"The Luck of the Irish" is an American phrase that comes from the days of the gold rush in the 1800s.  Intolerant Americans figured the Irish people weren't smart enough to find gold, and blamed their success on being lucky rather than skilled. In reality, America's early immigrants have time and again proven themselves to be hardworking and smart enough to generate their own good fortune consistently.

So often I have witnessed people excuse their own inadequacies by crediting the success of others to luck.  Salespeople I know disparage their more successful competitors as lucky. If those salespeople would make as many calls or work as many hours as their competitors, they would realize that their probability of closing is fairly equal. The competitors are simply swinging the bat more often.

The truth is that seemingly lucky people are opportunists. They do the things that allow them to take advantage of the world around them. For them, it's not about being in the way of good luck or bad. It's the actions they take to get what Jim Collins refers to as a high return on luck whichever way the pendulum swings. Follow these five tips and you can be as lucky as anyone, no four-leaf clover or rabbit's foot required.

1. Play to your strengths. So much time and energy is wasted trying to do things you probably don't do very well. Author and Inc. columnist Lewis Schiff learned from his survey of incredibly wealthy people that they got that way by focusing only on what they do best. Everything else you can delegate, or you could find a partner to compensate for your weaknesses. That way, you will shine where you excel and attract opportunity. Good things come to those who emanate success.

2. Prepare in advance. Unlucky people often get that way because they're reactive and unprepared for whatever comes. People who have stored food and water in their basements aren't lucky to find themselves prepared when disaster strikes, they used forethought to make sure they had what they might need just in case. I personally scoff at this horrible recent trend of disparaging business plans because things change constantly. The point of a business plan isn't to follow it no matter what, it's to establish a structure for smart decision making that allows you to succeed no matter what the future might bring.

3. Start early. Some people seem to have more hours in the day. I myself don't need more than six hours of sleep and am constantly finding ways to be more efficient. I use that extra time to start my projects well in advance. My rewards aren't dependent upon the time of day that I take action. (This column is being written at 3 a.m.) But it does matter that I'm beginning to explore projects I expect to complete months or years from now. So many people only want to put their energy into things that provide immediate gratification. The most fortunate people I know are the ones who planted seeds early and now reap that harvest of happiness.

4. Connect with as many people as possible. The key to success is access to opportunity. Access comes from influence. If you're influential, people will come and bring opportunities to you. The bigger your following, the more powerful your influence. The only way to build a big following is to provide value to many people. You have to provide the sort of value that will cause people to spread your thoughts far and wide, attributing credit to you when they do. Are you creating that kind of value? If not, figure how you can.

5. Follow up. Opportunities often come and go because people don't respond in a timely manner. I'm always amazed when people ask me for something and I respond only to never hear from them again. Three months ago, a young woman asked me if I hire interns or assistants. I replied immediately saying I'm always willing to consider hiring people who bring value to my work. I asked her how she thought she could enhance what I could do. I never heard from her again. Perhaps she now considers herself unlucky that opportunity doesn't come her way. I believe that following up is often more powerful and impressive than the act of initiating.

May you be so lucky to have people in your life that follow up.

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