For many of us, using Instagram to market our creative small businesses is clearly a smart move. Where things get a bit hazy is how we want to best use the platform and develop our own Instagram strategy — how much do we want to be on it, how do we want to present ourselves and our design work (the ever-constant curated vs. non-curated feed battle), and how can we maximize our time spent on Instagram without falling into the trap of consuming more than creating.
Lucky for the members of Quill Collective, we got to chat with an Instagram expert and aficionado, Diana Davis. A former freelance photographer for female entrepreneurs and brands, Diana now works as a coach for Creative Entrepreneurs looking to grow profitable businesses and work with dream clients. One of her main avenues for that is teaching creatives how to effectively use Instagram to market themselves and their services. We had the incredible opportunity to pick her brain on all things Instagram and gain clarity on how to best leverage the platform.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background as a creative entrepreneur and how you got to where you are today?
A: Both photography and graphic design are a huge part of my past and what got me started in entrepreneurship! I went to graphic design school and got a minor in photography and I moved to New York City after graduating. I ended up working at the former Time Inc., now under the umbrella of the Meredith Corp. that produces a ton of well-known magazines, and eventually got poached by Hearst to come work for them. I ended up getting laid off from my role at Heart which was scary at first but ultimately ended up being the best thing that happened to me because that’s what pushed me to dive deep into entrepreneurship. I began photographing women in wellness, all while doing a little graphic design on the side specifically in the realm of social media design. Fast forward to Covid times, I pivoted to coaching creative entrepreneurs to help them navigate that road and miss some of the potholes along the way through sharing with them my experience and insight.
Q: Can you share with us a bit about how you approach Instagram for business?
A: When I got laid off back in 2017, that was the first time I really took Instagram seriously as a tool for growing my business. And this is totally back when we were still using the filters and Instagram stories didn’t exist yet! Something that I realize looking back that always worked well for me was just being ME! It sounds so simple, yet it’s a huge reason for the success I’ve found on the platform through connection-building. It’s also how I pivoted from purely photography to coaching for creatives so easily, because I was always sharing my entrepreneurship journey unfiltered. People would ask me for coffee dates when they quit their full time jobs because they associated me with taking the leap and going full-time.
Building off of that, I’ve always viewed the feed like a storefront or a mini portfolio and the stories are like going into the store. For me, Instagram stories have been crucial for deeper connection, almost like getting to know the shopkeeper if we want to follow that analogy! Stories is the main driver for connecting with my audience in an authentic way. I’ve actually pulled back from posting to the feed as much as I used to because it’s just not as important as showing up on stories. The beauty of Instagram stories is that it can be relaxed and just you being you. Whether that’s making your morning matcha or highlighting your workday, people love to see it and it’s not something that needs to be super calculated or planned out.
Q: How has your relationship with Instagram changed over the years?
A: Yeah definitely! Over the years comfort level has changed, as it’s become more second nature to be unapologetic in sharing things, even the most daily aspects of my life, on Stories. I’ve also definitely pulled back on my posting to the hard feed, something that I think can have the adverse effect on your audience and possibly push them away if you’re giving them a ton of content. Right now, it’s totally fair to post to your feed 2-3 times a week, as to not exhaust your audience.
One thing that has stayed consistent over the years is my purpose for utilizing Instagram — seeking connection. I’m not here to convert people into sales nor to accumulate tons of followers just to have them, I’m here to build lasting relationships with people through this platform.
Q: Do you have any tips for someone who isn’t yet comfortable getting on camera or posting to stories? How can they get that really scary factor of showing up?
A: First off, just be authentic! I’ve gotten on Stories more times than I can count, and share things that I’m struggling with along with the good. For instance, when I pivoted to coaching from photography I was so nervous to announce it and promote it. I went on Instagram Stories and shared how I feel awkward promoting myself and the reaction blew me away! So many people messaged me saying that they too felt the exact way. It’s a lesson to really pull back the veil and just be you.
The other thing that’s helpful is to pretend you’re talking to one set person when you’re speaking on Stories. You can even picture them in your mind — they could be your best friend, your sister, your favorite client, etc. By doing this, you focus on just talking to them instead of imagining all of your followers and likely getting nervous about it. Put your blinders on and know that the people who are going to see it and resonate with it are indeed the right people.
Q: Do you plan out your content, both on your feed or for Stories?
A: For me personally, I actually prefer to post more in the moment. That usually feels the most authentic to me and it seems to resonate with my audience more. That being said, while my content is a bit more spontaneous the ideas behind it are not. I’m constantly writing down a brain dump of ideas to talk about on Stories or in feed posts in my notes app on my phone. This helps me so that I can still maintain a level of spontaneity and authenticity in posting but know that the topics are aligned with my business and truly serve my audience.
Scheduling your content is also fine! A ton of my entrepreneur friends do that and it works great for them. My approach is to do whatever feels best to you and fits in with your life, not the other way around. We became entrepreneurs to relish the freedoms and flexibilities that come with it, so stick to an approach to social media that best meshes with your life.
Q: Can you share an example of how you’ve booked a dream client through Instagram?
A: So going back to this idea that Instagram is your storefront, your feed is like your mini portfolio. You should showcase all of your work, but also make sure there are some photos of you on there as well so people can easily know who you are. Your stories will be how people connect with you on a deeper more personal level with your brand, aka entering your store. And your Instagram Bio is like your business card. The bolded letters are your SEO, your Google terms. If you can, have your name in your handle and job title in there — an example being, “ Diana — NYC Photographer”. This helps so that when people actually search for those keywords, you can pop up in their results. In the rest of your bio, it’s important to clearly state what you do and who you help so that when those dream clients land on your page, they know exactly who you serve. I’ve definitely had great traction by capitalizing on those SEO terms and also using hashtags on a local level that represent my niche, like #NYCwellnessphotographer.
Another way I’ve booked dream clients is through organic conversations. I landed Native Deodorant, a clean beauty deodorant brand that I was obsessed with. I had their product already, which is crucial. You should most definitely support your dream clients — buy their stuff, interact with them, and cheer them on. So I already had this deodorant, a Rosé scented deodorant from then, and I actually posted a Boomerang sharing how I was upset about that particular deodorant ending since it was a limited edition scent. They responded to my Boomerang and we began a super fun, organic conversation. Eventually, the team member for Native on the other side of the DM’s looked at my profile and mentioned she had some photos she needed done for the brand. Fast forward to thousands of dollars later for shooting for this brand, and it all came from an Instagram DM. The coolest thing is that they were one of my dream clients that were listed on my Trello board, and I highly recommend writing out those dream clients for you to remember.
Q: If someone were short on time for social media, say they’re still working their 9-5, where would you recommend they focus their energy most when it comes to Instagram?
A: Instagram Stories, for sure! Reels could also be a contender, but Stories are the most return on your investment and the lowest effort. Reels are incredible for gaining visibility and growing your brand but they definitely take more time to develop.
Q: For designers specifically, do you have any thoughts on maintaining a more curated vs. authentic feed aesthetic?
A: You can be whatever you want to be. If you’re a super organized person and you know you have a set vision for a pattern on your feed, just follow it. My advice would be to focus more on how the feed is going to feel and less on making it perfect. People are really looking for human connection right now, and that’s allowed us to focus less on a curated feed and more on a mood for the feed. Obviously as designers, you should be showcasing your work but it doesn’t have to be only designs, you also can show the real and raw you.
Q: Do you have any tips for not falling down the Instagram rabbit hole and it becoming a total time suck?
A: Be intentional about your time on Instagram! I like to time block, and I’ve found it helpful to add a set chunk of time to utilize social media and once it’s over, that’s it. Airplane mode comes on! You do not need to be on there scrolling 24/7, it will most likely mess with your head more than help you!
Q: Where can people find you to connect after?
A: On Instagram of course, totally on-brand for this topic. I’m @dianadaviscreative and for all Collective members I have a free 3 part training about scheduling your dream life, nailing your niche, and attracting ideal clients on Instagram!
If you haven’t yet become a member of the Collective, now’s your chance to hop on-board. Once you’re in, you can catch all of the Guest Speaker replays and start connecting with other designers and creatives. We have an incredible line-up of amazing guest speakers over the next few weeks and we’d love to have you join us!