If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I got my fashion brand up and running in less than a year, I would be a millionaire by now.
Many people who approach me say they are hesitant and fearful of setting up a new business, thinking it will be doomed to fail in the UAE's cluttered market. But I think my experience shows that a passion for the product - along with a suite of powerful free media tools that are now available - can make any new business stand out from the crowd.
I barely slept the night before I received the first batch of my designs made in Oman.
I believed the combination of rich traditional Khaleeji embroidery and modern T-shirts was original and fresh, and would surely cause a buzz.
But like many young entrepreneurs in the UAE, I first needed to choose the location where I would establish my brand.
The dream location for a store in the Emirates is a shopping mall. However, even a moderately sized store in a good location would cost me at least Dh150,000 (US$40,839) in annual rent, not to mention insurance, marketing fees, and municipality fees. In addition, the long waiting list for such a store might hold me back for at least a year.
I went back to what I had learnt in my university advertisement classes: if I wanted my designs to reach a global audience in a short time span, there was no tool more powerful than the internet.
When I sought bids for a company to develop my website, I discovered that UAE-based companies were charging from Dh6,000 to Dh20,000 to set up the site and host it, depending on which features were included.
I stopped looking locally and instead turned to the abundant web developers in the US. Before I knew it, I had my own e-boutique - Lucky Nooni - designed, built and online, all for under $400.
The best part is that it was delivered in three days and proved easy to manage for an IT-handicapped girl like me.
With my store operating 24 hours a day and available to a global audience, I faced a new challenge: how to advertise? How do I get the message out there to all my potential customers?
Three words: Facebook, BlackBerry, bloggers.
Facebook will tailor your own advertisements with budgets as low as $10 per week, meaning you get to choose your target audience based on characteristics such as gender, age, country, or interests, and you are only charged when a user clicks on the advertisement.
Next I sent out broadcast messages featuring links to my designs' images and website address to thousands of BlackBerry subscribers in the UAE and around the GCC. People who responded forwarded the links to their friends. In a blink of an eye, I had orders flooding in from New Zealand and Louisiana.
If I had to recall one important lesson I learnt during my university studies, it is never underestimate the power of word of mouth.
Then I turned to my best-kept secret to start-up success: bloggers.
Who knew that one day, bloggers would have a great influence on shoppers' opinions? I e-mailed leading fashion bloggers in the GCC who were more than eager to feature the latest kid on the block. Thanks to them, the buzz continued to build.
I was hungry for more, with my eyes on print and broadcast media next. Of course, I knew I could not afford an expensive advertising campaign or public relations consultant. But young entrepreneurs are often too hesitant to personally contact journalists, who are generally eager to report on new trends.
With a click of the e-mail "send" button, images of my items, a short biography, and a few friendly calls, I got a magazine cover story, numerous news stories about my brand, and I was even a guest star on an Abu Dhabi TV talk show.
Just two months after I launched my brand in April last year, I was approached by many boutiques in the region, all eager to carry my line after hearing about the product either online or in the news.
A hop, skip, and a box of shipments later, my line was carried in famous boutiques in the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman. I named my wholesale price, no longer needed to worry about rent and fees, and collect my profit at the end of every month.
Setting up the right business does not require stacks of money. All it takes is plenty of passion, thinking, and taking advantage of the many underestimated media and marketing tools available today.
Manar al Hinai is a graduate of the University of Leeds who this month received Abu Dhabi's young designer of the year award