Posted: Thu 12th Aug 2021
In its early days, Instagram was best known for its abundance of selfies, sunsets and dog photos. And, while you’ll still find plenty of those on the platform, it’s also grown into an incredibly powerful tool for building a business.
Instagram is particularly useful because it’s a rare instance where the lines between personal and business content blur. Even if you’re usually averse to ads online, it’s normal for Instagram users to follow brands and consume marketing content alongside personal photos.
Instagram’s official statistics demonstrate how formidable the platform can be for founders: 90% of Instagram users follow a business and 50% are more interested in a brand when they see ads for it on Instagram.
So what does it take to build a business using Instagram and how can you make the most from the platform?
We spoke to nine amazing small business owners to find out how they use Instagram and their tips for success.
DoodleMoo specialises in colourful art prints, stationery and accessories. Founder and Enterprise Nation member Emily Canino has over 27,000 followers on Instagram and believes it’s the best social media platform for visual brands.
“Growing my Instagram really cemented my brand and created trust and visibility. It’s enabled me to find the right type of customers and brand supporters, and it’s helped me get found for features like Tattoo Fixers and The Circle TV shows,” she said.
Emily also uses Instagram to interact with her customers, showcase her products and even test out new items. She posts a mix of content and keeps an eye on how her account will look to new users.
“I’ve always tended to use a mix of my products, some personal things (people respond well to this on a human level), some fun things relevant to my brand and some stuff I find inspiring.
“On the whole, I try to be consistent with what I post, as people generally look at the last nine squares to decide whether they want to follow you or not.”
Know your brand and create your Instagram content based on that. Try to find what makes your brand unique and get people excited by it. Share your brand story and feature your products and services in a way that’s not too sales heavy.
Show up every day. Even if you don’t post, you can add stories or comment on other people’s content.
Wavy Deo co-founder Jonathan Copeland uses Instagram to give a behind-the-scenes look at the vegan deodorant brand and make followers feel like part of the journey.
“It’s led supporters to become very invested in our brand, which in turn has created a loyal customer base,” he said.
Jonathan also gets feedback on changes happening in the business. A great example is Wavy Deo’s recent brand update, where he asked Instagram followers to help them choose a new logo and decide how the product packaging should look.
Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. The Instagram community is packed with amazing advocates who want to see you win. They will give you feedback for free.
Be consistent. It can be tough to do it all on your own, but consistency is key as it has a big impact on your engagement rate and visibility. Just remember it’ll all be worth it in the end!
Stacey MacDonald started paper and textile design brand Darwin & Gray back in 2012, when Instagram was a simple photo-sharing app.
As a creative living in a small village, Instagram provided a platform to reach a larger audience. It’s been an invaluable tool for Stacey since then and Darwin & Gray now has a 28,000-strong following.
“I can showcase my work in an authentic and real-time manner. I utilise Instagram as not only a fun form of marketing but as a source of inspiration for daily life. Most importantly, it’s my trusty sounding board – I reach out to my customers for opinions and advice when my indecisiveness takes over.
“I personally love how the app works as a digital diary too. It’s a continuous stream of development that I'm able to reflect on whenever I want to, while I navigate my way through the highs and lows of running my own business,” she said.
Figure out who you are, your target audience and what you want to achieve. Once you’ve got that vision, be present on the platform to bring your idea to life.
Quality over quantity. Don’t get weighed down if your followers aren’t shooting up or if that reel you spent hours making doesn’t go viral. Attracting customers who will actually invest in you and stick around for the long haul is far more valuable.
Goodfind is a platform that helps people find and compare ethical alternatives to everything from fashion and beauty to groceries and pet products.
Founder Nohelia Rambal has used Instagram since day one of starting the business. Not only is it a favourite platform of Goodfind’s target audience, but it’s a great place to research sustainable brands and get inspiration for partnerships.
“We've been able to test a lot of different types of content on Instagram – more than any other tool or platform would allow us to do. This has helped us find out what resonates best with our audience and has been key to growing and improving our brand identity and tone of voice. The engagement from followers is the best type of direct customer feedback,” she said.
Test and find out what works. Don’t be afraid to test different things and be creative with your content.
Make your hooks and strategies authentic. Find out what really resonates with your audiences, rather than always following big, less meaningful trends.
Instagram has played a fundamental role in growing PR firm Boss Your PR.
Founder and Enterprise Nation member Fiona Minett explains that she’s used Instagram to build a network of like-minded supporters and collaborators, plus it’s given her a platform to speak directly to her target audience.
“From day one, I took the approach that I wanted to share my knowledge in order to deliver value through my content. This has been a core part of my strategy and has enabled me to build the ‘know, like and trust’ factor with my audience.
“It’s really easy to get swept away by the vanity metrics, but using Instagram as a way of making genuine, human connections and building relationships has made it a rewarding and fruitful platform for my business,” Fiona said.
Don’t fret about what you think the algorithm is or isn’t – you’ll tie yourself in knots. Ultimately, post great content, encourage conversations and be consistent.
Think about how you can speak to the pain points, wants, needs and desires of your audience. What content is going to resonate with them? Instagram gives you the platform to serve your audience, so show your audience that you understand them.
You are your best USP. You need to be your own cheerleader, so make yourself visible on your Instagram.
London-based Chai Guys is run by Enterprise Nation member Gabriel Unger and Abhilash Jobanputra. The duo claim to sell “probably the best Chai in London”.
Gabriel explained that Instagram is often the first place people experience your brand, so it’s important to have good visuals. If in doubt, hire a professional photographer and videographer to take product and lifestyle shots for your business.
“Our high-quality Instagram grid gave us credibility with potential landlords, who were more willing to take a punt on a modern and good-looking brand,” he said.
Curate your posts. Use planning tools to make sure there’s a good flow of images on your Instagram grid.
Write insightful captions. Show existing and potential customers that there’s a real team and personality behind all the sleek images.
When you’re growing, hire someone to take ownership of your Instagram. Founders need to learn to run Instagram accounts themselves when cash is tight, but it’s worth investing in someone who can take ownership of your account and drive engagement once the business is growing.
Founded in 2016 by Chinelo Awa, Good Cake Day creates buttercream cakes and “the most delicious brownies known to man”.
Instagram has helped the business grow – who doesn’t like looking at pictures of cake? – but it was also instrumental in Chinelo’s decision to go full time as a luxury cake artist during the pandemic.
“During the Black Lives Matter protests in June last year, a lot of influencers tagged my business as a black-owned business to follow on Instagram. Off the back of that, I got over 3,000 new followers which resulted in more orders.
“I was also featured on BBC News because a journalist followed one of the influencers who recommended my business. That resulted in more publicity for Good Cake Day. Since then, the majority of my orders have come through Instagram,” Chinelo said.
Focus on how you can help your followers, instead of what you want from them. Share content that’s helpful to them, either by way of entertainment or tips and tricks that make their life easier.
Follow the current head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri. That way, you get regular updates on new developments on the app.
EcoStardust is an eco-conscious company that sells biodegradable glitter. Founder Kath Senior uses Instagram as a place to interact with followers and build engagement.
“Instagram has been pivotal to our business. We’ve used it in many different ways over the years, but we’ve found that Instagram is not the place to ‘sell’.
“It’s where we talk with our followers, show them what’s happening behind the scenes, tell them about new products and continue to educate them on our industry. Every time we’ve become too salesy, engagement has dropped, so we try to keep our Instagram as a community area.”
Don’t post for the sake of posting. Post things that are relevant and that your followers will really care about, rather than doing it for the sake of it.
Show the person behind the brand. People tend to connect more with a person, rather than having a brand talking to them.
Enterprise Nation member Lucy Werner ran PR agency The Wern for five years before she focused on an Instagram strategy. She pivoted and decided to spend more time on social media because she wanted to elevate her profile.
In January, she deleted everything on her account and started from scratch with a new brand strategy. She had just over a thousand followers; that’s since grown to over 12,000.
“I wanted to get a book deal, be paid as a speaker and teach DIY PR – all of which have been achieved since I focused on my Instagram growth. It’s been slow and steady growth, but now I work fewer hours and have multiple streams of income,” Lucy said.
Be patient. It can take a year of posting regularly to get traction and momentum.
Focus on your brand strategy. A clear visual design will set you apart and provide structure for posting.
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