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As a professional makeup artist and educator with an ex-career in the corporate world, I never imagined I would become an entrepreneur — much less that I’d be able to launch a professional beauty blog, that empowers women and focuses on inner beauty.

And the wildest part of it all? This all happened because of a little app called Instagram.

Truth be told, I was late in joining the Instagram party — I wasn’t even on Facebook at the time. I was more of a ‘could live on a secluded beach and avoid social media forever’ kinda gal. I’m not much of the entrepreneurial stereotype — you know, the tech-savvy, big-city lovin’ fashionista who works from voguish cafes and takes enviable selfies for her meticulous Instagram feed? I admire those women, but they’re definitely not me.

So how did I get 100K followers on Instagram in just 10 months?

That’s a question I get asked all the time. It all started with a casual decision to download Instagram and see what the fuss was all about. As I explored, I was blown away by all the talent online. I took a short course on building a professional account from Foundr Magazine (where my husband works), and from there my account quickly evolved into a purely curation page. Most of my followers didn’t know me per se, but they resonated with the content I was collecting. I showcased work from international artists (with full attribution each time, of course), while sharing short snippets of my own journey along the way. This allowed me to quickly make lots of creative friends online, including a few that are now influential artists with huge followings.

But making friends, while incredible, wasn’t enough. So how did I grow so rapidly?

In a nutshell: self-education, passion, persistence, and hard work. Just like anything else, it takes time and sweat. Thankfully, I’ve learned a few important lessons along the way — lessons anyone can benefit from. If you’re looking to upgrade your Instagram brand, make sure you stick to these steps.

I’ve learned a few important lessons along the way.
  • Consistency is your friend.

Like every other social media platform, Instagram rewards engagement. When I first started, I noticed the accounts that were doing well were posting up to 3 times a day — so I started by making consistency my number one priority. Instagram’s ever-changing algorithm means you may not always get the engagement you want, but one thing you can bank on is that if you show commitment to the platform by posting like a machine, you will see those followers increase organically.

  • Look for trends in your niche, and ideally try to forecast its effects, so that you can incorporate them into your content strategy.

Another thing I noticed when I started out was that big accounts focus on ‘viral’ content, like the latest makeup trend, or whatever new hack that might take Instagram MUAs by storm. They hijacked the trends to their advantage. If you can forecast the trends — even better! This takes consistent research, but trust me — it’s worth it. Look at what the trending hashtags are in your niche and beyond; look for trends and patterns. Then, simply align your content with the top trends.

Similarly, I started looking for “unicorn” posts — these were posts that would massively outperform any others in terms of likes and comments. Whenever I saw a unicorn post, I looked for commonalities between them, to see why they were in high-demand. Trends often played a part in this! Some of these trends don’t last, but by jumping onto trends, your posts are more likely to go viral, resulting in increased influence and following.

  • Look at what the influencers in your niche are doing, and follow with military precision.

I researched who the top MUAs were at the time, and looked at their content to find out what seemed to be most favoured by the algorithm. I used apps to discover their top posts (‘most commented on’ would usually be the best criteria), and I dove in to find out what they were doing differently. As a result of the patterns I observed and applied to my account, many of my posts went viral — often receiving thousands, hundreds of thousands, and in a few instances — over a million views! This created instant growth for me and the artists I featured on my account, which then resulted in great online friendships, work related collaborations, and more growth and engagement as bigger MUAs engaged with my account.

  • Grab a drink and engage.

Think of Instagram like a networking party — an extremely valuable one. Make time every single day to engage, even if it’s only for 10 minutes in the evening.

Make time every single day to engage.

Many people just focus on getting likes or comments (which aren’t always a reflection of your performance, because they are heavily impacted by an algorithm), and they forget to take the time to add value or contribute to the community. But networking here is exactly like in the offline world: You’ve got to be a giver. The more you give, the more you’ll get in return. Whether it’s potential customers, current followers, influencers in your niche, brands you love, companies you admire, or even your competitors (yes, I said the C word, which brings me to my next point) — make time to authentically engage.

  • Collaborate, don’t compete.

You have to think big in the online space. Apply the growth mindset of abundance. Others’ success does not limit you in any way. On the contrary; if you can join forces in some way, you could both do even better! There is plenty to go around. You don’t have to collaborate with everyone, but always find ways to support, encourage and cross-promote, so that the end result is a scenario where everyone wins. It’s so easy to do this via shout-outs, or even reposting content on your feed and linking back to the original profile. You’ll create a positive vibe, build a community, and automatically open yourself up to new audiences and followers, too.

Depending on your line of work, this is one of the best ways to monetize (more on that later).

  • Become influential by giving.

First, seek to add value. Educate your market in the areas of your expertise, whether it’s through personal stories, technical knowledge, tutorials, before and after photos, inspirational quotes and captions, or something else. It’s easy to direct your audience to your website or promotions through these posts, too — but remember, you’re only going to get that buy-in if you’ve already added consistent value.

You cannot control the algorithm, your clients, the followers, or the likes or comments you receive — because all these factors are always changing. The one thing that remains the same, that you can control, is how committed you are to adding value. Are you putting out high level content that does your brand and reputation justice, and creates an overall positive impact? Doing this will enable you to ride out the tough seasons online, and eventually create amazing long-term opportunities for yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint; it’s about the long-term results.

  • Utilise influencer marketing and user-generated content to increase sales.

There is nothing more powerful than someone you trust telling you about a product, service, or tool that they love. Make use of influencer marketing for your business, because at a bare minimum, it’s added exposure and credibility for your brand. If you do it right, it can provide so much more than that — including sales. Get as much user-generated content for your posts as possible. Use your clients and support network, including testimonials, before and after photos, case studies, and the like. Get creative. Utilize the audience you have!

  • Monetize with integrity.

If you want to start monetizing your instagram, start small, and always apply a high standard to your collaborations. Integrity is key — do not promote a brand, product, or service that doesn’t meet the quality your audience would expect, and/or doesn’t match your brand values and personal standards. Be ruthless in those standards; know exactly what and whom you will be willing to promote through your account. You’ll never see me collaborating with a brand who tests on animals, for example, because that breaks my values.

You’ll never see me collaborating with a brand who tests on animals.

My audience knows that I will only support cruelty-free beauty; if I changed that, not only would I be lowering my standards, I’d be losing my audience! Stay true to your values and remain on-brand. Never compromise your ethics for short-term monetary gain.

Wait a Minute — Just How Exactly Do You MONETIZE?

On Instagram, monetizing starts with collaboration. As my account gained momentum, I started to tag relevant brands, any related companies, influencers, and people in my niche, in order to drive them to my posts. I also changed my profile and bio to reflect that I was open to collaborations, and provided an email address so they could contact me easily. I engaged with the accounts of those ‘dream’ companies, the ones that I really wanted to work with. Soon, I began to collaborate with companies — at first, just in exchange for products. That’s how you start. Start with offering a post and/or story in exchange for product, then — once you’ve got experience and momentum — start to charge per post. The price you charge will depend on your audience and your industry; do some research and make sure you’re charging what you’re worth. Don’t undervalue yourself to keep a client; make sure the work and the time it will take will be worth it for you, too.

Don’t undervalue yourself to keep a client.

The big players with good accounts know that it’s simply about exposure, and the more micro and macro influencers they get on board, especially simultaneously (known as the Thunderclap Strategy), the more they’ll be front of mind and get long-term results.

When you do start working with brands, the best thing you can do is over-deliver. Look at the brand, their audience, their theme, their values, their goals — get a real understanding of what they’re about, and target your collaboration towards helping them achieve the result they want. Sometimes it’s creating awareness for one specific product (is there a key ingredient that will really drive sales? Mention it!), or sometimes there’s a specific type of person who will resonate with the brand (call them out in the caption!). Other times, there will be a current trend you can utilize to make your post ultra-relevant. Get creative; your goal is to authentically and effectively sell for this brand, so make sure you use your experience — personalise it as much as possible with any expert tips and tricks.

Instagram Is Where It’s At

If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur (and particularly if you’re in the beauty niche), Instagram is your most powerful digital marketing weapon! Engagement with brands is up to 10 times higher on Instagram than with Facebook. Most buying decisions are made online these days, rather than through traditional advertising — so you want multiple and varied strategies to target your potential clients, and to monetise through Instagram directly. Make your Instagram work for you, and your business (and revenue) will soon upgrade accordingly.

Neha Hobson runs a boutique consultancy business, providing Instagram account management and coaching services for beauty businesses. She also has a professional beauty blog and collaborates with beauty brands for product reviews, and Influencers/MUAs for interviews and beauty content.

For more information on any of these, contact Neha via or follow her 140K+ Instagram Account on @neha_makeupartist & @_beautybyneha_. She would love to connect with you!

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2019 MONEY Issue. Download for FREE here!

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