Rebecca Minkoff built a fashion empire through hard work and a relentless drive to live her dream. It wasn’t easy and took tremendous resolve to remain hungry and persevere. By never giving up, she has created a space for herself on the shelves of luxury department stores across the world. She also cofounded the Female Founder Collective to boost entrepreneurship among women. She shares her 6 steps to becoming a fearless leader.
1. Stop Asking for Permission
If you have children, you’ll know that you’re always telling your children they need to ask for permission for almost anything. Many of us as adults still carry that mentality. We ask friends what they think of our ideas and crave coworkers telling us, “It’s OK.” When you take a sometimes-scary risk, no one is going to tell you it’s OK. You need to be the person that says, “I can do this.” Sometimes you win; sometimes you learn. It’s always worth taking the risk to see what will happen.
In 2005, I took one of my many risks. At that time, talking directly to consumers was not something designers did. I had a magazine and sold my designs in a department store, and there was no contact with customers. Despite being told I needed to create an ivory tower image by so-called industry experts, we started talking to our consumers and rolling out some innovative ideas. If we’d asked for permission at the time, we would have been told, “That’s a terrible idea, don’t do that.” With the rise of social media interaction with customers, we know now that’s how we succeed in business.
2. Don’t Ask for Help: Ask for What You Need
We’re in the habit of asking people to be our mentors as if someone has all the time in the world to hand you their success on a silver platter. I never had a mentor, but instead, a series of women who put my you-know-what to work and demanded excellence. They saw I rose to the task and that I was worth investing in. Their attitude was “sink or swim,” and they took me on board when I didn’t sink. So when people ask me at events how I got started, it’s the wrong question — my inspiring story will not help others build a career. Instead, ask for something concrete: “Can you look at my proposal? Can you refer me to a supplier? Can you make an introduction for me? Be specific. Keep in mind, too, that it’s not always a case of who you know in life that might open doors for you, but who you will get to know. Keep active in seeking new contacts, and don’t always expect a “yes.” I once sent out 500 look-books to stores and only got two replies.
3. Change Is Inevitable and Enviable
You need to generate some heat and momentum with your brand and then keep it going. Resting on your laurels after your last big win is not a good idea, and even big, successful brands know this. Embracing change is the only way you’ll survive. In March 2020, we saw 70% of our business disappear with the onset of the pandemic. However, it opened the door to a new opportunity — text messaging — that reengaged our customers with great success. Now, nobody wants to hear from you via text as the market became flooded with this approach. Therefore, I’m keeping myself open to the big next idea and recognizing when to let go of my previous strategy. Always keep “what’s next” on your radar, and delegate a member of your team to stay alert to what this might look like.
4. Point of View is Everything
When you’re genuinely interested in people outside of your comfort zone and not trying to use them for something, you can attract great value to your business or idea. For a long time, I found myself operating exclusively within the fashion community. For new opportunities to arise, you sometimes need to break out of your social circles.
I once met a designer who was worried about a negative review in the New York Times. It occurred to me that others should not define your success or failure and that broadening your network beyond your industry can unearth new ways for others to support you. Look beyond your niche interest or business and keep your eyes wide open to new opportunities. What two unrelated companies might benefit from collaborating? Who can you reach out to for cross-promoting your brand? We grew our website sales by six figures when we adopted this strategy during the pandemic.
5. Put Collaboration Over Competition
When I first started in fashion, there was another designer with a handbag that I wanted to emulate. My attitude at the time was, “I’m just going to eat your lunch.” But she was so gracious and friendly to me and never expressed any outward resentment. I realized that there is enough success to go around and that women also have multiple handbags. There are enough consumers and demand today to compete with someone without needing to get nasty. We shouldn’t have an attitude of, “I’m going to win, and you’re going to lose,” but rather: “How can I help you? What do you need from me?” Some people might say you’ll go hungry by adopting this attitude, but I’ve never seen this happen from helping somebody.
6. It’s Endless: Success Is Being Able to Keep Going
I certainly wouldn’t be here today without my team. When the pandemic hit, we went from a team of 60 to 27 people, and each took on multiple jobs. There will be days when you ask yourself, “Can I still do this?” It becomes easier if you keep a strong team that supports each other. I take a lot of walks without my phone to get out and see new things and carve out time to not think about work. Whatever dream you may have been sold about success being easy is fake. If you woke up each day in a world where everything was easy, I can guarantee you’d become bored. Each time I see a new mountain in front of me, I see it as a unique experience from which I can forge a lesson and from which I can grow as a leader.
Meet the Real Leaders is a monthly, virtual CEO collaboration event that hosts an impact leader who is making a positive difference in the world. It’s also an opportunity to network with other impact CEOs and participate in interactive Break-thru Groups. Join us each month for valuable business insights from innovative leaders. Learn how to take action to become a better leader, how to build a better, more profitable business, and to find opportunity in the emerging social impact economy. The following summaries from the past three Meet the Real Leaders events will give you an idea of what to expect. Sign up for free for the next event here: Real-Leaders.com/Meet