What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

     “If you’re honest, if you work hard, and provide a good service, you’ll make it. Will it happen overnight? No. Great things take a lot of time, otherwise everyone else would be doing it.” –Allan Bense
     During November’s Enlightened Entrepreneur, former Speaker of the House and current CEO of Bense Enterprises, Allan Bense, shared many trials and triumphs during his life to business students and local entrepreneurs at Gulf Coast State College. Building a strong reputation, working hard, and having a PLAN is part of his formula for success.
     Allan Bense made it clear that your reputation is most important to your business. It takes years to establish your reputation, and “one stupid thing could ruin it instantly.” Allan did not start out as a successful businessman, rather he worked his way through as a janitor, waiter, mechanic, salesman, and more after his parents died at the age of 45. He spoke of these experiences as setting the stage for his business success. Bense established his reputation by always trying to get ahead of his opponents. At the age of 30, he wanted to own a bank, but had no money and didn’t know the first thing about running a bank, so he took it upon himself to work for someone else and learn the ropes every day in any way that he could until he knew more than his fellow employees. His advice is that “you always want to try to be in a position where you have more knowledge of an issue – no matter what it is – than your competitor.” Bense did finally buy a bank when he was thirty years old, grew the business until it turned a profit, and then sold it 5 years later.
     Allan has highlighted his success, as well as many admitted failures during his political career. After Allan was elected into the Florida House of Representatives, he then looked to become the Speaker of the House. He admired the position, and was motivated to one day have that power himself. After losing four elections in running for the Florida House, he finally won and soon after became Speaker of the House. Bense attributes his success simply to the fact that he outworked his opponents; he hit the road early and traveled 325,000 miles by car just to call on members for their votes. Even though it took him many years to achieve his goals, he always reminds himself that it is okay to fail. “Don’t ever be afraid to fail” is the one thing he always tells others, especially those starting up a new business. Furthermore, he says, “believe in yourself, and don’t always try to hit a home run. Singles and doubles can add up quickly.”
     Finally, he closes with some advice he learned from successful businessman Robert Pittman. Allan asked Robert, “How do you make a billion dollars?” Robert simply replied, “You PLAN.” Allan elaborated on what this means for us: “The first letter stands for making your plan; write your business plan and map out your finances. The L stands for learn; have some education background like being a lawyer, CPA or have some type of trade. The A stands for attitude; if you don’t think you’re going to be successful, then you’re not going to be successful. People will always tell you that you can’t and that you will fail, but always remain positive. Lastly, the N stands for being nice. Being nice can open up many opportunities in your business and will build many lasting relationships between those above and below you.”