.

"I would say that 99% of the clients that call us about office space give Sheikh Zayed Road as their preferred location - but when they hear the rental costs they are pretty horrified.

"Again the prices depend on the project or office building but are in the range of AED350 per square foot for the new developers.

"Prices are in the range of AED180 to AED200 for the older projects between the World Trade Centre and Defence Roundabout.

"But if you look at something like Emirates Towers or some of the more premium projects in that area they are far more expensive and are in the range of around AED350 per square foot."

He predicts that rents within Business Bay, once the commercial properties there are completed, will be in the region of around AED350 per square foot per year.

Rents are cheaper however, in projects further down Sheikh Zayed Road such as the Gold and Diamond Park where he claims, "companies can expect to pay around AED250 per square foot per year."

Masand is keen to stress that in Dubai, rents are no reflection of the quality of the office buildings but of the popularity of the areas in which they are located and of demand for office space in that area.

"The rentals in the market are not a reflection of the quality of the project or how new that project is," he says.

"It's purely a reflection of supply and demand."

"There can be an excellent location but a very old building and that can command rents in the range of around AED275 to AED300 a square foot.

"So this rent does not reflect the construction, the quality of service and facilities or the developer. It's purely a demand/supply mismatch," Masand goes on to say.

Office rents within Dubai's free zone are also a reflection of the high demand for space within those areas.

According to Masand it is generally possible to negotiate better rates by going directly to the free zone authorities themselves.

He cites the example of Tecom - the authority in charge of Dubai Media City (DMC).

"One of the advantages of going directly to the free zone authority for office space is that you get preferred rates. For instance, Tecom is leasing out office space at around AED150 a square foot.

"But at the same time there are private developers within DIC and DMC that charge in the range of AED200 to AED250 per square foot."

The most expensive free zone, according to Masand is DIFC where the leasing out of office space is entirely handled by the DFSA - which, says Masand, is charging rents in the region of AED400 to AED450 per square foot.

When seeking out office space, companies have the option of going directly to the developer of the property, to the landlord or to a real estate agency such as Better Homes.

Masand recommends the latter approach as it takes the leg work out of the finding a property and agencies generally will narrow down properties that suit a business's particular needs.

"We look at the brief a company has in terms of size, location and budget. Based on that we have a procedure with which we shortlist properties and developments for the business, show the clients around then when they have selected the property, close the transaction."

Leases for commercial space in the UAE range in length from one year to up to five years - with the trend moving towards longer lease periods, says Masand.

"We're seeing a lot of instances where the lease periods are in the range of three to five years," he says.

In most cases customers will be expected to hand over post-dated cheques for the entire period of the lease and will be required to pay a deposit of around 5% of the annual rent for the building.

Masand recommends that the main factors businesses need to take into account when selecting office space are location, the infrastructure and facilities provided within the building and whether it will accommodate any expansion plans the company has.

This is particularly important, says Masand, as companies cannot necessarily predict how much their company will expand over the coming months.

"The most important factor is location. For any commercial business the location of their offices is very important.

"Apart from that the company needs to consider its size and whether it is likely to grow within the next six to 12 months. They may be looking at a few thousand square feet now but a few months down the line they could want to double their space.

"We look to get companies into projects where there is the potential for them to expand."

When it comes to the facilities a building offers, Masand says the current shortage of office space in Dubai means many companies can't afford to be choosy.

However, he said parking facilities and the technological infrastructure of the building are two factors they should consider.

"At this point in time getting commercial space is difficult enough so tenants are not really choosy as to what services the building offers.

"Parking, however, is very critical in today's leasing market. If you don't have enough car parks then it's definitely a negative for the project."

"Parking is grossly insufficient in the older buildings in Sheikh Zayed Road going up to Defence Roundabout and there are similar problems in Deira and Bur Dubai.

"The older buildings have certain parking that was provided when the buildings were first built in the 1980s or 1990s but that is not enough now."

He adds that tenants should ensure that the building is equipped with the infrastructure to support broadband internet access.

"When you look at several new projects such as Business Bay they are quite up to speed with provisions for the best technology.

"A lot of the older buildings don't have that."

A very simple - albeit expensive - solution for start-up companies is to rent serviced offices.

The expensive cost of doing so means this is more suitable as a temporary solution for companies starting up in Dubai - until they find more permanent accommodation.

"Serviced offices are best on a short-term basis," says Masand.

"If a company from overseas wants to test the market before securing permanent office space then this is a good solution for them.

"And the fact that many large international companies provide serviced offices in the UAE means that companies can easily check on the availability of serviced office space within Dubai and the facilities provided by the different companies before they even arrive in the country to start their business.

Generally, he says, companies rent serviced offices for between one to three months.

The rental is worked out on a per person basis and ranges from between around AED25,000 to AED50,000 per person per month.

The serviced offices are fully furnished and include computers and telephones and in some cases secretarial services.

"Some serviced offices give you the furniture, work stations, computers and telephones.

"While others have facilities such as conference rooms and receptionists and secretaries which can be used by the occupants of the offices."

Serviced offices can be rented from companies which have the lease for a particular floor of an office building, then sub-lease those offices to tenants as serviced offices.

The shortage of office space in Dubai means some companies are prepared to turn a blind eye to certain practices in the market - and may not pay as close attention as they should to small print, according to Masand.

"At the moment this is a landlord's market so tenants are in some cases willing to turn a blind eye to a lot of practices in the market right now just to get their office space."

One of these practices, says Masand, is where the current tenants of a commercial space demand ‘key money' to pay for costs they claim they originally incurred fitting out the interior of the office.

"This key money goes straight into the existing tenant's pocket," he warns.

"It could be anything from AED100,000 going right up to AED1m depending on the actual property and it is when the tenants claim they should be reimbursed for a cost they incurred fitting out the office ."

Masand also warns businesses to read their office lease contract with care - in particular when it comes to rent over the term of the contract which he said should be fixed and not subject to change over time.
Step 04. Balancing the books

You may have high hopes and big ideas - but without a sensible budget and well-maintained accounts - your business could fold before it has even had a chance to get started.

Budgeting and book keeping are probably among the most complex - and least exciting - parts of running a business.

That is why experts advise all businesses, big and small, to employ the services of an accountant - either in-house or part-time and on a consultancy basis.

Rajiv Saxena, whose firm UHY Saxena, provides auditing and accountancy services to businesses across Dubai, says: "If a business's accounts volume is not large they could outsource the accounting.

"For most SMEs what we suggest is for some of their staff to learn basic book keeping and to use simple accounting software.

"Then once a month they bring in a part-time accountant on a freelance basis to verify the accounts."

According to Saxena, the starting point for any small to medium business is to work out a budget, taking into account the following factors: licence fees, office rentals, salaries and office overheads.

He also recommends entrepreneurs to include personal expenditures in the budget for spending in the first year of their new business - something that is often overlooked.

"Those starting off a business should always know what their own personal expenditures will be first.

"They should include factors such as their house rent, schools fees and car as these will all contribute significantly to their spending in the first year that they do business."

All businesses should expect losses in their first year of operation according to Saxena - and those that don't factor that loss into the equation will suffer the consequences.

"All businesses take a year or so to stabilise and become profitable. Don't be too optimistic as that is the reason for most business failing.

"People think that with a bit of money they can make a business profitable within one year.

"But then with a bit of a loss they run dry and they don't have the money to continue well before the company has had the chance to become profitable."

Once up and running financial experts say it is crucial for all businesses to have their accounts independently audited at least once a year.

The auditing of the accounts involves a team of independent auditors visiting the company's premises and running through the businesses accounts to ensure that all the figures add up.

"They check that the numbers you have ended up with are a true reflection of your financial results and that you have not tried to cheat about anything," says Saxena.

According to Saxena businesses having audited accounts is the best way to prove their legitimacy and show the progress they have made annually when applying for finance from banks or from investors.

"From a business point of view, if you have audited accounts then banks treat you with a lot more respect.

"They also help you to plan for the future.

"From audited accounts you can see the progress your business has made which can also help you to attract money from investors," says Saxena.

Murray Sims, head of personal banking at RAKBANK, adds: "Once businesses have reached a certain point in their evolution, they should absolutely look at having their accounts audited.

"It provides the company with credibility and provides the stakeholders of that business, including banks, with reassurances that the business is being independently verified and that the sales they say they are generating do actually exist."

To have your company's accounts audited contact a firm such as UHY Saxena.
Step 05. Business banking

The UAE is not a market where finance is readily available for start-up small to medium enterprises (SMEs).

Many banks are reluctant to finance small to medium enterprises run by expatriates with no established history in the UAE - or in any other country.

Sandeep Bose, regional head of SME banking with Standard Chartered Bank says: "It's very difficult for start-up companies to get a loan from a bank without any sort of security.

"Only after a business has been established in the UAE for a few years would the bank provide it with credit facilities that are not secured."

Murray Sims, head of personal banking at RAKBANK, adds: "We wouldn't finance a start-up business unless there were associated relationships where there is security on the table to provide the bank.

"If you are for instance a start-up company coming from the UK or from the Far East for the first time with no track record of a business in your home country or a business and no track record in the UAE then I think most banks would restrict their assistance to that business to opening accounts.

"They would want to wait for that individual to start up their business at least for a reasonable period of time before they would provide credit facilities."

Graham Mitchell, head of business banking at Lloyds TSB Middle East says, however, that his bank is willing to finance new businesses that demonstrate good potential and a strong business plan: "At Lloyds TSB, we would consider financing a start-up company provided they can demonstrate that the owners have a good business plan, strong management experience, personal assets and good personal credit history."

Other banks are willing to provide credit to an individual starting up a business if they are able to provide a letter of credit or guarantee from their bank in their home country.

Sims says: "What we would look at is if there is some form of security the individual could provide.

"If for instance they could provide a guarantee from their bank in the UK which would provide the equivalent of cash security and would enable them to start off with us with some form of working capital."

Bose adds: "A letter of credit from a bank constitutes a security against which the bank can provide credit facilities.

"Based on a letter of credit we could provide secured loans."

He goes on to say that a bank could also provide credit facilities secured against the value of an individual's property either in the UAE or in their home country.

"The value of the property would define the value of the loan they would be entitled to," he explains.

Banks provide two forms of finance to SMEs; working capital finance to take care of the day-to-day running of the business and larger loans to finance company expansion such as the purchase of a larger property.

Bose explains: "Working capital finance is similar to an overdraft or a shorter term loan.

"The amount will depend on the size of the business and how long it has been established.

"We provide loans from as little as US$30,000 to as much US$5m.

"Then we would provide long-term loans for a company's expansion requirements."

He goes on to say that banks also provide companies with trade finance for purchasing, selling, importing and exporting requirements, which are typically in the range of US$250,000 to US$5m.

This type of finance is termed trade finance.

In terms of the banking facilities SMEs should have in place, Bose says the main requirement is for them to have a business account - a current account which would be similar to those held by retail customers.

"The current account is the nerve centre of everything the business does with the bank," says Bose.

"Typically everything they do goes through the current account.

"It would function in much the same way as any other current account but we would provide some privileges to the customer in the form of better rates for remittances and preferential prices on foreign exchange requirements."

As well as current accounts, SMEs are recommended to open a high interest fixed deposit for any surplus money they may have.

"Typically everything flows through a current account but if customers have spare money that they want to keep in the longer term they can put it into a fixed deposit account," said Bose.

"There are also investment accounts where the customer puts their money in the longer term for a higher yield," he goes on to say.

Unlike in some parts of the world company credit cards are not popular in the UAE - however, banks such as Standard Chartered do provide company debit cards.

"We offer businesses a company debit card which is in partnership with Visa," says Bose.

"It has broadly similar conditions to consumer credit cards.

"We have not got of now a business credit card but it is something we are working on," he adds.

When selecting a bank to work with Rajiv Saxena of the Dubai-based auditing and accountancy firm UHY Saxena, advises firms to go for international banks or a large local bank, that are able to easily facilitate international transfers.

"Most businesses need facilities for international money transfers and it is very important to hold an account with a good bank that can provide that."

He also advises firms to select banks with good foreign exchange provisions and rates.

"It is crucial for businesses to choose a bank with a strong foreign exchange department. "We are in a country where the local currency is dirhams.

"But in international trade you will be doing business in currencies like dollars or UK pounds sterling.

"You need a foreign exchange department that will give you good rates on your exchange.

"This can lead to substantial savings if the transactions the business is carrying out are large."

Murray Sims of RAKBANK adds: "It's very important for businesses to be aware of their foreign exchange requirements, particularly if they are importing goods from other countries as part of their business.

"The exchange rate can move very rapidly so we would always recommend businesses to consider their foreign exchange requirements and we can provide appropriate systems for this.

"The bank shouldn't just provide quotes but should provide guidance on how to look at mitigating or minimising foreign exchange risks."

He goes on to say that businesses should aim to work with a bank that provides not just financial advice on transactions and deposits but also advice on the actual process of setting up and running a business in the UAE from the outset.

"Businesses want their bank to provide guidance and advice on how to look at expanding their business and how to structure their cash flow.

"We look at a customer and say ‘this is where you are in terms of your business cycle'."

Mitchell, says he believes banks can provide entrepreneurs with crucial advice on setting up their business.

"Many budding entrepreneurs often turn to their bankers for guidance on setting up new businesses.

"We go the extra mile in helping promising entrepreneurs, giving them appropriate guidance in preparing effective business plans, budgeting and forecasting for their small businesses."
Case studies

James Reynolds runs Stu Williamson Photography, a contemporary photography studio specialising in primarily black and white and avent-garde portraiture, but also weddings, fashion, fine art and commercial photography.

The studio has 12 full-time employees. It occupies a studio on Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim and has been nominated for the Best Overall Company awards in the Lloyds TSB Small Business Awards.

"We were issued our trade licence in September 2005 but we commenced trading in June 2006. We wanted a new challenge after several years in England. Dubai offered the right platform for expansion. It also gave us the chance to escape the dismal rain and tax in the UK.

As we were based in the UK while setting up, we hired a specialist firm here in Dubai to take care of our licence application. We used another company to look after our relocation. As local practices differ hugely from those that we were used to in the UK, trying to do it ourselves remotely would have been very difficult. It was important for us to use specialists from the start.

We found it relatively easy obtaining our trade licence, however, it was certainly time consuming and expensive. We had also the added costs of moving from the UK. Of course setting up the business didn't happen without its fair share of problems. It took three separate applications until we were granted a commercial licence for our premises and we were without DEWA for nearly eight months after the completion date of the property. Finding the property was very difficult. It was paramount to find the right premises for the studio. There was a shortfall in good commercial property at the time which still remains today.

When you consider that we have only been trading since June last year and officially open for 12 months, we have managed to establish ourselves relatively firmly. Our success is down to a quality product, unique customer experience and aggressive marketing.

But we were also helped by the fact that the UAE encourages entrepreneurs and actively promotes new businesses. It is a great place to do business.

I'd advise anyone hoping to set up a business here to get a good firm to take care of your licencing. There are a whole host of regulations you need to conform to, many of which will be vastly different to those of your home country. You cannot afford to slip up as the fines are huge."
Sarah Feyling runs The Wedding Planner - a wedding and planning company in Dubai.

She first went into business with a partner three years ago then in March this year she set up her own company with an office in Dubai Media City.

"The big advantage of setting up a company in DMC is that it acts as a one-stop shop. You only have to deal with one organisation rather than having to go around the house in order to set up your business.

You're put on a waiting list for space in DMC initially and in the end I was on the list for six months.

There are certain guidelines you have to follow to get into DMC including submitting a business plan with your application.

I did a three-month course on business idea generation and business plan preparation. My application was accepted by DMC around a month after I submitted it.

I financed my business through personal finance - as far as I know there is very little financing available for small businesses in the UAE. You'd have to get a business angel or a venture capitalist to help you out. Start-up loans for businesses are not really that available.

I've been very lucky with the way my business has turned out and I certainly don't have any regrets about setting it up.

I much prefer working for myself - it means you are in the driving seat of your own career and the vision of the company.

I have no regrets at all about setting up my own business."
Claudia Van der Werf set up Desert River, a distributor of European lifestyle products for wholesale, retail and events with her business partner Michel Schroeder.

The company is made up of six people and has a showroom in Satwa and a warehouse in Al Quoz.

It was set up in 2004 and has been nominated to win the DHL Oustanding Customer Service award in the Lloyds TSB Small Business Awards.

"My business partner Michel and I have always worked for big corporate hotel companies. This is very rewarding but we always wanted to do something for ourselves and be independent and creative.

When we came across some interesting products at a time when Dubai was beginning to be one of the most dynamic places in the world, we felt the moment was right to go for it.

We used the professional services of the Links group to guide us through the whole process of setting up our business and be our sponsor as well.

It was rather difficult and expensive - there are always more fees than you expect, and more documents needed than anticipated. Being typical entrepreneurs, patience is not our strength! You just want to get on with it. Thankfully our sponsor Links took away a lot of the headache and looking back I think we could not have done it any more efficiently.

Basically it took two years to establish our network and become known in the market. You have to earn your clients' trust and prove that you can deliver.

One of the biggest ongoing challenges are payment terms, which are frequently not adhered to. It seems common here to postpone payments as long as possible, and even large multinationals do not shy away from this tactic. This naturally has a negative impact on cash flow.

Another challenge is finding the right people for your team and keeping them - the job market is crazy at the moment, there is a shortage of quality people and a tendency to switch jobs for a few additional dirhams.

We found our showroom pretty quickly through word of mouth. Finding warehousing proved to be more of a challenge, as prices have increased dramatically. The biggest pieces of advice I would give are: Keep on changing your formula until it works; Work with companies in your league' and finally, get out of your comfort zone, and stay out of it!"
Amit Vyas founded Western Voice Sales Solutions - a company which designs and builds websites across the region. It has been nominated for the Best Overall Company award in the Lloyds TSB Small Business Awards 2007 which will be held on November 26.

He set up the business in 2005 and employs a team of five who are based in an office off the Deira Corniche.

"We set up the business because we were inspired by the amazing opportunities not only in Dubai but in the Middle East as a whole and we really wanted to be a part of that.

Setting up the business was quite a long process which included extensive research and countless meetings. It was essentially a careful balancing act between controlling set up costs, reducing start up times and maintaining control of the business.

Once I had decided the direction for the business though, it was relatively easy and within four weeks the business was trading.

Overall I found that the process of setting up was more time consuming than expensive, although my research definitely helped to reduce wasted time and costs.

We worked closely with law firms in the final stages of setting up although I did find that most of the information I required was already available through public resources.

Aside from fighting through the red tape, the main challenge was finding office space in Dubai. The process itself took over a month but once we found office space we moved in within five days.

My biggest advice to others hoping to set up a business in Dubai is make sure you do your research. You can save thousands of dirhams and a lot of time by researching all the relevant rules and regulations governing businesses in the UAE."
Step 06. Conclusion

Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to setting up a business in Dubai. Provided you do your research - and leave no stone unturned - there's no reason why you shouldn't take advantage of the emirates' economic boom to set up your own thriving enterprise.

So by doing the right preparation, ensuring your have sufficient capital and applying well in advance for office space you could find yourself becoming the next business success story in Dubai.

Useful contacts

Links - Group of Companies
(company formation specialists)
Tel: 00971 4 3325777
Web: www.the-links-group.com

Trench & Associates (law firm)
Tel: 00971 4 355 3146
www.trenchlaw.com

Clyde & Co (law firm)
00971 4 331 1102
www.clydeco.com

Lloyds TSB
00971 4 342 2000
www.lloydstsb.ae

Standard Chartered
00971 4 313 8888
www.standardchartered.com/ae

RAKBANK
00971 4 213 0000
www.rakbank.ae

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