You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Five Skills Every Dubai Entrepreneur Needs To Develop There is a price when you set up shop in a place full of opportunities– you can be sure there will be some competition for those golden deals. So you need to be savvy in your dealings to get a march on business rivals and shove your foot in the proverbial door.

By Neil Petch

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


Dubai is a global hotspot for startups, buzzing with business activity of every kind. Everything is working to support the entrepreneur in this vibrant city. It is tax-free, has world-class infrastructure, and is ideally positioned for international trade. What's more, economic growth is going to significantly pick up in the next four years in part due to the World Expo 2020 being hosted in Dubai, according to a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

So you would be hard-pressed to find a better city that can offer so many opportunities and advantages to get ahead with your sales, whichever sector you specialize in. But there is a price when you set up shop in a place full of opportunities– you can be sure there will be some competition for those golden deals. Where there is money, where there is rapid expansion of industries, there are always clusters of businesses looking to secure their stake in the prize. So you need to be savvy in your dealings to get a march on business rivals and shove your foot in the proverbial door.

Here are five skills you need to do just that:

1. Be the one who initiates contact

Rule number one in business: in most cases, sales don't come to you, you go out to grab them. You need to be proactive. In his book The Power of Relentless, author Wayne Root stresses that promoting yourself and your business should not be looked down upon– in fact, relentless sales and promotion are "as essential to success as breathing is to living." So it's a case of attitude from the outset.

To succeed, you can't sit there staring at the phone hoping it will ring. Opportunities happen because you have helped create them, so be sure to reach out as a daily exercise. Focus on honing those essential rituals: For example, make phone calls to five people in your relevant business community every day. They can be people you know or new contacts, the key is to strengthen and expand your network.

Introductions are key. Get to know people you want to be in business with– don't be shy; riches will never come from hiding your brilliant business away behind office walls. Those calls do not need to be hard sell cold calling, and in fact the hard sell approach does not always go down well in Dubai. But they do need to make you stand out as a businessperson and they do need to communicate your service. People remember voice or face-to-face contact– it's easier to forget and ignore an email.

The point is, Dubai is a busy business environment and where you fail to make contact or check in with someone, there may be someone else who does and gets that hot tip for a deal or even calls just at the right time when a service is required. Ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky summed this sentiment up brilliantly when he said: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Related: The How-To: Going The Extra Mile For Sales

2. Trust your gut feeling for the client's price comfort zone

Customers who come back are the most valuable customers. They can give you the backbone of your revenue and if someone likes you and what you do, you can become their go-to service or product provider.

However, you need to understand the importance of getting a price point that will remain sustainable for the long term. In Dubai, perhaps more so than other places, a potential long-term business relationship can crumble if the price is too high. Being too greedy on your price point may eventually undo a perfectly good client relationship.

When the client is even the slightest bit uncomfortable with the price they committed to, it won't be long before that thorn in their side must be pulled put out, meaning they will scrap the contract they have with you. So make sure to develop a very fine awareness for each client's "price comfort zone."

And we're talking not just about price in relation to purchasing. A study entitled "Pricing and the Psychology of Consumption" published in the Harvard Business Review acknowledged that while executives generally understand how pricing influences the demand for their product, fewer realize how it can affect the consumption of that product. Why is this important? Research demonstrates that the relationship between pricing and consumption is key– the degree to which the customer uses your product during a particular time period is a vital factor in whether they will purchase the product again.

3. Develop a cross-cultural communication mindset and approach

The idea of cultural sensitivity is generally assumed to be of importance yet there isn't a great deal of study around the subject. This was addressed by researchers at Northeastern State University who defined cultural sensitivity as an ability to monitor a new environment and make sense of it from the inside, rather than remaining outsiders. To put it another way: to stop seeing things from your "foreign" perspective by comparing behavior against what you know from back home, and instead understanding it within the context of where it exists. They found foreign entrepreneurs go through several significant stages when doing business with a culture that is alien– from the romance of it all being very new, right through to being a true partner. This transformation is slow and takes a great deal of commitment. Ultimately, they concluded that "higher levels of cultural sensitivity provide the Western entrepreneurs with more meaningful and intimate levels of trust."

To show how significant cross cultural knowledge is– the population of the UAE is estimated to be approximately 9-1 in terms of expats compared to Emirati nationals: that's around 7.8 million expats to 1.4 million Emiratis. Most of the expats live in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and are predominantly Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Russian, Iranian, South African, Nepalese, Malaysian and European– so a real melting pot of cultures. There is a significant variation in how different cultures view challenges, financial issues, workloads, punctuality and quality, so understanding this will mean you are properly prepared.

While speaking Arabic would obviously be a very welcome quality for conducting business in Dubai, it's not strictly necessary. What is necessary is that you have a good command of English, which is the second language in Dubai and the language commonly used for business.

It is also important to be articulate in what you are proposing. Communication is often judged by the finer detail, so a well-rounded proposition with correct spelling and grammar may set you apart as a serious business prospect for a client.

Different cultures have different ways of presenting themselves in business meetings too, so research if you are unsure of a particular cultural etiquette. For instance, in Dubai, it is customary to greet the most senior person first and if you are offered a drink of tea or coffee in the office, it can be discourteous to refuse. The difference between knowing and not knowing these little cultural preferences can make a disproportionate difference to your chances of success– in Dubai people like to do deals with those who they like and respect. It's not all about the numbers.

Related: Why Local Knowledge Matters: The Importance Of Contextual Intelligence For Your Business

4. Have the ability to move fast

Fast is the default business speed in Dubai. Its ultra-rapid development proves that to be true, yet there are still plenty of gaps in markets– sectors just emerging that first movers can capitalize on.

The first mover advantage is defined by having the ability to dominate large market segments that are untapped. In a study published in the Strategic Management Journal, first mover advantages were put into three key sections: technological leadership: having proprietary tech makes it harder for the competition, pre-emption of assets: low prices for first movers since the market is not yet established, and finally buyer switching costs: making it difficult for customers to go elsewhere without incurring costs.

While there are certainly disadvantages as well (not least your original ideas built upon by competitors or simply being stolen), ultimately the study concluded that where first mover opportunities arise, "managers must decide whether the firm should pursue it, and if so, how best to enhance its value."

5. Know how to stay focused

A major flaw in some entrepreneurs' approach is that they can't stick to one idea and get it done. They jump from one idea to the next, move the goal posts or drift in a way that makes them redefine their original idea beyond recognition. This could well be termed the "Dubai-second-rate-business disease."

David Rock in his book Your Brain at Work spoke to neuroscientists about what is happening to the brain while we are switching tasks. Essentially, every time we change focus we have decreased our productive thinking abilities– the more we switch, the worse it gets. And this means poorer decision-making. We could apply this in our day-to-day working life or while juggling ideas over a period of weeks.

So it takes steady determination, focus and perseverance to make a business successful. If you jump about trying to start, restart and reinvent your business every other day, you will never get momentum to build or complete a single proposition.

It's important to define your offer and build your business– an idea takes seconds, but a business may take years of care to come to fruition. Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Motors said, "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion."

Keep focused and don't get distracted easily as many business people do in Dubai when they find themselves tripping over the bewildering array of opportunities– right up until they fall over.

Dubai is the best place in the world to start a company– with a business environment stacked in your favor from day one. But it takes developing a strong yet flexible mindset to navigate this unique cultural backdrop.

Be proactive, connect with people every day, study your clients' needs, be respectful, and build your business confidently with a strategy. If you do these things, you have every chance to become a leader in your market.

Related: The Do's And Don't's Of Doing Business In Dubai

Neil Petch

Founder and Chairman, Virtugroup

Neil Petch actively assists over 300 entrepreneurs and startups to conceive, plan, and build their businesses on a monthly basis.

After launching Virtuzone as the first private company formation business in the region over 10 years ago, Neil has led the company to set up more than 16,000 businesses, making it the largest, fastest-growing and best-known setup operator in the Middle East.

As the chairman of the holding company, Virtugroup, Neil also leads VirtuVest, an in-house angel investment vehicle; Virtuzone Mainland, a provider of directorship services, corporate sponsorship and facilitator of local Dubai and Abu Dhabi company setups; and Next Generation Equity, a citizenship-by-investment firm. Virtugroup has invested in and supported the growth of multiple companies and delivered passports in over 10 different jurisdictions. Virtugroup also enjoys partnerships with Dubai FDI, the Chamber of Commerce, Dubai Holdings (ARN), VFS, Regus, Etisalat, KPMG, Aramex and Beehive, and has received awards from Arabian Business and Entrepreneur Magazine, among others.

In addition to starting up businesses, Neil has held leadership roles in several companies. He helped establish ITP, the largest media publishing house in the Gulf, which he oversaw growing from two to 600 employees. At ITP, he spearheaded the launch of over 60 digital and print titles, including Time Out, Harper’s Bazaar, Arabian Business, Ahlan and Grazia.

As Managing Director of ENG Media, Neil launched the Coast FM radio station and numerous magazines, including MediaWeek. For the last seven years, Neil has also served as Chairman of GMG, the world’s first interbank financial brokerage based out of Dubai, with offices in DIFC and London. Due to his extensive knowledge and expertise, Neil has been appointed a member of the ‘Ease of Banking’ panel organised by the Chamber of Commerce.

Having lived in over a dozen countries and with a career spanning over 25 years in the UAE, Neil has the ability to merge astute cultural insight with fresh thinking, leveraging his seasoned business acumen, intuition and black book to repeatedly bring ideas to living, breathing success stories.

Neil has appeared in BBC (Dubai Dreams) and ITV (Piers Morgan) features on Dubai, as well as programmes on BBC World and Sky. He has participated as a judge on the radio programme Falcons’ Lair, an entrepreneurship reality show loosely based on the BBC production Dragons’ Den, as well as a similar TV competition hosted by MAD Talks. He now hosts Starting Up on Dubai Eye 103.8FM, the only national weekly show for the startup community in the world’s startup capital.

Neil also lends his in-depth market insight to fellow entrepreneurs and helps cultivate Public Private Partnerships as a Task Force Member of the Advisory Council, a coalition of key decision-makers and prominent movers of the UAE business landscape, led by EMIR and the Ministry of Economy.

He is also a regular speaker, panelist, and economic commentator, specialising in the SME sector.

Side Hustle

He Took His Side Hustle Full-Time After Being Laid Off From Meta in 2023 — Now He Earns About $200,000 a Year: 'Sweet, Sweet Irony'

When Scott Goodfriend moved from Los Angeles to New York City, he became "obsessed" with the city's culinary offerings — and saw a business opportunity.


You Won't Have a Strong Leadership Presence Until You Master These 5 Attributes

If you are a poor leader internally, you will be a poor leader externally.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.


The 9 Most In-Demand Professional Certifications You Can Get Right Now

Want to boost your qualifications but not sure which certificates to pursue? Check out these in-demand professional certifications to pick your path.


How Entrepreneurs Can Harness the Power of Stoicism to Build Resilience and Thrive in the Business World

Here's how the ancient philosophy of Stoicism can benefit modern entrepreneurs.

Growth Strategies

How Investing In Employee Training Benefits Your Business

While many training programs are judged on employee benefit, businesses also see boosts from such initiatives.