Okay, real talk. As creative small business owners, I can bet that we all have a love hate relationship with Instagram. We love that it opens up so many doors of opportunities for us to reach potential customers all over the world. But we hate when it acts out like a fickle 2-year old and we can't for the life of us figure out why our account isn't growing despite seemingly doing everything right. So in our panic we head over to a business account we follow in the name of "research" and oh would you look at that, they've gained another 10000 followers since the last time you visited!
First of all, deep breath in and out. Secondly, I feel you so here's a reminder that I constantly tell myself too; stick to your lane. See what others are doing right, learn from them but don't get caught in a comparison trap because everyone is on a different journey. If you're finding it tough to get out of that vicious cycle, read this blog post for steps I personally take to help me manage my imposter syndrome.
But if you're ready to jump into the dos and don'ts of growing your Instagram account organically, then read on! Make sure to get to the end because I'll show you how you can still make sales without having a big following.
1) Set your account up for success
First impressions matter. Yes, a clean, beautiful feed is important but one of the most important yet often overlooked part of any Instagram account is the bio section. Here's why it's so crucial:
It's your space to immediately tell a visitor who you are and what you do. The quicker and better someone can determine what you're about, the higher the chance they'll tap that Follow button.
It's SEO-friendly (Search Engine Optimization), meaning that your profile can appear in the results on the Explore page if your bio includes the keyword(s) someone searched for.
Here's a snapshot of my bio at the moment:
+ Instead of putting your job title, tell people what you do. You're not just a copywriter, you 'help your clients write copy that sells'. You're not just a pet apparel business owner, you 'design and hand make comfy outfits for stylish pups".
+ What important info do people need to know to get them excited? Perhaps it's the launch date of your upcoming collection or that you were recently featured in a publication or that you release new designs weekly.
+ Finally, a CTA or call to action. What do you want them to do next? Whether it's to tap Follow or to subscribe to your mailing list, don't be afraid to ask! Just make sure you give them a reason to.
2) Forge alliances
In other words, seek collaborations and partnerships with brands that complement yours. One of my most successful collaborations to date helped me gain over 1000 followers and a handful of new customers in a span of 2 weeks! The key to finding the perfect collab partner is having a good understanding of who your ideal customer is. What brands do they shop from? Who are their role models? Where's their favourite hangout spot? What do they do in their free time? If you feel like that you don't quite know who your ideal customer is yet, just do a quick research of a couple of your followers. Browse through their posts to see what they share about and I assure you, you'll be able to pick up on some patterns to give you a head start.
What next? Reach out to these brands and pitch a collaboration! Look at past collaborations that they've done to get ideas. It's likely that if it did well for them, they'd be open to doing it again with the right partner aka you! I would always recommend suggesting 1 or 2 ideas in your outreach to show that you've put thought into it. But of course, mention that you're open to their suggestions on what would work best for them too. At the end of the day, the collaboration has to be a win-win for both parties. Maybe it's co-hosting a giveaway or working together on an exclusive limited edition design or even hosting an IG Live together to talk about a subject that both your followers care about and that you're experts in. It doesn't always have to involve giving a product away or offering a discount and that is good news, my friend.
3) Be present in your community
Don't just post your gorgeous images and well thought out captions and then disappear! Instagram is designed to encourage social interaction and the accounts that are able to successfully do so will be rewarded.
I like to think that there are 2 approaches to having an engaging Instagram account; the active approach and the passive approach. The passive approach involves things like responding to comments on your post or replying your DMs. Basically, keeping up-to-date with the conversations happening within your account. If you're reading this, I want you to take note that this should be the absolute bare minimum. To get to the magic, though, you have to take the active approach. This is when you deliberately and intentionally seek out others in your community to engage with them. Visit your followers' pages and engage with their content. Then take it a step further and engage with your followers' followers content!
The caveat? Do it authentically. Here's some #toughlove coming up. If you're just dropping '❤️❤️❤️' comments everywhere thinking that counts as interaction, stop. The only thing worse than not engaging at all is engaging inauthentically. Instead, comment or respond with something meaningful because it shows that you took the time to read their caption or watch their Story or listen to their IG Live. In the process, you don't just get to build relationships with your potential customers. You're also learning about them and that's a HUGE bonus because you'll then be able to serve them better.
1) No shortcuts! Quality beats Quantity
I don't believe that there are shortcuts to growing your Instagram following. If you're just looking at your follower count as a number then sure, but something tells me that's not what you want. You want quality followers who are raving fans of what you offer, whether or not they've purchased from you (yet!). So don't buy followers, don't join Instagram engagement pods and don't use cringey hashtags like #follow4follow or #likeforlike because that will not lead you closer to your goal. At the time of writing, my follower count stands at about 5300. I'll be the first to admit that that's not a huge follower base. But they are an engaged bunch who love my work and who rave about it even without me asking them too! The result? A continuously consistent growth in followers and sales.
2) Don't stress!
There will be days when your posts get major Likes, your engagement is at an all-time high and your following is growing quickly. Then there will be days when it's like you're posting to crickets. It's okay! Even the largest Instagram accounts go through this. The algorithm is not out to get you and the work that you've invested is not down the drain. Consistency pays off and as long as you keep following Instagram best practices, post with heart and engage with authenticity, your loyal base of raving fans will continue to grow. Pinky promise.
Want to know a secret? You don't need a big following to start making sales! I made my first sale FOUR days after l started my Tiny Dog Paintings Instagram page and I had less than 30 followers!
I've created a free guide and action plan sheet that includes some of the tips that I personally use to get sales through my Instagram to this day. I hope you find it helpful!