When I started the Instagram page for Rascals Toy Shop back in March 2016, I hadn’t even used it for personal reasons and didn’t understand the benefit for business but every marketing course, networking meeting and retailing expo tried to explain how Instagram was essential for product based businesses. I spent hours researching, reading, watching you tube videos, reading information in Facebook Groups and watching live feeds of discussions, courses and online marketing advice before finally understanding how I should start, but still I got it wrong!

The main advice was to build a brand and a ‘look’ so that my feed was consistent and looked smart. Initially, I tried to do this by creating collage pictures with the same background, text and colours but I still used stock photos of my products. Once I started following other businesses and taking a look at their Instagram feeds, it was obvious that this wasn’t the way to stand out and wouldn’t be what I wanted to see when visiting others. I understood that customers and followers love to see behind the scenes, similarly as we all do on Facebook, so this part was easy for me to show other bits of the business and what I was up to. However, I then lost focus on the products, which ultimately, is what I want to show off.

Now photography isn’t my strong point! I love taking photo’s but I’m not great with lighting and the creative side of how to display items. By this time, I’d been taking a good look around Instagram and could see that many businesses seemed to have Brand Reps who most importantly, could take the type of excellent, clear and bright photos that I am unable to capture. 

I decided to focus on our first Christmas and sharing as many photos from this as possible on our Instagram feed. I also spent time looking around Instagram at the current trends, upcoming businesses and the Brand Reps who regularly appeared on my feed through other businesses. Our following on Instagram grew naturally as I was taking a look around, genuinely liking and commenting on photo’s that grabbed my attention (mostly for the Ahh factor!) and following other like minded profiles. 

Once this new website was up and running and almost exactly a year on from our first post, I started our first Brand Rep and Enthusiast Search. This totally opened my eyes to even more of Instagram that I hadn’t yet discovered! There are some amazing accounts out there with fabulous photos and you can clearly see that they take pride in their job of promoting small businesses and showing off products. I was overwhelmed with the applications to my search and left with the hard decision of well over 50 applicants to choose from. Being my first search, I wasn’t entirely sure of the things I should be looking out for, but I eventually went with my gut and choose 4 lovely ladies who helped me have a better understanding of Instagram and even more importantly, produced some fabulous photos of our toys. 

Since then, our Instagram account has just grown! We have had many orders directly from our photos, and those that the Brand Reps have shared. I love looking through and seeing what others are up to, what families are loving and what’s on. My photography skills have improved although I’m still looking for another round of Brand Reps later this year as my photos still don’t quite compare (and I don’t have the cute children to show off the toys in the best way!) I’ve learnt more about hashtags, how to search with them and use them in my own posts. We wouldn’t have found our top selling toy, the Jones and Parker Bi-Plane if it wasn’t for Instagram! I’ve learnt how to use business insights to work out what people want to see and when. I absolutely love seeing customer photos and this is more popular on Instagram and very easy to share. So overall, thank you to everyone who encouraged me to join Instagram for my small business!

So my top tips for Instagram for small business (I’m not an expert just what I’ve picked up! I don’t always get chance to do all these myself)

*Use relevant Hashtag’s including those about the product in the photo and about your brand. Try and use the full 30 hashtags that are allowed.

*Use insights to see what time your followers are online and try and post when they are around as Instagram likes to see people respond quickly to your posts

*Look at other similar businesses – you don’t need to copy or concern yourself with their success (or not) but you can see what their customers like to see, what hashtag’s they use and how often they post

*Don’t get caught up in the numbers – grow a natural following with people who you want to connect with and people who love your brand and products

*Use Instagram stories to share behind the scenes information and what you are personally up to in your day 

*Interact with and support other small businesses. Social Media is about being social!

We would love you to follow us, if you don’t already!