If you run a handmade shop and you’re experiencing some frustration navigating the sea of Instagram, you’re not alone. Though Instagram can be an efficient marketing tool to attract clients to your shop, it can also be incredibly difficult to get your name out there among the sea of other entrepreneurs, bloggers and creators. Not to mention, throughout the year of 2016 Instagram has implemented some new algorithms that stunt growth for small business owners.
My name is Brittany, and I’m so excited to share these ten tips to growing your handmade business through Instagram. I compiled these through spending countless hours over the past year researching, attending online seminars, and mostly by documenting what worked (and what didn’t) in my own experiences. Basically, I’ve done all the dirty work for you. 😉 All you have to do is cozy up and read on!
I would like to start by sharing some of my success story, one that many of you may connect with. In fall of 2015, I found myself being laid off of my full-time desk job due to budget cuts within the company. I immediately began applying to hundreds of jobs per month. After three long months of interviews with no luck finding a match, I talked with my husband and decided to take the leap into starting my own business. I didn’t start how most people do, by creating an Etsy shop or their own website—I started by selling my work exclusively through Instagram!
I had an account where I had posted a couple photos of my old artwork, but the last time I posted was over a year ago. I had 89 followers, an inactive account, a username that didn’t fit me, and no clue where to begin. I was quite literally about to build my business from the ground up. Flash forward two months, and my following was past the first 1k, I had a username that I loved, solid engagement on all of my posts, and I had people coming to me steadily for custom artwork. Even after I started my Etsy account a few months later, that’s not where my orders came from—they continued to come through Instagram users! These tips below are the very same steps I took to building my business entirely through Instagram. I promise that if you follow them, you will see momentous growth in your own account!
1) Choose a username that represents you
First and foremost, you need to choose a clean, memorable and straightforward username. Use your first and last name, or your business/blog name—whatever fits your brand best. Don’t clutter your name with unnecessary numbers, spaces or other distractions—The shorter, the better! Don’t be afraid to change your name a couple times to see how it flows with your account.
2) Create a bio that sells for you!
You only have so many words you can use in your bio section; utilize that to help your target audience find you! Include your full name in bio, and include your business name in profile (or vice-versa depending on what flows best for you). Put your business link in the link section and describe what it is about above it in words that draw attention, such as: “10 tips to Detoxify below!” “12 steps to becoming a better writer,” “My art is available here,” etc. Say something short and sweet about yourself. State your location, even if it’s general—this will draw local business your way! As cute as quotes look, they don’t sell you to others or help them understand you, so I recommend staying away from quotes. Upload a nice, aesthetic photo and a clear, professional bio. Logos are fine for businesses, but people tend to be attracted to seeing the people behind the handmade items they’re buying from you. Additional tip: If you can’t afford a professional headshot, go outside when it’s light but cloudy and get a good selfie with a good clean background (one solid color looks best).
3) Learn the art of choosing and posting photos
Taking and posting high quality images of your items is truly a form of art, and it’s SO crucial to growing your handmade business on Instagram. It takes practice, patience and thoughtfulness. Whether you’re posting photos from your smartphone or you own an expensive DSLR camera, it’s possible to showcase a gallery of great images that draw your target audience to your feed.
To take great photos, follow people that you find intriguing and interesting. Find photos that you like that you think you can reproduce and post on your own feed. (When I say “reproduce,” I mean take inspiration from the way their feed is set up and follow a similar photo pattern.) Throw “props” into your photos, such as a quote, a book, a cup of coffee, etc. These help spark conversation and market things you love or things you use daily in your business. Don’t underestimate showing what you love! Instagram is all about giving people a peek into your life, and making it look pretty.
That being said, find what photos DON’T work, and stop posting them. Post based off of what people like. This one can be hard to come to terms with, but if you’re seriously wanting to grow your business Instagram, it’s very important. If you’re feeling stuck on how to clean up your feed, or if you don’t know how to start your own personalized “theme,” white is a great place to start. Use a base of white if you want your feed to look fresher, and use throw in pops of color every now and then.
When someone visits your feed, they see the most recent 9 photos immediately. These 9 photos essentially create what I’m going to call a “gallery show.” Blue photos, or white photos, or pink photos (or edits with a similar style of preset) should all be grouped together. This creates a feed that SELLS for you! Is this inconvenient at times? Yes. For example, you may be in the middle of a “pinkish” theme and want to post a photo that has a lot of green or blue hues. The best thing to do is hold off on that photo until you’re entering the next “theme” of photos. If you decide you want your entire feed to have the same color theme—let’s say gray, blue and bright white—then don’t post photos that fall outside of your color theme. Or at least, when you do, turn down the saturation so they aren’t as colorful and detracting. Additional tip: If I have a hard time envisioning what my next photo will look like, I post it to see if it’s going to work with my feed, and if it clashes I delete it quickly.
The following are TYPES of photos that look good being rotated continually throughout your feed:
People shots: people like seeing people! Include yourself or others in your posts. Professional headshots or selfies taken in well-lit areas are great, but candid shots of you working are absolute gold.
Environmental shots: a screen capture of where you are. (Think, if someone was next to you, what would they see? Remember this is all about helping people see into your life.)
Detail shots: a shot with detail of the tile on your floor, or a hand holding a simple item you sell. These are the kinds of photos you want props in (scissors, ribbon, pencils, whatever you work with) and you want these shots to be basic with non-complicated backgrounds.
Abstract shots: up close of an eye, etc. (I don’t use a lot of these kinds of shots in my feed.)
The following are great apps for editing on-the-go:
VSCO Cam (I use this the most. I love the A & E aesthetic presets in the 5-6 range to make my artwork look professional and pop.)
Snapseed (which I’ve also used and love.)
Filterstorm (it’s $5)
Anticrop (I haven’t personally used this one but I’ve heard it’s great!)
4) Understand the value of hashtags
If you’re reading this, you probably know more about hashtags than I did when I started out. Hashtags are SO important to use while you’re growing your Instagram! Instagram currently allows 30 hashtags maximum per post, and you want to make sure you’re using all 30. There are three groups of hashtags you want to use when you post:
- Use 5-10 specific hashtags that are specific to the photo itself (ex: if I’m posting a picture of a painted portrait, I’d use ‘acrylic’, ‘portraiture’, etc.)
- Use 5-10 lifestyle hashtags for reaching certain people with certain lifestyles. (These are the hashtags that you find by following famous, competitive feeds that you love. Watch what hashtags they use and copy them. If you click on each hashtag you want to use in future posts, Instagram will automatically save them for you so you don’t have to remember them, just the first letter.)
- Use 5 “IG recommended” hashtags like, ‘igphotooftheday’ ‘igdaily’ ‘vsco’ for the general masses/population. Remember that you will get TONS more people seeing your photo through these kinds of hashtags, but they will only be seen for a split second on the “most recent” tabs of these hashtags.
Additional tip: Keep a memo in your smartphone with the 30 hashtags you like to use, so that you can easily copy & paste them into a comment immediately after posting. This allows your post to not look clogged with hashtags, while reaping the benefits of them. I follow this pattern: go into your phone’s notes, copy your hashtag bundle, go back to Instagram, post your photo, and then paste the hashtags into a comment. Make sure to change up your 5-10 specific hashtags to make them personalized to your specific post. Voila!
5) Social engagement
If you are really serious about growing your Instagram, you should spend a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour in Instagram every day. Some days I have spent up to two hours (not consecutively). Gaining followers is important because it establishes you as a business owner, but gaining true clients is invaluable because it will increase your sales. I can instruct you on how to gain mass followers, but that isn’t the goal here. 🙂 In order to attract true followers who will stay with you because they love your shop, you will want to follow these steps:
- Search accounts daily and follow the 5:3 or 3:1 likes-to-comments ratio (depending on how much time you’re willing to put into your Instagram). Be genuine with your comments, don’t just leave an emoji. Also be genuine with your likes; don’t just like the top 3 photos on their feed. Look at what photos really stand out to you. You want to do this on 30-50 accounts daily.
- Follow accounts that boost your confidence and creativity; shops that will motivate you to make your post content better.
- Respond to comments within 24 hours, if you can. This shows your followers that you care about them individually, and you’re not just ghost posting.
- There are ways to attract tasteful accounts of real people with similar interests, by paying attention to who you’re following and engaging with. I have made many connections with new followers by simply taking the time to focus on engaging with them. These are people who I have now collaborated with and even become close friends with—people who support and uplift me, and I do the same for them.
- In December 2016, Instagram has launched a new feature that allows you to easily “like” and “reply” to others’ comments. This doesn’t quite make up for everything they’ve taken away, but it does allow us to connect with masses in a unique and personalized way. This is how to utilize the new “like” feature: Go to a large account that you love to follow (a creator with 20k+ following), and find an image with a topic that interests you (whether it be art, photography, design, knitting, etc.). Go to the comments section, make a comment if you’d like, then mass like a BUNCH of comments that you agree with. Instagram hasn’t yet placed limits on how many comments you can like, so get busy now while you can! Think about it: you are directly reaching all of those people by one click on your screen. They will receive a notification that you liked their comment, and some check out your shop because of that one click. I have had a lot of fun and success with this new feature!
6) When to post & how often
Current studies say that the best times to post are: 5pm Sunday, 7pm & 10pm Monday, 3am & 10pm Tuesday, 5pm Wednesday, 7am & 11pm Thursday, 1am & 8pm Friday, 12am & 2am Saturday. I see almost double the amount of likes and comments on my posts when following these times, however random they may seem! How often you post is entirely up to you. My suggestion is to post once daily or every two days at least, but give yourself a break when you need it. Try not to go longer than a week—people start to lose interest.
7) Time management
Being an entrepreneur is hard work, am I right?? It’s crucial to keep track of exactly when you’re working and when you’re not to increase productivity and keep yourself sane. Download an app like “work clock” to track your hours. Learn to take breaks! You may start seeing your numbers boost and feel excited to build your clientele and market 24/7. Learn to take breaks and remember that your family is around you. Additional tip: I set boundaries in my mind, such as “9am to 4pm are my working hours, and after that I need to put my phone away.” This helps for getting enough sleep, too!
8) Set up your shop accordingly
If you haven’t, get an Etsy shop set up as soon as possible! It takes a lot of work initially, but the great thing about Etsy is that they will start marketing for you once you make 10 sales. Additional tip: If you’re having trouble making those first initial sales, offer discounts to friends and family (or even send a few free items) in trade for their sale through your Etsy and ask them to write you a review. If you’re like me and want to graduate from third-party shop hosts, your next step would be to start looking into ways you can sell individually. You don’t have to fork out thousands of dollars to a web designer; there are many resources to easily create your own shop yourself! My husband and I are putting the finishing touches on my website that I purchased through Wix, which includes a shop checkout and all the bells and whistles and evens out to only $15 per month. That means if I only make one sale per month, my site more than pays for itself. It was created from zero to almost-finished in a matter of two weeks!
9) Collaborate with other shops
Reach out to other shops that sell similar items and promote one another, or even reach out to photographers and other artists to collaborate with! Trade posts, pictures, items—give each other shout-outs. Spread the love. It feels good to promote one another. Small business owners, especially those with handmade items, need to support one another among the sea of mainstream businesses. Here’s a list of handmade shops I adore:
Local markets in Utah for handmade shops:
10) Remember why it’s worth it!
If you’ve reached the end of this article, you might be feeling overwhelmed. You probably hoped that there was an easier way to grow your biz. Unfortunately, unless you get really lucky, it’s all about how much time you’re willing to sacrifice to Instagram. Speaking from experience, though, it’s TOTALLY worth it. I have made almost all of my art sales through Instagram, and I have had opportunities to collaborate with countless shops and bloggers that I never dreamed I’d work with. I promise you that every hour you put into your Instagram will not be a waste, as long as you stay consistent. Most importantly, stay true to yourself and true to your brand. Show off your unique items and captivate your audiences with worthwhile content. Be creative! Be inspiring. Be yourself. If you ever need a boost of confidence, feel free to reach out to me!