I’m always setting myself little challenges each month to improve myself and my business. Whether it’s reading a certain amount of books, finishing an online course, or writing to a set goal of words each month, I love to pick a deadline and an activity and make that my mission. Recently I decided to take on the challenge of improving and growing my Instagram presence in order to gain more clients. Working as a freelancer in the marketing field, it’s all about finding clients and showing them that you know what the heck you’re talking about. Despite the fact that I get paid to create social media content for my clients (primarily on Instagram), when I looked at my own Instagram account it was a stagnant mishmash of travel snaps and dinners with friends, with enough pictures of my dog to make it look like the account of an Insta-famous West Highland Terrier, without the millions of followers and sponsors in tow, of course.
In a restaurant in Cologne this week I hit 1,000 followers on my personal Instagram, which has been a mini-goal for me for pretty much the past 3 months. Despite the initial fear that it would once again drop below this (and it very well could have by the time I finish this sentence) I gave a quick celebratory high five to my boyfriend and continued on with my day, because in the end I’m sure we can all agree that it’s really not that important. Although I wasn’t going to throw a party to acknowledge this (barely) achievement, I did want to share a few of the interesting things that happened while I was aiming for the big 1,000, and the lessons I learned from them, because they did in fact surprise me.
Over the past 3 months of doing this little challenge with myself, I have:
- Gained 2 new clients just from Instagram posts, and possibly more if some upcoming meetings go well.
- Learned more about what I like and what I believe in, by deciding what means enough to me to post about.
- Met some really interesting people online who have gone on to contribute to Desk Life Project, and who I have had the chance to guest post for.
- Been offered unique opportunities to travel (albeit opportunities that I didn’t have the time or money to accept right now, but maybe one day!).
- Gained more confidence in my abilities as a social media manager.
- Had the chance to interview some awesome people that I may never have found otherwise.
- Been given great recommendations for everything from books, to London events, to travel destinations.
- Learned way more about Instagram and the algorithm than I already knew.
- Spoke to real life people who got back in touch because they were interested in my posts.
- Chatted to an award-winning author and engaged with lots of notable social media content creators. The moment when your social media girl-crush writes back to you, well it can only be described by a few of these emojis = 💪💪💪
The challenge was to get to 1,000 Instagram followers, and the reason was to turn my pitiful Insta-lame account into a client-getting machine. The result? I’m happy to report that I did indeed sign a few more clients solely from Instagram posts that they came across, which made the whole challenge worthwhile, however I learned more from the experience than just how to get clients. Here are a few of those lessons:
Lesson 1: Don’t let it take over your daily life
No matter how blasé you are about social media, once you’ve given yourself a numerical goal, if you’re anything like me you won’t be able to stop until you’ve ticked it off the list. This may not be the same for everyone, but I found that while I never really cared about how many followers I had, deciding on that number gave me an odd kind of obsession that kicked in every time the number would begin to drop. Sometimes I would just let it drop in the knowledge that you win some you lose some, but other times I would frantically engage like a crazy troll just trying to keep my numbers afloat Flappy Bird style. On more than one occasion in the beginning I had to give myself a little talking to, as that’s just not cool. Remember that social media is a great business tool, but don’t let phone-in-hand, head-down, eyes-glazed become your default position. If something is happening in the real world around you, forget about your follower count and go live.
Lesson 2: It’s all a game, but authenticity wins the race
While I was hell-bent on not posting spam content, paying for followers or mass commenting emojis on other people’s pictures, that’s pretty much what the majority of heavy Instagram users do each day, and that’s what you’re up against when trying to organically grow your following. Still, I committed to posting only my own pictures or great content that I’d found from other people (with due credit of course, I’m not a monster…), not posting about anything that I didn’t believe in just for the sake of using a popular hashtag, and never doing that annoying thing where you follow a bunch of people, wait until they follow you back and then unfollow them. Seriously Instagram, what’s that about?! I learned that posting quality content and staying true to your own values (and pretty much treating your community as well as you would a real life group of people that you’ve stumbled into) then your followers will stick around to see more. I probably could have made it to 3,000 followers in 3 months if I’d resorted to spam content, but really, what’s the point? I may only have 1,000 followers, but I have 1,000 engaged and friendly followers, and I know many of their businesses in a much more personal way now.
Lesson 3: Some of your friends will unfollow you, and that’s OK
My original Instagram account was pretty regular, with not a hashtag in sight. It wasn’t there to collect followers, it was just a nice place to document the cool things I’d seen. On that version of my Instagram, many of my real life friends were following me, but I barely posted anything back then. When I began trying to grow my account for the sake of my business, I put out a post telling them that I was trying to do just that, and braced myself for a wave of unfollows that never came. A small number of people I knew probably weren’t keen on the increase in my activity, and they did unfollow me, but the world really didn’t stop turning because of it. For every one real life acquaintance who unfollowed my account, three more real life friends told me how great they thought my Instagram was looking, and how they hoped that it would help me grow my business. I even got messages from some people that I hadn’t spoken to for years who got back in touch to chat about what I was up to. Your real friends will stick by you, and let’s face it, even if your best friend in the whole world unfollows you, it’s not something to bat an eyelid over in the real world. Don’t take anything personally and remember that it’s the real life connections that matter.
Lesson 4: You can use the opportunity to discover what means the most to you
In deciding that I wanted to grow my account, I had to get clear on what exactly I wanted to post about. I wasn’t interested in being an “influencer”, in fact the very word used in certain contexts makes me shiver a little, but I wanted to make sure that everything I was posting was authentic, intentional, and suited me as a human being and a business. I don’t want to start talking about personal branding here, another term which I’m not always sure I can speak aloud, but it’s definitely relevant. What you post about says a lot about who you are and sends a message about what you believe in. I don’t exactly have any hard-hitting views that I felt I needed to share with the world, but I knew I wanted to speak my mind when I felt the need to, and while it wasn’t initially clear what my new Instagram would look like, I’ve found over the past few months that I’m happy to make fun of myself and ignore the Instagram illusion. I never aim to make things look like more than they are, and I’m always honest when something has gone horribly wrong in life. I think honing your feed like this is a good way to help you discover what you like and what you believe in. People will respond more to what they relate to than to perfectly posed images and regurgitated captions.
Lesson 5: Sometimes you have to switch it off
As in lesson number 1, it’s easy to become slightly (or very) addicted to your phone when you have a goal to reach, and for those who make their living on Instagram it probably feels like you need to be constantly monitoring your account to ensure that nothing is happening that you don’t know about. Not giving an immediate response can unfortunately result in losing followers, and while that may seem like a big deal when you’re all up in your noggin, when you step away from your phone and look at the bigger picture it’s never the end of the world. You can have 100 followers, 1,000 followers or 10,000 followers, but at the end of the day you need to be happy when you shut off your phone at night, so don’t ignore the things happening around you in favour of double tapping a few more pictures. Don’t do activities that will get you a good Instagram Story instead of doing what makes you genuinely happy. Don’t ignore a WhatsApp message from your real life friend so you can spend more time answering bot-like comments on your feed. In other words, don’t be one of those people who has a pronounced dent in their pinky from overusing their phone, and don’t let your in-person experiences be affected by your need to post and engage. If I had continued to constantly update my Instagram and engage 14 hours a day, I would have undoubtedly made it to 1,000 followers in half the time, but it’s important to let things happen naturally and don’t force them.
This has been an interesting experience for me, and one that I didn’t think I’d ever have any interest in trying out. For me, social media had always been about two things: keeping up with what distant friends are doing, and tagging my friends in hilarious dog memes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as someone who gets paid to work on social media for other clients, I felt like it was time to work on my own account since it’s one of the first places some prospective clients might look to gauge my abilities. I’ve passed 1,000 followers now, and even though it could always drop below this once again, I’ll be focusing on authentic posts, continuing to make meaningful connections using the platform, and always abandoning it when there’s something better in real life for me to enjoy.
I’ll be sharing my Instagram tips on the blog soon, but in the meantime you can follow me on Instagram @caitmca, or if you’d like to work with me on your social media feel free to get in touch at email@example.com.