At 26, I decided that there was something else out there for me. What that something was, I couldn’t have told you, yet as sure as the night is dark I knew that it wouldn’t be found in England. So much like the hoards of expats flooding out in search of greener pastures, I secured a job and within 2 weeks, took a plane and headed to Dubai where I spent a few years working for two of the largest publishers in the UAE. I started in advertising sales, but soon had a hand in all areas that make the essential components of building a media brand; from marketing the magazines to launching their social media. And then it happened – my ‘sliding-doors’ moment that was every bit the Rom-Com as it was the catalyst for where I am today – I met and fell in love with my husband and in 2011, I was engaged. It was whilst planning my own wedding that I realised how little information there was online for brides planning weddings in Dubai and the UAE. I had scoured the USA, UK and international-based websites for ideas, advice and info, but all I wanted was to be able to have a good nose at other Dubai weddings, get local wedding expert advice and understand what I could expect from this market – the one I planned to get married in.
At the time, I was fortunate enough to be working under someone who actively encouraged ‘Intrapreneurship’ and often embarked on new business with his employees, co-publishing magazines. So, I pitched the idea to him –
www.brideclubme.com – it was his first complete digital media partnership, and the UAE’s first online wedding media platform. I eventually broke away from the partnership amicably and launched my own digital media publishing house Club Media FZE. Since then, I have launched several other interconnected businesses including www.homeclubme.com, the UAE’s only online media platform dedicated to home life; www.thebigproposals.com, a high-end marriage proposal planning company which I own with my business partner; and the pandemic born ‘Hurst First WIFI and AV Solutions’, co-founded by my husband, who runs the show whilst I assist with marketing.
So, my ‘why?’, as in ‘why did I launch my first business’, was both a combination of seeing a gap in the market and finding a passion within the weddings industry to help others navigate their wedding planning process with ease.
Understanding Your Strengths & Learning How to Source the Rest
Whilst I was savvy when it came to marketing, sales and business development, I had no clue about developing a website’s backend the technical stuff and was a complete newbie to the wedding industry itself. And while I had the backing of a large publisher in terms of access to a license, desk and team to handle invoices and accounts, they still very much left me to fend for myself when setting up the platform. I was editor, sales, marketing manager, social media manager and all of the other roles that come with a budding digital business. I wasn’t able to take a wage for the first 6 months and survived off my savings, these were the terms agreed with the publisher.
So, having little financial support and minimal resources, but still being able to leverage the publisher’s name when approaching potential clients, I decided to utilise my bartering skills and officially launch the website through an event. I bartered everything, from the venue to the presenter, photography, to the food and giveaways and only paid cash for the DJ. To this day I am a strong believer in the power of barter, especially if you are the Founder of a bootstrapped, start-up business and it works very well if the trade-off is fair and equally beneficial to both parties. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who understood this and businesses saw value in listing and advertising on my new and niche (at the time) platform, in exchange for their services during my launch event. And the trade paid off for them, the clients they received in their first year on my platform far outweighed the cost of their services for my launch event.
In addition to this, I invested where I felt was most important in my business which for me was branding and the actual website itself. For this I used my savings and money as the publisher I was partnering with had access to their own ‘in-house’ developers. However, their developers had never created a website as detailed or female-centric as mine and in the end, I was given the choice to like it and lump it, or go at it alone. I scoured the pages of Google, business community groups and Facebook looking for the best female website developers, graphic designers and brand developers I could find and eventually found Melissa Love and Cathie Heart, two women well versed in the wedding industry with a proven track record and portfolio that impressed me. To this day, I don’t regret spending a single penny on their services. My brand is widely recognised within the global wedding industry and my website has never failed me. Lucky for me, I am also married to a fantastic IT genius that has maintained www.brideclubme.com and upgraded it throughout the last 10 years.
From ‘Solopreneur’ to Entrepreneur One Team Member at A Time
Once the branding was done, the website complete and the launch event over, the hard work really began. I worked full time at my 9-5 before I’d come home and work till 3 am on Bride Club. From writing all of our online content to managing the social media accounts, meeting clients, sending proposals, attending trade shows, and researching the market – it was a constant hustle. It was around the 6-month mark that the publisher and I agreed to part ways on good terms and I took over the platform solely under my own trade license. That hustle and hard graft did not stop there, it lasted for three years until I realised that I was burning out and needed to learn how to delegate and so, my small team was born. I have always kept www.brideclubme.com very lean in terms of outgoings. I have a team of loyal freelancers, a copywriter, graphic designer and admin assistant and my husband who handles accounts and our IT. And while my outgoings are kept to a minimum, the money spent on this support team is vital for the upkeep of my business as it allows me the time to focus on business development and the things I actually enjoy and am good at like sales and marketing. I hate spreadsheets and numbers, and writing was beginning to take up all of my time so these were the first tasks I needed to outsource to take my business to the next level generating a profitable, annual six-figure revenue.
The Foundations and systems I put into place when launching Bride Club ME almost 10 years ago put me in good stead to then launch my second business and ultimately the others, although each one has taught me something new every time.
Entrepreneurship is ever-evolving, especially when you own several businesses. Never be too proud to learn from others to adapt your skills and continuously educate yourself. I am always researching the markets I have businesses in. I recently invested in a digital marketing course because I know that times are changing and it is important to keep up with how industries are adapting, especially now, during the pandemic.
Make no bones about it, starting a business is easy, anyone can set one up these days, maintaining a business and seeing it succeed, however, takes hard work, passion, and dedication. One thing I wish I’d done earlier was hiring a mentor or consultant to help me streamline my processes and focus my attention where it was needed most. If I had done that, I may have saved myself a few years of burnout.
On top of running my businesses, I’ve decided to take pen to paper (aka finger to keyboard) in the hopes that I might inspire someone to take that leap into the world of entrepreneurship, or perhaps even be the ‘sliding-doors’ moment for taking their business to the next level.