Happy National Barbecue Month

BBQCookbook_coverMay is known as National Barbecue Month.  The perfect gateway between Spring and Summer with warmer temperatures, days getting a little longer and friends and family ready to hit the outdoors.

As you get ready to fire up the grill, why not consider putting together a cookbook of your favorite all time BBQ recipes. Or collaborate with family members for the perfect gift or family get-together memento.

To help you get started, we modified one of our Microsoft Word Templates as an inspiration for designing your own barbecue cookbook. You can further customize the colors, fonts and more by following our Word template tips. When using this template also make sure you select “US Letter Borderless” as the paper type in your page set-up so your cookbook will be ready to print via MagCloud.  For more info on how to create a MagCloud-ready PDF, see our Getting Started information and be sure to scroll to the bottom of the page to download specific software instructions for Microsoft Word.

Not a Microsoft Word user?  No problem, we also have cookbook templates for Adobe InDesign and Apple Pages as well.

Love to barbecue but need recipe ideas, then browse selections from other grill savvy MagCloud publishers.

          

And while you are flipping burgers and hanging out with friends, why not enjoy some of the MagCloud team’s favorite groovy grilling tunes in our Spotify playlist below.

Share your favorite grill tips, recipes and summer playlist must haves in the comments section below.

Enjoy the beginning of summer and happy grilling!

Disrupting From Within: Lessons in Business Innovation

recipe-for-disruptionAs Chief MagClouder I know first hand that starting a new business inside an existing, well-established, large and profitable company can be just as challenging as launching an enterprise all on your own. Especially if your idea is a disruptive one – and one that requires time to grow before it adds a noticeable boost to your company’s overall bottom line.

In Innovator’s Dilemma, author and leading business thinker Clayton Christensen is spot on with his observation: Traditional companies are wary of pursuing new products and services that will initially have smaller target markets with unproven business models.

Why invest in something new that will result in a smaller return (at least initially) when you can continue cultivating larger and much better-understood markets based on your existing business proposition?

The answers vary, but the one that strikes a chord with us is simply this: If you don’t disrupt your own business, someone else will.

We’ve learned some useful lessons about launching a disruptive business inside a large company – in our case, creating MagCloud within Hewlett-Packard (HP).

You might find these lessons useful, too.

1. Bottom-up ideas can be just as successful as those directed from the top down.

The idea for MagCloud didn’t come from HP’s executive offices or reports from famous industry consultants. Instead, a couple of researchers in HP Labs thought it would be cool to create a way for anyone to become a publisher.

We took that idea and ran with it. It was bottom-up driven and an approach supported by our cross-company sponsors. It’s a model that suits both HP and MagCloud well.

That bottom-up philosophy suits many companies well. Google, for example, encourages employees to spend about 20 percent of their time “on projects that aren’t necessarily in [their] job descriptions.” This dabbling in other endeavors has resulted in some of Google’s most important products, including Gmail and Google News.

Facebook Hackathons – all-night, code-writing “ragers” – are a big tradition at Facebook, inspiring employees to collaborate on some great (and some not-so-great) ideas.

2. Flexibility is your friend.

Starting a business is no time to be set in your ways. From the moment you come up with your initial idea to the day you launch, you must be flexible enough to tack and weave your way forward, evolving your idea as you go.

When we began working on MagCloud, we thought that, along with providing print-on-demand based publishing, we should offer a tool that publishers could use to put together their publications – you know, type your text here, add your pictures there. And, voilà, you get a great-looking publication.

Then we remembered that authoring tools already exist in applications such as Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign and Apple Pages.

Why make customers use our tool when they’re already working with existing, proven programs? It seems obvious now, but at the time it was a big “aha” moment for us.

We might revisit creating authoring tools at some point as we tack and weave our way forward.

3. Small teams can outperform big ones.

If you’ve ever worked within a large group, you know the perils of spending far too much time communicating just to stay in sync, and adhering to the many processes designed to keep a large group coordinated – both of which can hinder creativity.

There’s a great story about a high-profile Silicon Valley software CEO who, upon hearing from a manager that a project was late, asked that one person be cut from the team. When the project continued to be delayed, he asked that another person be cut from the team. And so it went, until the project was successfully delivered.

The moral: The smaller the team, the more flexible you can be – and the easier it can be to keep working toward a common goal. At fewer than 20 staff members, we know this lesson all too well at MagCloud. We take turns at doing everything and finishing our projects on time. Mostly.

4. Small teams can make big impressions.

Whether you’re one person working from a spare bedroom or part of a 100-person, full-fledged marketing department, producing beautiful, professional-quality publications with MagCloud will give the impression that your business is bigger than it really is.

And, in fact, as long as you produce quality products that people enjoy, even the smallest team can attract millions of fans and followers.

Consider Pinterest, founded in March 2010 with a handful of employees. The company employs 100 today, just three years later. But what’s really impressive is Pinterest’s 40 million faithful fans who spend hours pinning their favorite things to their own virtual bulletin boards, so they can organize them and share them with friends. Pinterest is now the largest social media platform as measured by users per employee.

Instagram’s team was even smaller. Just 13 employees built the business, which now has 30 million users who pause in mid-step to capture just the right photo, add their favorite filter and post it to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Foursquare.

It’s difficult to argue that small groups can’t deliver big results. Instagram’s tiny team caught the $1 billion attention of Facebook, its new owner.

5. Look ahead, but not too far.

Most large companies have very strict planning cycles, forecasting three or more years out and detailing every step of the way.

At MagCloud, we don’t pretend to know what the world will look like in three years. We don’t pretend to know what MagCloud will look like in three years.

Instead, we focus on a month ahead.

We decide what we’re going to invest in for the next month based on what we learned from our previous month through our customer support, website analytics, blog comments and social media interactions.

In a large stable business with mature markets even the slightest changes can have significant impact and high risk. This often results in long decision-making timelines that require deeper data analysis and more people involved in choosing the course of action.

At MagCloud, all of us – all fewer than 20 of us – are empowered by HP to make all the decisions that affect our business, hundreds of times, every day.  Even if we make decisions that aren’t quite right, we make them and move on.

We’re willing to take the risk because what we know – and what you know, too – is that if we don’t quickly iterate to meet our customers’ needs, someone else will.

Which brings me back to my beginning point:

6. Disrupt, lest ye be disrupted.

Disruption. It’s what makes new businesses successful and old, stuck-in-their-ways businesses fall to the wayside.

One great example of this lesson was when Netflix disrupted movie rental stores with DVD rental subscriptions. Remember how much you anticipated receiving those red envelopes in your mailbox? Then Netflix was smart enough to disrupt its own DVD rental subscriptions with even easier access to streaming video at a fraction of the price.

I wonder what they’ll do next.

In much the same way Netflix disrupted Netflix, MagCloud doesn’t want to be disrupted by someone else. We want to be our own disruptor, and we work hard at giving our customers what they want, even if it means we need to continually reinvent ourselves to do it.

New possibilities for meaningful impact

Discipline and focus are crucial with a small team.  There is never a shortage of new ideas but choosing the ones that will have the greatest impact to building our reach and growing our business are the keys to success.

We’re in control, we make the decisions and we live with the consequences. It’s exciting and exhilarating, and it’s one of the reasons why I love doing what we do as a small-medium business.

I suspect it’s why you love what you do, too.  I would love to hear what lessons you learned starting your own business or innovating as part of a small business or team in the comments section below.

SMB Business Tips from Guest Blogger Merritt Design

Today’s post is from designer and MagCloud publisher Jennifer Koskinen, owner of Merritt Design.

smbtipsWith a desire to start the year with a positive outlook, Sandy Puc just began a great discussion thread on LinkedIn asking people to think about the Top 10 things they believe contribute to a successful photography studio.

I love taking the first week of January to revisit goals for my photography business, and so was inspired to take a moment to reflect on my overall strategies for success. In no particular order, here are my Top 10 (ok 12) things I have observed over the years which motivate me every day.  Some I live with confidence.  Others I am still working to make wholly mine. What would YOU add?

1. THE CLIENT EXPERIENCE

Make booking, scheduling, delivering, and of course, shooting the photo session a memorable and fun experience. Inspire referral business through existing clients.

2. SMILE

Yes, you. Genuinely. Smile!! On the job … and at the proverbial coffee shop (can’t even count how many clients I’ve earned with this philosophy).

3. INSPIRATION / EDUCATION

Keep reading, networking, attending seminars and workshops, stay abreast of current trends, and try new things based on what inspires you.

4. GOALS / LISTS

Keep business and personal deadlines, and self-impose deadlines for non client driven ones. If you keep pushing back a deadline, ask yourself if the item should really be on the list (if so: do it! If not, remove it or put it on a separate back-burner list).

5. MARKETING

Schedule regular activity and think outside the box to market yourself creatively (in print, in person and via social media) Your website should reflect your personality. And especially when you’re starting out, don’t show every photo, show only your BEST photos!

6. COMFORT ZONE

Push it! Often! Shoot new material.  I love to use my phone camera to shoot personal projects even on days when I’m not shooting for clients.

7. PRICING

Review cost of business and package pricing annually and always communicate clearly and confidently with clients (unless you happen to love negotiating — which I decidedly do NOT — printed materials with pricing menus help tremendously).

8. MONEY

Fall in love with the business side of what you do. This is still my biggest challenge. I had to finally design myself a beautiful system of spreadsheets because the available software systems were all too dry for me. May sound silly, but it works for me. Find what works for you.

9. CONTRACTS

Know and continually update your contracts to stay on top of constantly changing on-line world (especially if you work with digital files and licensing). Educate your clients about copyright laws, and gently educate clients that they are investing in your talent, creativity, instinct and vision, NOT paper and ink.

10. GRATITUDE

Be grateful for the fact that you get to do what you love for a living! Remind yourself of this simple and amazing fact when times are tough.

11. ACCEPT CHANGE

Don’t attach to old ways of doing things and don’t be afraid of learning new tricks. Let go of fear, take chances, dive in…

12. TAKE DANCE BREAKS

Often. Crazy ones. They are immeasurably good for the spirit. Not to mention sore, over-worked eyeballs.

And as part of my “outside the box marketing” I like to use MagCloud to show off my work in print and digital, as well as providing my clients with new ways to market their own businesses.

 

Learn more about Jennifer’s work on her website and see her collection of MagCloud publications on her publisher page.

Do you have your own Small Business tips?  Share them in the comments section below.

How MagCloud Publishers Leverage Instagram

Instagram on iPhoneVisual storytelling is nothing new in the realm of business. Content consumers love the power of an image portraying “1,000” words that leaves enough to the imagination while alluding to a larger point. To that end, MagCloud is running a #MagCloudHearts themed poster giveaway through Instagram.

But what makes Instagram an improvement over the time-tested and standardized visual element? To answer these questions, we continue our chat with Cory Ann Ellis and Trey Hill. This time, we’re shifting our focus from Pinterest to Instagram, and the best practices for leveraging the platform for publications and small business.

MagCloud: Are your businesses using Instagram for business purposes?

Cory Ann Ellis: Yes we are on Instagram (@coryannellis), and like Instagram for private use, it’s immediate and visual nature. It is free and clear of long posts, soapboxes and other negatives that can fill other social media platforms.

Trey Hill: My agency (@squarerootof9) specializes in image driven storytelling, and for most people, I am the agency. I’m an avid Instagrammer & use it to tell my story, which spans the professional, experimental and personal.

MagCloud: What’s your favorite element of Instagram, and why do you think it can help your publication?

Cory Ann Ellis: Instagram has the ability to show a steady stream of interesting content that can keep the reader’s attention between publication dates. With behind-the-scenes and feature teasers, viewers can get excited to pick up or download the next issue.

Trey Hill: It’s a craft that’s always been about contextualizing and sharing our world. Instagram, for me, has made it so the time between seeing and sharing is almost zero. In that way, I think it’s perfect. Used well, Instagram can help anyone craft an ongoing story that reveals who you are and what you’re about. Just because you’re on a mobile device doesn’t mean that you can’t take time to learn the craft of photography. The tools have changed, but the aesthetic that draws people to a photo – good composition, proper exposure and a unique point of view – will never change.

MagCloud: What are your top Instagram tips for publishers?

Cory Ann Ellis: Show images that are graphically interesting and fun. Go easy on the filters. Focus instead on the framing and lighting so that you don’t need to use filters to distort from poor photography. Yes it’s just a camera phone, but you can use it wisely. Try hinting at an upcoming article by showing a tiny detail or abstract from the set without showing full setups.

#panogramtastic
#panogramtastic

Trey Hill: I don’t think my tips for publishers would be any different than the tips I’d share with an individual. I am three-quarters of the way through a four-part series on my blog about mobile-photography. I think, more than anything, I’d point people there as a great place to start:

In Part Three, I talk about how to push the medium of Instagram by highlighting something I created called #panogramtastic. Basically, Instagram is all about the single square image. For a while, people have been using apps to add white to the background of their images so they can post circles, or more traditional photo crops. I thought, “What if you could take the constraints of the app and use them to create something interesting?” I began by using my profile’s grid view to merge a single panoramic image across three frames. They come out like what you see on the left.

MagCloud: How best can publishers promote their publication using Instagram?

Cory Ann Ellis: I think one of the best ways is to use the hashtags to create contests or followings for a specific feature or event. For example, if you create a hashtag and promote the most recent publication by saying, “Where do you read your xyz magazine? – show us through Instagram. Hashtag your photo #xyzmagread.” Then you have a steady stream of everyone reading your magazine in different places and parts of the world. These can be fed into your websites, blogs and even shared on Facebook. This is a great way to show that others are enjoying your publication and they might also.

Trey Hill: One of my clients is the Dallas Stars, an NHL hockey team. One of the initiatives we’ve done for the past five seasons is inviting the fans behind the curtain. I think Instagram is perfectly suited to show people the raw, unpolished parts of who you are. Fans love it because they feel like they are part of the team. For a publication, I would say, use Instagram to show people things they wouldn’t otherwise see – an image that didn’t make the final edit, but is still evocative – a layout sketch or anything from the process. Just because it’s not “for real” don’t let that mean you don’t treat it with respect. Make sure you take time to art direct the frame or fuss over the treatment you put on the image. It may not be part of the publication, but every Instagram becomes part of your story.

———-

We’d like to give both Cory and Trey a special shout-out and thank you for showing us some of the magician’s tricks, so to speak.

Do you too have insight into how Instagram improves the story-telling strategies for your business? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to join the #MagCloudHearts Instagram poster giveaway!

A Pinterest Q&A With MagCloud Publishers

Pinterest LogoBy now, you’ve seen some of the investments the social media community has made in Pinterest. The visual inspiration engine resonates with communities in such a natural way it’s no wonder that the little network that could is on a meteoric growth trajectory. But as Pinterest usage and prevalence increases, marketers are beginning to ask themselves how best to leverage the platform to get its message out.

MagCloud publishers have been using Pinterest for some time, with good success thus far. We’ve reached out to some “Pinteresting” publications to understand more about Pinterest’s benefits: Cory Ann Ellis (Pinterest page here)– of AC Ellis Photography, SD Wedding Style and The Cake Lady Bakery – and Trey Hill – who uses both MagCloud and Pinterest for Square Root of Nine, a story telling agency.

Have some thoughts, tips or ideas of your own? Let us know in the comments! And as always, if you’d like to respond to us or the authors, the comments section is the place to be.

—–

MagCloud: Have your publications used Pinterest for promotion recently? What have you seen from the platform that made the promotion unique?

Cory Ann: “We actively use Pinterest to promote our print and web publications. Pinterest is the fastest growing social media platform, and the viral exposure a company can receive through pinning is an important component of our marketing strategy.”

Trey Hill:  “As the owner of a storytelling agency, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what I do for myself and what I do to further our story. At some point, I just embraced that the line is blurry. I do use Pinterest regularly to bookmark images, stories and styles that I find appealing. I try to temper promoting my business, but do have a few boards that highlight my work.”

MagCloud: What do you think Pinterest might offer publishers that is unique to publishing (as opposed to the advantages for other small businesses)?

Cory Ann: “I think Pinterest offers publishers an opportunity to generate continued support and readership of past publications. When your publication is long off the shelf or not at the top of your promotional efforts, you have the ability through Pinterest to promote past issue sales, articles and advertisers. What a great way to stretch your reach and create a good use of past content rather than collecting dust in a lost folder on your hard drive.”

Trey Hill:  “I’m certainly no publishing expert, but I think whether you’re a publication, small business, non-profit or sports team, Pinterest offers you the ability to curate tangible expressions of your brand’s story. You can craft a character and associate yourself, powerfully, with ideas, imagery and products you admire. However, most brands I interact with on Twitter aren’t taking advantage of this aspect of Pinterest.”

MagCloud: What are some tips that may help other publishers to get started on Pinterest?

Cory Ann: “Try not to only pin promotional pieces for your own business, but also images, services and products that supplement your business or life. For small businesses, Pinterest offers an easy method to allow your customers and readers to get to know the owners and employees by creating personal style boards. A personal connection is so important to brand and business loyalty, and this is a great easy way to reach out to your customers and share in a subtle way, without taking up vital print space. Pin images directly from your site or blog. Be sure the link back on Pinterest leads to a specific post and not just your home page. Use simple clear descriptions and hashtags on the images you pin. Make it easy for viewers to find your pins when they search.”

Trey Hill:  “Don’t be scared to pin things that might not end up in a click back to your website. People respect organizations that are secure enough in their own identity that they are free to applaud the efforts of others. And, when you begin to point people to the things you admire, more often than not, the favor is returned.”

MagCloud:  Pinterest is a highly visual social media platform, how can you use that style to promote your publication? 

Cory Ann: “We are visual people and the use of good images and design can draw a viewer in and entice them to read a full article or publication. We like to post images of our publication that link back to our sale page on Pinterest. Also a board can be created for each article or issue to supplement the publication and drive traffic back for a full purchase or download. Behind the scenes and extra images that don’t make the article are great to draw the viewer in without compromising the distribution of the original content. Most publications are driven by advertisers. By pinning the ads, websites and products of your advertisers, you create an increased value to your ad sales.”

Trey Hill:  “First, let me start with a warning. Self-promotion in social media of any kind needs to be tempered. Heavily. Make sure you’re pinning 15-20 items that have nothing to do with you directly for everyone that points back to you. If you can make that ration even larger, do it. As Brian Regan so appropriately warned, ‘Beware the Me Monster.’ I am continually impressed with Warby Parker’s strategy for pinning. This past summer they launched a Blue Mirror sunglass lens & created a board that featured pins with that shade of blue. Of the 39 pins on the board, only one featured the glasses themselves. That was an interesting idea and could apply to publications as well. Does your current issue have a theme that you could pin from? What about doing boards inspired by the various stories? That kind of thinking gets people excited and generates repins and conversation, which in-turn builds loyalty to your brand and the larger story you’re trying to tell.”

MagCloud’s Favorite Instagram Users and Hashtags

instagramfeaturedimage

If you’re not already following @HPMagCloud on Instagram, you should be! We love to engage with our publishers and see MagCloud publications and products out in the wild–how you use them, where you enjoy them and cool pictures of your work coming together… So when you decide to show off your MagCloud product, be sure to tag us (@hpmagcloud) or use the #magcloud hashtag.

In the meantime, we have a few favorite Instagram users we’re following, and some suggested hashtags for when you share the MagCloud love on Instagram.

Favorites to follow:

Us, of course – @hpmagcloud

Andrew Shinn – @shinnphoto

BRINK Magazine – @brinkmag

Cory Ann Ellis/AC Ellis – @coryannellis

CycleEXIF – @cycleexif

James Worrell – @worrellphoto

Jennifer Koskinen/Merritt Photo – @merrittphoto

Julian Bialowas (16 Hours Mag) – @julianbialowas

Rob Shore/I Carry the Bag – @shorespeak

Sian Richardson Tax Attorney (16 Hours Mag) – @sian_richardson

Standard Magazine – @standard_mag

Toobydoo – @toobydoo

We Like We Love – @welikewelove

#tags to remember:

#MagCloud

#MagCloudinthewild

#MagCloudLove

#printisnotdead

#graphicdesign

Creating Conversions: How to Maximize Instagram for SMBs & Publishers

Instagram Icon
Instagram Icon

So you’ve survived the holiday season, but now your smartphone is filled with a veritable art gallery of filtered Instagram photos. Those Amaro- or Kelvin-tinted shots don’t need to sit there collecting dust in your phone, however, and this is especially true for small businesses and publishers. The question is: How can those Instagram pictures lead to more paying customers for your small business or publication?

Instagram’s core idea is less about cool filters and more about creating strong visual narratives. We hear all the time about how visual content draws the most eyeballs on social media pages. For you the business owner, this key insight can change the way you tell your brand’s story.

For instance, let’s say your publication holds a launch party. You can use Instagram to highlight portions of the party that make your brand stand out amongst your competitors. You can use Instagram to create a visual narrative that will draw new eyeballs, and thus new potential customers. This process is called conversion. Check out our Instagram profile to see an example.

Instagram_Logo_Large

Here are five tips to create business conversions on Instagram:

  1. Create clear branding on your Instagram Profile Page. When Facebook bought Instagram recently, social media users started noticing small but important changes in how the platform behaved. One of those changes was Profile Pages. Profile Pages are no different than a Facebook page. They house all the photos you’ve uploaded to Instagram, and allow you to browse your feed. To maximize this for your brand, make sure you have a link driving back to your business’ home page, write a short and catchy bio and display your logo prominently.
  2. Upload your Instagram photos to as many other social platforms as possible. This sounds counter-intuitive, but keep in mind Instagram’s core idea. Instagram tells visual stories. In order to tell that story to as many people as possible, post your Instagram shots to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, etc. Spread the #love.
  3. Use hashtags. For those of you unfamiliar with a hashtag (#), it’s no different than your average pound key. But, when used in a caption of an Instagram photo as a theme, your photo has the potential to be introduced to a much wide audience. This is because whenever the hashtag is used, it’s picked up by Instagram’s search tool. For instance, if your publication centers on classic cars, and you’ve just uploaded an Instagram shot of your favorite ’67 Chevy, don’t forget to put #musclecar or #Chevy in the caption of your photo to introduce it to more potential readers.
  4. Use location tagging. But do it wisely. Many folks are afraid to tag a location to their photos, but it’s a great feature aimed at growing your exposure. When you tag locations, your image is grouped with all the others taken at that location, which again adds to the potential for your image to be seen by a wide audience.
  5. Be a consumer. Most brands and publishers use Instagram as a one-way street. They upload the pictures, with the appropriate hashtags, and then leave it alone. Make sure you add new followers with similar interests to your business or publication. Follow your readers. Like photos that relate to your own. This is called building a community, and doing so will reap large rewards in future conversions.

We here at MagCloud have talked about Instagram and seo services a few times in the past for businesses and consumers. Highlighting ways to use your Instagram photos to create business collateral whether that be a client calendar, trade-show or event poster or portfolio or photo collectible.  There are lots of ways to extend your Instagram conversations from the phone through other marketing and sales channels.

Do you guys use Instagram for your business? How do you use it differently from your own private Instagram account? What other tips do you have? Make sure to share in the comments!