Instagram is my social media platform of choice. It hasn’t always been. I was a Facebook girl for a long time. I dabbled with LinkedIn when I thought Facebook was being mean (and my posts weren’t doing so well), but struggled to make it work. Eventually I decided to give Instagram a go…
And I love it. It seems a kinder place. I seem to have found “like minded” people. And, most importantly, I am getting sales from it. Even though I have a relatively small following.
Some of those sales are from people who have followed me for months or years, and can’t remember how they originally found me. Others have searched for something website related, found me and become clients straight away.
And just as importantly, some are people who, when asked, will say they found me through a networking event, or via a friend and tell me they love my Instagram. So Instagram has played a role in persuading them to work with me.
I would never suggest you rely solely on any social media platform to build a business (although when you are first starting out social media on its own is a sensible place to start). Social media accounts get hacked, removed etc and there never seems to be a human to sort it out for you…
Social media should form a part of your marketing strategy. You don’t own it and it tends to be a “messy” place which doesn’t logically lead any potential clients through what they need to know to become clients. A website is better for that. And the two together are far more powerful than either is on its own.
So given I have been making sales through Instagram with a small following (without spending hours and hours on the platform) what’s the secret????
1. Instagram Bio
The first step is to set up your Instagram bio to show exactly what you do.
This is important because you want to come up when people search for what you do. I dislike the label, but use “website designer” in my bio because that is what people search for when they’re looking for someone like me. So ditch the clever stuff and call yourself what a potential client would call you.
You have 150 characters you can use in your bio. This gives you the chance to explain exactly what you do, who you work with and how you can help them (including what your Instagram is about). We’re all looking for people who can help us. And when someone sees your profile you want them to hit that follow button if they’re the kind of person who you want to work with. So make sure your instagram bio is compelling. Note only the first four lines of your bio are shown on a mobile so make sure it is clear in those first four lines.
You can only have a single link in your bio. You can get round this by having a link that links to something with more links on. Linktree is popular for this but I prefer a page on your website which is solely for redirecting from Instagram and includes buttons with the other links (in a similar fashion to Linktree). This gives you greater control over the styling of the page (so it looks like yours) and allows you to see where people are clicking through using tracking analytics.
But I generally just have a single link to the thing I’m looking to promote most at the time (currently my podcast).
2. Posting to your Grid
Posting to your grid has two impacts:
- It shows up when someone lands on your profile and
- Individual posts show in the feed of people who follow you (and sometimes more widely).
So whilst individual posts matter, a group of posts matter too. Looking at your last say 9 or 12 posts should show what your business is about.
I post a mix of content. Some of it is about what I do. This shows my authority. Some showcases my work. Some is for connecting with my audience. The idea is that someone who sees my grid will understand what I do and what I’m about.
Does your grid need to be aesthetically pleasing? Mine sort of is – I alternate between something with an image/dark background and words on a white background. But I have simplified it hugely because I was finding that needing to post a particular sort of graphic was hindering my posting. And I would argue that posting consistently is more important than what your grid looks like. But if you can make it look relatively pulled together that will definitely help you gain followers (no-one wants to follow something that looks like a jumble sale!)
Individual posts come up in a feed and therefore need to be “scroll stopping”. Videos, portrait images, good photos and short, pointed graphics which resonate with your target audience. Some of my most popular posts (in terms of reach and engagement) have been about life. “When all else fails take a nap” and “a banana is 105 calories, a glass of prosecco is 80 calories, choose wisely” are two that have done particularly well in the past year. Nothing to do with websites but they resonate with my target audience. And they show my human side (website designers are not always known for their relatability).
As well as posting good content you do need to post consistently. I tend to post about 4 times a week (sometimes it is more, sometimes less). There’s nothing worse than looking at someone’s bio and seeing the last time they posted was 3 months ago.
3. Getting new followers
Reels, hashtags and collaborations are great ways of reaching people who don’t already follow you. Personally I have found that I don’t get many new followers through any of those (although I haven’t done as many collaborations as perhaps I should have), but reels in particularly have been incredibly powerful with my existing audience. They are more memorable (some of them are very quirky!) and show my personality.
I can’t say I have cracked the code of getting loads of followers, but what I do have is a very good group of followers. They are my “Ideal Clients” and very engaged. Quality is far more important than quantity because it leads to sales. There are many Instagrammers who have tens of thousands of followers but no/few sales. I’m not in this to be Insta famous (although I do sometimes get recognised in my local high street!). Marketing on Instagram is a part of running a business.
4. Reaching Existing Followers
Getting your posts seen by existing followers is hugely important. There’s no point posting unless your posts are regularly seen by enough people to make it worthwhile (a few will always bomb – that’s Instagram).
So what makes a difference to getting your posts seen?
- “Quality” of the post. Yes, the better your posts are the more people will spend time looking at them, reading the caption and being inclined to like and/or comment. This tells Instagram it is a good post for your target audience and it will show it to more people who follow you and potentially others too
- Time/day you post. Getting likes and comments early after you post matters because Instagram will then decide whether to show that post to more people. So post at a time or day your followers are on Instagram so they can see it early. Ideally you want to post when they’re on Instagram but no-one else they follow is posting (but let’s not make it more complex!). You can see when your followers are active on Instagram in your insights. Personally I’ve found trial and error just as helpful for deciding when is a good time to post.
- Inviting engagement. The more people like or comment on your post the more Instagram will show your post to others. Use a Call to Action to invite people to engage. “Double tap if you agree”, “has this happened to you”, “let me know your plans”, etc all encourage people to like or comment
- Responding to comments. It is courtesy to respond to anyone who comments on your posts. You want to get into a conversation, you want them to feel like you know them (which ultimately helps with sales) but it also shows Instagram that this post is loved…
- Engaging on other posts. There is some evidence that commenting on other people’s posts before and after posting your own increases the reach of your own post. Whilst I try and do this, it isn’t always practical
- Instagram’s “mood”. Some posts you think are ok will have a great reach and others you think are amazing will bomb. Sometimes the Instagram “algorithm” does funny things. That’s Instagram…
Basically I suggest trying different kinds of posts at different times of the day to see which land best with your target audience. All our audiences are different.
Engaging on your own posts, posts of other people you follow and posts of people you don’t follow will help build relationships on Instagram.
And ultimately it is the success of this “relationship building” which will lead to sales.
Always respond to comments on your own posts (ideally with a question or a comment that draws into conversation).
I don’t automatically “follow back” people who follow me. I used to but it would mean my own feed would be filled with things I’m not interested in. However, from time to time, I will go through recent posts/stories of my followers and engage.
I also engage with accounts who have a similar audience to mine and some of their followers who are my target audience. If I see a comment on a post from someone I don’t recognise I will often check out their bio.
Stories are very popular with your followers. They’re designed to show “behind the scenes” and build a relationship. People buy from people.
Posting regularly to your stories (and I always post anything on my grid to my stories) is a great way of building a relationship. I use a combination of video (always with captions so they can be viewed without sound), photos and reposting content from others that I think will resonate with my audience. If any of my clients are promoting an offer I’ll often share it with my audience this way.
Using stickers, asking questions, polls etc all help get your stories seen more widely. Plus people like these. It adds personality.
I’ll also skim through other stories, responding as appropriate. It’s quick and easy to do. It helps with building those relationships. It’s fun too.
Instagram has been promoting reels over other forms of content. Because people like them. You can easily waste half an hour scrolling through reels. They’re addictive and keep people on the app!
I regularly post reels. As mentioned, I don’t find I get many new followers from reels (and any new followers are not always my “target audience”) but they are a fantastic way to build up the relationship with your existing audience.
I post reels which are educational, show what I do and fun. Not all reels tick all the boxes! At the moment I tend to post the following kinds of reels:
- Points spoken to camera – this might be 3 reasons I don’t like carousels on websites, photos you need on your website, how to make your website look more professional, etc (you can find all of these examples on my Instagram account @beyondthekt)
- Website clinics – where I “pretend” to be a client with a problem and then answer their question as a different character (“nerdy Nora”). Playing characters can be fun and is definitely memorable!
- Showcasing websites I have built – where I will screenshot pages, add some text commentary and appropriate music, usually with a client testimonial at the end. These don’t tend to get as much reach as the other two forms of reels but are vitally important as a sales tool
I very rarely do lives on Instagram. It’s just not something I have got into. I have done a couple on other people’s Instagram accounts (which is a great way of getting in front of their audience and showing your authority).
Should I do them? Would I recommend you do? Yes – they are supposed to be helpful. But I’m running a business, not an Instagram account and sometimes something has to give…
The above points have shown how I use Instagram to reach and build a relationship with my target audience (plus a few that aren’t ever going to be clients – but that’s ok too).
And sometimes that is enough so that someone will choose to work with me when they’re ready.
But I also regularly remind my audience about what I do (and the fact I’m pretty good at it).
- I do “sales” posts from time to time, reminding people how they can work with me. Sometimes it might be even more direct and promote a particular service I’m pushing.
- I also regularly showcase my client work. People can see the results of what I do. I share testimonials (on both my grid and in stories). I show “before” and “after” and I sometimes share on my stories that I’m meeting with a client to show them how to edit their website, because that reminds my audience that I don’t just build a website and run.
But I never ever slide into people’s dms cold. I might comment on something they have posted via dm or respond to a dm from them. Occasionally I might message if I’m doing a masterclass or something that I really think they’d be interested in just in case they have missed it. But basically I don’t start a sales conversation via dm. Some people do but it doesn’t sit right with me (at least for the moment).
Instagram is a key piece of marketing for me, helping me to attract a new audience, build a deeper relationship with an existing one and sell my services.
And it works. I get sales from Instagram even though I have a small following. It works very well alongside my website which is set out to give the information people need in a more logical way.
I have set up my Instagram bio so it is clear what I do. I post a variety of posts to my grid which show what I do and resonate with my target audience. And I post images, quotes and reels. Reels get the best reach but are actually work better at deepening the relationship with my existing audience.
I make sure I engage with anyone who comments on my posts, followers and others too. Engagement is a powerful tool for building those relationships.
My Instagram stories show a bit more of me (and my dog, Barney – who is always very popular) and “behind the scenes”. I ask questions and try to make my stories worth watching.
And I make sure to sell from time to time, via direct sales posts and showcasing the websites I build.
Most importantly though is I try to have fun with Instagram. It’s a great way to build a loyal following.
And it works. I get sales via Instagram…