Cliff Graham is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, former Army chaplain and pastor residing in Utah with his family. He writes Biblical fiction, including the Best-selling Lion of War series, soon to be a major motion picture. He owns the entertainment development company Five Stones Media and is president of Know The Covering Ministries.
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Worst Entrepreneur moment
- Cliff committed to a book tour that went awry early on. It was the worst business decision of his life, but he recovered and learned a LOT from it!
Entrepreneur AH-HA Moment
- On a chairlift Cliff was telling stories that resonated, and he saw a void that needed filling ASAP. That’s when he decided to be the filler!
What has you FIRED up?
- His new Podcast: The Hall of the Mighty Men
Small Business Resource
- Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers.
Best Business Book
- Five Stones Media
- Know The Covering Ministries: Committed to seeing the hearts of men awakened through discipleship, men’s events, and small group studies.
- Cliff’s site
- Cliff’s twitter
Cliff: I am prepared and I’m fired up.
John: Yes. Cliff is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, former army chaplain and pastor residing in Utah with his family. He write biblical fiction including the best selling Lion of War series, soon to be a major motion picture. He owns the entertainment development company Five Stones Media, and is president of Know the Covering Ministries. Cliff, say what's up to Fire Nation and share what's going on in your world right now.
Cliff: Well, hey. What's up everybody? I’m excited to be here. Love the show and just want to say real quick about who I am. I’m a novelist who’s trying to make a living in ways not dependent on publishers, best way to describe myself.
John: That’s a pretty awesome way to not be dependent on anybody but yourself, which is what we’re doing here with Fire Nation, Cliff. We’re learning from successful entrepreneurs so give a little more detail about exactly what's going on in your world.
Cliff: So I write by trade novels and short stories. I tell fiction stories. I write scripts. And with that I also produce music inspired by that work and so we’ve done everything from create compilation albums from various artists to independent music and then we’re about to launch several podcasts at once and I travel and I speak and teach as well.
John: Several podcasts at once? I don't know if I as a mentor would recommend that, but it sounds like you're good at spinning a lot of plates at the same time, Cliff, so I have no doubt that you being a former army chaplain can really get that system down in place.
Cliff: I would totally agree under normal circumstances, but I think what we’re doing is unique and, kind of, fits with the theme of your show to where each show doesn’t depend upon me all the time, but we can get into that later. I’ll explain it to you later.
John: Oh, cool. For sure. Yeah. So, Cliff, I’m really fascinated with what you’ve accomplished. There's been a lot of cool things. You’ve led quite the life and I want to take a couple minutes here, maybe about five, to do what I call the one-minute mindset where I want to get five insights into your mind and take about a minute-ish to answer these five questions. The first one being ideally, what do the first 80 minutes of your day look like?
Cliff: I love to start by exercising, just, kind of; free everything up in my brain and then some old army habits die-hard. And then –
John: That one actually died immediately with me, so –
Cliff: Yeah, I can get that. And then actually I love to sit down and read something totally unrelated to work. It gives my brain a clean slate for the day, something that I enjoy, something that I like. So for example, on a Monday I don’t have to wake up thinking about every hungry crocodile I got to feed that day.
Cliff: I can just, kind of, take a little brain vacation for the first part of my day.
John: Hungry crocodiles. Not having to feed them Fire Nation. That’s a good thing. Cliff, you have some strengths. We’re going to talk about one in a second, but what's your biggest weakness as an entrepreneur?
Cliff: Organizing details and trusting others to do the same.
John: What are some things you're – or some steps you're taking to maybe rectify this weakness?
Cliff: Sit down with the staff and just I basically gave them permission recently to say look. Feel free to occasionally hide things from me. And what I mean – not things where I simply can't know what's going on, but if there's something cool and shiny that pops up I’m very much the, kind of, guy that will chase something cool and shiny and get distracted from my mission.
And so what I’ve found is that if you have really great people around you and they love you and believe in the mission and believe in what you're trying to do they will, in a healthy way, protect you from yourself and basically find those things that they think okay. Cliff would be interested in this, but let’s not tell him about it quite yet because it will distract from what he needs to do this week.
John: Yeah, I like telling my team I’m on a need to know basis and I don’t need to know everything.
Cliff: That’s right.
John: Believe me.
Cliff: That’s right.
John: So, Cliff, what's your biggest strength?
Cliff: I believe I’m a very strong and bold visionary and risk taker. I think I’m really good in that area, but like I said, I’m weak in the other area.
John: Well, I can tell you being an army guy I know that you developed a lot of great habits. It’s just a reality of the world that we used to live in and we had to. It was create the right habits and thrive and you also have created some bad habits like we all have too, but what's one habit that you wish you had?
Cliff: I wish I could follow a precise workday schedule. My creative side – I love the business stuff. I love the entrepreneurial stuff. It really lights me up personally, but my creative side can fly in and distract me very easily so I’ll find myself with four or five hours in my day wasted because I got – there's a shiny object and I went chasing it so I think – I wish I could follow a better just disciplined workday schedule so that’s one of the things I’m working on.
John: The powerful thing about having a schedule and sticking to it is the reality that you stay on your own agenda, Fire Nation. The problem with the bright shiny object syndrome and, Cliff, you’ll probably appreciate this, the weapons of mass distraction. They're everywhere and the reality is, is that they're likely somebody else’s agenda so you need to get on your own agenda, write it down, schedule that out, and then stick to it religiously.
That is how you're going to get done what you need to get done according to your schedule, your mission, your goals. And, Cliff, you have a lot of cool things going on, brother, but what is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
Cliff: There's a lot of the bigger, flashier stuff, but I think as of right now we just launched a podcast of my short stories that are produced as professional audio books that I’m narrating and they're being released serially. And as far as I know I’m one of the only authors out there doing this where my goal is to create new fans so it’s available for free. I’m not getting what they would pay, for example, on Amazon or something for it.
But the serial podcast thing everyone knows it, is drowning in it, but I wanted to do it with fiction and with my short stories and then just that way the listener can – who’s a potential fan of mine can get involved and get hooked and if they like it then they can follow and follow the paper trail and get my other stuff.
John: I love it. Podcasting is the perfect medium for exactly what you're doing and what is the name of this podcast?
Cliff: It’s called The Hall of the Mighty Men. It’s based upon these warriors in the Bible that fought off a bunch of bad people and it’s just, kind of – they're short stories. We’re going to serialize them. I have about 37 read to go, 37 stories and each story is about three episodes worth so yeah, just released this past week.
John: Brother, I’m excited for you. That is cool. I’m going to be subscribing. The Hall of the Mighty Men. And there were bad guys back then, Fire Nation. These guys fought them off. So, Cliff, let’s go back to your journey as an entrepreneur. You’ve had the ups. You’ve had the downs. But I want you to take us to a specific moment in time, that moment being what you would consider your worst entrepreneurial moment. Tell us that story.
Cliff: Well, as you know, as an entrepreneur the next crisis is never far behind, so – but I learned that lesson quite severely two summers ago. We committed to a massive promotional tour of some music festivals to – I had a booth of my stuff and we were going to just do a lot of sales and promote it.
And objectively we had very strong sales. In fact, we sold more than every other booth that was at these festivals, but our overhead was just so high and we just vastly underestimated it. And so I think that for me – about midway through that summer I remember sitting in my backyard and it was growing dark – I’m a storyteller. I’ve got to make it dramatic, but it was –
John: Of course.
Cliff: – growing dark and I’m staring at the mountains and thinking I have done the dumbest thing I’ve ever conceived of doing in my entire life by committing to this tour. But I’ll tell you what. I wouldn’t trade anything, the lessons we learned from that. But that was for sure a low point for me a few years ago.
John: Well, that’s exactly what I want to dive into next are those lessons learned. So take a couple minutes and, kind of, expand not just upon one, but let’s go into two or three lessons that you really learned from that experience that our listeners, Fire Nation, can really walk away with some great content.
Cliff: It’s really, really important to – if you are a – if you're an entrepreneur you have to be a visionary. That’s just simply not negotiable. You have to be a visionary. And usually, if you're going to be a strong visionary – maybe you're one of those one in a million people who’s both good at organizing tasks and executing things on a minute, detailed level. But if you're not it’s so important to find those people who just thrive in a spreadsheet. They look at spreadsheet like you and I look like – look at the beach. It’s just they love the details and the logistics and we had those people and had access to those people.
I don’t believe that I used them properly and to my own pain. And so I’ve tried to rectify that in recent years and we’ve made some more movements even just in the past few months to where we entered 2015 with a real mindset of hey, we always want to be led and driven by the vision, but the details have got to come together in the way the come together.
John: So you committed to this book tour. You knew in your gut of guts, your intuition of intuitions that it was the wrong move. What's another real lesson you pulled out of that that you can share with our listeners?
Cliff: I think it was just that you have to have the humility to recognize when you’ve made a wrong decision. And I would say – I would go back and say that if – with hindsight as my benefit, like I said, I wouldn’t trade the lessons learned because I think we’re going to be able to take that model and make it more successful next time because I knew in my gut that there was something there that was a winner. I just did it wrong the first time.
But we took the lessons learned and then just having the humility to hear someone tell you hey, you messed up and you got to do it this way – just to not blow off all criticism as being attacks, but to just listen to it and think okay. This person has my best interests at heart and they really want me to succeed here so I need to hear what they're going to say.
John: Persistence and perseverance are incredibly critical skills that entrepreneurs need to have, but there's also reality in there, Cliff, and that’s sometimes the only way to get out of a hole is to stop gosh darn digging.
John: You just can't keep digging in that same hole and you can persevere and be persistent all the way down to Australia, but that’s just not going to get you to where you need to be so you need to be digging holes. You need to be going through dips and persevering through them, but with your eyes wide open, reaching out to your peers, people you respect and asking them does it feel like I’m going down the right path because I have a couple little red flags coming up in my intuition and I really want to bounce some things off you – and then be willing to pull up those stakes and adjust and pivot when you know it’s the right move.
And, Cliff, just like you told us a story about your worst entrepreneurial moments, the sun was setting, the mountains in Utah, I’m sure, were gorgeous. Tell us a story about one of your aha moments, one thing you really think is going to resonate with our listeners, Fire Nation. Tell us that story.
Cliff: Sure. So the inception of an idea I think ultimately every entrepreneur has that they think they’ve got someone that no on else has figured out or there's nothing new under the sun is one of the things I believe, but they’ve thought of a tweak on something that no one else is one. And so one of those for me was I was on a ski trip, actually, with some buddies and we were taking these young guys and we were all enjoying it. They were kids in our church and we just got excited about telling them stories.
So again, I write about the Bible so we were telling them stories about the Bible and I noticed that a lot of them thought, oh, it’s just Jesus petting lambs all the time. And when we started telling them some of the really exciting Old Testament stories, whether it was Moses in the Exodus and all that stuff that’s in the Old Testament – and I started talking about King David and some of his wars – I saw their eyes light up and I realized that at that moment that there was something there if we could tap into it.
And around that same window was the release of the movie 300 and that just became a cultural phenomenon, sold a lot of tickets and became a major point of dialogue whether they were soldiers or just regular guys. They loved that movie and so I thought if we can, kind of, marry those two worlds, if I could tell the stories of King David and his wars in a gritty, intense, take no prisoners, kind of, way the way that the 300 movie did then there's something there. There's a spark of an idea that’s there. Well, everyone can have ideas and take no action on it and so what I did was is I just started labor from – and it was I call it my ten to midnight time.
I labored from ten to midnight every night on top of several other jobs that I had just writing away and studying away and writing away and studying away until doors finally started opening after a few years.
John: That’s where the persistence and the perseverance paid off. Am I right?
Cliff: Absolutely, absolutely.
John: So, Cliff, let’s do the same thing that we did with the failure story with your worst moments and let’s talk about a lesson that you want our listeners to walk away with from your aha moment, from that epiphany that you had.
Cliff: I think when I finally – when I got some feedback as a writer – there's the business side of this too, but just as far as what I consider my core talent and I started getting some objective feedback from people that I knew – your mom loves you no matter what and she’s going to tell you you're wonderful and all that stuff, but I started hearing from – I had a very positive review in Publisher’s Weekly. I had a very positive review in several other objective media outlets that didn’t know me. They weren’t my mom or my aunt. And I started to see okay. I have real talent for this.
And not to get conceited, but I just really remember thinking I can objectively do this in a way that makes money or can be monetized and in fact I’ve got the proof of that. I’ve got publishers wanting to publish my stuff. I’ve got interviews. I’ve got things I can point to that are objective proofs of my talent and I really have to just encourage the audience here that you’ve got to find those avenues of proving yourself. Do you have the talent and do you have what it takes to make it here?
It’s not that you're going to make mistakes or dig yourself a hole, which you brilliant put, but it’s when you stop digging in one hole are you quickly another one and quickly digging another one until you find the right strike. And if you’ve done nothing but dig and no one’s objectively telling you you're good at this it may be time to hang it up.
John: Well, Cliff, we’ve dug an uncovered gold with you my friend so thank you for dropping all these knowledge bombs on Fire Nation. And guess what? I am not letting you go anywhere because we’re about to enter the lightning rounds, but before we do that let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors. Cliff, welcome to the lightning round where you get to share incredible resources and mind-blowing answers. Sound like a plan?
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Cliff: Secure job.
John: Expand a little bit because an army chaplain’s pretty sure.
Cliff: Well, I – that was just one of the things I did. I started out as an MP and a bad guy of the army for many – I was – so I was a soldier. I was enlisted an officer. I was – I worked in churches. I’ve done everything from build fences so I’ve had a lot of jobs and I think the worship of a steady paycheck is a killer of dreams. It just really is and there's practical things to that. I’m a married father of several kids and I know you – I had to pay the bills, but at the same time I knew that if I didn’t just take that first giant leap of faith and trust that this was going to work out I never would’ve got anywhere with it.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Fire Nation, take away from that just that point that you made about the worship of that steady paycheck. I love saying the biggest enemy of great is good. And you know what?
John: It’s good to get a steady paycheck. It’s good to have that financial security and that healthcare and all that stuff and that keeps so many people from ever achieving greatness because it’s good and it is good. And –
John: – Cliff, you’ve gotten a lot of great advice in your life, but what's the best advice you’ve ever received?
Cliff: I referred to it earlier, but if you're being given objective feedback repeatedly trust it. Just that objective feedback – people that don’t have a pro or con horse in the race against you they just simply give you feedback or it’s a source of feedback – hey, that idea’s good, but your execution is sloppy or your execution’s amazing, but the idea is terrible. I’d say just cling to the good, objective feedback you can get.
John: Do you have a personal habit that you believe contributes to your success?
Cliff: I think I can categorize criticism very well. I can look at criticism as either being constructive or useless so if hear what I think is a voice of wisdom, but it’s coming in a critical manner. I think I can listen to it, but not let it get me down. I won't be determined – deterred from the vision, if you will, by criticism. I just simply put it in the box of okay. I will come back to that later if need be and then if there's some criticism that’s just useless I think I can blow that off very easily and forget about it.
John: Yeah, I’m not sure if this was a case for you, but for me I definitely developed thick skin as a captain in the Army. It’s just like –
John: – you get hammered over the head all day long and there's so much responsibility there you just – you're going to do a lot of things wrong often and you need that constructive criticism and that thick skin is critical as an entrepreneur, Fire Nation.
John: So, Cliff, do you have an Internet resource like an Evernote that you can share with our listeners?
Cliff: Love Evernote. We’ve used basecamp before. The core of what I do, I just write text on a page and so I – if there's any authors out there, and there's more out there than I think may be – that people realizing. I write fiction. I write novels, but everyone’s a writer in some way and the – even if you’re writing a self-help book or whatever it is you're working on, really great software. I like Byword a lot for my Mac. I love writing on Byword. I love the distraction-free focus it gives and then we do a lot of our independent publishing through Scrivener, which is another terrific software.
John: Yeah, I was actually going to say you're the first author that hasn’t raved about Scrivener, but there you go.
Cliff: Yeah, you knew it was coming.
John: If you could recommend one book for our listeners what would it be and why?
Cliff: I thought about this a long time and I think In Extremis Leadership by Colonel Thomas Kolditz – he – I heard him lecture one time when I was at Fort Sam Houston. He was a professor at West Point. It’s called In Extremis Leadership and he’s talking about competence is the most important trait of any leader and I – it just, it rung true with me and I remember thinking you’ve had those commanders – we share the Army background. Some of those guys were just terrible. They were dirt bags.
I wouldn’t follow that guy anywhere. But then some of them were just awesome and you realized if that guy told me to pick up a gasoline can and run into Hell with it would do it. And it just – that ability of just competence and leadership – and so he just talks a lot about I may not like someone’s personality. I may not like the way they do things, but if I believe they know what they're doing I will follow that person. And so I just, I love how that book made that point about competence above all else was what combat leaders have to model and I think I would argue business leaders as well.
John: Well, Fire Nation, I know you love audio so I teamed up with Audible and if you haven’t already you can get an amazing audio book for free at eofirebook.com. And, Cliff, this is the last question of the lightning round, but it’s a doozy. Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world identical to earth, but you knew no one. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have. Your food and shelter, taken care of. But all you have is a laptop and $500.00. What would you do in the next seven days?
Cliff: All right. So content is king and so I would spend the first three days writing a really great short story, just really focus on it, dive down, try and hit 3,000 words a day, try and hit something 9,000 to 10,000 words long. Then find some venue consistent with my fan base, where I would find buyers of my stuff, and spend the next four days convincing them to buy that book electronically.
John: There you go. Fire Nation, if you're an aspiring author out there it’s do the work right.
John: You need to write. I love that. So I want to end today, Cliff, how we started, on fire, with you sharing one parting piece of guidance, the best way that we can connect with you, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Cliff: Fantastic. Well, I do think that I’ve talked about feedback a lot. The persistence that is necessary to pursue anything in the creative arts especially – get that feedback that tells you, you know what? You're good at this, but your execution needs work. And so I would say if you’ve been objectively told – don’t be the American Idol guy that just can't seem to be told that he’s not any good at singing.
Find out if you're good at it, if you’ve got talent for it, and then at that point it’s a fair game. And then I would say the best way to connect with me is on Twitter. My tag is just cliffgraham. It’s my name and @cliffgraham and then my website is cliffgraham.com.
John: Fire Nation, you're the average of the five people that you spend the most time with and you have been hanging out with Cliff G and JLD today so keep up the heat and head over to eofire.com. Just type Cliff in the search bar. His show notes page will pop right up and when I just said Cliff and search bar I got hungry because I was thinking Cliff bar, but –
Cliff: There you go.
John: – side note. And, Cliff, I just want to thank you, my friend, for sharing your journey with Fire Nation today. For that we salute and we’ll catch you on the flip side.
Cliff: Thank you, John. Thank you, everybody. Keep it up.
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