x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Facing the future with small firms in the UAE

Ali Al Saloom on why small firms are vital to the UAE's economy.

Emiratisation and entrepreneurship are the two words on everyone's lips when discussing the economic development of our country.

Multinationals and global players are driving forces in any country and create a big chunk of the income. However, the backbone of most successful economies is made up of small and medium enterprises (SMEs); here in the UAE, a small company is defined as having less than 50 empoyees, while a medium-sized company has less than 100. It's estimated that these companies make up more than 90 per cent of all businesses here, obviously an important part of our economy that must be cultivated.

But where do we find the entrepreneurs that will succeed? In motivated, educated, young Emiratis, of course. Enterprise should become their goal, and the development of the right framework for them to do so should be at the top of our economic To-Do list. So far, so good - were it not for the reality.

You'd think that it would be perfect to own your own business; you can hire who you like, you can take holidays whenever you want, you can work whenever you want. Wow, the ultimate freedom.

Well, sorry to say, reality is unfortunately a little bit different. If I would ink a contract with myself that reflects my life as a successful entrepreneur, it would read more or less like this: You are responsible for anything, everything and all the other things in between. And you better follow up. If, after paying the office rent, the telephone bills, the salaries, the medicals for your staff, the stationary and the supplier invoices there is still something left, you can have it (as long as you have put the start-up-loan repayment on the side already). Holidays? Dream on, but you might take a long weekend five years after starting up. A retirement fund? Forget it, unless you start one yourself.

In big organisations I often see administrations administering themselves. Great, that opens almost unlimited job and employment opportunities. A bit tricky for a smaller, private business though - efficiency is a key to survival, and this goes for "unprofitable" tasks like the admin more than anything else.

However, don't let all that put you off. One great benefit of the UAE is the lack of taxation. In other countries, you would pay this as well as all the time and manpower you would have to invest in auditing, book-keeping and filing tax returns.

It takes a lot of work to be an entrepreneur in the UAE. But what will help you the most is to have a great sense of humour, a genius technique to maintain your smile and an unshakeable belief in what you are doing.