How entrepreneurs can prepare for the unpredictable future

Small and medium-sized enterprises make up 95% of businesses in the UAE

Office workers sit inside an illuminated office building, U.K., on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018. Brexit Britain will be the top destination for major European investors to snap up commercial property next year, according to a survey of executives managing more than 500 billion pounds ($640 billion) of real estate conducted by Knight Frank. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak at a panel organised by Edelman to discuss the challenges and the future of entrepreneurship in the UAE and the region. This is a very important conversation given that small and medium-sized enterprises make up 95 per cent of businesses in the Emirates.

One of the key points discussed was how to prepare entrepreneurs for the future, for a market and jobs that don't exist yet. This is a question that is addressed not only to future entrepreneurs but to managers like myself, the ones who have to constantly change in a changing industry.

The way I conduct my business in the field of marketing and communication has changed drastically in the past four years.

Take social media, for instance, it has totally changed the face of digital marketing. Clients don't care about website banner advertisements as much as they do for social media influencers, Instagram and SnapChat advertisements. Podcasts are also growing in popularity in the region.

Live coverage is a trend that continues to dominate the industry. Online shopping is on the rise and some retailers feel threatened by the growth. Talent agencies for social media influencers are mushrooming in the Arabian Gulf, and TV is gradually becoming a thing of the past, thanks to Netflix and Apple TV.

But going back to the question of preparing ourselves for a future market and economy whose shape we cannot predict, I believe boils down to certain characteristics that entrepreneurs should adopt.

Be resilient

To be an entrepreneur, you have to grow a thick skin, be constantly and unapologetically resilient, be able to weather the downs and unexpected turns that your business takes, and to find a way to innovate and come up with an unexpected solutions to unforeseen problems.

Think long-term

One of the points I raised in the panel discussion with Edelman is the importance of thinking long term. Many entrepreneurs want overnight success and money to rain on them. But they need to realise that overnight success could take five to seven years. If they want to be business leaders, then they need to be in it for the long run, and to invest in the future. In my case, it took years of networking, freelance projects, building my business and earning clients, to reach where I am today. It is a process that should be embraced in all its phases.

Learn and adapt 

To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be humble when it comes to learning. You may have that Ivy League degree proudly hung in your office but learning as an business owner is a continuous process. When it comes to the learning process, we are not very different from doctors. We have to stay up-to-date with the latest technology, industry news and business trends.

I like what Omar Qirem, chief executive of Edelman Middle East, said about the learning process: “As an entrepreneur, perhaps one of the main skills is flexibility. When you start out, you need to be versatile and get your hands dirty in all sorts of tasks. A lot is talked about the need for digital skills, but I think the best skill an entrepreneur can have is adaptability.”

Adaptability and flexibility go hand in hand with learning. You cannot have one without the other.

Developing certain skills may be hard, especially when you have to dedicate certain time for learning, and be patient as you wait for results to materialise. Patience has been the biggest challenge for me personally. However, when you develop a mindset that incorporates those characteristics, it will not only make you resilient and open to change, but you will also become a stronger person.

And successful entrepreneurs need to be strong.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati entrepreneur, who manages her creative consultancy in Abu Dhabi.