"The Entrepreneurial Secret" An Exclusive Q & A with Cedric Muhammad

More than once, during my friendship with economist and political strategist Cedric Muhammad, I have asked Cedric to recommend books, which in addition to being part of my continuing education in areas including economics, business, and politics, would help me to better translate information I acquired, and insights I developed, into action and reality. I know that he regularly receives similar requests for recommendations via his platforms (e.g. BlackElectorate.com, Cedricmuhammad.com, BlackCoffeeChannel.com) and by other means.

With the publication of The Entrepreneurial Secret, Mr. Muhammad has written and made available the very books his supporters and clients have asked him to recommend. The Entrepreneurial Secret is relevant to all of us who have given serious consideration to organizing our selves and our resources to develop our personal power and bring something into existence that meets a need or a want. Small business owners, athletes, mothers, fathers, ministers, authors, artists, professionals, activists, and other creators, from all walks of life, will find that The Entrepreneurial Secret provides us with information, research, examples, steps, and a model through which we may manage economics, culture, personalities, relationships, and politics to serve us in the business activities that will support the lives we want for ourselves and sustain the realities we seek to put in place.

The Entrepreneurial Secret is an excellent guide to starting and running a business, but it also illuminates how we may draw great and useful substance from our suffering while engaging in the activity of entrepreneurship.

It is my pleasure and my great privilege to help introduce The Entrepreneurial Secret through the following Q & A, which I conducted with author Cedric Muhammad. All three volumes of The Entrepreneurial Secret are available for purchase through outlets including BlackElectorate.com, Amazon.com, and BarnesandNoble.com

[Order through Amazon.com at:

Visit the book’s official website TheEsecret.com (http://theesecret.com/) for more information.

Andy Solages: Congratulations on completing and publishing what I thought was going to be a single book. The Entrepreneurial Secret evolved into a series of books, but instead of holding out on us, you released each of the three volumes on the same day. What are the sub-titles and themes of each volume?

Cedric Muhammad: Thank You Andy, I appreciate that, especially coming from you. Yes, I’m very excited to make The Entrepreneurial Secret book series available. There are three volumes as you note. Volume I: The Political Economy centers on the political, cultural and economic factors that impact anyone starting a business. I cover things like why you can’t get a bank loan anymore, how group economics has always financed entrepreneurship, and the importance of voting on issues that affect your bottom line. Volume II: The Business Principles deals with business principles and practices that are essential for success in business. I cover things like how to properly write a short business plan, tips on how to negotiate deals, and also overlooked subjects like the importance of etiquette – how you should conduct yourself in social settings where business takes place. We deal with serious subjects in an entertaining way like when I describe the 9 personalities types you will have to understand as you build your team and business organization. Volume III: The Personal Struggle revolves around the personal struggle every person who brings forth an idea or vision into reality must go through. In this sobering volume I deal with technical and spiritual aspects to building your willpower and why that matters. I also delve into how entrepreneurship can impact your most intimate and closest relationships, for better and worse.

Andy Solages: Please briefly describe the concepts you associate with the words “entrepreneur” and “entrepreneurship.”

Cedric Muhammad: Well, the root of it is an Old French word, “entreprende” which means ‘to undertake.’ A point I try to drive home in my book series is that starting a business does not just revolve around having talent, capital, and an idea. Building a business is more than that. It is a process, an undertaking, as the root of the word makes clear. You will need to be more than just good at something to make a business work. The reason most people have businesses that do not grow beyond just them is because they don’t know or respect the process, the entire undertaking of building a business. If you are a chef, just cooking food is not enough; you will need to know how to negotiate deals, handles sales, hire employees, and understand the science of marketing. You will also need to know how to feed your will. Most entrepreneurs get caught up in just doing the work of the business – making the product - and they forget about or can’t find time to deal with the other details of business. Volume II: The Business Principles deals with these other critically important factors and more.

Andy Solages: Would you suggest that we purchase The Entrepreneurial Secret and sit on it until after this financial crisis comes to an end? Getting loans from banks and taking the risks that go with entrepreneurship is difficult enough in a good economy. Maybe we should just concentrate on holding on to what we have.

Cedric Muhammad: Well it depends. In Volume II: The Business Principles I describe a certain type of personality I call ‘The Professional’ - a talented, well-trained employee who can’t handle taking risks. If you fit that profile, then yes, wait for everyone else to figure out the problem and fix this economy! Hopefully you would not have lost your job by then. But if you are trying to become the personalities I describe as ‘The Entrepreneur’ and ‘The Businessperson’ you understand that this crisis represents a great opportunity for all of us to take risks, in intelligent ways. You have to have a certain attitude and level of character to start a business, execute an idea, and build an organization. That is why I wrote Volume III: The Personal Struggle. It tells the hidden, less glamorous side of what the individual goes through. It is very spiritual and scientific because it gets into the nature of the human being, how our minds and brains work, and why emotions matter so much in any creative effort. Most inspirational business books beat around the bush, but I wanted to lay out the hardship and uphill road one has to endure and climb to build something from nothing. I don’t believe entrepreneurship is for everyone, but I do believe everyone is capable of becoming a successful entrepreneur, under the right circumstance. As for the financial crisis, I devote an entire chapter to understanding why the financial crisis occurred and more importantly how it has affected business lending. I think the successful entrepreneurs of this era are going to be folks who understand finance and economic trends and their relationship to small business. Volume I: The Political Economy lays that out in a unique way.

Andy Solages: Why does The Entrepreneurial Secret include a chapter on kinship systems? Are there kinship systems that can successfully provide support for today’s entrepreneurs, and if so, what are their characteristics?

Cedric Muhammad: I included that chapter because it is part of the ‘secret’ knowledge we all need to make it through these tough times. For example, in Volume I: The Political Economy we describe how any entrepreneur can take the principles of kinship systems and group economics as practiced in West Indian/Caribbean, Jewish, Chinese, African, and Japanese cultures and apply them to an effort to raise money among their family, friends, and other contacts in their network and community. Andy, one of the ‘secrets’ that my book devotes attention to is that the most successful entrepreneurs throughout history did not get their businesses started by applying to a bank for a loan. There is a very good reason why banks don’t loan to entrepreneurs and we explain that in Volume I: The Political Economy. We also lay out a blueprint for people to follow if they want to attract capital and get financing outside of the commercial banking system.

Andy Solages: An entrepreneur has gathered a group of like-minded friends and associates to join her business team. She believes she knows the roles that each person should fill, but how can The Entrepreneurial Secret help her achieve greater clarity in this area?

Cedric Muhammad: Tell her to get Volume II: The Business Principles in a hurry! She and every person starting a business should never overlook personality types and the different factors that motivate people to start a business and work in groups devoted to a common cause. You may be shocked to learn that even though people use the same phrases - “I want to do something for myself,’ “I want independence,” “I hate my job and I know starting something new is the way to wealth,” – people do not have the same ability to motivate themselves, endure setbacks, and work together in groups. One of the worst things a founder of a business can do is simply believe the words of people who tell them they want to join a business effort with them. One of the most painful and confusing experiences I’ve gone through, and seen my clients go through, is being let down by people who told you they would do something and never deliver. The reason why this happens is most of us really lack the knowledge of who we are and why we do things. That lack of self-awareness and self-knowledge causes us to agree to do things and make promises based upon emotions, spontaneous ‘rushes,’ and external forces. When you leave those people, who said they would do something, alone to deliver and produce consistently, they just can’t motivate themselves or sustain action over a period of time. They lack will power. And there are other factors including envy and jealousy and the different levels of responsibilities and duties people have committed themselves to before trying entrepreneurship that can slow them down. In Volume II: The Business Principles I describe and provide practical advice on how to identify personality types like ‘The Hustler,’ ‘The Coordinator,’ The Ideologue,’ ‘The Salesperson,’ ‘The Engineer,’ and even ‘The Gangster.’ Once you understand the way people are, and why they move the way they do, you can work with practically anyone and build a team of diverse personalities. You’ll know what to ask for, and what not to expect, despite their words. You can write job descriptions, contracts, and manuals all you want. That is all very important. But unless you understand human behavior, the members of your business organization will continue to surprise and disappoint you.

Andy Solages: Let’s say my partner and I have a small business. I’m talented, my partner is talented, and together we have the skills to perform quality work for our clients. Maybe that’s being too modest; we’re the best around. Informally (and without much compensation), both of us have been doing what we do since we were teenagers. When, if ever, would standardization become relevant to our small business? And while we’re on the subject, how do you define standardization?

Cedric Muhammad: Standardization is relevant whenever you want to grow your business beyond yourself. And that is how I actually define it; standardization is building a business so that it does not depend upon the physical presence of its founder or any particular person. I devote an entire chapter to it in Volume II: The Business Principles and explain the science of it. It revolves around modeling business practices, measuring what you are doing, and training people into process and not just personality or technique. Standardization is about systematizing what you are doing individually so that more people than just you can get things done. It is the way that great franchise businesses like McDonald’s are built. In that chapter I go very deep into the subject because it is most likely the real reason small businesses go under. Once the founder or best worker gets sick or is no longer around, quality drops, service isn’t delivered, and sales are lost. That is why I sometimes say that some entrepreneurs are building personality cults and emotional dependencies, and not businesses. They do everything themselves and never elevate process over their personality and individual talent or technique. The beautiful thing about standardization is that anyone can do it. It starts by studying your self and measuring and modeling what you or others do well. A common theme throughout the book series is the importance of self-knowledge. It is the starting point of building everything.

Andy Solages: At what point does it become necessary to write a business plan or maybe hire someone to write it for you?

Cedric Muhammad: I think you always need one and you should always be working on one. That’s because I don’t see the business plan as something you have to do just to get money from somebody. That’s why I never encourage entrepreneurs to just have somebody write a business plan for them. The process is too important to just assign or give to someone else without your active involvement or engagement. I write business plans with my clients and I guide them through our Three Page Business Plan, ™ which is included in Volume II: The Business Principles. And I make sure they stay fully engaged in the process. The reason most entrepreneurs don’t write business plans is because they have been led to believe that they have to be so long, like over 30 pages in length. But if you talk to the very best investors, financiers, and those that advise them, they will tell you that less is more. The first step is describing your business, what it does, its intentions, and its chances for success in as tight of a document as possible. I recommend no more than three pages for the first business plan. Most people won’t read more than that to form an impression of you and form an opinion on whether you can pull off what you plan or say you are trying to do. I once advised a company seeking to raise nearly $50 million. They had a 90-page business plan, but it was mostly made up of their financial statements. The problem with the business wasn’t its numbers or accounting. The problem was its business model and its strategy, which were contained on a handful of pages. Those five pages meant more than the other 85. First-time entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t really need all of these software programs and paid experts who produce plans that are like over 50 pages. In The Entrepreneurial Secret we make the process less intimidating and explain what investors are looking for in an entrepreneur.

Andy Solages: How do entrepreneurs begin to identify their enlightened self-interests, as related to business, and then reflect those interests with political participation?

Cedric Muhammad: By being honest with where they are and where they want to go. And by deciding what is in the bottom line best interests of their business. Too many entrepreneurs and small business owners vote and make political decisions for reasons other than what is in the best interests of their mission, vision, profits, and losses. They follow ideology and party loyalty more than interests. In Volume I: The Political Economy I devote an entire chapter to explaining how important it is to not just be a loyal Progressive, Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian or Conservative, but to think like a businessman and businesswoman. I quote an entrepreneur who says that while she voted on the basis of emotions, ‘a business can’t grow on emotions.’ This is true. And it is a truth that I hope to popularize among first-time entrepreneurs and small business owners. You have to identify your interests and pursue those that are most enlightened and rewarding. I want my book to bring more balance, strategy, rational thought, and dispassionate decision-making to how entrepreneurs engage the political process to extract from it what is most beneficial, without compromising their value systems.

Andy Solages: I don’t know how many of us would say that we don’t want to be entrepreneurs or say that we don’t want to have our own businesses, but what do you say to someone who has a desire but is unsure how to move into actually engaging in the activity of entrepreneurship?

Cedric Muhammad: Be honest about your motivation and who you are as a person. I ask people a question – do you really want to do for yourself, or, do you just want a better job? I find that many people who speak the rhetoric of entrepreneurship just want a better employer or work environment. They don’t want the entrepreneurial adventure; they want the stability of a paid job. In Volume II: The Business Principles I describe a painful lesson of a thriving business partnership I entered into with a very talented person who really wasn’t in the entrepreneurial state of mind. By that I mean they really did not want to undertake the effort to build something new. They just wanted their old job back or one better. So you have to be careful and honest with yourself. I recommend they read Volume III: The Personal Struggle and see if it has something to offer in the way of describing the sacrifices that have to be made, and how going out on your own affects your lifestyle and personal relationships.

Andy Solages: What is the role of suffering as it relates to the development of the entrepreneur?

Cedric Muhammad: To me it may be ‘the secret.’ Power and creativity come through painful experiences. Just think of childbirth, and exercising to build muscles, or studying intensely for exams. You can have nothing unless you strive for it, and strive for it according to principles. Adversity, trials and tests build character while revealing flaws, imperfections and shortcomings. This is what life teaches us through nature, educational development and our career path or labor course. The people who accept and even embrace this will succeed. Those that run from struggle will not. That is why Volume III: The Personal Struggle spends so much time on spiritual development, will power and suffering. We think more and tap into all kinds of power when we endure suffering with the right attitude. Painful experiences, not just teaching, preaching, and advice are quite often what forces us to change. In that volume I use the scriptures, biographies, anatomy and physiology, and my own personal testimony to support my point of view. For young people, I tell the story of how my first big entrepreneurial effort was a spectacular failure and how painful it was for me to go through that. But that kind of loss and shock if you convert it into energy is what fuels future achievement. There is a very peculiar relationship and fine line between pain and pleasure, difficulty and ease, and defeat and victory that is part of human nature and universal order. Taking that deep into your heart and understanding that there is purpose to be found in, or given to, any negative experience, can not only change your fortunes in business, but life itself.

Andy Solages: I know an entrepreneur who is also a single mother. She is eager to develop her business to the point where it can be her primary source of income, but she worries about how she will balance the demands of her business with the quality time she needs to spend with her young son and her future husband. Please share some of what volume 3 of The Entrepreneurial Secret will address in more detail concerning the impact entrepreneurship has on those who have personal relationships with entrepreneurs.

Cedric Muhammad: The final chapter of the book, in Volume III: The Personal Struggle was the hardest for me to write, emotionally. I broke down several times while writing it because it deals with the pain that you can unintentionally cause the people that you love the most by pursuing a goal. It also deals with how lonely it can feel when those around you don’t encourage or support you. But it is also a very funny chapter because it exposes the contradictions that exist in the personality of the entrepreneur. The very quality that makes you a creative and determined person can also lead you to fail in duty and responsibility to others. While you are gaining a form of sensitivity and developing focus in one area of your life, you may be losing it in another. The main point I try to get across to any entrepreneur is that you must remember that it is you, most likely, and not your children, spouse, parents, or best friends who decided to start a business. But because they love you, depend upon you, and are attached to you in some way, they are affected deeply by the changes you go through. You can’t always control how they will handle that. On the other hand, the entrepreneur can be the victim of some short-sighted and selfish thinking coming from their inner circle in relation to what they are trying to accomplish. There are just some people in our lives that do not share our values, tolerance for risk and threshold for pain, and whom even have radically different aspirations in life and definitions of success. We all are in relationships where gaps form – temporarily or permanently - and where separation and reconciliation are eventually necessary. To the single Mother who is an entrepreneur I would encourage her to pursue her dream but to understand that her young son did not sign up for her new business as customer, supplier, investor or partner and that her fiancé may be offering words of support but may be holding inner thoughts of concern, doubt, fear, and even resentment or envy.

It is important for her to communicate and understand the communication styles of those around her, and the fact that there may be other forces (and people) influencing those closest to her and the view they have of her entrepreneurial effort.

I strongly recommend Volume III: The Personal Struggle for anyone in a relationship who may be dealing with these kind of difficulties already or who is soon to face them.

Andy Solages: Is there anything you would like to say in closing, Cedric?

Cedric Muhammad:Yes, thank you so much for these questions. I just would like to say in closing that I feel so privileged and humbled to be able to have had experiences, learned lessons, and embarked on a study that resulted in this book. I am so grateful for all that has come my way, and if any of my mistakes, errors, and whatever I have expertise in, can help someone to achieve the goal I am more than rewarded. I and we tried to write and price this book in a way that makes it more than worth the entrepreneurial act of taking the chance on buying it. I have hoped and prayed throughout the writing of this book, and am now extremely confident that there is something of value in it for anyone who is in business or seeking to start one. I can’t wait to hear and learn that this is so.

Andy J. Solages is a business development professional. A former news editor for BlackElectorate.com, Mr. Solages is a co-founder of Sological Underpennings(www.sologicalup.com). Your feedback may be sent to ajsolages(at)sologicalup.com

Tuesday, November 17, 2009