Want some Instagram business advice? Meet the women using it successfully through the pandemic

Life in those little squares has never been better. Don't take our word for it. Let these women and Instagram's brand development expert share their secrets

Instagram business advice

Life in those little squares has never been better. Don't take our word for it. Let these women and Instagram's brand development expert share their secrets

Do you know it's ten years since Instagram launched on October 6, 2010. I remember it clearly. Albeit Instagram business advice was not on my radar. I was on maternity leave rolling my eyes that any new platform could usurp my beloved Facebook.

Still I joined up. Posted a pic of my baby. The benchmark of cuteness IMHO. I think my best mate liked it. She was my only follower. Likewise I was hers. I'd have scoffed for days in the face of any a time traveller from the future telling me that pretty soon, women just like me, would be make a living from these squares. You'll not be shocked to hear maternity mumpreneur is not on my CV.

After its launch in 2010, Instagram rapidly gained popularity, with one million registered users in two months, 10 million in a year, and one billion as of May 2019. Only 790 are following me for my pet cats pics. Trying not to take it personally.

Business life on the squares 

OK back to the Instagram business advice. As we've all come to know, small businesses have always been an important part of Instagram’s community - an amazing 90% of the billion people on Instagram follow businesses. However, for millions of entrepreneurial female businesses owners, lockdown meant becoming digital-first, for the first time. And even now with life getting back to normal, well the new normal, Instagram has a pivotal role to play for anyone with a solid business idea.

And it seems us women are pretty blimming good at this at taking Instagram business advice. Female founded businesses really stepped up to the (digital) platform in response to the pandemic: by May 2020, 63% of female-led small businesses said they were making a quarter of their sales online, compared to less than half (48%) of male-owned businesses.

This may be why in the UK, female-led businesses have fared better during this time: 64% of male-led businesses reported falling sales during the crisis versus just 52% of those led by women. From independent homeware brands, to local restaurants and interior designers - there are so many examples of businesses using Instagram during the pandemic to keep their businesses running. Their spirit and adaptation in using digital tools is a glimmer of hope on our path to recovery.

Meet the pandemic entrepreneurs 

Liha Okunniwa & Abi Oyepitan, the pioneering women behind @lihabeauty, took to Instagram at the beginning of lockdown to empower their customers to try raw skincare ingredients. They launched an IGTV series called 'Quarantine DIY' sharing their knowledge behind their beauty range, which fuses natural ingredients with Yoruba tradition.

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Nuka Nails (@nukanails) was facing closure at the beginning of lockdown, when its co-founder and nail artist Anousaka Anastasia(@anouskaanastasia) pivoted to hosting live online masterclasses. For only £8, those missing their manis could learn how to paint her iconic flame nails at home.

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Gynelle Leon, founder of popular cactus and succulent store @prickldn, used Instagram Shopping tools to keep sales steady. She’s also using the opportunity to engage with and expand her online community, encouraging them to help their mood with plants. Plus she is speaking out about her experience as a young, black small business owner.

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'These months have been the perfect opportunity for us to focus on our online shop and engage with our audience virtually,' says Leon. 'I've always used Instagram to update and connect with customers, But I'd never really used it to drive sales.

'Rethinking our strategy, we were able to create a weekly buzz through things like product drops. Changing sales techniques also means offering open and honest engagement,' explains Leon. 'We’ve done this through online Q&As. And taking followers behind the scenes to share plant knowledge and care tips remotely. These changes increased our sales and built interest in our business.'

Instagram business advice - five secrets you need to know

Gord Ray, Instagram's Brand Development Lead for Europe, shares his expert knowledge

Help people find you

Make sure you are experimenting with all areas of Instagram - Feed, Stories, IGTV - and now Reels. Also make sure people can find you by using hashtags and tagging people or places you feature in your posts.

Create a digital shop window

Customise your shop on Instagram like you would a real-life store. Showcase beautiful visuals of your products through Feed and Stories. Use Shopping tags to reveal products people can buy. Make sure your back-office is just as tidy by using features within ‘Shops’ to create catalogues and organise your full range into product collections.

Know what you want to say

It’s easy to analyse how other brands communicate and attempt to emulate it. But remember, it’s your business' originality that has got you to where you are today. People go to Instagram to connect with people and topics they love, not copy-and-paste formats. Make sure your bio is an accurate reflection of your business - show your personality and your amazing uniqueness.

Dare to experiment

The only way you can tell what your community wants to see is through test and learn. Post the same content via video and images and see which performs better. Try Live content - a big hit with the Instagram community, with Live views more than doubling in the UK between March and April 2020. Use the Question sticker to invite direct conversation. And if you’re looking for inspiration or new features to try - follow @instagramforbusiness and @creator.

Celebrate your community

Building an engaged following can lead to great user generated content featuring your business or its products - so why not re-post some to your Stories to celebrate your community? Harness support from loyal customers by encouraging them to use the Support Small Business sticker, and during tougher times don’t be afraid to ask for their financial support using Fundraisers.

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

Hello Marie Claire readers – you have reached your daily destination. I really hope you’re enjoying our reads and I'm very interested to know what you shared, liked and didn’t like (gah, it happens) by emailing me at: maria.coole@freelance.ti-media.com

But if you fancy finding out who you’re venting to then let me tell you I’m the one on the team that remembers the Spice Girls the first time round. I confidently predicted they’d be a one-hit wonder in the pages of Bliss magazine where I was deputy editor through the second half of the 90s. Having soundly killed any career ambitions in music journalism I’ve managed to keep myself in glow-boosting moisturisers and theatre tickets with a centuries-spanning career in journalism.

Yes, predating t’internet, when 'I’ll fax you' was grunted down a phone with a cord attached to it; when Glastonbury was still accessible by casually going under or over a flimsy fence; when gatecrashing a Foo Fighters aftershow party was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and tapping Dave Grohl on the shoulder was... oh sorry I like to ramble.

Originally born and bred in that there Welsh seaside town kindly given a new lease of life by Gavin & Stacey, I started out as a junior writer for the Girl Guides and eventually earned enough Brownie points to move on and have a blast as deputy editor of Bliss, New Woman and editor of People newspaper magazine. I was on the launch team of Look in 2007 - where I stuck around as deputy editor and acting editor for almost ten years - shaping a magazine and website at the forefront of body positivity, mental wellbeing and empowering features. More recently, I’ve been Closer executive editor, assistant editor at the Financial Times’s How To Spend It (yes thanks, no probs with that life skill) and now I’m making my inner fangirl’s dream come true by working on this agenda-setting brand, the one that inspired me to become a journalist when Marie Claire launched back in 1988.

I’m a theatre addict, lover of Marvel franchises, most hard cheeses, all types of trees, half-price Itsu, cats, Dr Who, cherry tomatoes, Curly-Wurly, cats, blueberries, cats, boiled eggs, cats, maxi dresses, cats, Adidas shelltops, cats and their kittens. I’ve never knowingly operated any household white goods and once served Ripples as a main course. And finally, always remember what the late great Nora Ephron said, ‘Everything is copy.’