As daunting as it may be to look for a new job during a global crisis, there’s no better time than a new year to start the research. After all, if not, when?
Here, four women share their stories on how they built their small businesses on Instagram and their advice for others looking to do the same.
Esha Ahmed, Founder of Omi Na-Na
“After having the early 30s career crisis and deciding to start my slow fashion business, I knew that I had to be creative in my approach in marketing what is considered to be a niche market if the business was to take off! I wanted to show how relevant and exciting ethical and sustainable fashion could be and Instagram seemed like the perfect channel to use to increase brand awareness and reach people who were genuinely already engaged on this area. The fact that Instagram is so popular with so many fashion lovers and bloggers also made it extremely attractive.”
“Looking back, I’m so glad I’ve spent the time and energy cultivating an Instagram community – I’ve met so many fantastic people through it and there’s no doubt that it’s helped to grow my business and network across the world.”
Esha’s top tips for women looking to build their business
- Don’t be afraid to try something different. In fact, be proud of offering something unique or taking a different approach with your business or on Instagram.
- Be authentic. Faceless big brands are on the out. People like to engage with real people so talk about what really matters to you and connect on a deeper level.
- Stay consistent. Make sure that you’re using your chosen platforms and channels to communicate your brand messages clearly and consistently to help generate a strong brand identity.
- Look to the wider community to learn from and collaborate with. It’s hard doing everything on your own when you first start out so get out there, talk, learn, share ideas and work on new projects with other people and organisations.
- Adapt to the changing environment… quickly! If there is anything to learn about staying afloat during COVID, it’s to be flexible and inventive with how you work, especially if you’re a small business.
Ibukun, Founder and Director, Bukky Baldwin
“When the pandemic hit I was forced to adapt the business from a physical shop to an online ecommerce store. I put together a team of amazing women together to assist me in making the move, including Iona our Marketing and PR manager who really helped level up our social media presence. When the brand was ready to launch again we turned to Instagram to build our customer base and spread awareness of what we’re about. Trying to build a following has been one of the hardest tasks, we’re still learning.”
Ibukun’s top tips for women looking to build their business
- Consistency is key, try posting something everyday. If you don’t have the knack for (like me) or just hate social media, try using a scheduling app where you can plan out all your posts in advance, waay less stressful!
- Utilise Stories, they’re a really good way of updating your followers on what’s happening with your business, behind the scenes and basically reminding them that you exist.
- Reply to comments and encourage discussion, it makes the post more likely to be on people’s feed.
- Have a catchy bio, saying what you’re about and a link to your website so people can find out more about your business easily.
- Follow and share about similar small businesses to yours, it helps you become a familiar face in the community and you can widen your visibility by using each other’s follower base.
Molly Mahon, Founder and owner, Molly Mahon
“As a creative, I am a very visual person and much of my work is based around colour and pattern and block printing….Instagram is a very accessible platform where I am able to take people on a much deeper journey than I could achieve via my website. The ability to be spontaneous, transparent and approachable has opened doors to a global audience and enabled me to make contacts, collaborations and sales to people and places that I could never have managed otherwise, either single headedly or financially.
“Of all the social media platforms Instagram is my go to portal of choice. By putting the emphasis on the visual first with the words secondary I really connected and have found it a very appealing way of telling my story. As my work builds I see a rather beautiful gallery of passing time that is clear and succinct and easy to navigate. Instagram is an incredibly friendly place and I choose to use it in a very transparent and real way. For anyone who owns a visual product I would highly recommend using Instagram to help build a vision of your brand.
Instagram has become an essential tool for Molly Mahon, we have taken our followers on a journey as the business is growing and we also allow the information we receive back to shape our company and aid us to make really confident decisions.”
Molly’s top tips for women looking to build their business
- Sharing the positivity: Something unexpected happened to me over lockdown. In a bid to replace my cancelled workshops I started showing people via IGTV how they could make some simple prints at their kitchen table with a potato. I was bowled over by the response and what I adored the most was that people shared the work they were creating with me. I felt it was really important to put this work back out there and so we fed it in to ‘stories’. Alongside this were incredible heartfelt words of how they had found some solace in the art of block printing, what fun it was, how it had created a focus and the realisation that we are all creative and can add something to our lives and homes using print. This in turn has led to a huge increase in sales of our block print kits and my new book House of Print and we have adjusted and moved with these changing times to get the demand fulfilled. So, listen to your followers, find out what they want and allow your business to follow along.
- Keep it real: I have always tried to remain transparent and genuine with my posts. During the pandemic I started an IGTV channel which I kept as natural as possible, I wanted to keep it simple for myself to achieve and real to the viewers out there. You don’t need to spend a fortune on production.
- Build relationships: I have made so many useful connections and virtual friends across the globe by being bold and making contact via Instagram. It’s a very friendly informal place to connect. Collaborating with other companies on Insta is also a very good way of building followers, we all want to grow and by supporting one another is a very positive way to do this.
- Consider the image you are posting: Treat each image as if it might become a beautiful postcard, it is the well thought out images that stop people scrolling past. Do you feel proud of the picture, is it sharp and to the point? Are you connecting to your brand? What is the key message?
- Be proud of what you do: I have found that by sharing my skills, the art of block printing, I am really gathering momentum with connecting with people with shared interests who are much more likely to become a customer. By taking them behind the scenes and in to my scruffy workshop I have really expanded my following and got people excited about how my craft works and why its really so very special.
Susan Doherty, Owner, Lifestory
“Lifestory has been on Instagram since 2014 and I manage it myself. Somehow it never feels right to outsource it, it’s my ‘voice’ for my brand. Lockdown was a time when Instagram offered me a way to stay in touch with my customers and community. I was working completely alone but it provided me a window out to the world. From shop tours to unboxing deliveries, from real life feelings of overwhelm to elation about small wins. The feedback that I got was that it helped my brand remain in the mind of the (locked-down) customer and brought little joys to their feeds.“
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Susan’s top tips for women looking to build their business
- Show up as you are, where you are. Don’t wait for that magical day when you’ll feel confident or your hair is right or whatever! Start now. You’ll find your voice as you go along
- If you’re nervous about putting your face on your Instagram, start with something more subtle and build up to it. Perhaps a story of your hands at work with your voice over it, or find a way to get yourself physically into the shot in a more abstract way to begin with.
- There are a lot of experts on Instagram and so many people sharing tips and advice, which is wonderful. Choose one or two that you really can relate to and focus on them. Absorbing advice from too many sources can lead to overwhelm and inaction.
- Make sure to use captions for stories whenever you can, most users will have their phones on silent. And use all the available tools e.g. geo-tagging and polls.
- Know that there is a niche community for everyone on Instagram, find it (create it if you have to) and tap into it. Give more than you take within it.
If 2020 has given you space to realise you want to embrace new opportunities in 2021, you’re definitely not alone. Working from home, greater autonomy and more flexibility may have been the only good things that have come out of a truly horrific year but they’ve propelled a huge number of us to face up to whether we are we really in a career we love. And if not, how can we build our dream business from scratch?