What is “being an Instagrammer?” I was mulling over what to write about for my first blog post in 2021 and I think it’s been the most difficult one to decide on. After 2020, it felt like nothing was really important any more. Does anyone really want to know what colour my living room wall is? Or how to keep their houseplants alive?
My initial thoughts were to write a blog about what Instagram taught me in 2020, but it was quite a fraught year on the gram to be honest. With the lockdown kicking in across the world at the beginning of March and the economic downturn that ensued which resulted in the loss of people’s livelihoods, it was often difficult to know what to post, say or do. Then, The Black Lives Matter movement and social unrest that followed it, with everyone scrambling to try and say their bit and not always getting it right.
Which got me thinking, it’s the new year. If the majority of blog readers are like me and want to close the door on 2020 (gone but never forgotten) and look to the future, what can I help with? I mean yeah, I could help you pick a colour scheme or assist you with your bathroom floorplan but the question I get asked the most is, how did you build up your following?
I was going to call it “So, you want to be an Influencer?” but that didn’t sit right with me. Firstly, I hate the term. It’s just, well, nobby! Secondly, what is an influencer? I may have a large following on Instagram but that doesn’t necessarily mean I always have a huge influence on what people buy or how people decorate their homes.
With the number of home accounts increasing dramatically in the last couple of years, being heard is now like talking at a Slipknot concert and if your home décor used to be quite “niche” you can lay money on the fact there will be tens of thousands of other accounts doing it now.
Why would I want to be an Instagrammer?
If you are reading this blog, I’m guessing you already have your reasons for wanting to build your engagement on Instagram. The world has changed beyond recognition in such a short amount of time and we are all working from home more. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be our own bosses? Never to set foot in an office block again.
I accidentally fell into becoming an Instagrammer. Rewind back to 2017 and we were in the midst of a huge kitchen renovation with 2 little ankle biters to entertain, a kettle and slow cooker to make all our meals and a constant stream of builders coming in and out with McDonald’s and dance music tuned in on the radio. I have always been interior obsessed and was finding life as a stay-at-home mum quite difficult. I started reading lots of interior and lifestyle blogs and decided I would try my hand at it.
The thing is, I’m not a brilliant writer. No, that accolade goes down to my husband and at the time he was fed up with his 9 to 5 Project Management job so he began a blog about family life. I started looking at ways to help him promote his blog and boom! My Instagram account was born. I’ll be honest, it was shit to begin with. I would post pictures of plant pots and cushions and think I was on my way to being the next Kelly Hoppen! It was called MJHomestyle (which made me sound like a dodgy 90s DJ) and it took me a while to find my own voice and style.
Skip forward 3 and a half years and I am now earning a full-time wage from Instagram.
In fact, I opened a business bank account 6 months ago, employed an accountant and started paying myself a proper wage. I can’t tell you how good that feels. This is the first time I’ve been earning a decent living since I left my job as a Programme Management Officer nearly 8 years ago, just before I had my daughter.
It really is a dream come true. I am my own boss; I get to be creative for a living whilst managing it around being at home for my kids 24/7. I am not bound to a 9 – 5 job or fixed location (well, not strictly true, my house IS my location ). I can decide how much or how little I want to work, I get to talk to people I call my friends every day and I still get extremely excited every time a brand contacts me asking if I would like to collaborate! Some of the brands I have worked with so far have been sofa.com, Aldi, Dulux, West Elm, Snug Sofa, Graham and Brown and Made.com
How do I earn money through Instagram?
Working with brands
The biggest earner is through collaborations with brands. A brand will reach out to me through my DMs or email asking if I would like to work with them. There is often a bit of negotiation involved to begin with. Many brands will initially tell me there is no budget, it will only be on a gifting basis. If I really want or need the product (depending on how much the product costs) I will be happy to do this.
More recently I have started turning down gifted only collaborations.
Why? Well, for one, I don’t really need any more stuff! But most importantly, this is now my job and how I make a living. I have worked extremely hard over the last couple of years building up my online presence and following. Brands will now have access to over 140,000 people on my Instagram account alone, along with my large Pinterest reach and 50,000 monthly views of my blog. These numbers have really helped build my confidence so I am no longer afraid to say no to gifting and ask for payment.
More often than not, the brand will come back saying actually, there is a budget! Of course there is. They would never approach a magazine or newspaper asking for access to their readership for a free cushion, would they? Some of my most successful collaborations have had a reach of nearly 400,000 people which is nearly 10 times more than most interior magazine’s readerships.
With the huge surge of Instagram’s popularity and the steady decline of magazine readership, brands probably need us more than we need them.
How much brands will pay massively varies. Also, when it comes to discussing how much you should charge per post on Instagram, people definitely keep their cards close to their chest. It is not openly talked about which I think is a shame because brands will lean towards the lowest bidder so you often find yourself undercut.
As a rule of thumb, it tends to go on the amount of followers you have but this is a massive under sight because not all accounts with large followings who charge a large amount will have good engagement with their followers. In fact, I think brands are now looking at smaller accounts as more often than not, they have a better relationship with their followers.
My collaboration with Haute Florist had nearly 400k people see this post and 7,871 people saved it.
And a gifted collaboration with West Elm was seen by 345,000 people with 9,000 people saving it.
Another way of earning money through Instagram is via affiliate links. I use these very rarely but they still manage to make me around £100 a month. Affiliate links work by showing a product on stories with a swipe up link to the product. If someone clicks on the link, they are taken to the online store and as long as they make a purchase and it is a valid sale, the transaction will be credited to you and you make commission.
It is always an extremely tiny amount though so don’t go quitting your day job just yet! The more people click on the link and purchase, the more you make.
I use affiliates in my blog so this £100 comes from those purchases also.
Some of the affiliate programs I use are AWIN, rewardStyle, ShareASale and Skimlinks.
Before COVID hit, I was starting to earn a fee for attending events. I had several lined up and these included talking on a panel about interior trends and designing sets for brands. To me, this was a massive perk of being an Instagrammer and I absolutely loved going to all events. They were brilliant for meeting up with other Instagrammers and fantastic for networking and getting your name out there.
The first couple of events I attended, I was massively nervous and a little in awe of the bigger accounts and the people behind them! Now I just see it as a good old knees up and a great day out! Let’s hope in 2021 we can return to the in real life social side to Instagram!
Last, but not least, I make a regular monthly wage via advertising revenue on my blog. I am a member of Mediavine who embed relevant ads into my blog and for every click I get a percentage. This can range from £450 to £650 a month depending on how many sessions I get that month. I will cover blogging in next weeks blog post.
The part you probably all came here for, How?
Well done on getting here so far! I’ve talked about why I love being on Instagram and how it has turned into my job. So, how did I do it?
Set up an account!
To start with the obvious, you need to set up an Instagram account. What about though? Well, what do you love? Don’t try and be something you are not. If you are sat reading this wearing a pair of jeans you’ve had for 10 years and your boyfriend/husband’s jumper because you hate clothes shopping, don’t start a fashion account!
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be yourself on here.
Instagramming and being on social media can be completely time consuming so you have to be authentic and true to yourself. I made the mistake very early on by trying to copy interiors that all the big accounts displayed but it didn’t sit right with me and my engagement and follower numbers suffered as a result.
Once you have found a topic or area you want to cover, be that interiors, family life, travel or fashion, you need to hone it down a bit. Finding your niche within your chosen subject will help people recall you for your particular style and expertise in an area. For example, if you love interiors, what kind of interiors are you drawn to? Is your home a Scandinavian Shrine or Pink Palace?
It’s a bit like becoming a brand and being remembered for the logo and product. If I say to you IKEA, their blue and yellow brand colours will immediately spring to mind and the fact they specialise in Scandi interiors and flat pack furniture. I wrote a blog post all about this here.
You’ve got your account and niche set up, now you need to work on your posts and captions. First of all, how often should you post? This doesn’t really matter, although I do find the more I post, the better my engagement is, sorry! Instagram wants you to be on it 24/7, there is no other way around it.
However, what is really important is consistency. If you can commit to a post every day, then go for it. If you find that is too much, then post 2/3 times a week but make sure you do this every week.
Another thing you will have to get to grips with is your photography. Take a look at your photos, would you want to look at them in a magazine? Make sure they are clear, straight, include detail and draw the follower in. I wrote about how to create stunning images for Instagram here.
I would also recommend editing and filtering your images so once again, they all have consistency. I use the Lightroom app on my phone where I have presets, make sure my image is completely straight and finally I use Retouch to get rid of any blemishes.
Lastly, your caption! Which can be just as important as the image itself. Once people have started following you for a while and have established they like the images you post, they will probably start reading your caption as well (let’s be honest, we very rarely engage 100% with a new follow from the start. It takes a while to build up a “relationship”). A bit like your image, make sure your caption represents who you are. You can talk about the image itself or general day to day life. I find a mix of the two works and I always keep it in my own voice!
Engaging captions work the best. Ask people for their opinions, ask them if they like a new cushion you’ve bought or what they’re having for tea. People like talking about themselves
Engage and engage a little more
Nobody on Instagram grew their account over night. If they did, they’ve obviously bought followers and as tempting as it might be, what is the point? If your ultimate goal is to make a living from this little app you absolutely have to have integrity and it is quite easy to spot the fakers through websites like social blade. It is also quite noticeable if a lot of your followers have no profile picture and very little followers themselves (which screams BOT).
Most brands worth their weight in gold will also look at these figures as they want to be sure they’re getting reliable engagement for their products
There is no easy way to build your following and engagement. Basically, to get the engagement on your account, you have to engage yourself. Follow like minded accounts, comment on their posts regularly and like as much as you can. Watch people’s stories and comment on them. I spend roughly 4 hours a day on Instagram engaging and creating posts and stories and I have been doing this for 3 and a half years.
It is almost a full-time job and I have worked hard to get here. I know there are many people who “scoff” at the thought of being on Instagram hard work, but it is time consuming. Sometimes it can take me 2/3 hours to set up a styled shot, take the photo, edit it, write the caption and find 30 hashtags. 5 times a week… And I know it is not as hard as it would be to go and do a 12-hour shift in a hospital, which I have the upmost respect for, I still see it as a job for which I get paid.
There has been a lot of talk recently about how hashtags are no longer relevant. I completely disagree. Hashtags are how people who aren’t following you, find you. Before the search facility was added to Instagram, if people wanted to find inspiration for their new kitchen, they could type in #countrykitchen and as long as your post included that hashtag, you would show up.
This was a very recent post. Looking at the insights you can see that 81,150 people saw this post via the hashtags I used. Not relevant anymore?
If you struggle to work out what hashtags to use, it is best to have a mixture. A few hashtags with millions of tags, a few with mid-range tags and make sure the majority of your hashtags have under 100k tags. That way it is easier to be seen amongst the sea of posts. When I was building up my account, I would regularly look at the big interior accounts to see what hashtags they were using for inspiration.
Also, always use all 30 hashtags! Why wouldn’t you? With every hashtag you use, you are increasing the post’s reach on Instagram. If Instagram didn’t want you to use them, it wouldn’t give us 30 in the first place.
Capture, Caption, Post, Repeat
Don’t be afraid of repetition! I know, the creative types amongst us will probably recoil at this idea but I really think that’s what has helped build my following. I often repost some of my most liked posts and it builds familiarity. With over 1 billion users on Instagram, your post will never be shown to the same audience twice. Even though I have posted my green sofa several times over, I still get comments asking me where it’s from and how much people love it.
Keep up to date
Something I probably struggle with is the ever-changing dynamics of Instagram. Just when I was getting to grips with IGTV, they brought out Reels (I wrote a how-to here). Instagram is forever trying to compete with all the other popular social media apps out there so will always be changing their framework and we have to keep up to date with the features.
If you have been scrolling through your feed recently, you will have noticed that Reels are becoming more and more prominent which tells us how much Instagram are trying to push this feature and compete with TikTok. I love Reels, it’s a fantastic way to be more creative and show another side to your account. In fact, I have gained several thousand new followers through my Reels alone so they are 100% worth getting on board with.
As you all breathe a huge sigh of relief… haha. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! I truly believe that it’s not just engagement or interiors that people enjoy that has helped me build my account. As I have talked about earlier, it is so hard to get heard on Instagram alone so branch out! If you have multiple platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and TikTok, you will find that people will discover you through these channels.
In fact, I think Pinterest has a huge part to play in my large following as I often get messages from people saying they found my kitchen when searching on Pinterest and followed the link which brought them to Instagram.
I know you are probably sighing thinking I haven’t got time for another platform, but Pinterest is really worth putting the time and effort into, I promise you! I spent a solid week doing nothing but teaching myself Pinterest and now I have got my head around it, only need to spend around an hour a week keeping it happy! If only Instagram was that easy 🙂
I have written several blog posts on Pinterest including Pinterest for beginners
Before I go
However, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all free sofas and weekend breaks (although, I am not complaining one bit and know how extremely lucky I am to have had these opportunities). Instagram does not come without its own problems –
- Public perception. There is still a big stigma attached to being an influencer. Some of the words that spring to mind is sponger, entitled, fraudulent, insincere and my favourite, not a real job. I still feel embarrassed when people ask me what I do and my answer is normally something like “Erm, I’m an interiors writer and blogger and brands pay me to advertise their products on my Instagram page”. The majority of you reading this will probably completely understand this but to the Mums on the school run or family friends, they’ll just smile with complete confusion in their eyes! But a job it is! I am self-employed, pay myself a wage and contribute to the mortgage.
- Expect to work for free for a while. At least whilst you are building your Instagram account up. My first brand payment came after about 18 months of working solidly on my account and it wasn’t until around 3 years that I started earning a decent wage.
- Work can be completely irregular. You may get a flurry of brands wanting to work with you all at once and then for a month or two, tumbleweed starts blowing across your email account. These times can be slightly worrying as you begin to wonder if you’ll ever get a collaboration again. You have to be building your contacts behind the scenes and reaching out all the time. It is also wise to make sure that the jobs that do come in, see you through to the next paid collab.
- Be prepared to send LOTS of emails chasing payments. This one I still can’t get my head around. I’ve fulfilled my end of the contract, I have possibly sent hundreds, even thousands of customers your way, why am I still asking you to pay me after the 30-day payment term? I recently worked with a very large high street store who basically, from what me and several other instagrammers can gather, were having an internal “it’s your problem”, “no, it’s your problem” fight with their Influencer marketing team. We did eventually get paid but it just showed there still seems to be a huge lack of respect towards the very people who help advertise and market their products.
- We all have imposter syndrome. Well, I do most certainly! And I’m constantly expecting someone to rip the Instagram rug from under my feet!
- You are expected to have an opinion on everything and make sure that opinion is known! Now this one I struggle with because it is so difficult to know what is right or wrong. I understand that I am seen as a person of influence and if there has been a world event that everyone is talking about you need to speak about these injustices. However, I am a person of influence when it comes to choosing a sofa colour. Or a new rug. If I was following someone because I liked the images of their cat but then they consistently preached to me about the current injustices in their stories and posts, I would probably unfollow because it’s just, well, a little condescending. If I want to find out the opinions of world events, I will make sure I go to a person who knows what they’re talking about. Yes, we all need to be talking, but we also need to be very careful not to jump on the bandwagon and come across disingenuous.
- Comparison. It is very hard not to compare yourself to other social media influencers and bloggers. You are constantly wondering why a post didn’t do so well when XYZ posted a picture of their shed and got 1,000s of likes!! (no disrespect to anyone who posts pictures of their sheds, I quite like a garden shed! It’s just an example. Haha)
- Trolling. Which leads me onto Trolls. I’ve been quite lucky in the fact I’ve never really experienced any trolling, apart from another instagrammer. In fact, it can all get a bit like the school playground on here and sometimes the worst offenders are instagrammers themselves! I think it all depends on your niche and unfortunately if you put your face and family on Instagram a lot, people find that as an excuse to type furiously away on their keyboard and be nasty to other human beings who are just trying to have fun and make a living. I defy anyone to be given this opportunity and turn it down! I guess people just find it hard to get infuriated with someone because they post their cushions
Phew, that was an epic post and I think I’ve only really just touched the surface. I feel very fortunate to be doing what I do, but it didn’t happen overnight and at times it can take over your life.
Learning “on the job” is key here and don’t procrastinate. Just get on with it, post images, engage and find what works for you. It could take several weeks or months but the rewards are worth it.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!