How to Grow Instagram Followers for Small Businesses

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Some small businesses explode on Instagram, packing on followers by the thousand. In this blog post we look at some of the fastest growing accounts from Tailwind’s 100,000 members on the hunt for tips to help you grow too your Instagram following.

If you own or market a small business you’re probably familiar with the struggle to grow your Instagram follower count. If you’re just starting out it can be hard to make the investment in taking and posting great pictures to Instagram knowing that your posts will reach such a small audience.  Don’t give up though, Instagram is huge and growing, plus it boasts an incredible engagement rate on its posts compared to other networks.

So let’s break down how to grow Instagram followers for small businesses.  If you really want to grow your following, start with these simple, but proven-to-be effective tips (examples follow further down the page)…

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#8 E-commerce / Online / Design Business

@thimblepress grew by 24,248 Instagram followers in three months, a 13% increase!


Lessons Thimblepress Can Teach Us

  • Be colorful and have fun

Thimblepress make life look like one long party.  Not everybody sells confetti and party supplies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all celebrate life on a well planned Instagram feed.  Looking through the fastest growing Instagram accounts among Tailwind members there is a clear bias towards colorful, energetic and optimistic both in photos and post descriptions.

  • Cross-promote with brands who also speak to your customers

Thimblepress are working their tails off to find brands that align with their Instagram followers.  In this example they paired up with Speak Wines and created limited addition products that pair beautifully with the kinds of celebrations Thimblepress products are used at.

For their part, Speak Wines also posted to Instagram about the product and it’s likely that both brands benefited from additional audience, and additional sales by harnessing each other’s followers.  They probably both managed to grow their Instagram followers in the process too.

  • Show off your products in inventive, eye-catching ways

Thimblepress do an amazing job of coming up with creative and compelling new ways to showcase their products to their followers.  In this example they take a departure from their usually vibrant backgrounds to show their glittery confetti push-ups just how they might appear at the stoke of midnight on New Years Eve.

  • Get Your Instagram Followers Tagging Their Friends

This is a great way to grow your Instagram following.  In this example Thimblepress speak very directly to their target audience and ask them to tag their best friends.  This is especially effective since they would be tagging their friends who would likely be the kinds of people who might want to buy the products being shown in the photo, and follow Thimblepress.  A great way to harness your existing Instagram followers to reach new ones.

#7 Local Retail / Fashion Business

@bellaellaboutique grew by 3,507 Instagram followers in three months, a 17% increase!


Lessons From Bella Ella Boutique

  • Hold Contests

The most commented Instagram posts from Tailwind members are consistently contests.  How is it done? Easy! Offer a prize people are interested in winning and ask them to like your profile, like the post, and @ mention one friend per entry.  If you’ve got the prize, the photo, and an engaged audience, these kinds of posts can result in hundreds, or even thousands of new followers for your Instagram account.  Hold these kinds of contests regularly, but don’t fatigue your followers with them.

  • Be consistent

Bella Ella Boutique have established a fairly strong aesthetic style by using the same model against the same seasonally appropriate backdrop to show off that season’s clothes. Along with their regular rhythm of posting 3-4 times a day, every day, their followers know what to expect and when.  Scheduling to Instagram with a tool like Tailwind for Instagram makes consistent posting manageable.  It allows marketers to setup a week of posts all at once in an hour or less.

  • A little investment in professional photography can go a long way

Bella Ella have been really smart about investing in original content.  By taking hundreds of  photos (and some video) at the same time, selecting the best, and turning those into 50 or more posts the cost per post is dramatically reduced as is the time spent scheduling, by doing it in-bulk.

  • Have a recognizable face

Bella Ella Boutique always use the same model, and they do fun stuff with her too, allowing to express her personality. When their followers see this face they likely get the same feeling of recognition that you or I get when we see the picture of a friend or a celebrity – they stop and pay attention.

#6 Entrepreneur / Product Manufacturer

@dockatot grew by 27,356 Instagram followers in three months, a 18% increase!


Lessons From DockATot

  • Collaborate on contests

Are you getting the message yet?  Contests really work.  All the better when you harness the power of multiple well-aligned brands to maximize the number of Instagram followers you might reach and create a bigger prize pool.

I spoke to DockATot’s own Elina Furman and asked her how she grew her Instagram following.  She said, “Get together with like-minded brands who share your aesthetic, style and industry. Work together to create flat lay photography and giveaways to help each other grow your lists. It’s important to choose brands based on those principals and similar follower size to maximize your growth. We also work with a very carefully vetted list of influencers with relationships we’ve built in house to help us share our brand story through strong testimonials and imagery.”

  • Regram user generated content

User generated content is content (photos and captions) that the users of your product create themselves.  If you setup a branded hashtag (check nobody else is using it first and then just start using it), like DockATtot did with #dockatot, you can have your customers do the hard work of creating content for you.  All you have to do is watch the feed and select the content that best captures the spirit of your brand.

Elina Furman said, “For DockATot, I discovered early on that peer-to-peer recommendations were the best performers for our channel. We utilize user-generated content and testimonials from parents on our feed to help educate our customers about the uses and benefits of our product.”

One of the most powerful things about user generated content is that it is created by exactly the kinds of people who you should be targeting, and so the best of it will likely resonate with your customers even more than the things you might dream up in your marketer’s mind. In addition it stands as a sort of testimonial from a user, it says – they love our product and so will you.

  • Have a Consistent Brand Story

I asked DockATot how they grow their Instagram following and they said, “Whether it’s through compelling visuals with a similar theme or captions that inspire or entertain, it’s important to be consistent in terms of posting time/frequency, design, and tone to establish trust with your audience.

“You want your target demo to look forward and anticipate your posts. For us, sharing gorgeous photos of babies resting, playing and sharing the amazing success other moms have had with the DockATot is our core strategy and has led to our strong growth in this space.”

#5 Etsy Shop / Solopreneur / Maker

@gardensofthesun grew by 19,379 Instagram followers in three months, a 66% increase!


Lessons From Gardens of the Sun

  • Be Unique (even in a crowded market)

The visual consistency of the Gardens of the Sun Instagram account is striking.  Owner, Meri Geraldine, has managed to hone in on a visual aesthetic that is strikingly beautiful, using depth of field to focus the eye on the details of her jewelry, whilst making the same background feel fairly fresh each time, since it’s out of focus.

  • Engagement is a virtuous circle

In our previous post about how to get more likes Instagram Likes we saw how the Instagram algorithm favors posts that get engagement quickly after being published.

In Meri’s own words, “The main thing I’ve been seeing is that increased engagement leads to more engagement. Instagram will show your most liked and commented on posts to more of your Instagram followers, and they may even bump you to the explore page of your followers’ friends or of people who follow similar pages to yours. In the end, more engagement will also lead to new followers. You want the engagement in the first hour or so of posting for it to keep boosting.

  • Take time to write great descriptions

Don’t neglect your descriptions.  Gardens of the Sun write descriptions to their Instagram posts that do justice to their photographs and their exquisite jewelry.  In the above example Meri invites her followers to decide how she might re-set this “sapphire slice” (wonderful turn-of-phrase).

  • Engage with your followers in the comments

comment on gardens of the sun Instagram photo

As Meri puts it, “I suggest writing captions that engage your Instagram followers – tell them something that they can easily relate to, a story that connects them to the photo or a question they’d love to answer. Whenever I have time I will thank everyone who commented on my post, because I appreciate my followers so much. They’re the people who help me stay in business and support me to keep doing what I love.”

  • Call out your Instagram shopping experience on your website

Gardens of the Sun Instagram Shopping Experience

Gardens of the Sun have also cleverly built out and Instagram shopping experience on their website that mimics the look and feel of Instagram.

#4 Consulting / Professional Services

@chr1styharrison grew by 1,364 Instagram followers in three months, a 68% increase!


Lessons From Christy Harrison

  • Repurpose Your Best Content

Christy Harrison is an independent professional making real strides towards growing her Instagram following. She makes the job manageable by repurposing the best of the content she’s already creating for her podcast.  By using simple Instagram templates, quotes from her show, and free stock images, Christy can quickly pull together everything she needs to keep her Instagram schedule full for weeks.  Kudos for efficiency!

  • Settle into a visual style

Whilst Christy is settling into a visual style more now than she had in the past, there’s still improvement to be made here.  By settling on a small number of similar templates, a color palette, and a style of photography with a common subject, she could increase her audience’s recognition of her posts, how much engagement she gets on those posts, and strengthen her brand.

  • Feature other influencers in your space and reach through to their audiences

One thing that works well on any social network is getting other influencers involved in the creation of your content. By consistently highlighting the guests on her podcast through their quotes she likely gets regrammed, or posted to their other social networks, and so is able to reach their audiences and so grow her Instagram followers that way.

#3 Technology / Software App / Health & Fitness Business

@runtastic grew by 57,468 Instagram followers in three months, a 93% increase!


Lessons From Runtastic

  • Inspire People

One thing you need if you’re going to get fit (or stay fit for that matter) is motivation.  That’s a service the Runtastic Instagram feed provides to its Instagram followers in spades.  That not only encourages people to get and use their suite of exercise apps (is good marketing), it also has a useful function for those who do (or might) use it.

#2 Blogging / DIY / Food Business

@jenniferppriest grew by 8,537 Instagram followers in three months, a 96% increase!


Lessons From Jennifer Priest


  • Use Hashtags (All of the 30 that you’re allowed to) 

We reached out to Jennifer Priest and her biggest tip for how to grow your Instagram followers was, “use hashtags – you get space for 30 of them so use as many as make sense for the post. I like to paste them in the first comment immediately so my post caption doesn’t look as cluttered.”

Since hashtags discovery is the main way your posts will get discovered by people who aren’t already following you, this is an essential tip for follower growth.

The quickest way to research hashtags

We heard from a lot of marketers that hashtag research was taking up too much of their time and they weren’t necessarily finding the best tags for their posts. We’ve solved this problem with Tailwind for Instagram’s Hashtag Finder and Hashtag Lists tools which suggests the best hashtags for your post based on the hashtags you’re already using. The intuitive color-coding makes choosing between different hashtags easier than ever before.  Once you’ve created a list of hashtags you like you can save it as a hashtag list for future use.


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  • Make People’s Lives Brighter and Better

Jennifer’s feed stands out a mile with its vibrant use of color.  This also creates a strong visual style.  That works perfectly with her content – DIY and food adventures for the family.

  • Go square – think Instagram first

Jennifer has embraced Instagram as a platform to such an extent that even the images on her blog have all gone square.  If you really want to grow on Instagram, you might want to make it your first thought when you think social.

#1 Publishing / Leisure & Travel Business

@iexploretravel grew by 17,181 Instagram followers in three months, a 225% increase!


Lessons From iExploreTravel

  • Curate the Images Your Followers Crave

The simplicity, achievability and efficiency of the iExploreTravel Instagram feed are impressive.  They regram just once a day, but they select the perfect image that will resonate with their Instagram followers, and so their engagement rate is sky-high.

With Tailwind’s handy browser extension you can regram straight out of your favorite hashtags with proper attribution. Just be sure to get permission first!

And that’s it!  Check out this post for 11 ways to get more Instagram followers.  These accounts have proven it can be done, so get after it!

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Video: How to Get More Instagram Followers for Small Businesses

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