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The small business owner's guide to Instagram success

If there’s one social media platform that every small business should be on, it’s Instagram.

You need to have a Facebook account (it’s essential in order for your business Instagram account to be set up correctly), you should have a Facebook page for your business, you’ll want to go ahead and claim your business name on Pinterest, and you can claim it on Tiktok as well if you’d like.

But when it comes to where you should spend your valuable social media time, Instagram is the place to be.


First, it’s one of the most popular social media platforms, with over 500 million daily active users. It caters to all demographics and a variety of ages, and content can be easily shared between users.

Second, it’s a highly visual platform, making it the perfect place for any small business to share beautiful, high-quality content.

Combine those two things and you have a powerful, free marketing tool at your disposal. Not only that, but many small businesses aren’t taking advantage of it the way they should. That gives you an opportunity to use it well and stand out from the crowd.

But before you start posting on Instagram, there are a few things you need to think through to ensure you’re taking full advantage of the platform.

There’s so much more to it than just posting pretty pictures and keeping your fingers crossed that people will like it.

First, make sure your accounts are set up as business accounts. Not personal accounts that you also post business content on. Full business accounts, which gives you access to all the tools and analytics that are only available to businesses.

The next thing you need to do is identify the goals and objectives for your Instagram account.

Identifying those goals and objectives gives you clarity, and lets you know what “success” on Instagram looks like for your business.

Maybe you think success looks like thousands of followers, and you’ve spent hours and hours creating content in hopes of going viral and watching those numbers skyrocket.

Or maybe you think success is receiving a steady stream of new inquiries or sales directly from Instagram, so you’re constantly trying to sell your services.

Most likely if these are your goals you aren’t hitting either of them. You’re posting and hoping, and getting frustrated with the whole thing. But what if these are the wrong goals for your business?

Neither of these goals are bad, but they’re both narrow and short-sighted. If they’re your only goals you’re missing out on all the additional value that your Instagram account can provide.

You can unlock the full potential and value of your Instagram account if you set the right goals and objectives from the beginning.

So what are some potential goals and objectives you could set for your Instagram account? You can use the list below to get started, or develop other goals of your own.

Goal 1: Social proof and brand awareness

Most prospects and potential clients will look for you on social media. If you don’t have an active Instagram account with at least a few hundred followers, it leaves prospects wondering if you’re still in business.

While you may have a Facebook account and have spent a lot of time there trying to build your brand, the fact of the matter is that Facebook is now seen as a dated platform. If you’re hoping to attract clients currently in their 20s, 30s or even 40s, you need to have an Instagram account with a reasonable following and post regularly.

An account that hasn’t posted in months, or that only has a few dozen followers, raises some questions. Is your company still in business? Are you too “out of touch” for younger clients to want to work with you? Are you tech-savvy?

Today’s younger consumers, many of whom would make great clients, want to work with businesses who are tech-savvy, understand their wants and needs, and can provide the service they’re looking for in the way they want it.

If you don’t have an Instagram account it’s likely they’ll dismiss your business before they ever reach out, and you’ll never have the chance to make a sale.

If you mainly use Facebook, see if the content you post would work well on Instagram. Photos and videos normally perform much better on Instagram than on Facebook, but since they’re both owned by Meta you can cross-post without losing your engaged Facebook audience.

Start posting your content on Instagram instead, and allow it to push through to Facebook. That way you create content that works well with Instagram’s formatting, you can add hashtags to increase your reach, and you still have regular content on Facebook to engage your audience there.

You can also create a Facebook post letting your audience know that you’re on Instagram. Reassure them that you’re not going anywhere, but if they want additional content or simply prefer the Instagram platform they can find you there as well.

Goal 2: Education

High quality, educational content generally performs well on Instagram. Whether you’re letting clients and prospects know about your services and the value you provide, or sharing products you're selling and how they can be used, the visual nature of Instagram is perfect for combining beautiful posts with engaging, educational captions.

One of the more recent developments that Instagram has rolled out is the ability to search captions. That means if someone types something in the search bar, like “social media content planner”, and Instagram can tell from your captions that you create and sell digital social media planning products, your content can show up in their search results.

Instagram captions now work as a type of content marketing, or even micro-blogging, allowing you reach potential customers who aren’t yet aware of your business and services.

Educational content can also expose your audience to new ways to use your product or service. Do you sell a digital planner that is designed for social media content planning? Maybe it also works well for keeping track of other things in life, like your kids schedules, planning a product launch for a small business, or anything else you can think of.

Use photos and videos to highlight other ways people can use your product and you may find a whole new audience.

In order for your content to gain traction, it needs to be more than generic photos of your product, or infographics with quotes and information about your services.

Clients and prospects need to be able to picture themselves using your product or service, and they need to understand how your products or services will help them get what they desire.

Post content about how their lives will be better if they work with you. People seek an aspirational identity, so show them how you can help them reach one.

Will your service help them feel more peace, find more time for the things that are important to them, or help them feel comfortable with who they are? Show them who they can be and how you can help them get there.

Goal 3: Creating an engaged community

Instagram is a great place to create a community of raving fans who love your content. It’s a platform that allows you to engage daily with potential clients and customers, but it’s not a one-sided approach.

You can’t expect to simply post content and have high levels of engagement.

Instead, you get what you give.

If someone comments on your post, make sure you acknowledge the comment. Then go tot their profile. If you follow them or they have a public account, find a couple of their photos you can comment on in return.

When you reciprocate you not only create a connection, but Instagram also notices.

That means the next time you post, the person you engaged with is much more likely to see your post, allowing them to like and comment on it.

It also allows Instagram to recommend your account to other people that person is connected to, increasing your reach. The more people you can engage with on a frequent basis, the larger your reach becomes.

Engagement also allows your followers to interact with each other. They can tag other users who they’d like to share your product or service with, they can send your content to others, and they can engage with each other through comments.

When it comes time for them to purchase a product or service that you sell, do you think they’ll be looking anywhere else for it?

They won’t be shopping around. They already feel connected to you, and it’s a natural step for them to reach out or purchase your product.

You need to do more than just engage with those who engage with you. Using Instagram well includes using the right hashtags to find and engage with your ideal clients.

One of the most powerful tools that Instagram gives you is the ability to use hashtags on your posts. Hashtags range from generic hashtags used millions of times (#decor), to a specific hashtag that you develop just for your business (#yourbusinessname).

Using the right hashtags, on the right posts, at the right time, can take your content from a few people seeing it to a few thousand or even millions of people seeing it.

Find hashtags that resonate with your clients and prospects.

Follow those hashtags, which allows content that other users generate and tag to show in your feed. Engage with that content by liking and commenting as appropriate, and search for content similar to yours that you can like and comment on as well.

If you're an organizer, following hashtags like #getorganized or #homeorganization. Make a daily habit of searching for them and engaging with 5-10 photos or videos. Make sure when you engage you both like and comment on the photo.

You'll start seeing that, even if those users don't reciprocate, the number of overall users who see your content will start to grow quickly.

If you develop a hashtag just for your business you can provide it to your clients. When they use your product or have a good outcome because of your service they can post their photos and videos with the hashtag, which alerts you and allows you to repost their content. This type of user-generated content is great for creating engagement with your followers.

Create additional engagement through a simple call-to-action in your captions. Something like “tag someone in the comments that you’d like to try this with!” can easily generate traction for a post and increase your reach.

You can also make it easy for prospects to reach out to you with a simple “DM me if you’re ready to start your journey to a more organized home”. Direct messages are something that are easier than sending an email or picking up the phone, and take advantage of the fact that the reader is already on the platform.

Since they’re already on Instagram they are more likely to reach out to you in a DM than to go to your website, compose an email or pick up the phone.

Anything you can do to reduce the natural resistance most people have to doing something new will help increase the likelihood of a prospect reaching out to you.

Goal 4: Generate leads and sales

While this is a potential goal, use caution if this is your main goal for Instagram. If it’s simply a sales channel, people pick up on that and are less likely to engage with your content.

Remember, these are social media posts, not ads. People didn’t follow you to see ads and sales copy, they followed you to see inspirational content, beautiful photos and videos and to find information about how to make their lives better.

However, you do your potential clients a disservice if you don’t let them know the benefits you can provide for them.

Do your clients let you know frequently how much your product or service helped them? That’s a benefit that potential clients should be aware of.

Are your customers part of an engaged community, supporting each other through a journey of self improvement? That's very important, and potential customers need to know that they'll miss out on that if they decide to purchase services from someone else.

Share stories, Instagram posts and emails from other clients when they thank you for the service you provided or for your help with avoiding a potential negative situation.

Intersperse that content into your Instagram feed and it becomes both social proof and sales content, without ever coming across as over-the-top salesy.

Goal 5: Drive traffic to your website or email list

Instagram can be a powerful tool to drive traffic elsewhere, like to your website or an email list signup.

Keep in mind that you never want social media to be your only way of contacting people who would like to see your content. You never know what can happen to your social media following, and you don’t own anything related to your Instagram account.

That means if your account gets hacked, Instagram changes its algorithm, sells the platform, or for some reason closes or suspends your account (it can happen!), you lose everything you’ve worked for.

But if you’ve used Instagram to drive people elsewhere, like an email list signup or your website, they know where to find you if something happens.

At a minimum your bio should include your website, allowing people to click the link and get to your site. But you can do so much more with it.

Services like Link in bio, Linktree, and Leadpages can turn the link in your Instagram bio into a lead generating powerhouse.

These services allow you to create unique links from each post you create, so when people go to the link in your bio they see a version of your Instagram feed that they can click through to specific website pages, blog posts, etc.

They also allow you to set up specific buttons on that interactive page. You can add a button for people to sign up for your email list. If you have a lead generator you can have a button that allows them to download it (and get on your email list at the same time if it’s set up correctly).

If you create blog posts that relate to your products or services, when you post content related content you can link it to the post and let your audience know that they can go to the link in your bio to read the full article.

Anything that gets your followers to engage with you directly as opposed to only engaging through Instagram is a benefit for you. It gives you ownership of that relationship and removes the social media middleman from it.

Another benefit to your Instagram bio page is that it’s 100% mobile friendly, no matter which of the link in bio services you use. Unlike Facebook or Pinterest, Instagram has been an app from the beginning and is intended to be accessed via mobile.

More people access websites via mobile than on a desktop, but not every website performs well on mobile. Link in bio services can help you bridge the gap between your desktop site and a mobile-friendly site, allowing potential clients to take action from a page that is automatically optimized for mobile devices.

Goal 6: Increase your followers

You shouldn’t pursue growth for the sake of growth. However, a growth goal can perfectly legitimate, especially if there’s a reason behind it.

You’ll need to have enough followers to provide social proof for your company, so if you’re just starting out it’s good to have a follower goal.

That number doesn’t have to be in the thousands. Many small businesses have an excellent, engaged social media following with between 500-1,500 followers.

Having that many genuine, engaged followers is much better than having 5-10k followers who never engage with your content. High follower numbers but low engagement can be more of a red flag for a business than low follower numbers and high engagement.

Once you have an engaged following, you may want to set a goal of a certain number of followers because of the additional functionality it unlocks within the Instagram platform.

When Instagram creates new features, like the “swipe-up” stories functionality that was all the rage in 2021, or the new subscription feature that it’s currently in the process of rolling out, that functionality is often only available to business or creator accounts with over 10k followers.

If you’re active on Instagram and want to have access to those and other new features as they roll out, you’ll need a subscriber number that gives you that access.

Feature access is a good reason to set a goal of 10k or more. It’s not simply looking to grow for the sake of a higher number. There are good business reasons to want access to features that can help unlock more functionality and engagement on your account.

But keep in mind that you need to have active, engaged, legitimate followers. Never buy followers for any reason!

If you are able to grow your account with engaged followers, there’s no reason not to. And let’s face it, follower count does matter when it comes to creating social proof. People who say it doesn’t matter at all are incorrect, and may actually be struggling to generate their own engaged followers.

Goal 7: Generate marketing data

Another great goal for Instagram is to generate marketing data, which can then help guide your other marketing efforts.

Instagram business and creator accounts have automatic access to analytics about each post, story and reel, as well as overall follower analytics.

This allows you to see if the audience you’re attracting matches your ideal client profile. If it doesn’t you can adjust your strategy to see what photos, videos and captions do engage with your ideal client.

Once you start consistently creating content that is resonating with your ideal audience, you can use that information to improve your website copy, blog posts, and any other marketing content you create.

If you think of Instagram as one big marketing test, it can become great fun to experiment and see what resonates and what doesn’t. Instead of feeling like you’ve failed when a post you thought would do well falls flat, which happens to all of us, take that data and use it to inform future posts.

Also, if you find there’s a specific topic that resonates well you can do more with it.

Maybe you post occasionally about one portion of the services you provide, and those posts do really well. That gives you an opportunity to determine if your audience would be more interested in that specific part of your services, and if it would be worthwhile to focus on specific services more or even eliminate other services that aren't as profitable.

The bottom line

Once you know your ideal client, post content that they’d want to see and engage with.

Be consistent and create quality content. Use hashtags that are relevant to your content and ideal customer, and combine them with well-written captions to help people find your content.

Understand what success looks like for your account. Success will look different for you than it does for another advisor.

Determine your goals, and revisit them often to determine if the content you’re posting is helping you reach those goals. With the right content strategy to support those goals, you’ll start seeing the success you’re looking for.

Do you have a goal that I didn’t list here? Email me at and let me know, you may be featured in a future post!


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