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Making it Big in the Gulf: the golden rules for business success in the UAE

The UAE is fast becoming one of the world’s most attractive investment hubs – and with good reason. Ranked 16th of 190 countries in the World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business’ index, the UAE offers a wealth of opportunities for businesses wanting to get a foot in the door.  

A world-class infrastructure, tax incentives, supportive free zones and favourable government policies are just some of the reasons why businesses are flocking to the Emirates. In Q1 of 2023, 30,000 new companies registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce – a 43% increase on the same period for 2022.

However, according to statistics, 90% of startups fail, with 10% disappearing in the first year. With such heavy odds against you, how can you ensure your business will be a success?

A good starting point is to understand how the UAE business ecosystem works. Our helpful guide can apply to any business but with a particular relevance to the Emirates’ work culture.

If you want to make it big in the Gulf, especially the UAE, here are our six golden rules for a successful business journey.

#1 – Be likeable

Business culture in the UAE is all about forming friendships and building meaningful relationships. Kindness, integrity, honesty, and respect are valued above all else.

Networking is essential for building friendships and ties, and face-to-face communication is preferred. Word-of-mouth and referrals are highly valued, so it’s vitally important to make a good impression.

Being friendly is a natural part of Arab business culture. If you’re new to the region, this warm and welcoming approach may seem insincere. But in most cases, it’s a genuine attempt to make new connections. If you want to get ahead in the UAE, you’ll need a positive and collaborative attitude, not a cynical one.

A polite, friendly and respectful attitude is the key to effective networking. It creates an opportunity for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Dubai, in particular, is well-known for its collaborative and supportive startup ecosystem. Free zones such as DMCC and DIFC offer fantastic opportunities to create affiliations that could help springboard your business.

In short, if you want to win business, be likeable.

#2 – Be inclusive

A mixed workforce of people from different backgrounds and cultures can offer several benefits to a business. A diverse and inclusive environment where employees feel valued, respected and empowered can have a positive impact on creativity, innovation and productivity in the workplace.

Employers promoting diversity and inclusion will also find attracting and retaining the best talent from a wider recruitment pool easier.

With over 200 different nationalities living and working here, the UAE has one of the most diverse populations in the world. Dubai, especially, is a unique mixing pot of innovation and tradition where cultural awareness, respect and sensitivity are central to its work culture.

Therefore, diversity and inclusion are essential if you want your business to succeed here.

#3 – Be innovative

Thanks to its favourable business ecosystem, the UAE offers a wealth of opportunities while encouraging and promoting innovation and collaboration. It’s also a highly competitive landscape.

If you want your business to stand out from the rest, you need to add value. To gain a competitive edge, don’t just offer a great product or service; offer an experience.

Take Careem, one of the UAE’s most successful startups. The ride-sharing app didn’t just provide a get-from-A-to-B taxi service. It offered a ride-hailing experience that was personalised, safe, flexible and affordable. The company has since evolved, expanding outside the UAE to provide other essential services such as groceries, food deliveries and digital payment services to the MENA region.

Many people in the Middle East and Africa don’t have bank accounts or access to online credit facilities. But they do have smartphones. By expanding its services to online payments, Careem enables people without bank accounts to pay via cash or prepaid cards – a win-win for both the consumer and the service provider.

Thanks to its distinct offering, Careem was acquired by Uber in 2020 for a record $USD 3.1 billion – the highest technology transaction in the Middle East at the time.

#4 – Be quality conscious

When it comes to winning business, there’s a mistaken belief that here in the UAE, the deciding factor is price, not quality.

While cost is a major consideration, today’s consumers are more inclined to prioritise quality over price.

In a local survey, 42% of UAE consumers valued quality as more important, compared to 24% who considered price the main buying incentive.

Customer satisfaction can lead to repeat business and, hence, customer loyalty. This in turn helps increase sales and profits, allowing company growth and expansion.

Ethics and sustainability are also a priority, especially for the younger population, with almost half of UAE consumers preferring to pay more for sustainable products.

It is therefore vital to study the market and build a brand with purpose that resonates with the values of your target audience.

#5 – Be cost-efficient

We’ve already mentioned that quality is a major factor when presenting your business offering in the UAE. But that’s not to say price isn’t important. Even the richest of the rich enjoy a bargain when they find one.

The golden rule here is to find ways to lower your costs without sacrificing quality. That’s to say, make small changes to your business processes that improve your bottom line while maintaining the high quality of your products or services.

For example:

  • Change suppliers or renegotiate for a better deal
  • Buy in larger quantities for a lower unit price and lower shipping costs
  • Reduce energy usage by opting for energy-efficient equipment and appliances
  • Outsource tasks that can be carried out remotely by freelancers
  • Adopt technology such as cloud accounting software to save time and money and improve accuracy

Any savings you make can then be passed on to the client or customer. It’s a win-win situation.

#6 – Be known

As well as networking in person, having a strong online presence is non-negotiable in the UAE. In January 2024, social media users in the Emirates numbered 10.73 million, which is equivalent to 112% of the population…Clearly, some enthusiastic social media users have more than one account on the same platform.

So, to build your brand’s presence, it’s essential to be active online. Use your company’s social media pages to publish quality content and videos. Even a simple like or comment can go a long way to connecting you with your target audience. It can also help you keep up with changing consumer behaviours and emerging trends.

Dubai, in particular, is an absolute gold mine of quality PR coverage, with a wealth of events you can attend. Push yourself further and get on the speaker circuit. Share your knowledge and expertise and build your credibility with insightful thought-leadership talks and content.

Become a brand for yourself and your company, and everyone wins.

Ready to start your successful business journey in the UAE?

With over 13 years of experience as a leading corporate service provider, Creative Zone’s award-winning team has helped over 75,000 individual and corporate clients to set up business, expand and grow in the UAE.

Begin your successful business journey in the UAE with the help of our experts today.

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