They Actually Work: 10 Real Strategies I’m Using to Grow My Instagram

Over the past three months, I’ve challenged myself to do something a bit outside the scope of my normal work — outside of my “business/blog comfort zone.”

I set out to grow my Instagram following — a feat much more difficult than I ever anticipated.

On July 3, I had 1,348 followers on Instagram. Today in mid-October, I have 1,530 — an increase of nearly 200 since that summer day.

[Not following me yet on Instagram? Go ahead and give me a follow here!]

Yes, I know. It’s not some massive, write-home-to-mom about it increase. But it’s a pretty significant one, and one I’ve worked diligently to grow. 

Slow growth is still growth.

Let me explain to you why I wanted to grow my Instagram following and how I got to this point + if you’re interested in growing your Instagram account, I’ve got 10 real strategies you can put into practice today.

I thought I was pretty decent at Instagram

I joined Instagram back in 2012, and I certainly made my fair share of mistakes: 

  • There’s my first-ever image, a pile of postcards I sent myself from Rome. The post got one like — from myself.
  • The overly-filtered awkward full-length mirror selfie early OOTD post.
  • A picture of a hoagie? (It’s from Primo’s, so it definitely ranks way above regular hoagies, but you wouldn’t catch me dead posting a hoagie pic today)
  • An image of a car in a parking lot with the license plate “FETA.” I apparently found this quite humorous.

You get the idea. We all fumbled around Instagram in the first few years, I’m sure. (No? Just me?) This was way before phrases like “Instagram husband” and “influencer” became part of our lexicon.

But then I got a little bit smarter. I started posting more selectively. I started using hashtags. My captions became more clever.

To be completely honest though, I still didn’t really care about Instagram.

I didn’t think much about it. I posted when I did something cool or different, went on vacation or had a particularly good hair day. My focus was here on my blog, and on Twitter. These were the keys to building my personal brand and business. This is how clients told me they found me. No one ever mentioned Instagram.

But still, as a “social media professional”, I was proud of my Instagram presence for what it was worth.

I thought I “got” Instagram. I thought I was decent enough at it.

Until I realized I wasn’t

An experience with two fabulous blogger friends over the summer woke me up to the magic that is Instagram, and the opportunities I was missing out on by not getting on board.

Back in July, Emily from Her Philly was invited to be part of a campaign and collaboration with Pepsi and Hersheypark. She invited me and fashion blogger Kendall of Wear She Blossoms to join her for a “sweet” little summer getaway. We spent the day riding rollercoasters, snapping pictures and girl chatting our way through Hersheypark.

I have to be honest. The whole time I kept thinking to myself, “Damn! Emily is such a boss. She’s a real influencer.” I just felt grateful and excited to be part of the experience.

But what impressed me so much more was back at the hotel when Emily and Kendall went quiet for 45 minutes as they prepped posts for Instagram, researched hashtags and engaged with their audiences.

Earlier that day at the park, I had already edited my photo, wrote up a quick, snappy caption and published my Instagram post, as part of the campaign.

I didn’t give it much thought, and was surprised at the amount of time Emily and Kendall put into their time on Instagram that night.

But I started paying attention. And I realized they were doing something I wasn’t.

I realized actually, that they were doing *a lot* to grow their accounts, and I had no idea. 

The exact strategies I’m using to grow my Instagram account

After that trip to Hershey, I made a promise to myself to get serious about Instagram.

After all, with the recent announcement that I’m expanding my blog coverage to include more lifestyle and travel posts, Instagram is a great place for me to grow this community, attract new readers and share my message wider than I already am.

Plus, it’s fun! I’ve had a blast getting to know other bloggers and Instagrammers in this space.

Want to grow your Instagram? Here are the exact strategies I’m using to grow my Instagram community.

1. I figured out my Instagram “categories”

A big part of being on any social platform is knowing why you’re there.

For me, Instagram is another place to build my personal
brand, attract readers to this blog and let potential clients know what I’m all about.

With encouragement from Sarah Morgan’s Grow Your ‘Gram challenge this week, I’ve now defined my personal categories i.e. the types of photos and stories I plan to share.

My current categories are:

  • Business/blog inspiration
  • Personal
  • Travel
  • Yoga

Most of my posts will fall into these general categories. For example, if you take a look at my feed, you’ll see that of the last 12 photos, we have a little bit of all the categories.

The apartment photo falls under both personal and business/blog inspiration. The laptop photo clearly is about my business. The photo of my boyfriend at his birthday party is personal. Several photos from Ireland fall under travel.

Ya see?

My categories may shift and change over time, but knowing the message I want to get across helps add some direction to my Instagram posting.

2. I’m posting more (and consistently)

Prior to this dedicated effort to grow my Instagram, I posted *maybe* once a week. If nothing exciting was happening in my life, weeks could go by before I found something interesting to share.

However, now I’m posting every other day (with hopes to increase that to daily very soon!) 

This is *not* easy! Posting every day means finding ideas, content and inspiration in the every day — not just waiting for some cool event or experience. I’m starting to look at my daily life a bit differently, trying to find new and unique ways to share. 

I’m also taking more pictures, in general. I purchased a DSLR camera before Ireland, so it helps to be taking better quality photos to share, but I also still use my iPhone. 

 3. I’m being mindful about what my feed looks like

I used to think people were crazy when they talked about their Instagram aesthetic. 

Now I get it.

While I haven’t selected one sole filter to use for all my photos to create a cohesive account, I have implemented a few rules for myself to make my feed easy-on-the-eye.

  • My photos in general are light, bright and airy.
  • I try not to over-filter photos.
  • I don’t use Instagram’s filters; just their editing tools.
  • I don’t post nighttime photos — it doesn’t fit in with the lightness of my feed.
  • I don’t typically post selfies or group photos.
  • I try to switch up the order of my photos — if I post a picture of myself one day, I try to post a scenic photo the next day. You’ll rarely see two pictures of me in a row.
  • I don’t use an Instagram planning tool yet to see what my feed will look like, but sometimes I will quickly post a photo, screenshot my account and then delete it to get an idea of what my feed will look like when I actually publish. 

4. I research and use hashtags 

Hashtags are incredibly important on Instagram — more important than I ever knew. 

I learned a ton about hashtags from travel blogger Helene in Between (check out her insanely useful posts on Instagram growth here) and from the aforementioned Emily from Her Philly who kindly shared with me some of her favorite Instagram hashtags back in the spring.

Since then, I have several different hashtag variations saved as notes in my phone. I have hashtags for when I post about my business, a set of tags for when I post a yoga picture, a different set of hashtags when I post a picture of Philadelphia and many more.

I always include my hashtags in the comments section of my post to avoid cluttering my caption. Instagram allows you to use up to 30 different hashtags, and for the most part, I try to take advantage of using all 30.

In addition, before I post a photo, I search for other relevant hashtags that may make sense for my photo. For example, I recently posted a photo of my apartment, and researched and used a few different apartment and decor-related tags that wouldn’t normally make their way into my account.

5. I write thoughtful captions designed to garner a response

Previously, I tried to be super short and clever with my captions. For example, check out this one-word caption. Pretty picture, nice word, but doesn’t really tell much of a story, right?

I do think there’s a time and place for snappy captions, but lately I’ve been trending towards longer captions — almost like mini-blog posts or stories. My captions are written to garner a response — I try to ask a question or encourage engagement in the comments in some way.

For example, the other day I posted a picture of myself with a caption about how I knew when it was time to quit my job to start my business. I asked if anyone else had experienced a similar defining moment, and started a conversation in the comments. 

6. I engage with other accounts

Now I understand what Emily and Kendall were doing for that half hour after posting on Instagram…

When I publish a post on Instagram, I spend the next 20-30 minutes going through my Instagram feed, liking and commenting on other relevant photos. I also go through some of the hashtags I used on that photo and find relevant accounts to like, comment and follow. 

The key here is to engage authentically — I try to engage with accounts I genuine would want to follow and get to know. When I leave a comment, I try to write more than, “Pretty!” or “Great post!” I aim to add value and contribute to the conversation.

I’ve read that Instagram rewards those whose posts get engagement, as well as those who engage with others, so this has become an important part of my strategy.

7. I post at specific times

Since Instagram introduced its algorithm several months back, timing doesn’t seem to matter *as* much since the timeline is not chronological, but I still stick to some tried and true times that I know work well for my audience.

My most popular posting time is on weekdays and Sundays between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST. 

My second most popular posting time is on weekdays between 6 and 7 a.m. EST.

I haven’t quite figured out weekends (Fridays, Saturdays) just yet. 

I actually like the new Instagram algorithm! I find that as long as my posts get enough likes and comments within the first hour of posting, I see that engagement spread into the days ahead, giving my post a longer shelf life. Pretty exciting!

8. I use Instagram stories

As a superfan of Snapchat, I took a L-O-N-G time to adopt Instagram Stories. I’m kicking myself for not getting started sooner.

On Snapchat, my stories get maybe 70 views – -it’s not easy to find and discover people on Snapchat.

On Instagram, my stories get upwards of 400 views, and garner much more conversation!

With Instagram Stories, I already have a built-in audience — my current followers! Instagram stories is a great way to share glimpses of life and the photos that aren’t “pretty enough” to share on your feed and to really get to know your community.

Since I started using Instagram stories, I’ve been able to better connect with those who follow me, and I’ve enjoyed finding new people to follow and engage with through their fun and interesting stories.

9. I did an Instagram takeover

I was so excited when my neighborhood invited me to take over their Instagram account a few weeks back.

It was my first time doing an account takeover, and it was a great way to introduce myself to an already established audience — those who follow the account I took over.

I gained around 40 followers the weekend of the takeover, which was a nice boost! I hope to do more Instagram takeovers in the near future.

10. I’m putting in the time

Doing Instagram well takes time. I learned that from Emily and Kendall.

From start to finish, posting a photo on Instagram takes me about 40 minutes from selecting/editing the photo to writing the caption to researching the hashtags to actually hitting publish to engaging afterward.

Whew! It’s a lot. But it’s worth it!

The slowest tortoise in the race

I heard someone on a podcast say recently they feel like they are the slowest tortoise in the race when it comes to blogging and social media. 

I feel that way all the time.

Some days I feel like I’m just over here waiting for my “big break.” Waiting for someone big to notice me. Waiting for that amazing collaboration. Waiting for that one blog post to go viral.

Despite being an early adopter of blogging and social media, I’m still chugging along. I’m still putting in the work.

And I’ve realized, that’s OK. I’m OK with being the slow little turtle because I’m doing things my way — in a way that feels true to myself and my values.

Yes, I’m aiming to grow my Instagram. Yes, I’d love to collaborate with more brands and businesses I love.

But at the end of the day, I still know my goal. I know why I’m here.

And I promise you, that will never change, no matter how many Instagram followers I have or don’t have.

Tell me: How do you feel about Instagram? Are you working to grow your account? Which strategies have worked for you?

*Photo via Pixabay

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From Side Hustle to CEO: A Year 2, Quarter 3 Update & Income Breakdown

In 2015, I resigned from my job working in public relations to take my side hustle (freelancing, blogging and teaching) full time. Throughout my first year in business, I documented every step in my Becoming CEO series. I wrote monthly reports documenting my income, lessons learned and highs and lows. As I enter year two, I’m no longer “Becoming CEO.” I am the CEO! Expect quarterly updates with all the behind-the-scenes details you’ve come to love and expect on my journey from side hustle to CEO, along with regular pop-ins on solopreneurship, running a business, productivity and more. 

[Did you miss my previous 2017 updates? Catch Q1 here and Q2 here]

From Side Hustle to CEO: A Year 2, Quarter 3 Update & Income Breakdown

Let’s take a look at Q3 of my second year in business, including a detailed income breakdown, lessons learned and more.

How Did I Make Money in Q3? An Income Breakdown

Here’s an income breakdown of how exactly I made money during the third quarter of my second year in business.

Join me for year two as I continue my journey from side hustle to CEO. Here's a look at Q3, including an income breakdown, lessons learned and more.

A couple of key thoughts and reflections:

  • This quarter, my income stayed fairly steady, increasing only 0.3% from Q2. I’m not complaining, as Q2 was one of my highest-earning months ever, but I always like to see that percentage increasing from quarter to quarter. I’m looking forward to hustling my way to the end of the year to see if I can create a new personal income milestone.
  • I introduced a brand new income stream — plus welcomed back one from the past. Say hello to “Blog/Brand”, a new income category here at JL&Co. I’ve been doing lots more to make this very blog profitable, and this quarter saw the beginnings of that new endeavor. Individual consulting also made a return with one project this quarter. 
  • My yoga income continues to decrease because I’ve made the decision to cut my weekly schedule in half. I expect to see even more of a drop next quarter, as this decision is fairly new. I went from teaching five classes/week to just two. The reason for this change is that I was feeling a lack of motivation around teaching, and also wasn’t making time for my own practice. Now that I’m down to two regular classes a week, I’m feeling excited again!
  • My writing income nearly doubled from the previous quarter as I took on just a couple more high-paying, one-off writing gigs. I’d love to do even more of this type of work in Q4 and beyond.

Lessons Learned From Q3

  • Never stop looking for new business. I have to admit, I’ve been very lucky this year to have several steady retainer clients. At any given time, I typically have a general idea of my monthly income, which gives me some serious peace of mind. However, I know this won’t always be the case, and with some client changes on the horizon in 2018, it’s more important than ever that I make new business development a weekly priority. Luckily, I’ve had a few great leads over the past month, and am hopeful about some possible new client work, but I know this is an area I need to be more proactive to make things happen. I also want to be more strategic, choosing clients I *really* want to work with, rather than waiting for companies to reach out to me.
  • Be unapologetic about how you spend your time. One of the main perks as a solopreneur is the ability to make your own schedule. I don’t always remember this little fact, but in Q3, I really put it into practice. As mentioned above, I cut my yoga schedule way back in Q3. I was teaching five or so times a week, and while I love teaching, it’s not my goal to be a full-time yoga teacher. Plus, when I looked at the financials, I realized I could earn more money taking on more writing assignments + other client work. I cut my schedule in half, and I’ve so been enjoying my new free time during the week. I’ve filled it with getting back to my own yoga practice and workouts at the gym —  the added endorphins are giving me energy and motivation to keep working hard on my business. I’m excited to see what else I can cut from my schedule to create some more space.
  • Make business fun! I started my business because I love what I do. I love writing. I love connecting with others. I love PR. I love public speaking. I love blogging. But somewhere along the way, things became a lot less fun. They became serious. Heavy. Of course, this is natural and normal, as this is now my full-time job, and the sole way I’m able to pay my bills, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. I was able to infuse a bit more fun into my biz when I decided to change up my blog strategy — since then, I’m taking this same approach into my client work, and it makes the days a lot more enjoyable!

The Highs and Lows from Q3

There are always going to be good days and of course, there will always be not-so-hot days. Here are the things that made me smiley and excited over the past few months, along with some challenges I faced.

The Highs:

  • I took a real vacation and traveled to Ireland worry-free for eight lovely days, without worrying (too much) about work. I felt confident stepping away knowing that I worked way ahead on all my client work, and that my team member Rachel was holding down the fort at JL&Co HQ while I was gone.
  • After an inspiring trip with two fellow bloggers, I started to get serious about my blog/Instagram (more on that coming soon!)
  • I partnered with Pepsi and Hersheypark on a social media campaign in July. So fun!
  • I was invited to do an Instagram takeover for my neighborhood. 
  • I started learning a new skill — photography! I recently purchased a Canon Rebel t6i, and am loving playing with this new toy!
  • I helped write and launch an ebook with my client Muck Rack, all about crafting a winning PR pitch.
  • JL&Co landed some great media coverage around a big client announcement — Pennsbury Manor welcoming baby sheep to the property for the first time in 10 years!
  • I’m doing so much better with the loneliness issue I mentioned last quarter! Thanks to my newish gym membership, I’m out and about nearly every single day, so I actually appreciate my quiet afternoons working alone in the apartment.

The Lows:

  • I experienced my first real “sickness” as an entrepreneur. A combination of jet lag after Ireland + a cold + fall allergies sent me straight to bed for a few days immediately upon returning home and getting back to work. My mind was super foggy, and I couldn’t work on my computer for very long without getting a headache. It’s a necessary evil of working for yourself, but it still wasn’t very fun.
  • There was a bit of backlash from my feature on The Penny Hoarder. However, it inspired a blog post addressing haters, so I’d call it a win, despite the crappy feeling for a few days.

Blog Posts Published in Q3

Catch up on blog posts you may have missed from Q3:

5 Must-Have Experiences in Ireland

Grab a Glass of Vino: It’s Time for a Virtual Happy Hour

Ireland Travel Guide: 8 Days in the Emerald Isle

Getting Sick as an Entrepreneur

Almost Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Trip to Ireland

5 Reasons I’m Ready For Fall Right Now

What I’m Listening To: 50+ Podcasts To Download Now

To The “Haters”: You Never See The Full Picture, So Please Stop Judging

From Side Hustle to CEO: A Year 2, Quarter 2 Update & Income Breakdown

Why I Love Being Bad at Stuff (Seriously)

Have any questions about Q3? I’d love to answer your questions and hear your thoughts about this journey!

Want more gutsy content delivered straight to your inbox twice a month? Be sure to sign up for my FREE #GetGutsy e-newsletter filled with inspiration, ideas and action items to get out of your comfort zone.