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Why joining a Business Council is one of the first things you should do as a UAE Startup

Date: Mon, 17 Sep, 2018

Why joining a Business Council is one of the first things you should do as a UAE Startup



If you’re an expat setting up a brand new business in the UAE Mainland or establishing a branch of an existing business here, joining a business council should be one of your top priorities.

In Dubai in particular, the business councils set up under the auspices of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry provide a very effective springboard for a newly established concern. There are business councils for nationals of more than 40 countries, from Algeria to Ukraine, as well as 15 business groups divided by industry sector, all of which provide valuable networking and development opportunities.
Here are a few compelling reasons to sign up:

Putting your brand in front of the right people
When you’re first establishing a business in the UAE it can be challenging to get noticed. However joining a business council for your country of origin will give your profile an instant boost.
The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has facilitated the creation of country-specific business councils to drive economic co-operation between Emirati and foreign-run businesses. Most of these cover not only Dubai but also the Northern Emirates – Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm al Quwain and Ajman. So joining is not just a great way to build profitable links you’re your compatriots but also to forge vital connections with Emirati businesspeople.
Some business councils even accept applications from people just scoping out the possibility of setting up a business in the UAE, so this might be a great first step if you’re looking to build a base in the Emirates.
Note that the British Business Council for Dubai and the Northern Emirates is, slightly confusingly, known as the British Business Group, presumably to distinguish it from the British Council. With more than 2,000 members, representing over 400 businesses, this is one of the GCC region’s most prominent business groups. So if you’re a Brit setting up a business or branch in this part of the world, it’s definitely worth joining.
Some of the country-specific business councils in Dubai are open to applications from expats from other countries too. For example, the Canadian Business Council is happy to accept non-Canadians as long as at least 60% of its membership is Canadian. So if you have an affiliation with a particular country, you might like to apply to join the relevant business council.  
There are also several country-specific business councils in Abu Dhabi, so if you’re setting up there, do check whether there is a business council for your country.
Key benefits: Building the profile of your business among relevant communities, including Emiratis as well as your compatriots

Ongoing support through networking events, seminars and workshops
One of the main benefits of joining a business council is the regular networking opportunities it provides. Word-of-mouth is a vital component in business success here. Building up a strong network of fellow businesspeople who know and trust you and would be happy to refer their contacts to you is a great way to build up your reputation.
If there is a business group for your industry sector, you should also consider joining that. The support of industry peers can be invaluable, especially when setting up in a new territory, and it will provide an excellent opportunity to learn about how things are done here in your line of work.
Your membership will enable you to access seminars and workshops to build your knowledge, while getting to know the local business community.
There may also be special meetings on relevant topics, which could give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise as well as picking up useful information about issues such as best practice to support the development of your business in the region.
Once you’ve paid your initial registration fee, most events are free to attend.
Key benefits: Helping you build up a network of allies and advocates for your business, opportunities to swap notes with like-minded people, relevant ongoing professional development, moral support and encouragement

Support and resources for women in business
There have been huge strides in gender equality across the UAE, especially in Dubai, where the culture is influenced by the high proportion of Western expats. However the business scene still tends to be male-dominated.
To help counteract this, Chambers of Commerce and Industry across the Emirates have set up business councils specifically for women, such as the Dubai Business Women Council and the Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council.
These bodies, established in response to the UAE’s National Strategy for the Advancement of Women, provide excellent opportunities for businesswomen to get together with their peers and to learn from and support each other. They even offer entrepreneurship training, access to startup consultancy services and help with securing finance.
So if you’re a female entrepreneur venturing into business in the UAE or representing a new business here, you should give serious consideration to joining the business women’s council in the emirate where you’re based.
Key benefits: A readymade network of fellow businesswomen, encouragement and practical support, dedicated training opportunities and helpful resources

Annual fee deters those who are not serious
Although you might be tempted by the idea of completely free business networking opportunities, there is a good reason to join at least one paid business council or group. That’s simply because having to pay a membership fee makes it more likely that everyone who joins is serious in their intentions.
Very few members will be there just looking to build their social network or for fun. You will find that most of your fellow members will be genuinely committed to building productive and profitable relationships and taking their business in the Emirates to the next level. 
Key benefits: No timewasters, you can be confident of value for money knowing that the people you meet will be as serious about doing good business in the Emirates as you are. 

Access to details of potential clients and partners
Joining a business council or group will entitle you to access its membership directory, which will be packed with contact details of potential customers and partners.
Be cautious of abusing this privilege by bombarding fellow members with sales material or cold calls. However you may find that people are happy to hear from you if you contact them politely with an enquiry, mentioning your membership. Being able to say you belong to the same business council or group is an excellent ice-breaker and can be a solid start to a great business relationship.
Key benefits: Easy access to the details of relevant business people, the fact that you belong to the same organisation will make it easier to establish trust

Exclusive invitations and special offers
Being a member of a business council or group will often entitle you to attend exclusive events, such as ambassadorial receptions and trade missions. And occasionally there are inter-business council events – amazing opportunities to network with members of other business councils.
You’ll benefit from special offers on products and services provided by fellow members. You can also take the opportunity to offer member discounts yourself. This is a fantastic way to pick up business and, hopefully, win loyal customers who will become passionate advocates for your brand. 
Key benefits: Enabling you to attend events open only to members, access to members-only offers, the ability to pick up loyal customers by offering exclusive discounts yourself

Important clarification
To be clear, the business councils and groups I’m talking about here are not the national UAE ones, which are very high level groups designed to foster strong trade links between the UAE and major corporations around the world.
Membership of these councils, such as the UAE-UK Business Council, the US-UAE Business Council and the Canada-UAE Business Council, is generally by invitation only. They are aimed at top executives of large, high profile companies in the target countries, and some of their key events are held outside the UAE, with the aim of encouraging organisations to do business here.
On the other hand the Dubai and Northern Emirates and Abu Dhabi business councils and the industry-specific business groups in Dubai are aimed at businesses of all sizes, including SMEs and new startups. This makes them a great launchpad for entrepreneurs looking to establish themselves in the Emirates.

Getting you geared up for business success in the UAE
So whether you’re setting up a brand new business here or a new regional office or branch, joining relevant business councils or groups should definitely be high up on your to-do list.
If you’re keen to join a business council or group but the relevant one doesn’t exist, don’t let that stop you. You can set up your own! You’ll find the full rules for setting one up in Dubai on the Dubai Chamber website.

So what are you waiting for?