Type “how to market my small business” into Google, and you’ll find about 1.8 million search results, which isn’t exactly surprising.

Every small business needs an Instagram marketing strategy—the social media platform offers direct access to consumers, it’s low on effort, and most attractive: It’s free.

But if Instagram feels like a confusing mess, never fear. Here’s exactly what you need to market your small business on Instagram into bite-sized chunks. With a little strategy, you’ll find that the platform is one of the easiest ways to market whatever you’re offering—and one of the most fun and creative parts of a solid marketing plan.

But how does Instagram marketing work?

Give this a read and you’ll understand exactly how to get followers on Instagram, plus what it takes to get them.

Step 1: Set Up Your Instagram Business Account

You’ll first need a personal account that you’ll convert to a business account. Having a business account makes your company look legit, and you want to earn potential customers’ trust from the start.

If you already have an Instagram account for your business—fantastic! You won’t lose any followers when you convert from a personal account to a business account, and you’ll get to keep your existing content.

How to convert from a personal Instagram account to a business account

  1. Go to your profile page (Tap the profile icon).
  2. At the top right of the screen, you’ll see an icon with three lines. Tap the icon, and then select Settings.
  3. Select Switch to Business Profile.
  4. Tap Continue.
  5. Fill in your contact information (email address, phone number, and physical address).
  6. Tap Done.

Step 2: Optimize Your Instagram Brand’s Profile

Now that you have your business account set up, you’ll need to optimize your profile so potential customers can find out everything they need to know about your business.

Keep Your Name Consistent

This might sound obvious, but your Instagram handle should be the name of your company—not your name, or something else entirely. The name of the game here is brand consistency. You want to be easily findable and recognizable.

Pick Your Profile Picture

Your logo is a solid choice for your profile picture—it’s recognizable and unique.

Note that Instagram crops profile pictures into a circle, so make sure your logo is fully visible. There’s nothing worse than a cut-off profile picture—it’s a surefire way to signal that you’re not professional. Upload a square picture and resize in the app until the entire logo fits.

Craft Your Bio

You bio is critical to getting potential customers’ attention and establishing your brand. With 150 characters to work with, you need to be strategic and intentional.

Incorporate your brand’s personality and quirks to stand out, and don’t be afraid of emojis. If you’re totally stuck, follow social media expert Jenn Herman’s formula of who you are + what you do + a glimpse of personality.

Website Links

Instagram doesn’t let you post clickable links anywhere but in your bio, so this is the place to include a link to your website. If you post frequent blog posts or links to events, consider setting up a Linkt.ree account, which allows you to post multiple links to your bio.

Contact Info

It bears repeating: Make sure that your contact information is up-to-date. If people can’t find you, they can’t pay you.

Instagram Call-to-Action Buttons

A call-to-action is exactly what it sounds like: an invitation for users to do something. For example, potential customers could click Book Now on your profile and set up an appointment through your scheduling software. To set up an Instagram Call-to-Action:

  1. Tap Edit Profile
  2. Tap Contact Options
  3. Tap Add an Action Button

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Step 3: Set Your Instagram Brand Vision and Strategy

Once you’re set up with an optizmied business account, don’t just start posting willy-nilly. You need to set up a smart strategy so that every post is working for you to gain more followers and turn those followers into customers.

Identify Your Audience

To define your target audience, start by asking yourself who you want to reach with your posts. Who already buys from you? Or, if you’re just starting out, who do you want to buy from you? Consider:

  • The age and gender of your ideal customer

  • Your ideal customer’s goals (If you’re a personal trainer, do you want clients who want to lose weight or are training to run a marathon? If you’re a hairstylist, are you looking for clients interested in cuts or specific color treatments?)

  • The interests of your ideal customer (Are they fashion-forward shoppers hoping your haircuts will make them look like the models they already follow? Are they down-to-earth yogis seeking inspiration?)

Next, research your competitors’ accounts. Who are they targeting? What are they doing to get their ideal customers’ attention?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll start to get a clear sense of what types of content you should be posting—from sharable, inspirational quotes to stylized product pictures.

Think Like Your Client

To check that your brand strategy is on point, put yourself in your potential client’s shoes. Consider the path more customers take towards booking or buying a service: Seeking out services, researching different business, and booking. That research phase is key. Ask yourself:

  • Would I choose to book this service?

  • Does this feed represent my business?

  • Does my business look like a valuable resource?

Define Your Posting Schedule

I’ll keep beating this drum: Consistency is critical. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what time of day posts garner the most engagement, so you’ll need to experiment. But what’s most important is that you post regularly, to stay top of mind to your customers. Pick a time every day or every other day to post, and set reminders so you don’t forget.

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Step 4: Take Professional-Level Photos With a Consistent Aesthetic

Without stunning visuals, you might as well delete your account. But before you whip out the camera, you’ll need to define your overall look.

How to Define Your Visuals

  • Ask yourself what would best demonstrate what you have to offer? A portfolio of haircuts from your happy clients? Yoga poses you teach in your private sessions?

  • Pick your color palette. You want to keep this relatively consistent (Think: cool colors like blues and grays versus warm colors like reds and yellows, outdoor shots versus indoor, or saturated hues versus lighter shots)

  • Use the same filter every time. If you use one at all (pick the sublest one you can find), stick with it across all of your pictures.

You don’t need a fancy camera to level up your content—it’s totally possible to take professional-looking pictures with your phone.

How to Take Better Pictures for Your Instagram Feed

  • Use natural lighting as much as possible—especially early in the morning or just before dusk when the light is optimal. (Avoid the brightest parts of the afternoon when the sun is directly overhead.) If you’re taking client photos, try to take your client outside, and if you’re indoors, keep the window behind you so the light can stream in without washing out the subject.

  • Be aware of complicated backgrounds that can make photos look busy and confusing. If you’re looking to post client photos, consider a simple background you can use consistently, like a brick wall.

  • Avoid the urge to over-edit your photos. Lightening up pictures is a great idea—adding a faded filter to make photos look like they were taken on an old-timey camera is not.

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Step 5: Leverage User-Generated Content

User-generated content, or UGC, is exactly what it sounds like—snaps from your followers/people who use your product.

Did your fitness client post a before-and-after shot showing off her newly toned triceps? Or how about a make up client’s wedding photos from her big day?

Ask if you can post to your account—it gives your service a testimonial for work well done—also known as social proof. It turns your clients into evangelicals for your services, adding an element of trust to your marketing efforts.

Step 6: Know the Difference Between Ads and Posts—And Use Them Both!

While paying for ads is solid option (more on that later), the majority of your posts won’t be paid advertising.

This is where authenticity comes in—Instagram users are especially wary of being sold to, and want to follow your account for the stories behind your posts rather than to be exposed to a stream of advertising.

Think of visuals as a means to start a conversation.

What are you focusing on in your business today? What’s relevant to your clients’ lives? Did you give someone a phenomenal balayage treatment? Show it off! Did a training client hit a new PR?

Take her picture and offer congratulations.

This strategy shows potential customers what you’re all about without feeling sold to, so they’re more likely to trust you—and book you.

Step 7: How to Write Compelling Captions That People Won’t Scroll Right Past

Captions are like bios—they should be concise, clear, and full of personality. This is the place to get personal and quirky, and to engage your followers to join in with conversations starters.

Encourage followers to answer a question or tag a friend who can relate to the meme you posted (and engage with those comments by responding and liking!).

Step 8: Use Hashtags to Grow Your Audience

You’ve probably heard of hashtags—the terms marked by a # sign at the end of Instagram captions. Think of hashtags as a keyword that people can search for to find you. These are key to being found by new people and growing your follower base.

Here are some rules for using hashtags to get followers on Instagram:

  1. Keep it to five tags. Anymore will just look like clutter.
  2. Research your tags to see which ones have more followers (#yogapose versus #yogaposture, for example). Tools like Iconosquare make it easy to see which tags are getting the most traction. Mix it up when it comes to tag popularity. Aim for 50% popular tags and 50% smaller, more specific tags, so you have the chance to stand out.
  3. Create a brand-specific hashtag so your clients can tag their photos showing off your services. Go for your brand name—it’s easily recognizable and will increase your brand awareness.
  4. Don’t forget to include local tags so people in your area can find you.

Step 9: Use Instagram to Publicize Promotions and Announcements

Instagram is a direct way to communicate with your client-base and potential customers. You can leverage that channel of communication by offering followers special deals and access.

Announce Sales and Discounts

Offering a discount to your followers gives people a reason to book, and an appreciation for your brand.

Ideally, you’d post a beautiful picture (something simple, like a shot of the beach) with concise text over it (Try: Memorial Day Sale!). Then, you can provide the coupon code in the caption.

Announce New Products or Classes

Are you offering a new prenatal yoga class or 30-minute, express massages?

Your feed is the perfect place to announce these services, so work those into your Instagram marketing strategy. Better yet, offer advance access to followers who book with a certain code—at a discounted rate to encourage new customers.

Step 10: Don’t Forget to Use Instagram Stories

Stories are another posting option on Instagram—they’re pictures that disappear after 24 hours and exist in the Stories section of your feed (across the top of your phone at the beginning of your post feed).

They’re lower stakes than posts, and offer tons of options for creativity and personality.

What to Put in Instagram Stories

Think of Stories as a place for customers to get to know the ins-and-outs of your business. You can post things that are more personal—you, for example. You might post a series of quick videos of one of your clients perfecting her crunches, or the journey a client goes through from black hair to platinum after an afternoon in your stylist’s chair. This is a place to be funny and quirky—Stories should entertain and engage. Consider adding calls-to-action in your stories, like polls, questions, or encouragement to post their own #hairjourney.

How to Post Instagram Stories

  1. Open Instagram on your phone.
  2. In the upper left corner, you’ll see an icon with your profile picture labeled Your Story. Tap it.
  3. You can either take a photo or video in the camera that opens, or click the photo icon in the bottom left corner to grab content from your camera roll.
  4. Tap Your Story in the bottom left corner.

Step 11: Set Goals + Track Your Results

Every marketing strategy for your small business should include a goal or goals, even if they’re as simple as “gain 100 new followers on Instagram this month.”

Sit down and spend some time thinking about what a reasonable and successful Instagram marketing strategy would look like for your business (everyone and every brand is different!). Over the next few months, pull some data to see how quickly your Instagram account grows.

Are those paid ads actually worth it? Does partnering with another local business on a gift card giveaway give you a huge bump in new followers? How many followers actually become customers?

All of these questions are vital when it comes to designing a successful Instagram marketing plan for a small business.

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