15 November 2018Last updated

Real Women

Be your own boss

Fantasising about quitting your job for something more flexible? We speak to three women who did just that and ask them what it’s like to be your own boss

Louisa Wilkins
2 Dec 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Lydie Traore.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM

Lydie Traore

British Ivorian, 30, is the founder Eli’s Boots

My company, Eli’s Boots, came about less as a need to work for myself and more as a mother’s need to make a product specific to her child’s needs. I am a UK-qualified lawyer and moved to Dubai with my husband just under two years ago. Having found out that I was pregnant, my husband – an investment banker – and I decided that I should stay home for the latter months of my pregnancy.

When I was six months pregnant with Elijah I was perusing the malls looking for some baby shoes. I was surprised to see that many were hard-soled and rigid. Until they are two, babies have very soft, pliable bones so you have to be careful about the shoes you put them in. I wanted to put my baby in something that was both safe and cute.

First steps

Once I started researching the field and the leather I would eventually use, I fell in love with the idea of creating a baby and toddler shoe line.

The first three steps were research, research, research. My camel leather is sourced from the region so I get a real sense of pride as it reinforces our London-Dubai ethos; a merge of our old and new homes. Our nappa leather is from one of the world’s most renowned tanneries. From there, finding the right tailor and building the right website were time-consuming but fun parts of the process.

From the moment of conception to now it has been just over a year. And so far, it’s going very well. I have met a lot of amazing people who have helped me realise my dreams. The women entrepreneurs, especially, have been a great source of knowledge. Meeting them has been a highlight of this journey.

I would say the hardest part of working for yourself is that there is very little time in the day to be wife, mother and entrepreneur. This has led to many late nights working on Eli’s Boots and early-morning wake-ups with Eli. You pretty much have to wear all hats, but again, it has been a lot more fun than hard.

The workload right before the launch meant very little time was spent just relaxing. Now I have a greater balance and I am able to enjoy working as well as the other facets of being a mother and wife.

Elijah, now 11 months, is such an inspiration and he motivates us to make these legacy pieces.

The best bits

The process has been stressful but fun. The best part is to conceptualise then execute the ideas. I have learnt a lot of new skills on the way.

I miss document drafting, general legal work and working with a team, but the biggest surprise in this venture has been the support and relationships I have garnered along the way. I can’t speak highly enough about the amazing people I have met.

My advice for anyone thinking of taking this path is: start. There is only so much preparation you can undertake. So make a start, since you will learn as you go along.

Check out Lydie’s cute boots at


Tanya Jepson

48 from the UK, is a retailer and recruiter with Forever Living and mum of three

I have a chemical engineering degree and have worked in the food manufacturing industry for most of my career. When I moved to Dubai from the UK just over a year ago, I looked for jobs in my field, but I really wanted to do something completely different and had always wished to work for myself. I wanted flexibility and there are not many positions like that here.

I did network marketing for a short time years ago, after my daughter was born, as it was something I could do from home... and I was very successful at it. So when I couldn’t find a chemical engineering job here, I thought about going back to it – the appeal being that I could work but still have quality time with my family.

I starting researching and looking for a suitable opportunity. I stumbled across Forever Living at a networking group. I had heard of the company already as I had bought some of its products in the UK, but hadn’t realised it was out here in the UAE too.

I realised it was a perfect fit as it was flexible, and I could own my own business. I also have a lot of training and team-building experience, which I knew would help.

I signed up and within a week I had my ‘business in a box’ and did my first business launch. That was back in March. I now have a team of 15, which I am looking to expand, and business is steadily growing.

Finding support

The toughest part has been knowing when to stop. I have three kids – the eldest one is studying overseas – and at one point my two youngest were telling me I was spending too long on my laptop and phone!

In the beginning it was difficult not having a support network, although we have a great one online. But now the team is building, so we are supporting each other.

I also recently started a Meetup group that targets women with home businesses. My strap line is that it’s ‘like having a chat at the coffee machine’. One of the things I have learnt on this journey is that social media has a lot more to it than I originally thought.

I love my new career. I spend a lot of time networking and have met the most amazing people.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked my old job, but it is wonderful to be doing something different and having a passion for it. I believe in the products – my health has improved using them – and I do pamper parties using the products, which are great fun.

Also I like knowing that I will directly benefit from my own hard work. Because the job is so flexible I can choose when I want to put the hours in... I can do things with my family and have a cheeky swim and sunbathe in the afternoon if I want to, and perhaps choose to do some work on my laptop in the evening rather than watch TV.

Saying yes to everything

My advice to women considering this as a career path would be to be organised, have a plan and be willing to learn new skills. Say yes to everything, have fun and see where the path takes you. Recently I was asked to be a guest speaker at Middlesex university for a PR class – I wouldn’t ever have predicted that a year ago when I was working as an engineer!

To find out more about Forever Living products, or opportunities to work with the brand, email


Zakiya Habib

South African, 38, franchise owner, Travel Counsellors

I became a franchise owner as I wanted to get back into the workplace, but also still be there for my daughter, who is now six. In South Africa I had worked as an IT specialist, business analyst, consultant and project manager for various bodies in government and the travel industry. My husband, an IT manager, and I moved to Dubai four years ago with our daughter. From the time Travel Counsellors opened its offices here, I knew that it was something I wanted to do, but my daughter was too young, so I waited until she was independent enough before I took the first step towards buying my franchise.

It was important for me to have the freedom to work on my own terms and to focus on the specific areas of the industry that were attractive to me, like family-friendly travel. The prospect of Travel Counsellor’s proven business model, which allowed me to achieve the work/life balance that I desperately wanted, really appealed.

Taking the leap

Once I made my decision and I was accepted as a Travel Counsellor Associate, the company took care of my visa, work permit and general administration, including setting up my website and establishing a professional social media presence. Then it was on to my business plan, followed by pre-induction training, which I was able to do from home. Next was a two-week classroom-based course followed by a 12-month post-induction programme.

The great thing was that I was able to commence my business immediately on completion of the classroom training and the setting of my goals for the first year. It’s been an exciting start of this journey, with a very steep learning curve. Even though I am able to work from home, I still feel very much a part of a global family of 1,400 fellow Travel Counsellors. We are all connected and we often exchange ideas and information.

The hardest part was learning to balance my time. Initially, I was working days, nights and full weekends, but I am starting to get the balance right. I now try to limit my working day to eight hours, although I am still always available to my clients 24/7 while they are travelling. My family has been very supportive, and it was great to see my husband take my daughter out on the days when I was so busy. I love that they’ve had additional time to bond. My daughter has become more independent and much more responsible.

Staying positive

I am surprised how easy it was for me to get back into the work environment, after being home for such a long time.
I love being independent again, meeting amazing people, and the fact that I control how I spend my day. I also love making a difference in my clients’ lives. It makes me really happy to hear all the stories of their travels, knowing that I played a huge part in making their travel dreams come true.

My advice to other women is, if there’s something that you’re passionate about, don’t think too long about it. Pursue your dreams, and all the little issues will fall into place. Surround yourself with positive like-minded people as they will help lift you up on days that you feel down.

To contact Zakiya, email

Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins