Winning at Instagram – 4 Key Ideas

Are you looking for the top secret strategy to Instagram your way to huge success? Looking for that one tip or trick to up your engagement and find yourself with thousands of followers?

Because secretly, we all believe that there’s just some formula out there that we don’t yet know about yet, don’t we?

This is not that article. If there’s a trick or a formula, I don’t know it.

But what I do know is this. I’ve been instagramming for a few years now, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. And in the last two months, I’ve managed to grow a brand new account from zero – yep, ZERO – subscribers to 5K, without purchasing any followers or doing any silly follow for follow games. I’ve applied some things I already knew, tried a bunch of new ideas, and I want to share with you what’s working and not working.
Instagram, according to me, all comes down to a few simple principles.

General Principles of Instagram Goodness

Here are the four general principles I think contribute to success on instagram. I’m going to tackle these one at a time in a series of posts, because I hope I can help some of you figure things out without going through all the trial and error I have!


Learn from my mistakes (no really, please do)

Now I’ll share a secret. I have two Instagram accounts – one is a personal feed for my shop, Bellflower Textiles, and one is my bigger account celebrating handmade artists as Happier Handmade.

I’m going to share a little case study from each of these accounts. Because honestly, I’ve made every mistake in the book online over the years, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to figure out how to correct some of these.

Part one – Figure out your audience

Sounds so easy, but honestly, this is the hardest part. Here’s a quick quiz. How easily can you answer these questions?

  • Who is your audience?
  • What do they want?
  • Where are they?

Do you know the answer? Are you still kind of wondering? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.


Case study #1 – Bellflower Textiles

Here’s where I make a lot of mistakes.

My first Instagram account, Bellflower Textiles, has been running for about 3 years. I use it to publicize pictures of my makeup bags and travel products that I sell on Etsy. However, even with three years of work, it has always been rather small and not generating a lot of sales or traffic for me.

What I realized recently, though, is that I was really focusing on the wrong audience. I was mostly following other Etsy artists and hand crafters, many of whom were happy to follow me back, but most of whom are not my target. I’d occasionally make a sale to someone who wanted a bag for their crochet supplies or something, but those were few or far between.

This spring I started thinking about it more seriously, and realized that while I definitely love to follow other crafters and see what they are up to, if I’m truly branding myself as a makeup bag and travel accessories seller, my audience is probably more like… people who like makeup and love to travel.

I know, right? Seems so obvious.

Once I started searching some big beauty related tags and following beauty bloggers, I quickly identified a much more promising core audience. Following and interacting with them has led to a 60% increase in my follower base (an additional 300 followers).
Yes, 300 isn’t a huge increase. But still – 60% increase at a time when I’m spending most of my online time building up my Happier Handmade account – that’s not too shabby, right?


Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who am I trying to reach and for what purpose? For example, are you trying to sell something to home shoppers? Reach gallery owners? Build following for a blog or facebook page? Just meet maker friends and build a tribe? The clearer you can be on the answer to this question the better.
  2. What kind of content are my followers posting and liking? What seems to be working well to reach them?
  3. What are some important hashtags in the space I’m trying to join?
  4. Who are some of the bigger successes in the area I’m working in? Who are their followers, what hashtags are they using, and what makes their feeds compelling?

Case Study #2 – Starting Happier Handmade

Here’s where I applied what I learned.

So as most of you know, I started Happier Handmade (@happierhandmade) on Instagram this past June, towards the end of the month. From scratch. From zero.

I did, and am still doing, a TON of market research about handmade artist feature accounts. Let me tell you, there are a LOT of them. But I love research, so I opened up a spreadsheet, entered as many of these accounts as I could find, and started gathering stats. How many followers. If they were charging money. What kind of features they offer. If they have other associated social media streams. What they were doing to try to differentiate themselves. How long they’ve been around. You name it, I looked at it.

And then I slotted myself in on the very bottom of the list, organized from high to low by number of followers, and got to work.

Let me tell you, that’s a bit intimidating when the big names in the field are sporting 200K+ followers and you’re trying to get started with zero.

However – defining an audience for this account was really clear, compared to figuring it out for Bellflower Textiles. For Happier Handmade, my audience is absolutely online sellers and handmade crafters. And this makes me happy because honestly, that’s mostly why I want to be on Instagram. There are so many talented artists out there!! It’s so fun to find them and see what they’re doing! I do a little happy dance every day that I get to spend time doing nothing but looking at amazing pics of crafting.

Have a good starting idea of who your audience is? Maybe you’re trying to sell blankets to new mothers. Maybe you’re selling wedding invitations to newly engaged brides. Maybe you’re trying to reach boho enthusiasts for your great line of feather necklaces.

Here are some ways to help fine tune who your audience is.

  • Go out and hashtag search for this core audience you’ve defined.
  • See who is posting with tags that are probably going to be important to you. Follow them.
  • See what other related hashtags show up when you search that you hadn’t yet thought of. Repeat steps one and two for those tags.
  • Make note of big accounts with a lot of followers – these are some of the key influencers in your arena. If you can follow, interact, and develop a relationship there, you have a potential ally to reach even more people.
  • Take a look at your competition.

That’s right, your competition. Here’s a key principle in my world:


Today’s call to action – take a little time to poke around Instagram and fine tune your idea of who your audience is. What are they interested in? Who are your influencers? Who are your big competitors?

Stay tuned for part 2 about engagement! Coming next week.


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