How to make money on Instagram as a creative

With over 700 million users per month, and the highest per-follower interaction rate of any social network, Instagram is a big part of many people’s lives, and is therefore big business. There are currently one million active advertisers on the platform, 80 per cent of users follow a business, and as people increasingly use Instagram to find graphic designers or illustrators to work or collaborate with, or buy from, using the platform well is vital for creatives.

If you want to make money through Instagram, you need to create engaging posts that reach as many people as possible. But it’s not quite as simple as it sounds – using the platform well isn’t all about cramming your posts with hashtags, taking stylish photos of your breakfast or even necessarily having the most followers.

In 2016, as well as introducing the hugely popular Stories, the platform made some changes to its algorithms. The change means that users’ feeds no longer show photos in chronological order, but according to a user’s interests and relationships. In other words, the more relevant and engaging Instagram thinks your posts are to your followers, the more they are prioritised – meaning that creating the right sort of post is now more important than ever.

So how can you harness your feed to make more money? Read on for our eight top tips...

01. Switch to a business account

Switching to a business account is straightforward

The quickest and easiest way to get insight into your Instagram account is to switch from a personal to a business account. This provides you with insight into your followers, enables you to see how your posts are performing, and create promotions. It also means you can add a ‘contact’ button to your account.

To switch your account to ‘business’, go to Settings, and select Switch to Business Profile. In order to do this, you will need to have a business Facebook page, not just a personal profile.

Gavin Strange succinctly explains his multiple projects and skills in his bio

Your bio needs to tell users who you are, what you do, and to show your personality. As Instagram is a visual platform, an out of focus, grainy profile picture will not do. Use a clean image that shows who you are/what you are selling or promoting clearly.

Your bio is the only place on Instagram where you can post an active link, so choose that link wisely – linking to your website, shop or perhaps a recent project. If you are likely to continually change where you want people to look, you can use a Bit.ly link, and then update where the Bit.ly directs to rather than having to keep updating your bio with a new link.

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Strange's showreel of nine projects from OFF
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The collection of all the things that Strange makes...
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...and a beautifully crafted promo shot from his store

Gavin Strange, a senior designer at Aardman with over 12,000 followers, has an extremely effective bio. It tells you what his day job is, the name of his alias (JamFactory), mentions his book, shop and other projects. 

He also piques interest and uses humour to make you want to find out more, and includes a link to his website and shop’s account.

03. Treat your feed like a portfolio

Your feed should be as visually cohesive as possible and should get across your sense of style. “I think followers like it when it’s a bit of a consistent feed, so that they know what to expect,” says illustrator Bodil Jane, who has over 140,000 followers.

"Be a curator and take an outside look at your feed – it's your portfolio," is Strange's advice.

Doodle artist Jon Burgerman, who also has over 100,000 followers, agrees: “It takes people a long time to recognise your work, and people find it difficult to associate you with more than one or two things. So it’s smart, if you’re only concerned with building up an audience, to do the same thing over and over,” he says.

He does, however, add that he becomes bored of posting the same thing. “My primary concern, however, is to entertain myself. If I’m not engaged in what I’m posting, how can I expect others to be?” he says.

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Portraits play a large part in Bodil Jane's Instagram feed (click the arrows to see more images)
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Flora and fauna also feature often
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Her colour palette also ties works together
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This portrait of 18th century French natural philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and author Émilie du Châtelet was an early concept for a book, Bodil Jane says

To achieve this ‘visual cohesion,’ approach your feed like you would your portfolio. Think about how your shots will look next to each other, and add variety.

Don’t take them all from the same angle, consider using a ‘colour theme’ and think about the filters you’re using and what they say about you and your work. Add carefully curated behind-the-scenes or ‘work in progress’ posts to show your personality and make users feel they are getting unique insight.

04. Use captions and hashtags

Instagram might be a visual platform, but the right caption can complement your image and further engage your followers – often a short caption and a relevant emoji or two is enough.

Occasionally include a call to action in your posts, such as reminding people where they can buy your work or asking them what they think.

Research and use trending hashtags to increase your posts’ visibility, but don’t go overboard, as 10-15 hashtags is enough.

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Mike Kus posts beautiful photos like these, often using hashtags (use the arrows to scroll through to see more of his Instagram photos)
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Mike Kus, who has grown an audience of over 800,000, says that getting a balance between more generic and specific hashtags is key: “The more generic your tags, the more people will be using them. For example, millions of photos are tagged #sunset, so the chances are your picture of a sunset will be buried in seconds.

"If you tag your pictures very specifically, using something like #hamspteadheathsunset, there will be fewer pictures but also fewer people searching that tag. It's about finding a balance.”

05. Use video and Instagram Stories

Videos tend to get more comments than photos, so use apps such as Hyperlapse and Boomerang to create short clips. Instagram Stories, which disappear after 24 hours, are another fun way to engage with your followers.  

Since Instagram’s algorithm change, Burgerman now prefers to use Stories, and has even been approached about ‘Instagram Story-ing’ an event. “I enjoy posting on the Stories feed more now, I think there’s more room to be creative in that space than in the actual main feed,” he says.

06. Engage with others

A smaller number of engaged followers is preferable to a large number of unengaged ones, so interacting with others on Instagram is key.

“Anyone who leaves a comment, I like that comment to acknowledge that I've read it,” says Kus. “If someone leaves a conversation comment or a question, I get back to the user. It's fun interacting with your following and people appreciate you getting back to their questions.”

Never comment asking for likes, but do follow other people who do similar work to you and be supportive of them.

You can also use the Repost app to repost other’s posts, for example, your customer’s pictures, and experiment with creating your own hashtag – encouraging people to use that hashtag when they post about you.

07. Post regularly and at the right time

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Burgerman does post photos too – here are a few from his feed (use the arrows to scroll through to see more)
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Post once a day or more, but don’t jam people’s feeds by posting too many images at once. According to Sprout Social, Monday to Friday at 2am, 8am or 5pm are optimum times for posting. Mondays tend to drive the most engagement and 3pm is the least optimal time to post.

You can schedule posts through Later if these times are tricky for you. If you are hoping to reach an audience in another timezone, think about how you can adjust these times accordingly.

08. Act as if you were an influencer

Being an Instagram ‘influencer’ is one way to make money from the platform. Kus, who has partnered with brands such as Land Rover, Getty and LG, suggests considering such partnerships as you curate your feed. 

”Try to post regularly and post material that you're passionate about and would like to do more of. This way, when you do get approached by a brand, it will hopefully be a brand that has some kind of connection to the work that you put out,” he says.

Bodil Jane also suggests choosing who you partner with carefully. “I feel like I have a responsibility to just support brands that I really like, not just selling everything to my followers,” she says.

“When I’m browsing through Instagram I don’t like to see clearly sponsored posts. So, I feel like there should be a creative side to it.”

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