Business Ideas Middle East Startup Advice

9 Essential Tips For Your Startup in The Middle East

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  • We’ve put this together after speaking to over 30 Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) owners
  • The Middle East is currently a hotbed of political activity and unrest, which means it’s even riskier for an entrepreneur to set up a startup
  • It is essential to be sensitive to cultural norms, customs, and language differences, especially when working with local partners
  • Procedures for setting up a business in Middle Eastern countries can take long, be a frustrating process, especially compared to Western nations if you’re a foreigner

Entrepreneurship is often defined by a persons ability to think differently and get out of their comfort zone. Sometimes, that means seeing business opportunities where others don’t. Use the tips in this article to see these opportunities for your startup to succeed in the Middle East. 

We’ve put this together after speaking to over 30 Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) owners. To be included in our next articles, please contact our Surveys and questionnaires team surveys@companyhand.com.

1. Do your research

This is pretty basic for any business anywhere, but especially essential. Entrepreneurs have to know where to set up their business, how to do it, basic taxation and business laws, policies, etc. These vary significantly in Middle Eastern countries so to get ahead, do your research. This will help you build the foundations on which your startup can be successfully launched.

2. Pay attention to politics

The Middle East is currently a hotbed of political activity and unrest, which means it’s even riskier for an entrepreneur to set up a startup. Not to mention, international relations and trade with neighbours and western nations, especially the USA, are a big part of many economies in the region. Both internal and external politics can significantly and quickly affect consumer demand and government incentives. The August 2020 UAE-Israeli Agreement skyrocketed UAE tourism demand from Israeli’s overnight. 

Paying close attention to politics will help you stay ahead of any trends that happen because of political changes.

3. Immerse yourself in the culture

To the outside world, the Middle East doesn’t seem as diverse as other regions because many countries speak Arabic and have a strong Arabian culture. This is untrue. All the countries have a rich and widely diverse culture. As an entrepreneur, it is essential to be sensitive to cultural norms, customs, and language differences, especially when working with local partners. 

Visit or live in the area that you want to startup, to immerse yourself in the local culture. Use what you learn to help create products and marketing that better suits your customers. 

4. Think local

When figuring out how to market your product or service, and build a niche customer base, it helps to keep in mind the people of the city or country you’re targeting. The culture is so diverse between Middle Eastern Countries, so too is consumer wants and needs. Ensure that producing goods at a cheaper rate, does not compromise its quality or ability to meet customer needs. When marketing or pricing international goods, make sure that marketing materials are written in the local language, and prices include local currency. Many foreign companies make the mistake of not doing this and end up losing customers. 

5. Get your documents in order

Whether you want to set up shop, online or offline, it is a hassle to get all the paperwork done. Laws and documentation processes vary in the Middle East region for both traditional and Islamic-Sharia type businesses. Make sure you have all your paperwork in order. Countries in the region usually have a Department of Business and Innovation in the Ministry of Economy or Treasury. These can help with finding out and gathering the right documents and paperwork.  

6. Lawyer Up

When thinking of setting up a business, especially in another country, always seek legal advice. Things can get tricky, both online and offline when you cater to international clients. Any company should always have legal backing and foolproof plans in case of any unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances. These circumstances tend to happen much more in the Middle East than in other regions because of political instability and other challenges

7. Reach out for local guidance

There are business operations that need to be done locally. Such as finding vendors, acquiring space, or partnering with local business associations. Having a person on the inside for local guidance can help run these activities smoothly. They may also better understand the local business environment. This can be used to help you get cheaper production materials, reliable partners, or build a more robust business network. Like they say in business, success is sometimes about not what you know, but who you know.  

8. Hire a competent translator or interpreter if you are foreign

Trust me, you’ll need one. Not all documents, legal or otherwise, will be available to you in your native language. So too, the customers, partners, and locals you interact with will not likely speak your native language. 

There’s also the question of catering or marketing to a clientele that speak different languages. These reasons make it essential to have someone who understands the language in your chosen business location.

9. Have patience

Procedures for setting up a business in Middle Eastern countries can take long, be a tedious and frustrating process, especially compared to Western nations if you’re a foreigner. Make sure you give yourself and your team time to get all the work done. Set realistic goals and don’t forget, you’re human and so too is your team.

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