Like many entrepreneurs in the Emirates, Natalie Brown started a small business from scratch.
"It's everybody's dream," says Ms Brown, who set up an advisory company, Select Training and Management Consultancy, in 2006.
"When I speak to people they always say 'I want to have my own business. I want to be my own boss.' And it sounds great, but it's easier said than done,"says the managing director of Select Training.
At the latest Tamakkan Inspire, a free monthly seminar for entrepreneurs that alternates between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Ms Brown and others shared their strategies for successfully building a business from the ground up in the UAE. Planning was a key theme. Ms Brown, for one, drafted a number of growth plans early on, with goals at three-month, six-month and three-year intervals.
Yet it is impossible to draft a plan that accounts for all possible bumps in the road, some argue.
"You can never anticipate everything that's going to happen," says Alma Kadragic, who has owned a public relations agency and now develops academic programmes at the University of Wollongong in Dubai.
Here are tips offered by small-business owners:
Finding the right employees is "not about hiring who we want", says Shridhar Sampath, the founder of the business advisory Motivaluate Consulting. Instead of recruiting those who seem nice enough and would make for a comfortable fit in the office, entrepreneurs should remain focused on the purpose a person would fulfil. Sometimes that requires taking more time.
"I wanted a salesperson and someone who could do secretarial work as well," says Mr Sampath. "It took four months to find someone who had an entrepreneurial mindset to deliver more."
Develop a niche
Many employee training companies now operate in the Emirates, and there were even some back in 1995 when Ms Brown arrived in Abu Dhabi. But over the years she noticed a lack of firms focused on UAE nationals and Emiratisation programmes, which is part of the reason she eventually targeted nationals when she launched her advisory more than a decade later.
"I realised there was a niche in the market for training," says Ms Brown, who has about 25 employees. "I've had a lot of exposure with Emiratis and the culture, and I tried to devise my own materials. I would have case studies for the weekend - being Friday and Saturday, not a Saturday and Sunday, and people going to a cafeteria - not a pub."
Some experts note that most small businesses that fail tend to go under within their first few years, often because they grow too fast and pour all their money into expanding.
"Suddenly you're left with a recession, and it all goes down," says Mr Sampath.
Before he launched his latest business about a year and a half ago, Mr Sampath had saved about Dh150,000 (US$40,837) to take him through at least a year of operations. But about six months later, his daughter had to have special allergy tests, which ended up costing upwards of Dh40,000.
"Things happen; things change," says Mr Sampath. "Save, save, save."