“After I graduated I worked for a public utility company in South Africa and progressed rapidly through the ranks as a woman, which was not very common in those days, to senior management level.
Although I had a stable job I was always busy on the sideline with some or other business whether it was creating and selling community comics to create awareness amongst young children about water and electricity saving, to buying and reselling various products to doing freelance consulting projects and training.
“I always knew since I was a kid that I would be running my own businesses someday. I have always been wheeling, dealing and negotiating. My journey significantly changed the moment I moved to the UAE and while working for a corporate I knew this was not going to be my end journey. During a performance review meeting (my last one!) with my boss, I had an epiphany and there and then informed him that I will be resigning to start my own consulting business. I took the leap of faith as I did not fit in, I was not happy and I was going nowhere. The moment I decided that I was free for the first time…
“As exciting as it was, feeling liberated and that I could conquer the world, it was the most daunting feeling ever. After so many years of having a steady 9 to 5 job, stable income, increases, bonuses, promotions – it was now up to me to make this a success. So there I was with a registered company, alone – no work – no clients! And my real journey started with many lessons and not really knowing exactly what I was going to do! I then remembered one of my mentors saying “just do something” and I did. I did what I knew best and started helping people with their visas as this is a pain point and an extremely important stability factor to live and work in the UAE.
“My services grew via word of mouth until I secured my first big client, met my business partner and local sponsor after two years stepping out into the big world out of my comfort zone. Since then I have co-founded four complimentary businesses – IT software development, back office business services, events management and professional employer organization.
“There were many challenges. At the start, a big challenge was having to be a technical expert to suddenly implement and manage all the support and administrative functions such as finance, marketing, people. My advice to others is to overcome this issue through collaboration, bartering and outsourcing – until you are able to employ staff.
“Another setback I experienced at the outset is loneliness and lack of intellectual stimulation as a one woman show with a skeleton staff. To overcome that I advise all entrepreneurs to get networking, joining committees and working groups. Yet a big challenge for SMEs is cashflow. I came up with creative pricing models; paying myself a small salary and ensuring valuable employees are paid regardless, until we became profitable
ANNA ON NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENTREPRENEURS
1. Hybrid human and e-services – routine processes are being taken over by applications and online technologies however the human interface cannot be replaced in totality. Example in my industry where the traditional PRO’s role is disappearing with the introduction of the e-Channel service – I see the next step of concierge service evolving that will still need a human face. This just means a new level of skill to be developed incorporating technology.
- The rise of the gig economy, freelancers and smaller organisations – thus greater need for automated /online outsourcing of support administrative services.
- Business by apps as first line of contact.
ANNA ON SETTING UP YOUR BUSINESS
- How can you make a difference in peoples’ lives? What problem can you solve effectively, take away the pain, make it effortless?
- Understand who you are and what excites/drives/motivates you. It is essential that you do what makes you happy and is your natural will – even in a regular job
- Have fearless faith, belief in yourself and be resilient
- Be aware of what is going on around you – read, learn, listen, question
- Say no more often and see what happens
- Be brave and jump – what is the worst that can happen? You can go back – nobody cares – only you.
- Feel the fire in your belly: be the sun and shine because if you don’t it will burn you.
ANNA ON CREATING A CLIENT EXPERIENCE
- Clients need to experience the values we live by via the services we provide. Passion and accountability are key characteristics we search for as this is contagious and affects not only the team but our clients too. We look for the smart, curious and problem solvers. We allow employees to take initiative and proactively serve the client while walking the talk. A set of values to work by is critical within the work ethos of a services business.
- Clients’ business must be fully understood to pivot service and be proactive – identifying and anticipating the difference between an event/transaction or an experience. Managing an experience is not only doing the best with the individual transaction but is seeking to understand the broader reasons, addressing the root causes, and creating feedback to continuously improve interactions and communication.
- Client relationships need to be nurtured to deepen trust which is critical to retention – Authenticity underscores the client relationship – it is about being real, open, honest and transparent. It is about being human, listening carefully and not taking anything personally. It is about the client your service and educate them on how to interact with you, taking them through your processes A to B and how they gain by working with you. At the end of the day the client relationship and their experience directly impacts the bottom line. You need to take your clients on a service journey – it’s about relevance.