Entrepreneurs have to wear many hats, make critical decisions, and allocate resources wisely. Investing time or money in the wrong thing, as a startup, could make or break your business. In an era where EVERYONE is fighting for the attention of our potential clients… how is it that we can win in the game of business when we are David fighting against all the Goliaths out there?
Building a following is a great way to increase your chances of being heard, yet to build a following you have to create value for others and share consistently on different platforms (which requires time and/or money). In this article, we will go over how to build an Instagram following with an organic ROI-oriented strategy.
Once upon a time, I had 0 followers on Instagram. Now, I have several Instagram accounts with more than 15,000 followers, one above 40,000 followers, have gotten clients because of Instagram posts, and have been re-posted (twice) without paying anything, by New York Times Best-Selling author Tim Ferriss. All of this has been accomplished through organic marketing strategies.
This all happened because I put in the hours. I’ve created, curated, and posted more than 3,000 pieces of content in less than 730 days (that’s about 4 pieces of content a day).
This is NOT a get an overnight success scheme. This is NOT a hack to 2,000 followers a day (although I did get 2,000 followers in a day but only once, thanks to the second Tim Ferriss re-post).
This is a guide that will show you the way to success on Instagram, but it will only work if you do the work.
Also, since in a couple of years we might be on to the next platform, or trend, I’ll do my best to focus on principles and fundamentals, so that you can use this knowledge for any business and marketing efforts.
DISCOVERY: RESEARCH OBSESSIVELY
This takes me back to my gaming days… any gamers out there?
You are not a real gamer if you don’t research for about a week the perfect combination of stats for your new character before you even start playing or the perfect build for your city/civilization!
This happened over and over again… when playing Diablo… Neverwinter Nights… Age of Empires… or any other game involved leveling, a combination of stats/skills/feats, and strategy.
The truth is that you can just enjoy the game and level up as you go… but that is NOT our truth! At least not for anyone that is OBSESSED with reaching the best possible result.
Guess what? It’s the same in real life.
There is no right or wrong answer to the amount and depth of research you should do before you begin creating a strategy to solve a problem or overcome a challenge.
You have to align your effort level with your goals. That will give you the right answer.
In my case, I like to win, I like to always do my best no matter what, and I have a “no excuses” mindset… so the right amount of research is… as much as it is needed to design a winning strategy!
Let’s go over an example of how that might look like.
RESEARCHING LIKE A BOSS
The first step is to get a high-level view of your challenge.
This usually means understanding the industry as a whole. Let’s say you want to open a coffee shop here in Houston, that means you should go and read industry reports such as the ones provided by IBISWorld, or gather valuable data from places like Hoovers.
Doing so will give you a general idea of where the industry is heading, the competitive landscape, who are the leaders, and what will it take to win in this industry.
You might think “But I’m just opening one small coffee shop focused on a small niche, should I worry about what big players like Starbucks are doing?” OF COURSE, you should! They are your competition.
Yes, you might not be competing at the same level, and your strategy is going to be different than theirs. Yet, you could learn a lot by researching what the big players are doing.
If there are big public companies competing in your industry (and most likely there will be) it is a good idea to go to their investor’s relations website and download their latest 10K (this is a type of report that all public companies must make).
At this point, I can see some of you cringing just by thinking about downloading a document that might have more than 200 pages and is full of financial and accounting information. Yet, there is a lot of valuable information you can get by reading a 10K. Here, you can find the latest 10K for Starbucks.
If you want to avoid having to dedicate the time to reading it, understanding it, and summarizing it in a way that is knowledge valuable to your strategic efforts… you will have to invest money in this step by hiring consultants such as Latinpresarios ;)
After these steps, you should have a clear high-level picture of your industry. Now we have to get specific. This is where we should go see what others are doing in the industry. This is when you go and take a look at the following websites (following the example of starting a coffee shop):
You can also check more niche websites such as:
Also, check their respective Instagram accounts:
With this step, we are trying to understand different things. First, we want to know about their brand positioning statements and the way they are communicating these. You would want to be able to answer questions like:
What is this company promising? What are they really selling? Once you identify that, you then want to answer questions like: Are they delivering on that promise?
When looking at their digital assets (website, social media, etc.) you also want to understand which are the main themes they are covering.
What are the topics that they talk about, and how well-received are these? You can get an idea by viewing the amount of engagement (in the form of likes, comments, and shares) they are getting on their content.
Now that you’ve done this, you might also want to do the same process with other big brands to see if they are doing similar things or not, and also get different ideas of what can be done. Then, go take a look at niche accounts, which in this case could be coffee baristas, bloggers that have coffee as their main topic, or coffee shops within your city.
In the case of Houston, here are some of the coffee shops that have decent followings on Instagram:
INSPIRATION COMES FROM THE LEAST EXPECTED PLACES
Once you’ve done extensive research on your industry, and the players that are winning within that space is time to look for creative inspiration in other places.
In the case of Instagram, you can then take a look at what other big brands are doing in that space. This could be companies like Nike, Apple, Amazon, etc. Then, also take a look at creative companies, such as VaynerMedia, Ogilvy & Mather, or Pentagram.
Also, go check the accounts that have crossed your path organically and you followed them because they caught your attention.
The goal here is to help you “think outside the box”. To innovate by putting together things that already exist, but in a different way, to create something new.
Yes, innovation can be as simple as that… I said simple, not easy, because not everyone will see those connections. It takes many years of learning and growing to develop your brain in a way that it will spot these connections… and that can’t be taught… only experienced.
STRATEGY: YOU WILL ONLY WIN IF YOU PLAN FOR IT
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
— THEODORE ROOSEVELT
So many people make up excuses to not get started. I get it, it’s a scary world. There are experts, critics, and trolls all over the internet just waiting for you to share something and then destroy it to pieces with their comments.
Guess what? If they are commenting, it’s because they care about it. The opposite of love is not hate… it’s indifference.
As Gary Vee always says, 1 is greater than 0.
At this point, after going through the obsessive research we did, you should have a clear idea of some of the themes you could cover, the platforms where you should focus, and the type of content you should be creating.
Also, you should have enough information to craft a powerful brand message. If at this point you don’t have a logo it doesn’t matter. If you are just starting, a logo is not the most important thing. If you have a friend who is a rookie designer ask for their help by creating a basic logo for you. If not, create something simple on canva.
I did that for an account I created to try some new things to connect with the real estate/insurance/financial advising segment, and it already has almost 10,000 followers. I did what I could, with what I had, where I was. No excuses.
BUILDING AN INSTAGRAM PROFILE THAT CONVERTS VISITORS INTO FOLLOWERS
If you want followers, you have to create value for others. And sometimes, you only have a couple of seconds to communicate your value proposition. For this reason, it is important that all the areas of your Instagram profile are sending the right message.
We will cover:
- Brand promise
- Call To Actions
- General Feed
Make it simple and do the following:
- Go to Pinterest: and search for “logo x” (x = your niche or industry)
- Save several of the logos that you like
- Go to Canva: and create a simple logo combining some of the elements of the ones you liked
- You can also find free stock photos on Unsplash and Pexels
With that, you would have 1/3 of your Instagram profile ready. The second thing is crafting a clear and concise brand promise.
BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENTS
Your brand positioning statements might actually be more important than your profile picture. Mainly because the profile picture on Instagram is small (usually the picture is more important than the copy).
At this point, it is key to remind you that nobody cares about you. Most people only care about them and their problems, so that is what you have to answer right away.
Who do you help, how do you help, and why do you help? Once you’ve got their attention, then you can talk about what makes you different or better at solving that particular problem for that specific audience.
The most basic template is:
I help [niche or target audience] to [problem that you solve] by [competitive advantage].
- The OBSESSIVE path to BALANCE in Business & Life (MindfulBusiness)
- For Athletes That See The Beauty In The Struggle (GRIND Inc)
- The Professional’s Choice (Kensington).
As you can see, you don’t always have to use the basic template. The goal is that whoever reads your brand positioning statements “gets it” immediately.
You don’t think you have to think… think… think… and then the perfect brand promise will come to mind. That is not how creativity works.
Sit down and write as many ideas as you can think of. You should at least write 15 to 30 brand promises. This could look something like this:
- We help entrepreneurs build Instagram followings by being awesome
- The entrepreneur’s guide to building an Instagram following
- We help businesses build Instagram followings that can be monetized
- We help companies build Instagram followings through efficient and effective branding
- We help Houstonians build Instagram followings by creating efficient and effective strategies
Do 15 or 30 of those. Also, you can keep tweaking it even after you’ve shared it in your profile.
Hack: I usually change some parts of my profile depending on whom I’m interacting with on our different campaigns.
If it’s a campaign for Spanish speakers, I can put that I am from Venezuela. If it’s a campaign for students of the University of Houston, I can put “Go Coogs”. None of these are lies, I am from Venezuela and I graduated from the MBA program at the University of Houston.
It’s just the right message, at the right moment, for the right audience, so that we can build a connection with them.
Have you ever bought a car, or considered to buy a car, and then started to see that same care everywhere you go?
Why do you think this happens?
In reality, not much changed. It’s not like the world is planning to change your reality by putting more cars like yours close to you. It’s just that you are now paying attention to that. Your brain has been conditioned to pay attention, focus, and look for that car.
That same effect is what we should aim to do with our Instagram feed. We’ve already crafted a brand promise, now we have to design the look and feel of our feed so that the message that we want to send becomes sticky.
There are two elements that we should focus on to simplify this effect of stickiness that we want to create.
First, we have to think about the themes that we will focus on. In simple terms, the themes are the topics of the conversations you will start. These should be closely related to the areas where you want to build thought-leadership by sharing your knowledge on these topics, while also including some topics that are entertaining and somehow related to your brand.
The second element is the design that goes along with these themes. Here is where you have to take a step back and visualize how you would like your feed to look.
Hack: To get your creative juices flowing, it’s OK to look for inspiration in the creation of others. Going to Pinterest and searching for “Instagram themes” or “Instagram templates” is always a good idea. You can also go directly to Instagram, type some hashtags that you think are related to your themes and then go check what the top accounts on those hashtags are doing.
There is no absolute best way to do it. Many roads can lead to the same results. The important thing is that you have a clear strategy and a plan to execute it so that the themes and design go hand in hand to create a memorable brand experience.
You should brainstorm as many topics as you can think about. Some examples, if you are a coffee shop, could be:
- Barista Basics
- History of Coffee
- Coffee Jokes & Memes
- Event promotions
- Product Promotions
- Coffee Around the World
- Coffee Trivia
The goal here is to have distinct themes so that the content creation is simplified. The themes are like checkpoints on your map which allow you to have a clear direction of where you are going.
Having no themes is like deciding to go on a road trip across the country without first planning a route. Since everything is an option, most likely you will have analysis-paralysis and will end up not doing the trip.
Once you have the themes, think about what type of content would go within each of these. That will give you an idea of how the templates could look like.
In general, there are two kinds of templates. One category is where the majority of the value is shared directly within the picture, so there have to be a lot of design changes when creating the content. The second category is templates where the image doesn’t change much but the caption does. For this category, most of the work will be done when coming up with sources for those captions.
An example of category one is any quote template. You have to find sources for those, but you also have to change the text, and the author, for every template.
The content creation could be as simple as using quotes and re-purposing the content from your blogs, or as complicated as producing high-quality videos just for Instagram.
Some companies have teams of 10+ employees dedicated to Instagram, and that gives them the resources to create content at the highest levels. Yet, this is not an excuse. You have to start where you are with what you have. We got our first 55,000+ followers with just a 2 person team (no videographers or photographers).
Once you have several themes, it’s time to create templates.
The goal of having templates is to have an effective content creation process so that you can be consistent.
Remember, most people fail because they give up. Content marketing, in most cases, is a marathon. So, the ones who can keep running for longer are the ones who will end up winning the race. Not because of speed, but because of endurance.
The goal is NOT to win a design award or to have campaigns that will compete with Apple or Nike.
The goal is NOT to create art, and express your feelings while creating and sublime “yo no se que” when someone views your content.
The goal is to consistently deliver on your brand promise, by creating a content mix of education and entertainment, while developing your unique voice in the process.
Note that your unique voice is DEVELOPED in the PROCESS. This is something that might take years, and thousands of posts, to develop. This is not to discourage you, but to encourage you to get started as soon as possible.
Where to begin? Go to Canva and create an account. Pick two or three themes, and create two or three template options for each theme. It is important that you don’t delete what you start creating even if it doesn’t look good.
The goal here is to “put the reps in”. No creator creates the final version on the first go.
In fact, the biggest struggle of EVERY creator is that their creations, at first, will never match their vision. So they must endure the process of continual creation until their skill improves up to the point that it matches their vision.
Again, this process will take years. The sooner you begin, the faster you will get there.
Most people do this. Soon, you will see Canva templates and Unplash and Pexels pictures everywhere. So, don’t feel bad because you are copying some of the elements of the work that is out there. This is just the beginning, the goal here is to set a foundation and build momentum. Once the ball is rolling, it will be harder to stop it.
Another great source of inspiration is to go to Pinterest and type “Social Media Templates” or “Instagram Templates”. Then, pick a couple that you like and try to recreate these on Canva. Voila, you can now list “Designer” as a skill on LinkedIn.
You can see how I got started by going to the MindfulBusiness account and scrolling all the way down. Again, the goal is to get something out there.
As time goes by, you will see other accounts doing different things, you will see more templates, you will even get some ideas from watching documentaries or going to museums, and maybe you could read a book or two on designing. All of these will soon start to combine in your brain and “unique” ideas about templates will start to arise.
This will take time… so get going.
EXECUTE WITH DISCIPLINE
Without this step, everything we’ve covered so far has no value. Ideas without execution are a delusion.
Let’s make it happen!
I understand that, as an entrepreneur, you have many responsibilities and face a big amount of challenges. Yet, this is a “no excuse” zone. Let’s go over how you can simplify the execution to guarantee consistency in your efforts.
The best approach, at this point, is to create content in batches. This is where the templates become valuable. A great example of this is the quotes theme. If you have a template for quotes, you can easily sit down for a couple of hours and create enough content for a couple of months.
If you are going to curate content, pick in advance the accounts you will curate content from and save several of these pieces of content in advance (you can save all these accounts in an Evernote to simplify your process).
You can even create the captions you are going to use in batches. The goal of this is to separate thinking from doing. By following this process, whenever you have to post something on Instagram, it will be as simple as copying and pasting the content and captions that you have already created in advance.
BE A PROFESSIONAL & KEEP YOUR CONTENT ORGANIZED
One big mistake people make is to think and act with the short-term in mind with a goal of long-term success. Being reactive, and playing only defense, will not help you win.
Have thought about what will your feed look like in the next 3 months? What about in one year?
Keeping your content organized will help you maximize results and minimize the time invested in creating content and executing. By keeping your content organized, you will also be able to re-post (maybe a year later) some of the content that worked well in the past.
I know what you are thinking… people will notice you are repeating the content and they will look down on you… NO, THEY WILL NOT!
This idea is the result of something called the “high school syndrome” which makes us think that everyone is paying attention to everything we do.
Most of your followers don’t see all of your content (because of Instagram’s algorithm). Also, in a year you will gain new followers. By reposting your best-performing content you are actually adding value to those who haven’t seen it yet (which in most cases is the majority of your audience).
How do you keep the content organized? Google Doc Folders. Here is where having a bit of OCD helps.
Create a folder for “Social Media”, within that folder create one folder for each theme that you will have (i.e. Quotes, Events, Promotions, etc.), within each of those folders you will create a folder that is called “Posted”. Then follow this process:
1) Create content for each theme (in Canva, InDesign, or any other software)
2) Label each piece of content with an acronym for the theme and the number of the post, i.e. CQ #1 (for the first post in the “coffee quotes” theme, etc.)
3) Add the content to its respective folder
4) Fill your editorial calendar with the specific theme and number of post
5) Once you post the content on social media, move it to the “Posted” folder
By following this process, at any point in time, you will be able to go back to your editorial calendar and see how long ago you posted the content, and then you will be able to easily repost it by finding it in the “Posted” folder of each theme.
Doing so will allow you to stay consistent!
There is nothing worse than going to a social media channel and seeing that the last post is from months ago. You can always tell the difference between amateurs and professionals by the way they execute.
The professional understands is a long-term game and will commit to posting consistently no matter what, knowing that it takes a lot of time to gain momentum. Yet, all the efforts will be rewarded when the momentum is unstoppable.
The amateur gets excited, creates a couple of posts and shares these. Doesn’t get any results because there was not much of a strategy, he gets discouraged and stops posting. Later he watches a Gary Vee video, gets motivated again, creates and shares a couple of posts but again no big results. Finds an excuse or someone/something to blame, and stops posting again.
The professional runs the marathon at a sustainable pace. The amateur runs the marathon as if it was a short race and ends up quitting.
The professional wins because most people don’t even make it to the finish life. End of story.
Will you be a professional or an amateur?
ANALYTICS & MAINTENANCE: ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE GROWTH
Success in business, like most things in life, is not guaranteed. Yet, there are many things we can do to improve our chances of winning the game of business.
In this guide, we’ve shared with you some things that will certainly help you better your chances of success but these will only work if you do the work.
Another important thing is to have a clear goal, specific metrics to quantify progress towards that goal, and reviewing the whole process when it is appropriate (it could be weekly, monthly, quarterly and/or annually).
You could have goals for your business, in terms of the revenue and website traffic that you would like to generate through Instagram, and you could also have specific goals for the strategy in terms of follower growth, engagement, etc.
The goal of this process is to have a clear understanding of what “winning” means to you, for this particular effort, and then reviewing the results to identify what is working (and do more of that) and what is not working (and do less of that).
After reading this guide, you have more than enough tools to go out there and start taking action to build momentum. My goal is to help you understand the game you are playing, who you are competing with, and win.
Want me to help you grow your business via Instagram organic efforts? Click here, and make an application for a complimentary strategy session.
This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +421,678 people.
Subscribe to receive our top stories here.
About The Author
Alejandro I. Sanoja is an obsessed competitor. He is passionate about facing challenges, solving problems, and creating the necessary habits to overcome any obstacle.
For more than 9 years, he has been helping businesses define and achieve success on their own terms.
Alejandro was born and raised in Venezuela, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. He moved to Houston in 2015 to attend the MBA program at the University of Houston, where he graduated in 2017 receiving the Outstanding MBA Student Award.
The life of entrepreneurs and business owners is full of obstacles. Alejandro has been there, and he wants to help you get to the next level by developing a “no excuses” mindset to get things done and create value for your business.
As a Digital Strategy Consultant, Alejandro has worked with a wide variety of clients ranging from small businesses that needed help with their brand creation and go-to market strategy, to a non-profit organization that needed to raise capital for a local project, and all the way up to a public company that has more than $1.9 billion in revenue and was in need of an integrated digital marketing strategy.
As a professional, Alejandro is always looking for ways to give back and go the extra mile. He’s done so by sharing his experience in different business podcasts, writing for several online publications, conducting ongoing guest lectures at the Bauer MBA Program, talking about “Positive Suffering” at the TEDx stage, being a guest speaker at the Houston Interactive Marketing Association, and he is always looking for new ways to create value for entrepreneurs and business owners.
Most recently, Alejandro joined the board of the Latino Texas PAC to help increase representation of Latinas and Latinos in elected positions and to hold all elected officials accountable to the Latino community, regardless of political party affiliation.