The Creative Professional’s Guide to Marketing, part 3 – How to use Instagram to grow your business

It’s been a while since my last installment in the Creative Professionals Guide to Marketing Series (you can read parts one and two here if you’d like to catch up/refresh your memory), and that’s because this one is a biggie.  Part 3 is all about marketing tools for visual types and, since most of the creative professionals that I work will fall into that category, I wanted to be sure I gave you a big bang for your buck.

Which was exactly my challenge.  The platform that I knew I needed to talk about was the one I was least familiar with. Rather than wing it, and tell you surface stuff you could easily google yourself, I decided this was a great opportunity to educate myself.  So I went to one of the best instagrammers I know, designer and illustrator, Jodi Kostelnik and asked her to share her insights.  She graciously agreed to share her story, what works, what doesn’t and how a busy creative finds the time.

I have no doubt that you’ll learn lots and feel inspired to either get started, or up your game.  She even got me “gramming” and, while instagram isn’t, and probably won’t ever be, a huge part of my marketing strategy, it’s something I’m glad I’m finally doing.

Let’s jump in! 

Hi Jodi, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us on instagram.  Let’s start at the beginning.  How long have you been using instagram?
I started using instagram for my business last May so I have only been doing this for 1 year! And so many great things have happened because of it in this short period of time.


What were your feelings about social media before you started using it?
I was pretty much anti-social media before I took the leap into the grammin world. I had a personal face book page, but never really used it (still don’t, but slightly more than I did before). I also had an instagram account prior to my “1 year ago start date”  but never really did anything with it, nor did I know how to really use it to benefit my business.

I was running my own design business, Hello Neighbor Designs and starting up a goods business, The Neighborgoods and felt I didn’t have time to put into social media. I didn’t know how it could be used to benefit my business and generally thought it was more of a social thing to connect with friends and if I did get into it it would just become a huge time suck. 

What made you decide to jump in?
The Neighborgoods is a goods-based (rather than my service-based design business) and I realized that if I am going to sell any products I needed a way to get people to go to my website and etsy store.


Why instagram?
As I was thinking about how to get my products out there, a client told me about a workshop she was planning to attend called How to use instagram for your business. It was only $5 so I figured why not try it out. I remember saying I’d try it since it’s less than the price of a burrito. Well, it was the best $5 I ever spent on my business! The workshop gave me the basics, but then the company that put on the workshop,, called me up a day or so later asking if I would be their instagram guinea pig to try some of their techniques and tricks to grow my following. I jumped at the chance and we tried a bunch of tactics, some of which worked and some didn’t. But our experiment meant I became totally addicted to instagram, haha. 

A lot of my clients tell me that not knowing where to start is their biggest obstacle. What are the top 3 pieces of advice you’d give to help them get out of the gate?

1) Post 1-2 times a day, every day. I’m a designer, so it’s easier for me to have things to post, but even if you’re not, instagram can still work for you. You don’t have to post something amazing every time, you just need to be genuine and authentic and let people see the person behind the brand. Some ideas on things to post are:

  • behind the scenes shots
  • process shots 
  • highlight a favorite customer / client
  • post a special of the week 
  • give you favorite local spots a shout out
  • inspirational quotes
  • people, places and things that inspire you and your product / business
  • fun facts pertaining to your expertise with a photo reference
  • regram from other accounts (just be sure to mention them and giving them credit for the photo)

2) Make targeted comments  daily. The idea here is to seek out your target customer and make comments on their accounts. You don’t need to say anything profound, just keeping it short, sweet and genuine will go a long way. 

A way to find your audience is to seek out other accounts they may follow (in my case, I focus on clients in the food industry and my goods are foodie based so I look at the wholefoods account), see who is commenting on these accounts and then makes comments to them. An example would be, to look at wholefoods page, find a photo that interests me or I think would interest my target customer. I check out the comments on that wholefoods post, say @susie comments “those Brussels look good”….I then check out @susie’s page, look for somethere there that interests me and make a comment. Could be as simple as, “yum”, “great colors”, “I make that too!”, etc… Just by making a comment (which takes more effort than a like) you are putting yourself on their radar. They will in turn check out your page and hopefully start following you.

In the beginning you should try to do about 20-30 comments a day. I KNOW that is a lot, but action = results so the more you put in the more you will get out of it. If you try to commit to 20 a day for 2 weeks, you’ll see how it’s working and hopefully be motivated to keep it going.  

3) JUST START! Don’t worry too much on needing your posts to be perfect or not knowing what to put out there. You will get the hang of it and pick up new techniques and ideas as you go along. Just be yourself.


Do you have any resources or apps that you’d recommend?
The main resource I use is This allows you to manage your account from your computer rather than having to do it on your phone all the time. You can comment, like and search for people and/or hashtags on iconosquare, you just can’t post photos from it as you can only do that from your phone.

There are other resources that help you schedule posts. If you know you’re going to have a busy week, you can schedule posts ahead of time and set them as to what day and time you’d like them to go out. I don’t use this sort of thing but other people like using hootsuite and latergram.

A couple of great articles from my “instagram gurus” at hearbeat: 

How to create relatable content your audience will love

Using hashtags in instagram

What should people know before they start posting?
It’s good to know who your target audience is so you can curate your posts a little to what they want to see (so don’t post a photo of your dog 5 days in a row, once every now and then is okay though). This is also helpful to know when it comes to posting targeted comments. 

How many times a day should you post?
1-2 times a day. You can do more than that every now and again if it’s a really fun and exciting day but you don’t want to clog people’s feed with 10 posts of the same event you went to one evening. So pick a few photos to share and move on.

How do you consistently find images that are worth sharing?
It’s a challenge some days, but that is also what makes it fun. There are days when I’m crazy busy and know I need to post something, so I need to turn my brain into a different creative mode to think of what I can post. I usually pull from my daily experiences. If I’m working on something fun that day I can share I post that. If I bought something new for my apartment. I try to give a shout out to the maker or store I bought it and post that so people get to know a little more about me than just my work.  I just always keep my eyes open wherever I go. Snap a few photos here and there if I see a color I like, a cool pattern of floor tiles, if I order some food and it looks so good I have to take a pic before eating (yeah, I’m one of those people – but my businesses focus on food so that makes it a little better, right?). In taking photos all the time, I have a bank of shots I can post on a day that I really can’t think of anything to put out there. 

How do you find people to follow?
I find people to follow by doing my targeting commenting and searching hashtags that are of interest to my target audience. I’ve discovered so many awesome people, businesses places and even cute dogs this way. It kind of happens organically once you start.

Although it’s worth noting you don’t have to follow everyone back that follows you. There is no way you can keep up with your feed if you follow over a certain amount of people and it’ll become too overwhelming or you’ll just miss a lot. That being said, you can (and should) engage with your followers on your account if they comment on your photos.

Let’s talk about hashtags!  How do you use them?
Hashtags are a way for people not following you to find you as well as a way for you to find people to engage with that might be interested in your products, brand, or company. 

The goal is to hashtag something that is out there in popularity but not too much that your post doesn’t get lost. You can search particular hashtags you are thinking of using in iconosquare and it will tell you how many times that hashtag has been used as well as give you similar ones to compare their usage. This will help you determine whether or not it’s a good one to use or not. If a # has less than 1000 then it’s not that popular and might not help as much, more than 100s of thousands it might get lost…so try to find the sweet spot in between.

There are a few hashtags out there I use more often than others that go with a majority of my posts – #brooklyn, #shopsmall, #handmade – but it’s good to change them up a little per what you are posting. For example, when I post an image of my pickle or cupcake towel I am sure to #pickles and #cupcakes. I then notice these particular types of people (pickle lovers, bakers) like my photos and may follow me as well.

There is a study out there that says posts with 11 or more hashtags have the highest number of interactions, so I try to include around 9-11 per post. That being said, I leave them out of my main initial comment to not clutter it up and make a second comment on my post of just hashtags to lump them all together and keep them out of the way.

What types if images/posts do you find resonate the most?
That is something you can track in iconosquare under STATISTICS! You can look at your posts organized by most likes or most comments and see what people are responding to most.

In my case, I try to change it up, keeping things interesting and don’t feel there is a certain something that people always like most. What I can say is that looking through all my posts you can get a sense of my overall style and vibe – colorful, playful, fun – and I think by curating my posts to my particular style / vibe that resonates with followers the most as I’m keeping it real and staying true to who I am. 

How do you track your efforts?
You can view your activity on your phone in your IG account (the talking bubble icon with a heart in it at the bottom). This tells you how many likes, comments and followers you are getting every time you check it. It’s fun to see someone you’ve made a comment to follow you or comment back as it verifies your efforts are working, so that is exciting.

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, but more followers aren’t necessarily better.  How do you ensure you’re making meaningful connections?
Through the targeted commenting and choosing hashtags that your ideal customer is seeking out. If you know who your customer is, and gear your comments and hashtags toward them they will be the ones following you and WANT to be following you because they like you and/or your company and those are the meaningful connections that can lead to sales, networking, relationships, community and opportunities.

You’re one of the busiest designers I know! How do you find time to fit social media into your day and how do you ensure it doesn’t become a time suck?
Ha, I know, I am a busy bee. When I initially started my gramming I scheduled specific time in my day to do it. It’s like anything else important in your day, if you want it to happen you have to schedule it in.

Over the past year, it has become like second nature to me so I make comments in little sections of down time in my day like when I’m waiting in line for coffee, waiting for the train, commercial breaks when watching TV, riding the bus, etc… In making time for my posts, I sometimes have something planned out or like I mentioned above I have a pool of images in my photo library I take from everyday life that I pull from on extra busy days.

I find that by taking a work break to make a post or comment it’s a little refresher in my day. Sometimes I need to take a step back from what I’m doing to think of what to post or set something specific up to take a picture. This still uses the creative side of my brain just on something else for a couple minutes and it helps when I go back to what I was working on.

Can you tell us a story of a great project or relationship that started in instagram?
I have so many stories I could go on for days. Instagram has been such an amazing tool for me in growing my businesses. I receive so many emails from new client inquiries for my design business as well as retailers reaching out to sell my Neighborgoods in their store, and customers buying from my etsy shop. Vice versa, it is a place I can find stores or clients I am interested in working with as well.

Beyond that, I was recently interviewed by a coffee shop down the street (I mentioned them in a post with their coffee and they found me through that). They are going to feature me in their Spotlight on Regulars blog. Just this week alone, I was contacted to be featured on two blogs as well as approached by a food company who is sending me some free meals to try out in return that I photograph them and post on my IG account giving them a shout out.

It’s just been so fun to expand my community and to be able to share my work, thoughts, struggles and successes with more people who are interested in what I’m doing.

Can you name 3 ways in which instagram has improved your creative business?

  1. I have gotten the opportunity to work with really great new clients.
  2. I am getting more exposure from people featuring me and my goods to help my Neighborgoods sales.
  3. Retailers from other cities over the country reach out to me to sell my goods in their stores. I would never know of them or they know about me if it wasn’t for instagram.
  4. I’m going to also give a 4th reason – it has helped me loosen up about what I put out into the world and allows me to be less hard on myself as an artist. Sometimes I only want to put the BEST thing out there, but instagram is a place I need to keep it real and it’s not always going to be perfect as I need to put something out every day…BUT I’ve learned people still like it anyway, they like seeing some slight imperfections and that there is a real person behind the brand. It has also helped improve my photoshop and photo styling just by having to use those skills more on a daily basis.

Thanks so much Jodi!  I learned SO much and I’m sure my readers have too.  

If you’d like learn more, Jodi will be leading a workshop on how to use instagram to grow your business with food photographer, Evi Abeler, on June 10th from 1-3 p.m.  Sign up here!



One thought on “The Creative Professional’s Guide to Marketing, part 3 – How to use Instagram to grow your business

  1. This interview is chock full of good content, and helpful in understanding a bit more about Instagram. It can seem deceptively simple, but there's a lot going on for those willing to learn. Your article and photos bring some clarity and also inspiration, Justine. I especially love Jodi's 4th reason- #keepingItReal!

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