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.


5 Ways To Make your Product Pics Shine

Let’s talk again for a moment about a subject dear to my heart – product photography for online sellers.

I started @happierhandmade just a few months ago, but since then I’ve been scouring instagram and finding the best pictures I could of handmade artists’ works and sharing them with the world. We’ve grown exponentially from those first 15 followers who showed up on day one and are now closing in on 5000, which is seriously exciting for me!

So over the last eight or nine weeks, I’ve chosen three or more pictures every single day to share, and I do my best to look through every new account that follows me to see what their products are like and look for items I might feature.


If you haven’t been chosen yet, you very well might be in the future! Three a day sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t compared to the thousands and thousands of artisan accounts that are out there.

But — I do notice a few things that I wish handmade shop owners knew about their pictures, because these things will really, really help your chances of getting featured. Here are a few key things that help me make the decision on who I’m going to feature.

5 Tips To Help Your Photos Get Featured

Here are my best tips to help you understand why your pics might or might not get selected:

  • Don’t hide your product with too much text. Don’t use watermarks and added text on every single picture. I’m not likely to feature a picture that has text across it or even a watermark, because it interrupts the flow of the visually-appealing feed I’m trying to create.
  • Think carefully about your backgrounds. You absolutely don’t have to use a plain white background – but if you use something else, pleasepleaseplease make sure it’s well lit. Invest in a good photo editing app (I use Snapseed obsessively – it’s great!) and play with lightening up the brightness, modifying the ambient light, and changing the warmth factor of your pictures. You will be amazed what you can do to turn a so-so picture into a great one!

    Also, just personal preference but I’m not likely to post a pic if it’s shot on carpet or on a really wrinkly piece of fabric.

  • Consider how you’re cropping. If your picture is not square, I’m probably not going to feature it unless it crops down nicely to a square. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post whatever shape you want to – but occasionally post a nice, square pic that’s centered in a lovely way and I may be able to use it more easily.
  • Make it clear. I’ve seen some really adorable pictures that look great when you see them in their tiny form in a search panel but are just poorly focused when I open them up, and not in that artful, soft-focus way that some instagrammers are deliberately fostering. Practice setting your focus, invest in a small tripod, and take several versions of every shot so you can pick the one that’s most in focus. After seven years of taking product pics for my own shot, I’m still amazed at how two out of three shots I take of the same item can be blurry and only one is usable!

    This stuff is hard, yo. Word to the artist peeps.

  • Vary between single and collage shots. Collage shots are awesome but I often pass them by because they can look somewhat cluttered in the feed I’m producing. If you mostly post collage pictures, consider varying things up a bit so you include some single product pics too!

That’s it! Hope this is helpful to you!


Chasing Inspiration

Ever feel completely burned out on your creative endeavors? Most days I’m full of ideas and ready to jump into the process of making the bags I sell in my Etsy shop, sharing my ideas on social media, and helping to celebrate the work of other handmade artists. But some days, the ideas just seem to dry up.

Is it realistic to think that you can be creatively inspired and productive 24-7-365?

The answer, my friends, is a big, resounding no. Of course not. No one is that inspired all of the time. No one’s mojo flows unimpeded all of the time.

In fact, each of our wells run dry from time to time.

So how do we, as creative business owners, go about getting some inspiration back on the days when we just aren’t feeling the love? Here are some of my best approaches gleaned after 8 years of online crafting.



Six Tips To Feel More Inspired (Even When You Just Aren’t)

    1. Take a break. Honestly, it’s damn hard sometimes running a creative business. We push ourselves incredibly hard, buying hook, line, and sinker into the idea that we need to be hustling all the time to be the ultimate girl boss and to prove to everyone that we are actually making something out of this idea we’ve had to share our creativity with the world. No wonder we burn out just a little from time to time! Feeling completely uninspired and tired? Take a day off, or part of a day off. Even an hour. Go outside, leave your lists and your phone and your shipping scales at home, and just give your brain a breather.

    3. Can’t do that? Well give your brain something new to look at. I try to have a lot of sources for my brain to draw creative ideas from. Sometimes I browse fabric stores, sometimes I sketch new product ideas, sometimes I get hugely inspired by seeing someone else’s amazing works on Pinterest or Instagram. Whatever your normal source for inspiration is, your assignment for today is to try a different source. Are you an obsessive instagrammer? Stop scrolling through the feeds and go flip through design magazines at the store. Crack open a book if you’re an entirely digital person. Go to the library and dig through art books, quilting books, travel books, whatever appeals to you. Just make sure it’s something different than what you normally do.

    5. Goals feeling overwhelming? Try the salami approach. I can’t remember where I first heard about the salami approach, but I use it constantly in many aspects of my life. The basic gist is this: if someone were to plunk a whole salami on a plate in front of you and tell you to eat it, it would look unmanageable and pretty unappetizing. But if you cut that salami up into little bite sized pieces, it suddenly looks way more appealing.Get it? My friends, this applies to your business goals too. Trying to reach a certain number of sales in the next six months? Trying to achieve a particular level of income or overhaul your marketing strategy? Big goals can be overwhelming and lead to paralysis. Instead, take one of your broader goals and try to break it down into a series of smaller steps and then just tackle those one by one. What are three steps you can do today to start meeting your goals?

    7. Go back and look at your own work from the past, but with a fresh eye. I know, I know – those of us with online handmade empires kind of hate to look at our earliest products. The photography isn’t very good. The copy writing might be bad. Maybe those early things didn’t sell and we inactivated them in shame. However, you may be missing an opportunity here.Been at this for a while? Go back and look at your earliest work, with the fresh eye of the creative business person you are now. What was good about your earliest works? What was bad? What would you do differently now? You might be struck by a fresh new approach you never thought of before, see an old product or project that never achieved its potential but still might, or apply what you’ve learned about your art and your customer base in a whole new way.

    9. Network. Many of us focus all of our online time and efforts on marketing, marketing, marketing. And marketing is important, for sure. But it also pays to spend some of your time networking, whether in person or online, with other creative types just for support. There are a variety of Facebook groups, instagram communities, and pinterest boards focused on providing advice and support to the makers and creatives of the world. If you’re on Etsy, consider joining a team. Find a local crafter’s group where you can talk, share your work, and learn new techniques.

    11. Try something you haven’t tried before. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, even if your creative business is very successful. If you’ve got a lot of sales, it’s natural to start to focus more and more on your best selling items. If you’re just starting out, you probably spend a good deal of your time focusing on perfecting just a couple of key techniques.Both of these are good and reasonable business strategies. But I’m here to tell you – on those stuck, uninspired, blah kind of days, one of your best defenses is to try something new! Work with a color you haven’t used in ages. Sew something you haven’t made before, or try a new technique you’ve been meaning to try. Take your supplies and go outside, if you always work in your studio, or go to a coffee shop if your craft is portable. Put the items you typically sell aside for the day and write a poem, try some hand lettering, or make a potholder. Anything to break your brain out of the pattern that it’s been in for a while will ultimately lead to fresh ideas.

    What else do you find helps when you aren’t feeling so creative? Please drop a note in the comments below – I’d love to hear about it!