x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

When you think you can run a business better, do it

Money & Me Lucy Roberts says she much prefers working for herself, as it gives her an opportunity to put her ideas in motion.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates- July 11, 2011: Lucy Roberts, Chief Surgeon, Plug Communications, a Specialist Design Agency pose during the interview in Dubai. ( Satish Kumar / The National ) for Arts & Life
Dubai, United Arab Emirates- July 11, 2011: Lucy Roberts, Chief Surgeon, Plug Communications, a Specialist Design Agency pose during the interview in Dubai. ( Satish Kumar / The National ) for Arts & Life

Lucy Roberts is the "chief surgeon" of Plug Communications, a Dubai-based graphic design agency with a difference. Ms Roberts set up the agency five years ago after moving to Dubai from the UK in 2003. She says the agency's medical theme is inspired by helping people who have problems with their websites and branding - and that's where the 'doctors and nurses' at Plug Communications come to the rescue.

Describe your financial journey so far.

My first job as a kid was doing a newspaper round. I did it every day from the age of 10 until I was 13 and was paid extra for Sundays. I had a friend and we always wanted to go up to London without telling our parents and we had to save to do that. I was earning £12.40 (Dh75) a week for the newspaper round and that wasn't going to go far. We'd spend our money in Carnaby Street, going to Tower Records, where you could buy seven-inch records for 99p, and going to second-hand shops.

As I got older, we moved to London and I worked in the Lanesborough Hotel, where lots of celebrities stayed. That was my first proper job working front of house. It paid well and the good thing about the hotel was that it paid twice a month, so I always had loads of money to spend on Kensington High Street. I was earning about £25,000 to £30,000 a year at the Lanesborough. I had similar pay packets when I later worked at publishing houses. Then I did a stint in property. I used to work in residential sales and dealt with a lot of repossessions. I was on about £40,000 to £45,000 a year, and a lot of that was in commissions.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I'm a spender, but I am trying my hardest to save. Frittering is a good term. I do fritter a lot. To save money, I have to go to malls that are dull or not very noteworthy. I am trying to build a house in Sri Lanka, so that is taking a bit of dedication. It will cost about Dh150,000 to build the house and we are trying to save about Dh10,000 a month.

Why did you decide to set up your own business?

Because I was fed up with working for idiots; I was working for somebody before who had no idea what they were doing and I thought there's got to be a better way. I took the bold step and set up on my own. I'm now in my fifth year. I don't remember any employer here being remotely good or inspiring. It is much better to work for myself - and I will never get fired. I had my own angel investor; a friend who loaned me the capital to get started with. I worked from home and brought people in on a freelance basis. It grew from there. You have to look at trade licences and running it responsibly. It isn't easy setting up a business here and it is expensive. If you are a person who has a good idea for a business, there's no room here to be trying something out. You can struggle with cash flow and getting people to pay on time but thankfully I have great clients.

Have you experienced any financial difficulties along the way?

The only challenges have been cash flow and when people say they want to be different. And when you present different, they say no. They think it's not geared up for it. That can be a bit of a challenge from a work point of view. Our business is never right or wrong, it will always be subjective. I am fortunate that I've got a good portfolio of clients and things are going really well.

What has been your biggest financial challenge?

Everything is quite expensive here, including office rent. Sometimes, there's just not much flexibility and trade licences are more expensive than ever.

What do you like to invest in?

I have a couple of pension plans which are with Friends Provident, and is a long-term savings plan. I have a 20-year policy and a 10-year policy. They come out of my bank account as a standing order.

Is money important to you?

Yes. It does come in handy when you want to do something. But it doesn't help when the cost of living is so high out here. To some degree, when you run a business, you have to be motivated by money. But when I meet clients and am excited about an idea, I am motivated by doing well and being successful. It doesn't necessarily mean that a small agency is earning a fortune. That doesn't do it for me. I would rather be a cult agency and be different.

What do you like to spend your money on?

eBay! The last items I bought were a 1940s edition of Monopoly and a 1970 Life magazine with a special full-colour edition of the Third Reich. It was a fascinating read.