Online Marketing

Dubai Expats: From freelancer to digital marketing agency owner in Dubai.

We work with SMEs in Dubai. Too often I see entrepreneurs just spend a lot of money on the upfront without actually just doing the work. Hey guys welcome to oxy vlogs today, so many young enterpreneurs want to move to Dubai. Leave this beautiful lifestyle work as a freelancer around their own agency, but they don’t know what is the best way to do it.

So in this episode I’m going to interview my guest she’ll share her story, how she moved to Dubai, how she was working as a freelancer and now she’s running her own digital marketing agency. So let’s get started, could you introduce yourself in a couple of words sure so my name is Alena. I am a third culture kid, so I’m not exactly from one place. I met Nikola Pakistani, but I grew up in Luxembourg by hurrying the by then I was in Canada for 12 years and then I recently come back.

So I’ve been back now for less than two years. What did you do before? You came to Dubai and why did you decide to come here so before? Moving to the bye? I was living in Toronto in Canada and I was working at a health and wellness website where I was the content marketing lead. So it was a startup where I think we started from about five people and grew to 25, and I recently moved back mostly because a family, because me and my husband both have relatives living in and around the region.

And we just wanted to be close to them. How did you do by journée start and what’s been the biggest change, so my Dubai journey? I guess this is part two of it because I finished high school over here. I was here for a couple of years, but then I went away for twelve years and came back so the biggest change for me has been the readjustment into the by culture. I’M more used to it now again that I’ve been here for over a year, but definitely when you’re living in North America yeah it’s it’s different.

You know I’m definitely used to the four seasons over there actually having a spring and a fall more exposure to real nature. I suppose, as well there’s many things that are different just in terms of the professional culture over there as well like the business culture is pretty different over here. It’S a bit more laid-back a little bit more inch’allah culture and in Canada. Everything is very principled and on-time and efficient yeah, so those are some of the things that are different.

What challenges did you face? I think the biggest challenge for me coming back was sort of the business culture. I think just everything operates on a very loose timeline over here and I found that a little bit difficult because I’m very hyper efficient and over here. Sometimes, when I work with clients, I find that I’m so hyper efficient and I could kind of push that on to my clients, but I just have to sort of come to terms with the fact that that’s not how business is done here.

So you just have to learn to relax a little bit more and be a bit more patient. What does something like a culture shock to you when you arrived? Surprisingly, I did have reverse culture shock. I thought because I’m a Middle Eastern kid in a way I Bahrain – I lived there for about ten years and then finished high school here. So you know I’m I’m a Middle East baby, I’m used to this culture and there’s things I love about it, but and so coming back.

I thought it would be a breeze for me, but no, I definitely did have a bit of culture shock a and work that I’ve talked about. Be things like talking to strangers, for example, is very different. You don’t really talk to strangers over here. Everyone is in their own bubble and in their own zone, which for me, was kind of weird getting used to that again because in Canada you talked to anyone and everyone, and you strike up conversations with them, whether you’re at a bus.

Stop or you know, I don’t use buses here, that’s a big difference too, but yeah you just there’s more openness and friendliness. I feel in Canada. People here are friendly, but once you sort of have to break the barrier and get to know them a bit too other difference is definitely driving here. There’S a whole other skill set that I’ve you know had to learn. I drove in Canada, but it’s it’s a little bit tougher over here, but yeah.

Those are those are some of the things. Otherwise I feel like ivory acclimatized back to the culture pretty quickly. What do you dislike about living in Dubai traffic? Fines? It’S really really hard to avoid them. The extreme heat, of course, in the summer, lack of nature sometimes like I love the beach and I love the parts, but it is a little bit manufactured and manicured, and sometimes I just want to be in a forest or by the mountains.

So I missed that. But device’ helps so you can always travel to other places and then the last thing I think the business culture. I think it’s not exactly my style, but I’ve gotten used to it, but it’s a newer country, so I can’t expect it to be up to par with the new yorks and the London’s and the Toronto is just yet –. It’S it’s still. A New York growing city: what are you currently doing in Dubai? I am currently the owner of a small digital marketing agency, so I started it about a year ago, as just myself and some freelancers and I’ve now brought on another person full-time, so we’re a team of two and we work with SMEs in Dubai, specifically service based Businesses and we do lead generation campaigns for them via social media.

How did you start your agency? I am fortunate that I came here with my husband and I was on a housewife visa, so on that housewife visa. If you have an NOC, so non no-objection certificate, you can work as a freelancer with certain companies. So that’s how I was sort of trying out my business idea by seeing if I could scale it up into an agency, so I did that for a year in a housewife visa and when I was getting enough business and clients I figured okay.

Now I can license it and be a proper business. Can you tell was more about the license, so I got my license from Rakas, which is a Russell Hema free zone and they had a special business women package. So I actually got a great deal and I just paid six thousand dirhams for a yearly license to run a marketing agency. And luckily, since I don’t need a visa, I didn’t have to pay that cost and my employee doesn’t need a visa she’s.

A young grad whose family is here so I don’t have to spend on her visa either so worked at well. What challenges did you face with setting up your company? To be honest, it wasn’t that challenging. If I think it really depends on what you’re doing. I know it must be harder for people who are maybe setting up like a cafe or a restaurant or something that’s more labor-intensive and a logistical nightmare.

But for me all I need is a laptop and a cell phone, so I don’t really have very high overhead. I work out of a co-working space, it’s me and my employee, so it just wasn’t that difficult. I found a great co-working space through in five, which is government subsidized and it’s only a thousand theorems for the year and it’s a beautiful amazing space with meeting rooms, conference rooms, workshops, it’s gorgeous and I love working out of there.

So that was great. I think the only difficulty I had was perhaps finding one place for information you know like when trying to figure out how to set up it wasn’t very clear-cut. There were just a lot of there’s lots of different information everywhere, so I just had to talk to a couple of people to figure it out and a tip I would have for your viewers to is try not to go to a brokerage for a license because They will charge a very high markup on top, so I went to someone for us to sort of broker deals with free zones and I think it was close to twenty twenty two thousand dirhams that I was quoted and then, when I went to the free zone Itself two Rakas they’re like no, it’s six thousand dirhams okay, this is cheaper, so that’s something people should keep an eye out for if you had to start over again, what would you do differently? Honestly? I think I did okay, there’s that bad to say you know, but one thing I would caution people against – and I didn’t do this, but I think I saw enough people doing this, luckily that I didn’t do it, which is investing into an expensive license before you.

Even know that your business idea works, so there are some people who haven’t even started yet and they will just spend very heavily on the licensing and getting an office and building like a really fancy website. That’S another thing too often, I see entrepreneurs just spend a lot of money on the upfront without actually just doing the work and seeing that your business model is working. So in a past life I had to done something like that in Canada, but over here I just yeah housewife visa.

I did it for a year freelanced kept my cost super low worked from home until there was good enough money coming through the door got bit by bit. I invested, and I just I’ve still kept my overhead down. So if you can keep your overhead down, that’s what I would say, what does your daily life look like my daily life right now, I wake up, try to be early around 6:30, but usually, but somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 I’ll head over to in five and Get here for around between 8:00 or 9:00, and then I work to about four to beat traffic.

But honestly most days I usually have meetings as well so I’ll be at the office for a bit and then sometimes go to a client meeting and then work out of a cafe for a little bit go home. I do a bootcamp in the evenings, a workout. How do you spend your free time and weekends free time? I am involved in the theater and improv community over here. So I take part in some plays I’m in an upcoming play.

I guess you could say as well. Improv musical it’s like it’s called Bollywood improv. We put together a Bollywood movie on the spot, so it’s kind of fun. I try to be outdoors as much as I can in this weather, so go by the beach to the park. If your friend was planning to move to Dubai and what is the minimal budget, would you advise him to have it’s like an? It depends answer, because it depends if you’re living solo or if you are going to live with a spouse, who’s also working.

It depends if you have kids and you’re coming here, so it’s very different per person, but I would say: let’s say if you’re in my situation, which is no kids but dual income, I would say minimum minimum and you want to live like a you know: you’re, Not penny pinching and you have like a decent lifestyle. Take ten to fifteen thousand there’s like twelve to fifteen thousand rooms. I would say: can you share your tips to make savings here, my biggest tip, which people will not like probably but – and I think is sometimes tricky to do, because the buy is a place of temptation, I would say, live beneath your means with everything.

It is very easy to not save over here, but it’s also very easy to save. If you just let go of the need to keep comparing with others and wanting the newest and the fanciest of everything so buy a used. Car live in an apartment. That’S beneath your means, which will allow you to save a bit more. You know you don’t have to live in the fanciest beachfront apartment. Don’T do so many expensive brunches! Oh, he can so there’s like a big brunch culture over here, minimize your time and shopping malls.

Honestly, cuz shopping. It’S there’s such good deals on all the time over here. I think it’s very easy to just wrap up that those expenses or that debt so try to do activities that don’t involve money all the time too. That’S also another reason I got into theater and improv, because you’re not spending money or just you’re having fun you’re, doing something: creative you’re meeting people you’re making new friends.

What did this international move taught you? I’Ve lived all over the world and always been traveling. So I think in each situation I think I have become more and more adaptable as I’ve moved across the cities, but I think the buyer has again been a reminder that you can. You have to adapt to the culture of where you are living in. I did become a little set in my ways in Canada as well, and you just instead of getting enraged or angry about all things aren’t done the way they’re done back home.

You just have to breathe and accept with open arms the culture that you are in and learn to adapt to that culture and it sort of brings a certain sense of humility as well back to you. So I think that’s what this move to the buyer has brought back to me. If you were to describe your experience as an expert in three words, what would that be? I would say it’s been fun. I’D say it is definitely a little bit challenging at times, and I don’t know if this is the right word in this context, but I just say it’s got a lot of opportunity.

This is still a very new growing city compared to more saturated markets from London or New York, etc. So it’s much easier to stand out here and there really is a lot more opportunity for growth. So that’s what I’ve personally found as well. I think I’m more of a big fish in a smaller pond versus a small fish in a big pond in Canada, so I’m enjoying that do you have any quotes. You live your life by or think of often I don’t have one quote or anything in particular that I live by.

There’S many quotes that resonate with me, but I think if you’re someone like me, who sometimes has so much going on in head and like a big task list or you start panicking about something. What I just like to ask myself is: is the world going to end like if this thing doesn’t get done like? Is it the end of the world and the answer is usually no okay. Go home, sleep see your friends, I think just reminding yourself how insignificant you really are, and what you do is in the grand scheme of things takes that pressure off and allows you to just relax and be less serious.

So, actually, I think I would sum it up as don’t be so serious chill that helps. Thank you guys for reading. If you have any questions to Alena leave them in the comments below will reply to you also, you can get in touch with her on instagram. The link is in the description and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, so you will not miss. My next episode see you soon.