This one goes out to all of my friends in the under 10K crowd, the creative small business owners without the "swipe up," those that are wondering if their business will survive with a small following on Instagram. This is for everyone with a small business who is struggling to make sense of Instagram and wondering how they can use it to be successful in their business. Moreover, this is a post about my own personal Instagram strategy and how I'm successful in my business on and off of Instagram.
(BTW I'm @gartergirl Instagram if you care to follow along! I'd love to connect with you over on Instagram.)
It seems to me that having 10,000 followers and more on Instagram is the key, the magic bullet that will change everything and suddenly make my business into "something."
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Fogarty Photography
Why am I so obsessed with having more than 10,000 followers in Instagram??
Well, because then I'd get that cool K after my follower countand I'd get that super cool "swipe up" function in Instagram Stories.
Oh how my Instagram life would better if I had that "swipe up" function in Stories! Right?
But, I think it is more than just the swipe up function. I think having that K behind my follower count would give me a credibility and a validation that I know my business deserves, but I struggle to prove as more and more of my potential clients gravitate towards Instagram. Having that K would give my potential clients a sense of security, "More than 10,000 people support this business, I am OK to buy from them."
I think that 10K or more would make this better, easier. But, am I right?
I'm guilty of getting all wrapped up in my Instagram follower count. Gain one here, lose 10 overnight, I haven't grown at all this month, I've been at this same number for at least 6 months now. At least!
I know it isn't real or true and most of them bought their followers (I mean, right?! They had to or else how did they get to be so big!?), but I totally judge people and businesses by the size of their Instagram account.
I know it isn't right. I don't like when other people judge my business by the size of my Instagram followers, so you'd think I wouldn't do it to other businesses, but I do. I'll admit it. I'm guilty. (Please tell me I'm not alone….)
When I learn of a new business, either through a friend or a podcast, I immediately go onto Instagram and check their profile, aka their follower count. If they have more followers than me, I put them on some sort of pedestal and think they must totally have it all together and be making tons of money.
It's so wrong, I know. I can't help it.
Of course, deep down, I know that just having lots of followers doesn't mean that a business is making money and they have the world all figured out. I know that for some businesses – not all – a large following is purely a vanity metric, aka one of those social media numbers that exists just to make the owner feel better and the rest of us feel bad. I know a large following doesn't necessarily mean success or lots of money.
BUT, what a large Instagram following does is give you instant respect. It gives legitimacy. Remember, how I said I judge favorably Instagram accounts with large followings…
Whether it is speaking gigs, podcast interviews, party invitations or collaboration opportunities, having a large Instagram following opens doors. Doors don't just open for the rest of us with our small followings.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that those with large followings on Instagram don't work hard and make their own success in business. This isn't about that. I know they work hard and they deserve it and more. Instead, I'm saying that having a large Instagram following is a granter of respect that doesn't come to those with a small following.
You can tell me that if I just post better pictures, curate my feed, post at better times, write clever captions, use certain hashtags, respond to all of my commenters that I will grow big just like everyone else. Wrong. And, no, thank you. It doesn't work like that anymore.
The ship to major Instagram growth has sailed and I missed the boat. I was too busy raising three little babies and running blog (which I've since sold!) to focus on growing my tribe on Instagram. Back in the day (as in three to five years ago) when Instagram was actually growing like for real, yes, maybe all that advice was actually helpful, but not anymore.
The Instagram growth ship has sailed. At least it has for me.
I am so tired of my Instagram follower count just not being a true reflection of my business. I'm bigger than that. I'm better than that. I've been around a long time.
I was mad and felt sorry for myself for a while. Probably too long.
Then, I took a long hard look back at my business this past year. I've had the best, most profitable year I've ever had. This summer alone has exceed all expectations…and I'm supposed to be on a break!
Yup, my little under 10K follower Instagram account has had a kick a** year so far. I've exceeded all my sales goals and then some. I've had some seriously fabulous clients and, you know what, I've loved every minute of it.
Instead of focusing on growth on Instagram (aka more followers), I have flipped the script on myself a little bit. I look at it as trying to be successful on Instagram. Maybe it is all the yoga, but I really think shifting my focus away from growth and instead focusing on defining what success on Instagram means for my business has been a whole lot more effective. For me.
I just stopped obsessing on my Instagram follower number. (A little bit!) And started obsessing about my clients. I put all my energy onto my clients. Those beautiful souls right in front of me who said YES. My clients deserve all my love and attention. Every second that I spend on Instagram is a second I'm not serving a client.
Without further ado, here are my tips on running a successful small business with less than 10K followers on Instagram. This is my advice based on my little ol' biz who just had quite a noteworthy year so far.
And no, this isn't the same B.S. advice that you've heard before, like just take better pictures, post at this time and that time, engage with your followers, have a plan. No. And, no thank you. That stuff doesn't work anymore.
This is real, honest advice from one business owner to another. From someone who actually knows what it is like – what is feels like – to have less than 10K followers on Instagram and be nowhere near ever making over 10K a reality. This is exactly how I manage my Instagram account and how I'm strategic about it and how I define success when it comes to Instagram.
First and foremost, put all your energy and your heart into the clients that you do have. Make sure their experience is flawless. Make them feel special. Get off of social media and exceed your client's expectations. Every time I post on Instagram, I think to myself: Is my Inbox cleared out, do I owe anyone anything, have I done all the sewing I need to do?
If you slip up, just once, it could be the end of your business. Its clients first, all the time, no exceptions.
Social media is fleeting, so you must to diversify your efforts. Instagram could go away tomorrow. Would your business be OK? How would you survive and get clients?
I've said it before, but it is worth repeating: You don't own anything when you are on social media. Instagram owns all your likes and your comments and your followers.
The only thing you own is your website. Invest in what you own. Don't spend an hour "engaging" (Is that what the kids are calling it these days!?) on Instagram, when you could have written two blog posts, scheduled Pinterest for the week (Hello, Tailwind, I love you!) and answered emails in that same hour.
Instagram is a huge part of my marketing strategy – obviously – but, it isn't everything. I would be totally fine if it went away tomorrow. I'd be sad because I like it, but from a business standpoint, my website is my home base, social media is just gravy.
You've got to figure out what is working right now for you and then do that. Where did your last client say they found you? If it is through a referral from a friend, for example, I would double (maybe even triple!) down on what is working for you right now. I would network like crazy and really make an effort to increase my referrals through networking and interacting with others in my community.
Since you have a small Instagram following, you are going to have to be more creative than others (more on this below) and you can't just rely on your large following to bring in your business. You have a bird in the hand, so to speak. You know where your last client came from, so do more of that.
And, if you don't know where they came from, be brave and ask them. It's just that simple.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?!), more and more of my clients are saying that they found me on Instagram. Hence, why I'm making more of an effort to figure it out, so to speak, and define my own Instagram success.
Where are your clients? Like really where are they? Find out what social media channel they use and then go there. This might be different than where you want to be or where you have the largest following or where your peers are hanging out.
I know everyone is all about Facebook ads and Facebook groups, but not me. Not one single client of mine in the last five years or more has told me that they saw my business on Facebook or that they found me on Facebook. Not one.
My potential clients have a Facebook page because they need one for school or work, but it isn't the social site that they go to in their free time. So, I don't spend a ton of time on Facebook.
Even though it seems to me like the creative world is pushing Facebook and FB messenger and bots and pixels and ads, I say nope. It's not for me. I go where my clients are.
For me, my clients are three places (not in any particular order):
That's it. That's where they are.
They are on Instagram for social media and some researching, more just playing around for fun with their friends. So, I'm on Instagram.
They are on Pinterest and Google for various levels of researching, shopping, aka ready to buy, and some fun. Hello, recipe inspiration on Pinterest!
They are doing some wedding planning on Google and Pinterest as in: Hmmm, that's pretty, I think I might want a garter, I don't know, isn't the garter tradition dead, but that is really pretty and not what I expected, wait where do I even get a garter, and how much do garters even cost, which leg should I wear a garter one….on and on and on.
So, for this scenario I'm on Google and Pinterest. Which leads to the next piece of advice…
Instagram. Google. Pinterest. That's my core audience, that's my jam, those are my warm leads. I'm all about the engaged brides who are researching for their wedding, and/or are in buying mode.
To deal with Google, I blog like crazy and I am a ninja about SEO on my website. I have taught myself SEO over the year vs. rely on anyone else to do my website's SEO for me. I'm committed to being helpful through my blog to my potential customers. I use my blog to answer the questions that they didn't even know they had.
For Pinterest, I focus on it a ton. I've listened to umpteen podcasts, taken a few courses and really have put a huge focus on Pinterest in the past three years. While the rest of the world was teaching their Facebook and Instagram courses, I went right on past and have been focusing hard-core on Pinterest. As I said, I love Tailwind and the best Pinterest advice podcast I've found is The Simple Pin Podcast.
And, then on Instagram, I don't have a huge following (as we all know!), so I counteract my small following by having a plan and playing my own version of the hashtag game. Which leads into my next piece of advice…
OK, so my potential clients are on Instagram. But, they are mostly on there for fun and, maybe, a little research with a little hashtag exploration here and there. I've developed my own version of the hashtag game on Instagram that works for me.
In my experience, most general product tags (In my case tags like #garter or #weddinggarter) are not used by potential customers. Because, remember, I said they are on Instagram for fun. They aren't on Instagram to be sold to, it is to be with their friends and stalk celebrities and watch mindless videos. First and foremost, I have to respect that they are on Instagram for FUN, not to be sold to.
They will, however, on occasion, if they are in the market for a product, or just browsing, will check out a product hashtag.
And, when they do, BOOM, I'm all over it!
They click that #bridalgarter hashtag and I am right there, front and center. With my consistent posting using general product hashtags, I'm right there if and when they happen to click.
I have worked really hard over the years to set my product designs and photography a part from my competitors. So, when a potential clients clicks on a product hashtag in my niche (like #garter), I want my products to stand out and grab their attention as being so unique and so special, unlike all the rest on the hashtag.
This is why I post regularly on Instagram using those general product hashtags that relate to my business. I want to be allllllll over it when a potential clients happens to click on a product hashtag that I use.
But, as I said, most potential customers don't use general product hashtags themselves in their personal just-for-fun posts. So, I made it my job to find out the hashtags that they are using. The ones that let me know that they are, in fact, my potential customers.
Once I found those hashtags, I went there. I'm there, right where they are. I comment, like, interact, use the hashtag and above all else, study it and learn.
I'm not saying be obnoxious and post all the time using "their" hashtags and flood the feed with your products. No, not at all. It is worth repeating that you have to respect that your potential clients are on Instagram for FUN not to be sold to.
Start following the hashtag (Instagram lets you follow hashtags and it will show random photos from that hashtag in your feed along with sponsored posts and images from those you follow.) and see what you can find out. Do some of your own market research. What are they posting? When are they posting? What are they interested in? What other hashtags are they using?
For me, I discovered that lots of newly engaged brides where using the hashtag #isaidyestothedress when they found their wedding dress. And, brides who have just purchased a wedding dress are most definitely my potential clients.
When I read their posts I look at the other hashtags that they are using and look for new or interesting hashtags that newly engaged brides are using. It is interesting to see how long before their wedding they buy their dress or who else they take shopping with them, do they share the actual dress, was it a good experience or really hard?? It is a goldmine of information and I truly love to see how my potential clients use Instagram!
In addition to my general product hashtags (like #garter, #weddinggarter) I started using that potential client hashtag (#isaidyestothedress) myself when I post, BUT more importantly, I go through the hashtag every couple of days and comment on each and every one of their posts. I comment for real, not just fake comment or emoji dump or try to get them to buy from me or get them to follow me. No.
Remember, they aren't on Instagram to be sold to. You would be shocked at how many businesses do this on Instagram – they leave a comment asking the potential customer to visit their page/website/business and buy from them right away. NO!)
I actually read their post and then make a genuine, honest comment and share in their joy of finding that perfect wedding dress. Because, it is exciting and I'm excited for them!
Commenting on the hashtags that my potential customers are using doesn't lead directly to a ton of sales, rather it exposes my brand (aka the idea of a stylish wedding garter) to lots of new people. It is that fancy term "brand awareness." Its like if you see an add for Starbucks go by on a city bus and you don't immediately go purchase a coffee at Starbucks, was that ad a failure?? No, of course not. It is about creating that "brand awareness" that keeps your business at the top of someone's mind so that when they are ready, they think of you first.
After reading my comment, some will click over to my profile, which increases my Instagram account profile views for that week. This is great and a huge bonus, but even more than profile views, is the brand exposure that I get. It just reinforces my business name to them and the idea of a beautiful wedding heirloom.
When they come over to my account, they probably aren't ready to buy, they are as cold as a cold lead can get. I just use it as a chance for them to see that a garter is nothing to be scared of and that a garter can actually be a beautiful, special wedding heirloom. So, if/when they are ready, they will think of The Garter Girl!
Commenting is a brand awareness technique that will help to open their heart and mind to the idea of a wedding garter for their big day.
Ok, so that's how I survive and I'm successful with a small Instagram following of less than 10K. Also, what are you waiting for, go follow me @gartergirl!
What about you? What are your tips and advice for being successful on Instagram? Leave a comment, let's discuss…