advice Business Level 5 Study Materials

The secret phrase that all highly successful people use, according to Ryan Holmes

What do you need to do in order to be successful?

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value” – Albert Einstein

Pre-reading questions

  1. What do you think of when you hear the word “success?”
  2. Who is the most successful person you know? Why do you think they are so successful? What makes them successful?
  3. What do you think the quote above means? How do you think it is related to success?

The Secrets to Success

Ryan Holmes, founder and CEO of Hootsuite – a social media and marketing management service – wrote an article in Inc. Magazine about something strange he noticed when he first started finding investors for his company. Holmes was looking for venture capitalists to help fund his then-startup company back in 2009. Everywhere he went, he would hear the same phrase: “How can I help?”.

So why is this phrase so powerful that it has stuck with him? As he explained it:

At its heart, it’s a powerful way to fast-track relationships and build goodwill. By offering to help, you cultivate instant rapport and establish an immediate sense of trust. Rather than waiting for people to prove themselves to you, you take the bull by the horns and prove yourself to them. A foundation is built — with striking speed and efficiency — for future interactions.

In his article, the key to becoming successful is networking, which means to meet and talk to people who have similar interests to you. One of the best ways to network with someone is to offer help to another person with whatever they need. Networking can work in lots of different ways. It can be very basic; if you email someone you are interested in getting advice from, you are networking. Sometimes it means going to professional events.

Whatever it is, it is important to try and reach out to people by contacting them and asking them how you can help them. Even if they cannot help you directly, building good relationships and developing a good rapport can lead to unforeseen benefits in the future. You don’t know who might help you. Holmes states that he owes half of his executive team to his meetings with John Ruffalo, a venture capitalist based in Toronto. While Ruffalo never worked under Holmes, his relationship with Holmes greatly benefited his company. Ruffalo and Holmes have a great working relationship that have benefited the both of them. Ultimately, as Holmes says, “rising tide truly does lift all boats”.

How can I get the secret?

As Holmes demonstrates, it’s not just about building a strong friendship by offering help to someone but by actually providing it. This is very similar to the quote from Albert Einstein mentioned at the top of the article: it’s not important how many internships you went to or how many classes you took or your amazing grades. Rather, how can you use all that knowledge to help someone? How can you help someone with their goals? How can you be valuable to other people? Holmes likes to explain his idea like an investment:

it might pay off in the short term, you may have to stick around for the long haul, or it might be a bust altogether. But I’ve found — more often than not — that you do see a healthy return from the help you extend, though usually in ways that are more complex, mysterious, and powerful than you might imagine.

It might be the case that you do not receive help right away by networking or offering to help someone. So it’s important to network as much as possible, and to work to find ways to be valuable to other people. But, if you keep working at it, one of those relationships will eventually lead somewhere successful.


  1. What was the best piece of advice you’ve received? Who said it and why was it so helpful?
  2. Do you agree with Ryan Holmes’ idea? Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever thought about starting your own business? Why or why not? If you would like to start your own business, how might Ryan Holmes’ ideas help you?
  4. If you could add your own piece of advice to this article about success, what would it be?
  5. What types of traits make people successful? What types of traits make people not successful?


Venture Capitalist – (n.) (business) a person who provides capital or cash to a startup project or someone who supports a small company that wishes to get bigger. 
to fast-track
– (v.) to speed up the process of something
to grab the bull by the horns
– (v.) (idiom) to solve or take on a problem head on, to deal with a problem directly
to network
– (v.) to talk to people who have similar jobs, careers, or interests to you, especially for opportunities and advice for business.
Rapport – (n.) a friendly relation, especially used to describe an agreement, mutual understanding, or empathy that makes communication easier.
a rising tide lift all boats – (idiom) used to describe something that helps all people or groups do better. 
– (v) (business) to go broke, to fail. 

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