My parents raised my three brothers and me to believe that we could do anything we set our minds to, as long as we worked hard. Growing up it never occurred to me that gender was an issue. But after graduating from college and starting my career, I realized that in real life, women didn’t always have the same opportunities as men. In the business world, women hold 52% of all professional jobs yet only 5% are Fortune 500 CEOs. We are making progress, but there is still a lot of work to do.
Women entrepreneurs in particular face significant obstacles to growing and scaling their businesses, especially with accessing capital, education and resources. (Only one in 23 loan dollars go to women-owned businesses.) This is why we started the Tory Burch Foundation, which empowers women entrepreneurs and provides programming designed to level the playing field.
Through our work, I have met hundreds of small-business owners from New York to Shanghai, and I try to share the advice that has helped me over the last 12 years:
1. Believe in yourself.
When I was starting our company, I was warned many times against opening a retail store. People told me that it was the wrong move, and that I should start with a wholesale partner and build the brand from there. But my parents had always taught me to “think of negativity as noise.” Not everyone is going to see things the way you do. The most important thing is to believe passionately in your ideas, focus on what you are doing and let the work speak for itself.
2. Buckle up and know that it’s going to be a tremendous amount of work.
There were times when my team and I were working around the clock. And yes, it was exhausting. But in order to build a great business, you have to put in the time and energy and be extremely tenacious. We may live in an age of instant messaging and instant gratification, but there is no short cut to success. Set goals, and take time to reflect on what is and is not working. When you read about an “overnight success,” chances are someone left out the details.
3. Be open to new ideas.
It’s important to be intellectually curious and always learning. Look at what companies and leaders that you admire are doing. How can you learn from them? No business is created in a vacuum — the input of others that you trust can help you make a good idea even better.
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4. Seek out opportunities.
Opportunities rarely just fall in your lap. Look for programs and resources geared specifically to women small-business owners. The Tory Burch Foundation offers a Fellows Program for new female-run businesses to help give them a jump start. Last year’s winner, Kate McAleer, is using the grant investment from the program to buy equipment that will enable her to expand distribution of her line of healthier candy bars and I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next. I also recommend checking out the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership for more resources like a directory of local assistance for business women and online training programs.
5. Think bigger.
Entrepreneurs need to have the courage to dream big, and sometimes thinking big-picture can be scary. But I realized early on that in order to find success, you have to get out of your comfort zone and dream big. For me, that means always focusing on new opportunities for our company and for our foundation. It also means imagining a future and a world where women and men are equal. And for me, that starts by helping other women have the support they need to succeed in business.
Tory Burch is a fashion designer, businesswoman and philanthropist.