Have you ever wondered why success comes easily to some people? And they don’t just succeed once. They succeed multiple times, in multiple fields, don’t they? Are they just born lucky, or is there something else they have that others don’t?
You can succeed once by luck. You can succeed twice in a row if you’re extremely lucky.
But if you want sustained, continuous success, you need more than luck. You need the Ultimate Success Formula (“USF”).
The USF is a 4-step formula that guarantees success. It doesn’t guarantee immediate success, but it does guarantee eventual success.
Step 1: Set a Goal
Step 2: Find a Strategy
Step 3: Take Action
Step 4: Change your Strategy
Step 1: Set A Goal
You have probably heard this before. The first step towards success is to set a goal.
And your goal needs to be clear and specific.
It’s not enough to say, “I want to be rich”. You need to decide how much of an income or net worth you want to achieve. $10,000 income a month? $1 million net worth?
It’s not enough to decide “I want to lose weight”. How much weight do you want to lose?
If you want to be successful in your career, what position do you see yourself holding in 3 to 5 years’ time?
When I was 14 years old, I knew what my dream was. I wanted to become an entrepreneur, and I wanted to run a company with $100 million in revenue. My dream car was a BMW.
My goal sounds very ambitious. Maybe yours too. There will be a lot of skeptics who pour cold water on people like us, calling us unrealistic.
But they miss the point.
The point is not whether we can achieve the goal or not. The point is that we have a goal.
Something we can aim for and progress towards. If there is no goal, how can there be progress?
I was also my own skeptic. Is $100 million too ambitious?
But I reasoned that if I aim for the stars, if I miss and hit only 10% of that goal, I’ll at least hit the moon.
However, if I aim for the ceiling, that’s all I’m going to hit. And that’s still way lower than the moon.
Today, I have hit a few million, less than 5% of my $100 million goal. But it’s still several million more than the sceptics who never even tried.
Furthermore, it’s only been 14 years, and I still have another good 30 to 40 years or so to go. Who is to say that I can’t hit $100 million?
Therefore, ignore all the sceptics. It doesn’t matter if your goal sounds crazy.
What matters is that you have a goal, and that already puts you way ahead of most others who only aim for the ceiling.
Step 2: Find a Strategy
Once you set the goal, you need to find a strategy. You need a plan to turn your goal into a set of actionable steps that can help you reach your goal.
Most people will try to work out the plan on their own. Some will ask for advice from friends and family. They may also use their assumptions about the market, the world, and the business environment to come up with a plan based on logical deduction rather than real-world experience.
But those who achieve the best outcomes in the shortest amount of time get their strategies by modelling.
No, wearing designer clothes and strutting down a cat aisle isn’t going to give you good business strategies!
What I mean by modelling is to look at people who have already achieved what you want to achieve, and then model their strategies!
If you wanted to learn golf, would you learn it better from a professional golfer or your friend?
To become a top brain surgeon, do you want to learn from a senior specialist doctor or your neighbourhood general practitioner?
If you want to bake a chocolate cake, do you think it’s better to follow a recipe from someone who has already baked a cake or to try and figure everything out from scratch?
So, the smartest and fastest way to achieve success is to model those who have already made it, and then copy their recipe!
But there are a few caveats.
Don’t Take Advice from Average People
If you want to know how to invest, learn how successful investors like Warren Buffet did it.
If you want to do a tech start-up, look at people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
If you want to do an online Amazon business, learn from those who already have 7-figure, 8-figure sales or more.
Don’t ask for advice from your family and friends, unless they have already made it and achieved what you want to achieve.
Some will just pour cold water on you. Some do it because they care for you and don’t want you to get hurt. Others just want to pull you down to their level because they never had the guts to act and do what you’re about to do.
So, don’t ask for advice from average people. If their advice works, they wouldn’t be average people, they would be exceptionally successful people.
Learn only from the successful ones who’ve been there and done that.
Don’t Copy Blindly
There’s a saying that goes, “Seek not to Imitate the Masters. Rather, seek what they Sought.”.
I think there’s a lot of truth to that.
While you should learn from experts, you must also not copy blindly.
Those experts may have lived in different times and faced different circumstances, so you need to adapt their recipes and modify them to suit your unique situation.
What if there’s Nobody to Copy From?
Sometimes, there is nobody who has done what you’re trying to do, so there is nobody to model after. This is when you must broaden your perspective and look across boundaries, such as:
- Cross border. Has this been done in another country or region?
- Cross industry. Are there successful examples in other industries?
My first business was a part-time drop shipping business as an online florist, and my primary strategy was Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”), which was to rank my website on the first page of search engine results for certain keywords.
It was a very competitive field, and I was up against big, established florists who have been in the business for a long time.
It was difficult to get ranked #1, but I still managed to get on the front page with a ranking of between #6 to #8. I didn’t make a lot of money, just a couple of hundred a month, but I gained valuable field experience and confidence in my SEO skills.
But when I started my durable goods distribution business a few years later, it was very easy to rank. I got to the #1 rank for the major keywords I targeted in less than 3 weeks.
This was because SEO has never been a strategy used by my competitors. They used a traditional “boots on the ground” wholesale strategy, hiring full-time salespeople to push products via brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Online marketing had never been used in the industry. Neither were direct business-to-consumer (B2C) sales. Thus, when I used SEO, I dominated not just the search engines, but also the B2C market.
Marketing guru Jay Abraham once said that something that is common practice in one industry can have the power of an atomic bomb in another industry.
Today, I still dominate the industry in Singapore because I used a marketing strategy that was transplanted from another industry.
The funny thing is, when I wrote the business plan, I was trying to copy much of what my competitors did, which was to do cold calls and go door-to-door.
SEO was only one of the fringe strategies that I would use. Since I was going to do a website anyway, I might as well do on-page SEO as it doesn’t require a lot of extra effort. I genuinely wasn’t expecting it to yield any results.
But within weeks of launching the business, the early sales were all coming through the website.
That was the “eureka” moment. I realized that copying my competitors’ strategies wasn’t the best approach.
There was a whole territory in cyberspace that was uncontested and unexploited, which I could attack and dominate very swiftly.
And how did I learn SEO? Well, I took a course and paid a few thousand dollars for it. While it may seem a lot, I am glad to say that my investment has been paid back hundreds of times.
Be Selective about your Trainer
If you plan to take a course to learn a particular strategy, be very careful about which trainer you sign up with.
There are so many people advertising courses on YouTube, Facebook and other social media, saying how easy it is to make money by drop shipping, trading in stocks, options and foreign exchange, selling on Amazon and so on.
In my opinion, most are just scammers. The more they emphasize on the ease with which you can make money, the more likely it is to be a scam.
I’m not saying that what they teach doesn’t work or isn’t true. Most of the time, the strategies offered can work.
But the scam is not in the content. The scam is in the “easy money” pitch.
It’s not that the strategies don’t work. What is misrepresented is the claim that these are strategies guaranteed to work and that it is easy to succeed using their “proven systems”.
Have you ever thought, if making money with their system was so easy, why do they still need to sell courses to make money from you? Why give away trade secrets and train future competitors?
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
2 years ago, I attended a preview for a drop shipping course.
The founders of the company were touted to have created a 9-figure dropshipping empire. The YouTube advertisements showed them driving luxury cars and flying in private jets.
The first red flag arose; if they were truly as rich as they claimed, how come I have never heard of them in the mainstream media? The only time I came across them was from paid advertisements, mainly on YouTube.
Then I went for the preview, thinking I might learn something new. But the entire preview was just a selling exercise, filled with examples of how some people became very successful doing drop shipping using their “proven system” and are now living the “easy” life.
Within about 30 minutes, I pretty much figured out the business model they were going to teach.
Set up a website on Shopify, use Oberlo to find products to drop ship, and then run Facebook ads.
This is easy to do. I don’t even need to attend a course to get it done.
But I know, from my years of experience doing e-commerce, success wasn’t going to be as easy as they make it out to be.
While the numbers made sense on the surface, some important numbers were missing.
The screenshots shown in the testimonials were revenue numbers, but not net profit. I can easily create a $10,000 monthly revenue online by spending $20,000 in advertising and selling the products at a loss. But is that meaningful?
And the numbers they used were just gross profit, which was price less cost of goods. What about shipping and advertising costs? These were all ignored in the presentation.
When I challenged the presenter and asked why the cost of shipping was missing from the calculation, I was brushed off with this response, “if you’re not making money from drop shipping, it just means you’re not doing it right”.
He did not give me a straightforward answer to a simple question. I guess I was becoming too much of a nuisance asking him difficult questions and obstructing him from selling his course.
Most other people in the room, unfortunately, were still so “wowed” and lured by the prospect of easy money that they continued listening. I left the room wondering how many naive, innocent sheep got slaughtered that day.
Or maybe most of the people giving “wow” comments were people from the same syndicate planted in the audience to create a herd mentality.
Now let’s compare that with another example.
A few years ago, I took a refresher course on SEO, because the rise of social media added a whole new dimension to it, and I knew I had a knowledge gap.
Before I chose my trainer, I went for one of his free preview workshops. In the workshop, he did a “live” search for main keywords such as “internet marketing”, “search engine optimization” and “SEO”. He was ranked #1 or #2 for all of them.
He proved with his results that he was able to rank for his targeted keywords and outrank every other trainer. I could also verify the results “live” using my phone, so it’s something that cannot be faked, unlike posing with Lamborghinis and private jets.
He never pitched that money would be guaranteed or easy. He just showed what was possible, and how powerful a skill it was if you learnt it.
Furthermore, I had already built a 7-figure company using SEO, so I didn’t need to be sold on its benefits.
What I needed to see was whether my trainer was indeed the top dog in the market, which he proved by doing a “live” search on Google. I didn’t want to learn from the 2nd best.
Learn from Failures Too
Learning from people who have failed is just as important as learning from those who succeeded. Very often, business is not so much about what you do right, but about what you don’t do wrong.
My father had a factory which failed in 1985 due to the recession at that time, which was the worst global recession since World War II.
He wasn’t losing money, at least not on paper. The business was profitable, but the debtors were dragging their payments.
At the same time, creditors were chasing him for money and eventually moved to wind up his company.
The most important lesson I learnt from my father’s failure was Cash flow is King. This is a lesson etched deeply in my consciousness, even today.
A business doesn’t fail when it loses money. It fails when it runs out of cash.
Step 3: Take Action
After finding your strategy, it’s time to execute!
You might think this is a no-brainer. Of course, you will take action! After learning such great strategies, who wouldn’t want to take action and set themselves up for a path of financial success and happiness?
But the reality is quite different. Most people will seize up at this stage and not take any action. Never, ever underestimate the amount of inertia holding people back from breaking out of their comfort zone.
The top 1% will take action, refine their strategy, and eventually succeed. They are followed by some who take action, but encounter obstacles along the way, and then give up and claim that the strategy doesn’t work.
However, the vast majority will fail because they never took any action. They dabble a little bit here, research a little bit there and procrastinate instead of making a serious push to get the business launched.
The biggest reason they never start is their fear of failure. They never launch their business because they are afraid of losing their money, afraid of wasting their time. To them, failure is an outcome they cannot accept.
But successful entrepreneurs view failures very differently. Failure is the mother of success. We know that failures are inevitable, and the only way to succeed is to learn from our mistakes.
We do not aim to fail, but we are always prepared for it. We know that failures are necessary to filter out what does not work so that we eventually are left with what does.
Thomas Edison invented the light bulb after more than 1,000 tries. When a reporter asked him “how did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. I found 1,000 ways how not to make a light bulb.”
Step 4: Change Your Strategy
Once you take action, there are only 2 outcomes.
The outcome you want, you call success. The outcome you don’t want, you call failure.
But successful people never see failure; they only see feedback.
Feedback on how not to make a light bulb. Feedback on how not to market a product. Feedback on what products not to sell. Feedback that the price is too high. They then use the feedback to adjust their strategy.
Hard work alone does not guarantee success. If you keep failing and keep trying the same thing repeatedly, you will just get the same result. It is madness to use the same strategy repeatedly and expect a different result.
Therefore, each time you fail, you must analyze it and find out why it did not work, then adjust your strategy and try again. Sometimes this even means taking a radically new approach, like shutting down a business and starting another one. Re-strategizing after every failure is the only way to guarantee success.
In my distribution business, I could not easily model my competitors. These were companies that had been doing business with the retailers for decades, and the relationship was too strong for an outsider like me to break in. I would not have achieved much trying to attack deeply entrenched competitors.
I therefore had to try other marketing strategies. SEO was the one strategy that worked very well, but it was not enough. I had to find new strategies, strategies that nobody in the market had tried before. So, the only way to find the answers would be to try. Here is a list of other strategies that I tried … and failed at:
- Newspaper Ads. It worked, but what I made went towards paying for the ads, so it was break-even at best. And I had not even counted in other costs such as after-sales service and warehousing costs.
- Customer Referrals. To turn every customer into a salesperson, I periodically sent out flyers they could distribute to interested persons, with a unique discount code. A customer who bought using the discount code would get a discount, and the referrer would get a commission. I stopped because I realized our referral sales were not increasing, even though we were sending out more and more flyers as our customer base grew. There was no significant loss of business after I stopped it.
- Road Shows. Never generated enough sales to cover the cost of booth rental.
- Hypermarts. They demanded a high margin, and treated vendors like dirt, kicking me around like a football. On top of that, I had to pay for the cost of a promoter, 7 days a week. By the time I ended the relationship, I had accumulated a 5-figure loss.
- TV advertisement. This was one of my most expensive failures to date. A 5-figure sum spent, and not a SINGLE sale! Can you imagine?
Eventually, I found some marketing channels that did work and stuck to them. If I didn’t keep trying (and failing), I would never have found them.
The only way to avoid failure is to avoid doing anything. Successful people are not immune to failures. In fact, they have more failures than everyone else, simply because they take more action than everyone else.
The difference is how they handle the failures. Do they quit? Or do they learn and try a different strategy?
The 4 steps in the Ultimate Success Formula are logical, and if you follow the sequence, the outcome eventually is success. It is just a matter of how often you need to change your strategy and how long it takes. Success is inevitable. It’s only a matter of time.
But human beings do not do things out of logic. We may use logic to decide on a course of action, but logic is not what gets us off our butts to act. It is our emotions that compel us to act. You need two emotional ingredients to power the Ultimate Success Formula.
You need to have the right Values and Beliefs.
Your values determine what is important to you. Your values also determine what your goal is.
I mentioned earlier that my goal at 14 years old was to own a $100 million business.
Why was that?
I’ll be perfectly honest, I wanted to feel significant and important. I wanted recognition from the rest of society,
But that goal changed when I reached my 30s. Not because I couldn’t do it, but because my values changed.
You see, my first child was born, and that created a paradigm shift in my value system.
Making money and being significant were no longer the most important to me. It was my family.
I didn’t want to sacrifice the next 4 to 5 decades to make a lot of money but be the father that was never there as my children grew up.
Now I have a lower target, which is to have a few million dollars in assets invested at a 6% annual return. This gives me financial freedom, which in turn gives me the freedom of time to spend with my family.
Can I still hit the $100 million target? Possibly. But I no longer crave it.
When your values change, your goals may change.
So, as I said in the beginning, whether you hit the goal is not important. It may change anyway. What matters is that you have a goal to work towards.
Our belief system is also an important ingredient. To succeed, you must get rid of limiting beliefs.
Limiting beliefs are those that limit your potential for success. Examples are:
“I’m not good enough”.
“I don’t have the self-discipline”.
“I don’t have the money”.
Belief, Action, Result and Feedback form a continuous loop.
If you start with a limiting belief, like “I’ll never be successful”, or “this strategy isn’t going to work”, you will take half-hearted action.
Half-hearted action will produce poor results, which become feedback and reinforces your negative beliefs.
You end up telling yourself “See? I’m a loser!” or “I knew it wasn’t going to work!” The belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Therefore, for the Ultimate Success Formula to work, you must believe, in the first place, that it is going to work.
If you have an “I’ll try” kind of attitude, you are going to put in a half-hearted effort, guaranteeing failure for yourself.
I’ll tell you what my belief was at 14 years old.
I believed that “if other people can do it, so can I”.
What’s your belief?
If you’ve read my article “Start Small, Scale Fast”, you will see that it is a specific version of the Ultimate Success Formula.
At its core, the Start Small, Scale Fast strategy calls for you to start a business with little or no money and to avoid fixed costs.
This keeps the financial cost of a failure small so that you can refine your strategy, pick yourself up quickly and try again.
Conversely, if you lose a lot of money in your first attempt and go bankrupt, that failure can hobble you for many years.
Starting small therefore allows you to fail small and supercharge your ability to keep refining your strategy until you get it right. And once you do, it’s time to scale!
The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t isn’t what they do. The difference is how they handle failure.
To successful people, there is no failure, only feedback.
So, if you’re going to be successful, first learn how to fail.