The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Instagram for Your Business

Teegan Nordhues

Advertising and branding are quite possibly one of the hardest parts of owning your own business. We’ve all been there — struggling, wrestling with how to get the entire essence of you and your business into a catchy tagline, color choice, or advertising campaign, and feeling like you may have missed the mark. ?

Being so close to your product or service can leave you with advertising and branding blind spots, sometimes making it difficult to connect with a prospective customer. However, with so many social media tools at your fingertips, you can build a robust story that covers your blind spots with ease.

Today we’re focusing on Instagram. The visual format of Instagram offers a unique opportunity to tell your story in a way that other social media and advertising venues don’t – a picture is worth a thousand words, you know. So, I’d like to talk about the basics of how Instagram works and give you some solid ideas on how to make Instagram work for you.


Instagram’s background

For a little bit of background, Instagram was started in 2010, making it nearly a grandfather by social media standards. At 8 years old, it now has over 800 million active users and is a favorite of millennials, influencers, and most importantly for this blog, small businesses.

In 2012 Instagram was purchased by Facebook. Facebook has kept the look and feel of the original Instagram, but has changed it to be algorithm and ad driven. So when you’re thinking about advertising and engaging with your audience, think Facebook — good content with high engagement will get pushed to the top of your followers feeds.

Now let’s dive into to the details of running your Instagram business account.


Setting up an Instagram business profile

First things first, you need an Instagram business profile. With a business profile (as opposed to a personal profile), you have advanced capabilities for contact information, easy ways to advertise and promote posts, and analytics to measure your Instagram performance. Also, with an Instagram business profile you can set up third party software to schedule and post your posts throughout the week.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Download the Instagram app.
  2. Follow the promptings to create a profile.
  3. Tap on settings.
  4. Choose Switch to business profile.
  5. Insert necessary contact and business info to complete your profile.

Easy peasy! But…what now? ?


Instagram business strategy basics

As with anything visible with your business, you need to know what you want to accomplish and be mindful of your branding. Not only that, but Instagram’s algorithm depends heavily on engagement, especially comments. If you have a lot of likes and comments, Instagram thinks you have a high value post and will put it towards the top of your followers’ feeds. To make sure that you’re able to accomplish your Instagram objectives, you’re going to need some some strategy. ?

  1. Consider your brand. What I mean by this is your look, feel, and business culture. Do you have a color your business identifies with? Is the culture of your business lighthearted, or is it all business all the time? You need to identify the overall tone that your Instagram profile is going to take based on who and what your business is. Think of this as a visual voice. Your objective is to be consistent with your visual voice so that your followers can readily identify your posts and relate to them in their split second scroll through.invisible_textAnother way to think about this is in terms of lifestyle. Instagram is a great way to portray a particular lifestyle that you associate with your product. Are you trying to convey a lifestyle of luxury? Simplicity? Community? Professional growth? Once you determine what lifestyle fits you and your business, you’ll have much easier time coming up with compelling posts.
  2. What do you want to accomplish with your Instagram profile? While Instagram is essential and an obvious fit to some businesses, it won’t be a successful experience unless you have a clear objective and can understand how this is really benefiting your business. So before diving in, determine how you want Instagram to work on your behalf.invisible_textSome potential questions to ask: Are you wanting a new, younger audience? Do you just want followers or are you intending to sell through Instagram as well? Are you hoping your followers contact you through your Instagram account?
  3. Competition research. Who is your competition and what are they doing? In order to gain some insight into what other people are doing in your industry, spend some time surfing Instagram. Notice the posts that are getting high engagement – what is the imagery like? How do the captions read? And then, most importantly, how can you set yourself apart?

Whatever your objectives are, your posts, your profile bio, your captions need be created with those in mind.

Having the answers to these questions in hand will help guide you through creating the next part of your strategy, posting.


What to post to Instagram

While remaining true and consistent to your brand and objective, brainstorm the types of images you’d like to have show up on your profile. A good place to start would be to think of three things you lovmore e about your business or product. There’s a decent chance that if you love them, your followers might too.

So consider. You’re a donut shop who wants to build a local following that checks in every morning to find out your unique daily flavors. You love the bright colors of your frostings, the camaraderie of your bakers, and your regular customers. You can very easily build out a consistent schedule of posts that adhere to these three loves that will captivate your desired audience.

Let’s take one that might be a little harder since it’s less inherently visual. You’re a CPA and you want to start cultivating a younger audience. You love helping students pay off their loans early, getting young entrepreneurs set up for business, and (why hide it?) taxes. You’re really good at taxes. Plus you’re an avid outdoorsman. Your instagram could have a Tax Tip Tuesday that would just be words on a brand-friendly colored background. You could post willing clients who are coming out of debt and happy to share their story. And perhaps you could post some of your camping adventures to help personalize you and your business.

Once you have your three loves, you can expand your list into more detailed categories. Since Instagram is all about creating consistent content, the more ideas you’ve got, the easier it will be to stay inspired and posting. To give you an idea what this might look like, let’s go into more detail on the donut shop posting schedule. You’ve got your three loves of bright colors, bakers camaraderie, and customer community, which will be the bulk of your posting, but to expand the list the posts could touch on some of the following topics:

  • Specials
  • Recipes that you’re willing to share
  • National holidays using your donuts as props (think red, white, and blue for July 4th, etc)
  • Favorite coffee and donut pairings
  • Inspiring food related books or cookbooks
  • Good reads to discover while eating donuts
  • Great quotes

But, the main thing here is to brainstorm. Plan ahead. Be deliberate. It’ll pay off with a visually interesting, cohesive Instagram account that is attractive to new followers and keeps the old engaged.


What if I’m not a photographer?

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to get great shots for your posts. With some practiced use of your smartphone, you’ll be able to accomplish a consistent, professional feel. Here are some guidelines for you to experiment with until you feel confident you can capture Instagram worthy images:

  • Natural light. Make sure your object is close to a big window or outside to get those lovely natural tones that you see in beautiful photography.
  • Think in terms of a grid and what your main focus is. Make sure you have a clear point of interest and that the viewer can quickly tell what it is. Google “rules of thirds” to find ideas on how to position your shots to make them visually interesting.
  • White space. It’s ok to have breathing room in your images.
  • Play with color and backgrounds. Try positioning your product in front of a textured brick wall or on top of a green (or any other color that makes sense for you) foam core and see what effect you get.
  • Be conservative with filters. Stick to one or two favorites and you’ll find you have a cohesive overall look to your profile.
  • Practice. A lot. Seriously. Play with colors, light, positioning, until you can do it in your sleep.
  • Research. Spend time searching through Instagram industry related hashtags and competition. See what similar businesses are doing, follow those you find are interesting and try to recreate some of your favorite images. Not only will it get you up to speed with your competition, but most likely you’ll get some inspiring ideas for your own feed.


How to caption

The other element to Instagram is the caption. There are a couple of strategies here, but the main thing to remember is authenticity and engagement. Some Instagrammers write captions that scroll on forever, and some write captions that are short and to the point, whatever your style is, it needs to either inform, entertain, or engage your follower.


  • A new product announcement → informs
  • A funny moment in the office → entertains
  • A life lesson learned → entertains/informs
  • A question to ask your followers → engages

Before posting your caption, run it through those guidelines for a strong post.


How to hashtag

Hashtagging. It’s become so common even my spell check considers it a legitimate word. And for instagram, hashtagging is incredibly important.

Hashtagging is basically categorizing your images. Based on your hashtags, Instagram will place it in a group with other like images. So, the most important thing is that your hashtags match your image. Even if you make furniture, don’t put #handmadefurniture with an image of a sunset simply because you snatched your photo outside of your workshop. Instead, stick to sunset related words. The idea behind hashtags is that an interested user can search through hashtags to find other Instagram profiles that they connect with. It’s a way for new followers to discover who you are. So use hashtags that you think your desired audience might be interested in and use them consistently.

A couple of guidelines for hashtags:

  • It’s recommended that 12-15 hashtags are ideal.
  • There are many preferences about how to format hashtags and where to place them, but prevailing wisdom leans toward placing your hashtags in the first comment. Whether you list them out or just string them together in a paragraph is up to you.
  • Instagram will auto populate suggestions for hashtags that are popular. It’s a great way to find new hashtag ideas. Feel free to use those that make sense for you.


Consistency, and a few Instagram tools

Once you have a good idea of what you’re going to post, how you’re going to write your captions, and how to hashtag, you are prepared for, arguably, the most difficult part of Instagramming for your business — CONSISTENCY.

Once a day during the week is an excellent goal, but if it’s unachievable, stick to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Whatever you can do, do it week in and week out. The algorithm likes it that way and will get your images in front of more of your followers.

Sometimes the best way to achieve this is to batch and schedule your posts. Up until this year this wasn’t a possibility, but starting in January, Instagram started to let businesses use third party software to post on their behalf.

Here are a few popular ones you can check out:

  • Hootsuite
  • Buffer
  • Later
  • Tailwind

So, schedule a couple photoshoots, get your images captioned and hashtagged, and schedule the heck out of it.


A final word

Instagramming for your business isn’t for the faint of heart. You need a dose of perseverance and a measure of steely reserve. It’s constantly changing, which will forever affect your likes and followers.

The best advice I can give at the end of the day is that likes and followers are not tied up in your self worth or your business’ viability. In fact, your followers will go up by 7 one day and down by 10 the very next. There are many underhanded tactics that businesses and personalities use to boost their numbers at the expense of others.

So don’t succumb to the power of the likes and followers. Set big goals, but also good boundaries, and you’ll discover a rewarding Instagram experience for your business.

Small business instagram inspiration
There are a few small businesses who do an excellent job at instagramming. Check out

Of course, Instagram has many features I didn’t have time to cover here. There are loads of good resources out there, but if you’re looking for in-depth and detailed, check out Neil Patel’s Instagram post.

If you need some help getting started on your Instagram journey, we’d be glad to help! We’d love to talk you through finding your visual voice and help you strategize the best Instagram methods for you and your business.