Want to freelance in the capital? Read this first

So you want to go solo for your career? Here’s how to do it…

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Whether you need a job change or feel like it’s time to go it alone, freelancing has never been more popular in recent years as a career option.

From setting your own schedule to sourcing clients and being your own boss, if you’ve got the gumption to escape your office cubicle, it can be a rewarding and challenging process.

But how can you do it in Abu Dhabi? We ask an expert.

Knowing the law

“Here in the UAE, we’re starting to see the global freelancing trend develop,” says Bernard Lee, entrepreneur and founder of co-working space GlassQube.

“This is an oil-driven economy. When the market goes down, companies have to downsize, and some people decide to freelance out of necessity.”

However, freelancing in the UAE isn’t as simple as declaring yourself open for business, and knowing the legalities is just as important as your big idea.

The first thing you’re going to need is a trade licence from the Department of Economic Development, which can leave you out of pocket before you’ve earned your first dirham.

“The UAE has a lot of challenges that don’t exist in other markets such as the US or UK,” explains Bernard.

“Licencing is critical in that regard,” he adds. “The legal framework can be a very expensive and confusing process; you’ll also need a visa or a visa sponsor.”

Costing up to AED 20,000, it can seem an expensive start to your new career, but getting legally licenced is an unavoidable step.

Depending on your industry, this process can be simplified by heading to a dedicated service like GlassQube, or freezone such as twofour54, which is a hub for media and entertainment professionals.

Licence requirements will change depending on what type of business you’re opening and where you’re opening it, so be sure to do your research.

Marketing yourself

Once the practicalities are done, as the face of your business, you’re going to want to market yourself and build up a client base.

“Marketing yourself depends on your background and where you come from,”                  Bernard comments.

“The most successful freelancers are those that have been successful in their previous industry and bring with them a portfolio of clients who know their work.

“But if you’re a teacher and you decide to be a freelance graphic designer, that’s a harder road to go down. You’re starting from scratch at every level.”

So how can you build your network? Get out there, says Bernard.

“In the digital age, social media is very important, but you also have to get yourself out there and network. You’ll never build your network in Starbucks,” he emphasises. “Your contact book is your currency.

“Whether it’s shaking someone’s hand, making a phone call or posting on social media, you need to build your brand over time – and ultimately, you need to deliver an excellent service or product,” he adds.

Going it alone

So you’ve made the leap, and now you’re on your own, free to make your own money – and mistakes.

“The benefits of freelancing speak for themselves; you’re self-employed, you don’t have to drag yourself to the office and you’re your own boss,” says Bernard.

“There is some truth to that, but it’s much more nuanced. You’re literally eating what you kill,” he laughs. “You’re fully responsible for your own destiny, and that can be very exciting, but also it can be tremendously stressful.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is working in isolation and being focused on every last dirham,” Bernard reflects. “You need to bounce ideas off people and engage with peers in your community, and be stimulated from people across sectors.”

At the end of the day, Bernard says that it’s best to dip a toe in the water before going in all guns blazing.

“Test your idea and ability,” he notes. “It’s always prudent to know what you’re getting yourself into. Be smart about the speed and depth as to how you commit yourself.”

Useful resources

WORDS Camille Hogg
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