Many people believe that successful investing is all about making a big score. But far more often, great investors win not by finding tomorrow's 20-baggers but rather by letting small edges add up to big gains over the years, letting time work for you.

Later in this article, I'll show you how one pair of investors has turned the persistent pursuit of profits into a 96.7% success rate. But first, take a look at two ways smart investors make the most of small opportunities in their everyday investing strategy.

1. Dividends turn losses into wins.
Perhaps the most common example of tiny gains adding up to big profits comes from dividend stocks. The quarterly checks that most dividend stocks pay out usually don't amount to very much by themselves -- often less than 1% of your total investment. But over time, those dividends add up, and if you reinvest them, they can bring you huge returns over the course of a lifetime.

In fact, during poor-performing periods for the stock market, a good dividend can mean the difference between winning and losing. For instance, over the past five years, the S&P 500 index has risen by an average of just 0.8% per year. Plenty of stocks have seen their prices go down during that time.

But with a surprising number of those losing stocks -- 44, to be exact -- the dividend payments they made over that period were enough to bring shareholders positive returns. In some cases, the turnaround was really striking. Take a look at some of the most extreme examples:

Stock

5-Year Price Change

5-Year Total Return With Dividends Reinvested

Frontier Communications (NYSE: FTR) (34.4%) 7.0%
Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) (1.5%) 24.3%
Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW) (11.4%) 6.5%
Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO) (15.8%) 15.8%
Home Depot (NYSE: HD) (7.5%) 7.3%
Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB) (6.8%) 7.1%
Hershey (NYSE: HSY) (3.4%) 11.3%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's.

Of course, those gains aren't exactly huge. But avoiding what could have been significant losses is one of the key goals for every smart investor.

2. Regular contributions turn into riches.
Most investors can't put huge sums of money to work in the stock market all at the same time. Rather, $50 here and $100 there is the best that many can do, especially in a tough economy.

But over time, those small contributions add up to serious money. With the power of compounding and the extra value from dollar-cost averaging into stocks, mutual funds, or ETFs, millions of investors have used the painless method of automatic investing to become millionaires.

And a third smart strategy
When it comes to finding opportunities for gains, the tag team of Motley Fool Options analysts Jeff Fischer and Jim Gillies is about as close to perfection as you can get. Their philosophy is simple: use options strategies that at the end of the day, in Jim's words, will leave you with "more coin in your jeans than when you started the trade."

Since Jeff and Jim started the service in 2009, they've put together an amazing track record of success doing exactly that. Using everything from simple call- and put-writing strategies to more complicated techniques like straddles, spreads, and even the exotic-sounding Iron Condor, Motley Fool Options has made money for its subscribers on 96.7% of its recommendations. And while not all of its strategies result in a Wall-Street-bonus-sized payday for investors at the end, those profits add up -- and give subscribers the confidence to keep striving to become even better investors.

Learn more
If you want to learn more about how Jeff and Jim have helped their Motley Fool Options subscribers make money, now's your chance. Just enter your email address below to receive their free "Options Insider" playbook along with access to three options strategies videos where Jeff and Jim discuss their techniques. If you want to be a more successful investor, you won't want to wait to get started today.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger likes option plays in football and in investing. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Diamond Offshore Drilling and Northrop Grumman. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Home Depot. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy isn't optional.