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How to Make the Most of Instagram as a Small Business

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This post is part of a series called How to: Instagram .
Instagram Strategy, Style and Etiquette: How to Choose the Right Pictures to Share
Using Instagram in the Professional World

Instagram is a photo and video-sharing social media platform. But who am I kidding—you know that already! With more than 300 million active users, it’s not exactly a newcomer in the word of social sharing. 

With Instagram’s reach comes significant possibilities for enterprising businesses who want to connect with their customers and market their services, product or brand. But with this tutorial, I’m not talking to the Nikes or Disneylands of the world. They’ve got whole teams of people to run their social media! Rather, I want to talk about how small businesses can use Instagram, and why it’s worthwhile as both a creative and professional tool. 

I’m going to give you tips both on how to take the best photos you can with the tools you’ve got at hand, and how to set up and use Instagram to share those photos and connect with your customers, current and future.

For more tips and advice taken directly from successful Instagrammers, check out the School of Instagram. You'll find interviews, articles, videos and more, all designed to take you to the next level with your Instagram. And best of all, it's all free!

School of InstagramSchool of InstagramSchool of Instagram

What Types of Businesses Should Use Instagram?

Obviously, Instagram is all about visuals. It’s perfect for any business that revolves around creativity or aesthetics—florists, artists and so on—or for one that’s partly about evoking a particular feeling or lifestyle. Yoga teachers, coffee shop owners, dog groomers—this is you. 

Photos from InstagramPhotos from InstagramPhotos from Instagram
You can show off your business's products, services or purpose with creative photography.  

Instagram is particularly worthwhile if you’re willing to get a little creative. If you can’t think of a way to present your business through images and tell an interesting story with visuals, Instagram may not be your cup of tea. Other social media sites like Facebook might be a better fit. Not every image has to be a masterpiece, but it’s important to have a plan for how you’ll use Instagram.

What’s So Good About Instagram?

There are four big reasons Instagram is a worthwhile addition to a small business’s social media repertoire:

1. Huge Reach

300 million active users! And there are plenty of tools to help you narrow down and connect with your desired audience. 

A screenshot of Instagrams web viewA screenshot of Instagrams web viewA screenshot of Instagrams web view

2. The Price Is Right

You don’t have to buy ads or invest in a business account to use Instagram—it’s free! 

3. An Intuitive Creative Tool

Instagram is easy to use and is a quick way to chat with customers and share your business’s story, what you’re working on, or what’s inspiring you. You just need a decent camera (chances are, your phone’s got one), some creativity and a little bit of time every few days! 

4. Meet Your Customers and Get Inspired

You’ll be able to find out if other Instagram users are taking photos that relate to your business, and what they like and dislike. At its best, Instagram is about sharing beautiful images and connecting with other people’s stories, which makes it not only a powerful tool for your business, but also a fun and interesting one.

Itching to get started? Let’s take a look at how to get set up with Instagram, and then I’ll give you some tips to help you take simple, beautiful photos easily. After that I’ll wrap up with some killer tips to help you make the most of Instagram. 

Instagrams website Instagrams website Instagrams website

How to Sign Up for Instagram

All you’ll need to sign up for Instagram is your mobile phone and an email address. Here are the steps:

  1. Using your phone, download the app from the App Store, Google Play or the Windows Phone Store
  2. Once it has downloaded, open the app and tap Sign Up
  3. Enter your email address. You also have the option to sign in with Facebook, but because you want this Instagram account to be connected to your business (not your personal Facebook account) you shouldn’t use this option. 
  4. Create a username and password. Your username should be connected to your business as closely as possible—don’t use a random string of words, letters or numbers. If the username you want is taken, try a few simple variations on it. For example, SouthStreetCoffeeShop might be taken, but SouthStCoffee might not be.
  5. Complete the signup process and get ready to use your new Instagram account! It’s very important to add a profile picture, bio and a link to your website so people know who you are.

That’s the whole process! Now let’s get you ready to take, publish and promote your photos. 

Images from InstagramImages from InstagramImages from Instagram

5 Tips for Taking Great Photos With Your Phone

So you’ve got an account, but now comes the challenging part! To make the most of Instagram you really want to be aiming to post a photo every few days. If you’re a photography novice, never fear! I’ve got five tips to help you out.

I’m assuming you’ve got a reasonably new phone that takes decent photos. If you’re going to use a digital camera or another device to take your photos, some (but not all) of these tips will still apply. 

1. Choose Your Apps Wisely

Your phone’s default camera app will work great, but you also need to edit your photos before you post them. You can edit your images with Instagram, but personally I think VSCO Cam is the best mobile photo-editing app out there, so that’s what I’d recommend. If you want to learn more about VSCO Cam, I wrote a tutorial on the subject: How to Edit Photos With VSCO Cam.

2. Light is Crucial

The best thing you can do to take great photos is make use of light. If you’re taking photos somewhere dim you’re going to have trouble avoiding shaky, blurry images. They’ll also be grainy. Likewise, too bright and the camera won’t be able to handle all that light. You’ll end up with areas that are blown out and fuzzy, or harsh shadows that distract from the thing you’re trying to photograph. So dark rooms are out, and so is the midday sun. What you want to aim for is a well lit image, with even and diffuse light. Think of a table that is sitting near a large window where it gets plenty of light but none of it direct, or a bright but cloudy day. Pay attention to light and shadow and your images will thank you for it. 

Two images with different lightingTwo images with different lightingTwo images with different lighting
I took these photos with my iPhone. If I can do it so can you!

3. Watch Your Angles

Strange angles can ruin an otherwise good image. Keep an eye on the straight lines in your picture – are they crooked? If so, you might be accidentally tilting your phone when you take the image. The more extreme the angle, the trickier it is to get right. 

4. Choose a Subject Matter and Remove Distractions

This can be as simple as clearing away clutter before you take a photo, deliberately using a plain wall or other simple backdrop, or cropping the image to concentrate on the subject matter. This is especially important on Instagram, because people are going to view your images from their phones so lots of detail won’t be visible. Removing clutter helps you focus on taking the photo, and it helps people looking at the photo appreciate the subject matter.

Two images demonstrating use of angles in photographyTwo images demonstrating use of angles in photographyTwo images demonstrating use of angles in photography
I'm getting a little creative with my examples now, but it may be useful nonetheless! Left: A good example of the kind of shot where it's very important that the camera is on a flat, parallel plane to the subject matter—otherwise the plate will look warped. Right: No clutter to be seen! The subject matter is very small but still stands out. 

5.  Tell a Story

The whole point of using Instagram is to communicate something about your brand, business or product. Don’t be afraid to have personality! Think about ways to tell your story through photos. Is your business about making things? Show behind the scenes snapshots. Is it about giving people something that makes them happy? Show that you’re happy to be doing it.

Promote Your Photos and Build an Audience

Because you’re using Instagram as a business it’s important to think about it as both a creative and marketing tool. Having fun and posting nice photos is all well and good, but you need to make sure you’re also thinking about how your business can benefit. 

The keys to success on Instagram are authenticity, consistency, conversation and the occasional hashtag. Here are a couple of tips for new Instagram users:

  1. Follow people you think are interesting or relevant. This helps both to inspire you and to connect you to those people. 
  2. Create a conversation. Try adding captions to your photos that are interesting and prompt a response from the viewer, and leave comments on other people’s photos. Remember—be genuine, and do not spam.
  3. Use popular hashtags and add locations to your images. This helps people find your account if it’s relevant to them.

If you’d like more tips, I’ve covered this topic in more detail in The Complete Guide to Instagram for Professional Photographers

As your follower count grows you could also consider offering giveaways, discounts or competitions. This encourages your customers to get interested and participate. It’s important not to do this too often though, or people might get sick of feeling like they’re being advertised to. 

Don’t forget that you can also use videos to reach your audience. If the thought of making a video for Instagram seems overwhelming, check out Placeit’s Instagram video templates which take all the work out of creating short videos.

Get Inspired and Stay Motivated

Is this all seeming like a bit much to take in? Just remember, you don’t have to jump into it all at once. Just take it one photo at a time! If you’re struggling to think of things to photograph, try searching through popular Instagram hashtags for inspiration. Here are some examples: #onthetable, #flowershop, #morningslikethese, #makeportraits.

Try to set yourself an achievable goal (like posting a photo every three days) and stick to it. More importantly though, get creative and enjoy the process. 

That’s all for this tutorial! Do let me know if you’ve got any questions, comments or have a suggestion to add. 

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