Instagram Strategy for Small Business in 2021

Brand Design Mood Board From Pinterest showing a bold and bright brand identity

Hellloooo 2021! With a new year comes new business strategies. I want to help your business make the most of this new year by establishing effective Instagram social media habits from the very beginning.

Let’s face it. In this day in age, if your business doesn’t have a social media presence, you are basically a nobody. I’m not saying that to offend anyone, but it is true. Especially after our COVID year, the transition to an online market place has been expedited. More people are shopping online now than ever before, with trend analysts only forecasting more growth in the space. I’m sure you already realize this and don’t want to get left behind. That’s why you’re here. Well, I’m glad we found each other! This blog post is going to take you through 16 strategic moves that you can start implementing into your business TODAY! (Because why wait to be great, right?)

P.S. Most of them are FREE!!

1. Do Research On Your Target Market

To research your target market, you first need to define your target market. You can check out my previous blog post on identifying your ideal client avatar if you need help with this.

Once you have drilled down who your target market is, do a little bit of stalking. (Come on, we all do it right?) Go to the Instagram accounts of your ideal customer. Click on their photos and pay attention to the type of language they use in their captions. Look at the hashtags they are using and take note of them. Try to pick up on patterns that are common in your target audience. Do they all seem to watch The Bachelor? Cool. Now you know you can include Bachelor memes and gifs in your story to add a bit of humor to your message. Do they keep hashtagging “wod”? What does “wod” mean? Oh! “Workout of the Day”! Cool. I can use that on my workout posts. Try to pick up on the common lingo and integrate it into the way you speak to your target market.

 2. Content Pillars

I originally heard this idea from Alex Krahling on her podcast. (If you haven’t listened, I highly recommend, especially her “How to Grow Your Instagram” episode if you are wanting a more in-depth explanation.) The basic idea behind forming content pillars is that you should look at your Instagram page as a pie chart with 3-5 sections. Each post on your page should fit into a category of your pie chart. These are your content pillars.

For example, if you own an online store selling hair products, your content pillars might be:

  • Quote Graphics
  • Lifestyle photos from users
  • Product Offerings
  • Video Tutorials

Each one of your posts should fit into one of these categories. These pillars keep your content organized and provides consistent value to your target market. To expand on this strategy even further, assign a percentage to each category of how often you will post about it. The percentages should add up to 100%. You can further use this to help you plan your content and make sure you are providing a variety of value and posts to your audience.

For example, let’s make the timeline 100 days for simple calculation. Assume you assign the following percentages to each of the above content pillars.

  • Quote Graphics – 15%
  • Lifestyle photos from users – 30%
  • Product Offerings – 40%
  • Video Tutorials – 55%

Using these percentages would help you break down your content so you will know to post a total of 15 quote graphics every 100 days. This comes out to about one quote graphic a week. You will post a total of 30 lifestyle photos every 100 days. This comes out to about 2 a week… and so on. Mapping out your content pillars and percentage strategy will allow you to create a large amount of content at one time. You can then save this content for future use following the guidelines you set forth.

I find this strategy helps when you are staring blankly at an Instagram feed not knowing what the heck you should post.

3. Put your Instagram Bio to Work!

When people visit your Instagram, they are going to immediately look at three things. They will look at your profile picture, the number of followers you have, and then they are going to look at your title line and bio information. By the time somebody is finished looking at these four areas on your profile, they should know who you are, what you do, and how you are different. You might not have a lot of followers right now. That is okay. You need to build trust and authority in the other three areas.

First, make sure your profile picture looks professional. Either make it your business logo or make it a close up picture of you. If your business is built around your personal brand, make sure this is a picture of YOU! Make sure you have good lighting in the picture and that viewers can see your face well. Another helpful tip is to give people an idea of what you do with your picture. If you are a hairstylist, maybe use a picture with an apron on and shears in your hand. If you are an athlete, use a picture with you in uniform. These are just a few examples. You do not have to follow them exactly, but try to utilize your profile picture as a tool to tell people what you do.

Next is your name, or the title line as I think it should be better called. It is bolded and is the first thing people see when they look at your account. So many businesses miss out on an opportunity here. Do not use your name on this line. We all need to take an ego check and realize that people don’t care who we are. They care about what we can do for them. As sad as this may be, it is how most humans operate. Use this line to tell them what you can do for them and then you can tell them your name later on.  

For example, I am a brand and website designer. My Title line says “Brand + Website Designer.” Not only does this tell people what you can do for them, but it also allows your Instagram to pull up your account when people search for your service in their search bar. It is a double win.

Your Instagram bio information should give people an even better idea of what you can do for them. This should also include why you are different. Be straight to the point with it. Here is a template you can use to create a powerful Instagram bio:

“I help  this person to do this really cool thing and this other really cool thing to save them from this thing that they hate .”

Make sure to target your audience’s pain points in your bio and tell them what you can do to help them solve the problem.

4. Create a Post Pattern

Have you ever started scrolling on someone’s Instagram page and been surprised at how visually appealing it was to you? Did it look extremely organized and professional? There is a reason for that. They were likely creating a pattern in their feed. You can do this in many different ways. You can make a pattern where you post one lifestyle picture followed by a graphic and then keep repeating that pattern. You could also do a pattern where the overall colors in the posts transition as you scroll through the feed. I have seen some people create rainbow feeds by posting in a way that transitioned colors as you scrolled. You might want to post three pictures at a time with a theme to make it so that each row has a different theme.

There is an abundance of patterns you can use when posting to your Instagram. Find the one that will work best with your content pillars and then stick with it.

5. Create a Color Palette for your Instagram.

You should already have a color palette associated with your brand, if not, maybe you could reach out to me and I’ll help you get going! Click this link to work with me and snaz up your brand! Either way, you need to have colors associated with your brand. You should also know the type of feeling you want people to feel when they interact with your brand. Does your brand give off a light and airy vibe? Perfect! Your color palette should fit in with that vibe, and you should find a filter that you can use on every image you post to give a cohesive feeling to your account. The filter should also be light and airy.

On the contrary, if you have an extremely professional business that sees things in black and white, portray that in your Instagram feed. Maybe you will want to use a black and white filter on everything to make sure your feed stays looking crisp and clean. Whatever color palette you choose for your feed should be in alignment with your brand.

6. Hashtag Strategy

Hashtags are a powerful tool that are not taken advantage of enough. They went through a phase of appearing spammy and childish. People are still scared to use them, but you shouldn’t be. Instagram allows you to use 30 hashtags in each post. This means that you have 30 opportunities to get your post in front of hundreds of new eyes by simply hashtagging a relative term under your image. That is too much free brand exposure to not take advantage of it.

Now, you are asking “How do I come up with 30 hashtags? That is so many!” Oh young grasshopper, let me show you.

First of all, you don’t even have to come up with all of them by yourself. You can start by using this website to type in your keywords and get a list of relevant hashtags for FREE. Check out the metrics below the provided hashtags to see which hashtags are being used most often. You don’t necessarily want to use the most common hashtags. Sure, these get a lot of traffic, but they have so much competition that your post will get lost quickly. Try to discover hashtags that are specific to your target audience and post. Hashtags with longer tails tend to get better results.

Example: #magazines will likely not be as effective as #magazinesformentalhealth

Do your best to drill down your hashtags.

Have you made your list of 30? Great! You’re awesome! But you aren’t quite down yet. Make multiple lists of 30 hashtags. The Instagram algorithm does not like it when you are using the same hashtags for every post. You need to switch it up some. Besides, having multiple groups will allow you to make your hashtags more specific to your post.

I suggest coming up with at least 2 groups of hashtags for each of your content pillars. This may seem like a lot, but once you have these groups, you can continue to mix them up and reuse them for your posts. The time spent now to build your hashtag lists will pay off in the end from all the new eyes on your content.

BONUS: There are tools to see how effectively each hashtag is performing. You can use apps, such as Later and SproutSocial to analyze how each hashtag is performing and continuously update your list and to make it better. Replace the poorly performing hashtags with ones that will gain more traffic.

7. Story Hashtags

While we’re talking about hashtags, I might as well throw this one in. Make sure to also use hashtags in your stories! As of now, you can use up to 10 hashtags in your Instagram stories. Take advantage of this! Not many people do this, so stories with targeted hashtags usually get a very high amount of traffic to them.

I knowwwww. I knowww. “But Bailey, that will look so ugly and unorganized.” No. No. Don’t worry about that. I have you covered. Type out your hashtags in your story and then you can change the color of them and shrink them down to the size of a pea and hide them in the background. Another tip is to shrink them down and then place a sticker over them. There are endless ways to hide hashtags into your story. Don’t let the nonaesthetic aspect of hashtags scare you away from using them.

8. Be ACTIVE!!

In the world of Instagram, you can become irrelevant very quickly. To remain relevant and evoke that top-of-mind brand recognition, make sure to post frequently. You should make it a goal to post at least once a day. If you can post twice a day, that is even better! You want to form a relationship with your audience. The more you talk to them, the more you will feel like a friend.

Disclaimer: Do not forget to post for a week and then post 7 images at a time to try to make up for your missed posts. Save them and get back on track with your posting schedule. Also, do not just post to post. You have a goal with a number to hit, but more importantly, your posts need to be high-quality content that provides value. If you are posting useless content every day, you are setting yourself up to lose followers.

9. Respond to Your Audience

This tip is particularly true for small businesses with a manageable following. You should respond to EVERY . SINGLE . ONE of your comments. Every one of them! It is a blessing to have an audience that is engaged enough to take time out of their day and interact with one of your posts. Reward them for it! When you respond to their comments and story reactions, you are encouraging them to engage with your content again. You are showing them there is a real person behind your brand that cares about what they are thinking and saying. This is such a powerful differentiator with many brands today. The more personal you can make their experience on your page, the better.

Pro tip: Carve out time into your schedule before and after you post to interact with other Instagram users. Thirty minutes before you post, you can go like some pictures and comment on posts made by other users. This will likely lead to them clicking on your page to see who you are, and “Wow! Look at that! They just posted. I’ll go ahead and like it.” After your posts, you should be doing the same thing. Whether it is engaging with comments on your new post, or engaging with other Instagram users, give back to the Instagram community and you will be rewarded.


10. Use Instagram Stories

Instagram stories are a great way to give your audience a behind-the-scenes look at what is going on in your business. It is almost like a daily vlog of your business life. The more behind the scenes content you show your audience, and the more personal conversations you have with them over stories, the more they will feel as if you are a friend they can trust. This is exactly what you want.

You should also use your stories to encourage engagement with your audience. People love getting to put their two cents in. Instagram makes it easy for you to let them do this by putting polls and questions on stories. Try to incorporate these features often and make it easy for your audience to participate Even if it is something as simple as “Pick your favorite color,” your audience will enjoy clicking the button to share input. These features can also be helpful when you are trying to learn more about your audience. You can ask them questions about what they want to see in your next blog or what their favorite product is and why. Instagram stories are a great place to test the waters and do some premarket testing for your ideas.

11. Rule of 3/3/30

You need to interact more with other accounts to drive more attention to your account. Simple as that. The Rule of 3/3/30 helps you do that. This strategy means that 3 times a week, you will find 3 target-market specific hashtags and interact with 30 of them. That means 30 interactions for each hashtag. You do that 3 times a week for a total of 270 interactions with other Instagram accounts every week.

I know. You don’t think you have the time to do this. Well, think of it as a beneficial break from your other duties. You get to leisurely scroll through Instagram and comment on topics you are interested in while still growing your business. It is a win-win.

You don’t necessarily have to comment on every post. An Instagram like counts as an interaction too, but I do suggest commenting on posts where you believe you can add value. A lot of times, some of the major competitors in your field may not have the capability to respond to every single comment they get. There are thousands of them. This is a good chance for you to swoop in and answer any questions that are in your wheelhouse. Don’t be creepy when you do this. You aren’t trying to sell them. You simply want to create an initial point of contact. When you answer their question, they are likely to visit your page and may potentially even follow you and become loyal advocates for your brand. This is why it is so important to put yourself out there and give back to other users on Instagram.

12. Use Instagram’s Highlight Feature

If you are not familiar with what an Instagram highlight is, I am referring to the row of circles that appear at the top of some Instagram accounts. These circles house past stories that the individual wanted to live on past their 24-hour story expiration clock. Story Highlights are a great place to showcase your content pillars. Do not have random highlights that do not add value to your audience’s experience. They should all fit within your content pillars and give your audience more insight into who your business is, what you do, what others think of you, and how you are different. Highlights are especially a great place to showcase customer testimonials and reviews if you are trying to sell your services/products online. The testimonials help you build a higher level of trust with your audience.

13. Use Tools to Help You Schedule Posts

I mentioned some tools to help you grow your Instagram earlier. Those same tools can be used to help you schedule posts and view your feed before you post. My favorite tool to do this is Later. There is a free version of Later and also a paid version, so you can try it out before purchasing a monthly subscription.

Later allows you to pick your pictures to post, write captions, and schedule them all in one app. You can also get a preview of your Instagram feed to see what it will look like with your newly planned posts. This is a huge help when you are creating patterns on your feed, as I mentioned earlier.

With Later, you can sit down one day at the beginning of every month and plan out exactly what you are going to post and when it will be posted for the entire month. This can be a big help for small business owners that have a lot going on and do not necessarily have the time to sit down and post something every single day.

Later also allows you to track your Instagram growth. You can pick up on trends in your posting patterns and the success rates accompanying them. You can also learn more about your audience to see when the best time to post is and gather other demographic information.

14. Use Reels

Reels are still quite new to the Instagram experience. Reels are short videos where you can add video effects to create fun content for your audience. They are very similar to Tik Tok’s. The great thing about Reels is that the feature has not yet been adopted by the majority of Instagram users. You can step in and be an early adopter of the trend. Instagram is trying to get users to use Reels. They reward those that do so by posting the videos on the popular page for all to see. People have begun to like consuming content in video form. When these short videos pop up on their popular page, they are more likely to stop and watch them. This is free exposure for your business. Most businesses are getting around 30% more engagement with their Reel posts than picture posts.

Another perk to Reels is they do not go away, like a story. The Reel will remain on your feed for all to see unless you choose to delete it.

15. Find Influencers

Finding influencers is a great way to increase your brand reach on Instagram. These influencers have already done the leg work to amass a plentiful amount of followers on their platform. Their followers look up to them and listen to what they are saying. Getting your product in the hands of a relevant influencer can provide an exponential amount of growth to your small business.

When choosing influencers, make sure to find an individual with similar core values and personality traits as your brand. You want their persona to have a seamless integration into your brand. They should be relevant to whatever you are selling. If you are selling Harley motorcycle jackets, a user that belongs to a motorcycle gang and is always posting about his bike would likely be a good candidate. You also want to look through their posts and check their engagement levels. You want an influencer that gets a lot of comments and likes every time they post. The more eyes on your brand, the better.

16. Giveaways

Many small businesses can build their following quickly by offering giveaways. Giveaways are when a business gives away a free product or service in return for their followers sharing their content. You can offer users a free service/product if they share your account with others. There are many different ways you can incorporate giveaways into your Instagram growth strategy.

When you are doing this, make sure your giveaway is easy enough for your audience to enter. Some small businesses ask for too much and don’t give enough in return. For example, if you are only offering a $20 gift, you should not be making people follow 10 accounts, tag 5 friends, and post to their story. That is too much work for the reward. Make sure your gift warrants whatever actions you are asking for in return.

At the end of the day, increasing your following on Instagram is all about being authentic with your audience and having fun. You started your business for a reason. You enjoy it and see the ways you are helping people. Share your passion with the world, and your tribe will follow. Until next time friends…

Upward and Onward!

Bailey Thibodeau Brand and Web Designer Signature

Bailey Thibodeaux

Founder of Honeywave Creative

3 thoughts on “Instagram Strategy for Small Business in 2021”

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