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How Instagram Helped Me Triple My Business Income — Even Though I Have a Small Following

Marie Brown is a UK-based soloprepreneur who creates websites for other entrepreneurs and small business owners. Getting active on Instagram has completely changed her business — she shares how in this post.

Oct 3, 2023 9 min readFlow

Instagram came into my life — and business — like a breath of fresh air.

After many years of trying to get Facebook to surface my content in feeds and a brief, failed dalliance with LinkedIn, I discovered the joys of Instagram. It felt like a friendlier corner of the internet, where I stumbled upon like-minded souls.

Most importantly, my Instagram account started driving clients to my business, Beyond the Kitchen Table, despite my relatively modest following (as I write this, I have just under 1,600 followers).

About 75 percent of my sales come from people who follow me on Instagram (my email list is responsible for less than 10 percent). And in the three years since I focused on Instagram, my revenue has tripled. Not all of this is due to Instagram, of course, but it has definitely helped.

Some of these clients are people who have been following me for ages. Often, they’ve met me at networking events or heard about me through word-of-mouth recommendations. Many are unable to recall how our digital paths first crossed. But they tell me how much they love my Instagram account, and this has helped build the relationship.

Others have been on the hunt for website-related expertise and stumbled upon my profile. These often translate into clients more quickly because they are ready to buy.

While I’m an Instagram fan, I'm not advocating for putting all your business eggs in this one basket (or any other single basket). We’ve all heard the stories. Social media platforms have a knack for throwing curveballs, from hacking incidents to unexplained account removals, and shadowbanning – and good luck finding a human to sort it out when things go awry.

Social media should be a vital cog in your marketing machine, but it's not the whole engine. It's great for making and strengthening connections, but it’s not as easy to turn potential clients into loyal ones. For that, you need a website. When these two forces combine, magic happens.

So, if I've managed to rack up sales on Instagram with a small following, all without spending endless hours on the platform, you're probably wondering what the secret sauce is. Well, here it is. In this article, I’ll share my Instagram marketing strategy for growing your business, even when your follower count is modest.

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New to Instagram? Get a head start with our everything guide to the platform: Instagram 101: A Step-By-Step Guide on How to Use Instagram

1. Understand your target audience

Understanding your target audience is the special ingredient in your recipe for Instagram success. Your target audience needs to be at the heart of your strategy.

I've got a crystal-clear picture of my marketing persona, and my content is tailored just for them. My target audience on Instagram is superhero mums, juggling school-aged children, domestic responsibilities, and a business they are passionate about. All with an unshakable sense of humor (and fuelled by caffeine and gin).

Why this audience? I knew they were underserved. I didn't start out as a website designer (I was a client of a web design agency and had a terrible experience, so I taught myself how to do it instead!). A lot of web designers are male and techy, and some women find them difficult to understand or relate to.

Of course, I work with awesome men and remarkable women who don't have families, but my heart is with the everyday superhero who's battling to conquer both family life and the business world. Because that’s who I am too. The beauty of it all lies in the shared experiences — the triumphs and trials of entrepreneurship, the rollercoaster of family life, and the quirks of just being human.

So, when I curate my content, I keep these women in mind. I delve into the challenges they face, whether it's balancing post-school activities with client demands or finding moments of humor in the chaos of life. Every post, every caption, and every story is crafted with them at the center, resonating with their daily struggles and triumphs.

I want to be their confidant, their cheerleader, and their source of valuable insights. It's about speaking their language, sharing their pain points, and celebrating their wins. This connection is the magic wand that transforms casual scrollers into devoted followers and, ultimately, loyal clients.

2. Cultivate a small group of raving fans, not an army of followers

In the hunt for Instagram success, many people focus on increasing the number of Instagram followers. It's easy to get caught up in the numbers game — how many followers can you get?  But that doesn’t necessarily lead to clients. It's not about the quantity. It's all about the quality.

Like many small business owners, I don’t need thousands of clients. I’m a website designer with the capacity to take on about 30 clients a year. I run courses too, but these are far from mass-market extravaganzas (I’m no Amy Porterfield). For me, it's not about having thousands of passive scrollers; it's about having a community of a few hundred raving fans.

I see my followers as my Instagram family. They're the heart and soul of my online world. They're my cheerleaders, my advocates, and my true supporters (as I am theirs). They engage with me, champion my content, refer me to others, and often, become my loyal clients.  

When I go to business networking events, I usually have someone I’ve never met tell me how great it is to meet me as they’ve been following my account. Yes, I feel like a local celebrity.

An important part of this strategy is not just broadcasting content to your audience, but engaging with theirs as well. I interact with their Stories and posts in a way that is meaningful. I do this mainly with my followers, but also sometimes with people who fit my target audience who don't follow me. It's not just a casual like or a comment for the sake of getting the algorithm to show your content. It's the kind of interaction you'd expect in a face-to-face conversation.

I focus on building genuine connections, not just accumulating numbers of followers.  It’s about creating a loyal community that is invested in your journey and values and what you bring to the table. Then, when they need a website designer (or whatever it is that you do), they’ll feel like you’re someone they can trust.

3. Embrace authenticity — and get a bit personal

Now, I completely get the attraction of presenting a perfectly curated facade on Instagram. The pressure to be flawless is real. But people connect with people, not with perfectly polished robots. So, embrace your imperfections and let your true personality shine through. That’s what I have tried to do.

To foster a deeper connection with my following, I share content about my life as well as my business. I see my Instagram account as an intimate get-together with family and friends. While I do choose what I share (my teenage children are quite rightly insistent about their privacy), I offer a curated insight into my life.

My mischievous dog Barney features, as do our walks in nearby Knole Park (with plenty of #deerspam). I also post about what I’m up to during the day, client successes, and the occasional night out. It may sound mundane to some, but it strikes a chord with my target audience. They relish memes about working mum life — the gin, wine, caffeine dependency, teenage quirks, cute pets, and the never-ending laundry saga — and so, I share these.

Much of this storytelling unfolds in my Instagram Stories, as that is where my target audience scrolls the most (besides, I like my grid to look pretty, too).

However, authenticity doesn't mean you have to divulge every intimate detail of your life. In fact, you probably shouldn't. No one wants to be privy to last night's marital dispute or hear about every mundane moment of your day (I rarely have anything interesting for lunch). And there are parts of my life I just don’t want to share.

Authenticity is about striking a balance — revealing enough to connect on a personal level while respecting your own boundaries and the privacy of those around you. It’s important to consider what your target audience value, not what you want to vent about.

For me, authenticity means showcasing my unique blend of personality and expertise without oversharing. It's about infusing my posts with humor, providing a window into the real-life moments that define me. It’s also about what I don’t do. You won’t see me sharing or promoting anything I don’t believe. Ever.  

Authenticity is the key to building meaningful connections, fostering trust, and creating a community that genuinely cares about what you do. And inauthenticity is a way of losing that quickly. It’s also exhausting trying to be someone you’re not!

And you can do all of this while preserving the sanctity of your personal life. So, don't be afraid to be unapologetically you.

4. Sell your business as a solution

You've cultivated an engaged and loyal audience through authenticity and connection. They love what you do, they trust you, and they genuinely want to hear from you. But at the end of the day, you’re running a business, and you need sales.

Your Instagram followers aren't just passive spectators; they're an eager crowd, looking to you to help them. So, when you have something valuable to offer, don't hold back.

Now, I'm not suggesting you turn your Instagram feed into a non-stop infomercial. No one wants that, and it's not what Instagram is all about.

The key here is to align your offerings with the needs and desires of your audience. Listen to what your audience is telling you. Understand what they're looking for and present your solutions in a way that speaks directly to them. It's not about pushing products or services; it's about offering solutions to their challenges.

For me, this means sharing success stories from clients who've benefited from my website design services or courses. It's about showcasing the real-world impact of what I offer. And when I have a new service or course to introduce, I do it with enthusiasm and confidence, knowing that my audience is genuinely interested in that kind of service.

Selling on Instagram is an extension of the trust you've cultivated. When you do it with sincerity and a genuine desire to help, your audience will respond positively. So embrace the art of selling with confidence and enthusiasm — because you've already laid the groundwork for success.

5. Measure what works

How do I know what is working? What resonates with my audience, and what falls as flat as a pancake?

I keep a close eye on my analytics. By regularly reviewing my analytics, I can see which posts, Stories, and strategies are hitting the mark. It's not about blindly churning out content; it's about crafting content that genuinely connects.

And I don’t always get it right. But that’s fine, because by analyzing what works (and what doesn’t), I can make sure I get back in tune with my people. It's a journey of continuous improvement, guided by the numbers.

You might think numbers are boring. They’re not! They're key to building the kind of audience you want on Instagram.

By examining the data, I can pinpoint the content that resonates with my audience. I look at the engagement, reach, and number of saves on posts, and poll responses and DMs on stories. I look at which Reels have brought in the most eyeballs and which times of day have been the best for posting. I know some kinds of posts (like sales posts) won't generate as much engagement, but these remain an important part of my strategy. It’s also important to recognize the Instagram algorithm does funny things sometimes, so it is about trends, not single pieces of content.

Armed with this information, I can tailor my content strategy to maximize its impact. It's not about chasing trends or blindly following the latest Instagram fad; it's about crafting content that resonates with your unique audience.

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Buffer makes sense of the data so you don't have to. Get recommendations about Instagram post format, timing, frequency, and more with Buffer's analytics. 

A quick recap

In the ever-evolving world of Instagram, success isn't solely determined by your follower count. With the right strategies, even a modest following can lead to a successful business. I’m living proof of that: Instagram has been a significant driver of sales for my web design business.

Here’s a summary of how:

Understand your audience: Tailor your content to resonate with your target audience's struggles and triumphs.

Cultivate raving fans: Focus on quality over quantity, building a community of engaged supporters.

Embrace authenticity: Be unapologetically yourself while respecting boundaries.

Don't hesitate to sell: When the time is right, confidently offer solutions that align with your audience's needs.

Measure and adapt: Use analytics as your compass, continuously refining your approach based on what works.

In the end, Instagram is not just a platform; it's a canvas for your story and a stage for your business to flourish. It's a place where authenticity, connection, and value creation reign supreme.

Remember, it's not about the size of your following; it's about the depth of your connections and the value you bring to your audience.

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