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Thu 1 Mar 2018 04:30 PM

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Start-up advice: Ambition is not a dirty word in the UAE

Zaib Shadani, founder and CEO of Shadani Consulting, shares five inspiring tips from a leading female entrepreneur

Start-up advice: Ambition is not a dirty word in the UAE

With more than a decade of experience in the Middle East as lead strategist for some of the most coveted brands across the region, Zaib Shadani understands exactly what it takes to stand out from the crowd.

In March 2016, she took those skills – networking, strategic partnerships, dedication to the best results – into her own business, Shadani Consulting.

It has quickly become one of the prominent agencies in the corporate, luxury, lifestyle and arts and culture sectors in the UAE, with a team of expert consultants who have been handpicked to deliver the maximum visibility for a range of brands.

In her first full year of operation, Shadani also nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year in the People’s Choice category at the Arabian Business Start-up Awards.

Who better to ask, then, for some insight on how women can make it on their own, and on their own terms, in the region? Here are five tips for female entrepreneurs wanting to go it alone.

1. Ambition is not a dirty word: So, always think BIG

It’s no secret that women who are called “ambitious” aren’t always perceived in the best light, even though men are taught to be “ambitious” from an early age. It’s an unfortunate double standard but once you embrace your unapologetically go-getting side and channel your desire to build a successful business, you will push your own limits and surprise yourself with your own tenacity and drive to succeed.

One of the greatest challenges for entrepreneurs is the fear of failure, and the reluctance to take risks or think big. It is important to recognise that failure is an inevitable part of any entrepreneur’s journey – and it is also a cornerstone for success, because it offers opportunities for learning and growth. Never let fear stand in the way of your ambition – let ambition be the fuel for your entrepreneurial fire.

2. Build your pack: Surround yourself with supportive entrepreneurs

I don’t know anyone who studied entrepreneurship before becoming an entrepreneur; everyone I know in this field decided simply to follow their passion and strike out on their own. But it is impossible to face all the challenges alone, so you need to seek out like-minded people who are all struggling with the same challenges and develop a collective resource of collaborative networks.

Build your “pack” of supportive women who will offer you sound advice, draw on their experiences and share their counsel. The key is to network and grow your circle of friends, peers and professional contacts until you find yourself surrounded by supportive entrepreneurs and business leaders. Most importantly, you really need to have a mentor as a trusted advisor who can offer invaluable support and guidance.

3. Never be shy: Ask for what you want

Many of us are afraid to ask – for help, for advice, for higher fees, for lower cost estimates.

“If you do not ask, the answer will always be no,” is a simple saying, but it takes a lot of practice to put it into play, especially when you’re the only woman in the boardroom.

I learned very early on that being female and negotiating deals required me to have a clear understanding of the value and worth that I was bringing to the table, and in return, asking for what I wanted. It’s a difficult one to follow, but when you’re managing your own business, you must learn to voice your “ask” and be clear in what you need.

4. Trust your instincts: They have gotten you this far

Self-doubt is very normal, especially for entrepreneurs who have left secure jobs to follow their passion.

When you’re out of your comfort zone and doing something for the first time, any negative feedback or uncertainty becomes amplified, and it’s precisely at that moment that you need to recalibrate and remind yourself that your instincts have never let you down and that you are on the right path.

Entrepreneurs are rule breakers – and one of their greatest weapons is their instinct. Every time I’ve ignored my instincts, I’ve regretted it.

5. Understand cultural nuances: Remember where you are

As we are operating in the Middle East, it is important to understand the nuances of the culture and respect the local business etiquette, norms and practices. It is imperative to be mindful of potential cultural misunderstandings and ensure that you are always putting your best foot forward.

Personal relationships are valued very highly and significant time is spent cultivating long-term partnerships and seeking synergies, so the way that you come across will be a key factor.

This includes everything from the way you dress, to whether you extend your hand in a handshake, to the way you conduct yourself in the meeting, and how you conclude the meeting.

Zaib Shadani founded her company in 2016

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