How to Run an E-Commerce Business As Your Side Hustle With Just 15 Hours a Week

44 million Americans reportedly have a side hustle.

It seems like just about everyone is looking to get a piece of the gig-economy action.

And it’s no surprise why.

Running a side-hustle can give you an incredible sense of freedom.

You can be your own boss, bring in some extra income, and work on projects you’re genuinely passionate about.

Unfortunately, it all takes time.

If you’re not strategic about how you run your e-commerce side hustle, it can actually feel restricting.

Growing an online business is no simple task.

But when you’re trying to balance it on top of a full-time job, it can easily become too much to handle.

However, you don’t need to give up your e-commerce dreams just yet.

If you know how to make your side hustle work for you, you can achieve full-time results in part-time hours.

In fact, you can run a successful e-commerce business in as little as 15 hours a week.

Here’s how.

1. Work SMART, not hard

If you want to be a business owner, you have act like it.

Although you may not be running the next Amazon (not yet, anyway), you need to treat your e-commerce business like a full-blown selling machine.

That means creating a business plan, establishing a timeline, and setting goals – and sticking to all of them.

Let’s start with the business plan.

According to the Harvard Business Review, having a business plan can actually make you more likely to succeed.

Your e-commerce business plan sets the foundation for how you’ll run your business.

It not only outlines what you’ll sell but how you’ll sell it.

It covers how you’ll ship and deliver your products, what pathways you’ll take to promote your items, and how you’ll price each product so that you can gain a profit.

Take a look at this example of a one-page business plan from The $100 Startup.

one page business plan

This easy-to-create business plan for your e-commerce business forces you to sit down and think of the big picture.

Not only does it give you a direction to move, but it lays out how you’re going to get there.

Establishing this roadmap early on in your e-commerce business allows you to reduce the time you spend guessing what to do next – meaning you can work more efficiently during your part-time hours.

You can also ensure that you’re running a sustainable business, taking some of the pressure off of you as you move forward.

To create your e-commerce business plan, you first want to start with your business model.

If you’re looking to run an e-commerce business part-time, you’re probably going to want to consider dropshipping.

Here’s a breakdown of how Selfstartr describes dropshipping.

Dropshipping is the least hands-on form of e-commerce, making it the perfect option if you’re looking to reduce the amount of time you actually spend on your business.

dropshipping explanation

With dropshipping, you simply act as a middleman between the customer and the supplier.

The customer orders from your store, you alert the supplier of their order, then the supplier sends the order directly to your customer.

This means you don’t have to worry about inventory or creating products.

Hover, it doesn’t work if you’re looking to sell unique products. In that case, you’ll need to work with either private labeling or white labeling.

Here’s how each works.

selfstatr shipping

With private labeling, a factory makes products specifically for you. When a customer buys, it’s your responsibility to send that product to them.

White labeling is similar, except that the products aren’t entirely unique. Instead, they just come packed with your branding and logo.

Each of these options can give you more control of your products, but they require a larger time investment – which can be a challenge if you’re only putting in part-time hours.

Finally, create some long-term and short-term goals.

Document where you’d like to be in one month.

Then one year.

Then five years.

Don’t be afraid to think big when creating your goals.

Use the SMART goal method to refine your goals as much as possible.

smart goals with questions

Give yourself due dates, set metrics you’ll measure your goals by, and explain how you’ll measure each goal.

Sound obvious?

The key to a side hustle is getting revenue off the ground. So you need to set the end goal or target and work backward.

Only then can you break down your business plan, timeline, and goals into some actionable items.

Take a look at the short-term goals you’ve set.

Outline what you’d need to accomplish to make these goals come true.

Turn these into their own mini goals. Assign them realistic due dates and metrics to measure them by.

Then you’ll want to create a master calendar.

Here’s an example from Search Engine Journal.

marketing calendar example

This kind of bird-eye-view look at everything you need to accomplish for the next few weeks, month, or even the full year can help you stay focused and on task.

Using these due dates, the marketing and posting schedule you’ve established, and your business commitments you outlined in your business plan, you’ll want to lay out what you’re responsible for every day of the month.

Creating a visual like this can allow you to see not only what you need to accomplish that day, but also in the days ahead.

It can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed with responsibility while also ensuring you stay on track.

Finally, for each day, you’ll want to designate a specific time to work on your e-commerce business tasks.

You can easily add time blocking to any calendar app, such as Google Calendar.

add time blocking google calendar

Block out designated chunks of time that you only use for that day’s side hustle commitments.

Avoid the TV, turn your phone on Do Not Disturb, and tell your kids, significant other, roommates, or friends not to bother you.

To help you stay focused, take advantage of timers.

The Pomodoro Technique is one way to keep focused on the task at hand.

You simply set a 25-minute timer. As long as that timer is on, you’re working distraction-free on your to-do list.

Once that times up, you take a short five-minute break.

Then you repeat until your task is finished.

You can set goals for how many 25-minute sessions you’d like to complete each day, ensuring you track the time you’re actually spending on your side-hustle.

This can help you avoid multitasking, which can make it much more difficult to get things done in a timely manner.

Finally, you can keep track of your plan through using a simple CRM. You don’t need Salesforce or any other thousand-dollar options initially.

You just need something simple to start tracking your repeatable milestones or activities. Pick something simple that already works with your current setup.

For example, SalesMate has a free plugin that will sync everything under Google Apps. That means you can use Google Sheets to track deliverables, Docs to track notes, then and attach them to individual email contacts for your next Google Calendar meeting.

Nothing falls through the cracks when you’ve brought it all under one house. Especially if you can then use this foundation to start automating your recurring tasks.

2. Harness the power of automation

Unfortunately, you can’t just hit pause on the e-commerce business while you’re away at your day job.

Even though you’re not there to keep an eye on it, it’s still running.

If you’re not providing some solutions for your customers, you may lose them.

However, using automation tools can allow you to run your e-commerce business while you’re unavailable.

Automation works like a robotic assistant.

It can take over some of the tedious, daily tasks that you need to perform yet may not have the time to do.

It can also work for you in the background to sell, provide customer support, and monitor shoppers while you’re focused on other tasks – like your full-time job.

Automation is frequently used in e-commerce marketing and sales to schedule social media posts, send emails, and even respond to customer questions.

You can take advantage of all of these systems with your own e-commerce business.

Let’s first take a look at email automation.

Here’s a breakdown of an automated campaign from Automizy.

automated campaign from automizy

Not only does automation allow you to send out email blasts to large groups of people at one time, but it also allows you to share specific messages depending on your user and what actions they perform.

For example, you can send a welcome email when you gain a new store lead.

Let’s say you have a pop-up on your site offering a discount to users who submit their email address.

In our example, this would be the “Fills out Form” box.

Using automation, you can automatically send a welcome message to this customer – even if you’re far from your laptop.

From this example, you can also see that the next steps your campaign takes will depend on how the customer reacts or responds – without you needing to manually check in.

You can also use automation to send out reminders of an abandoned shopping cart.

Here’s an example of an abandoned cart sequence from MailChimp.

abandon cart notification mailchimp

This can help you make a second contact with interested shoppers, increasing your chances of getting new purchases while you’re away.

Another way to automate your emails is to send a post-purchase follow up.

Following up with your shoppers after they’ve received their purchase can help you keep customers happy while showing you care about them.

However, to track and send these messages manually can be incredibly time-consuming.

By automating, you can schedule your follow-up message to get feedback or provide customer support without even needing to hit a button on your end.

Email isn’t the only way you can take control of automation.

Automation can also be used for your social media platforms.

You want to be posting on social media a few times a day.

However, when you’re busy at a full time position, it can be difficult to sneak away to get a Tweet or Instagram post ready.

Automation allows you to schedule those posts in advance, so you don’t need to worry about them.

Here’s a look at how Sprout Social, just one of the many social automation tools out there, allows you to schedule your content.

sprout social calendar

This calendar view allows you to see what you’ll post, what time it will post, and the platforms it will be shared on.

Once a week or every couple of days, you can craft your social messages, schedule them into your automation tool, and wait for them to get set out.

But you’ll need to be careful when using automation on social.

You want your posts to seem like they’re thoughts, blending right into your audience’s timeline.

If they seem too robotic, then your audience will be quick to notice, and they won’t engage.

Take these comments on Instagram, for example.

bot comments on instagram post

While they may seem innocent enough, these kinds of low-quality engagements are usually powered by a bot.

For the most part, these comments are fine – but they do have some potential to get you in some awkward situations.

Evan LePage at Hootsuite tried to use Instagram automation to boost his online following but ended up commenting “Damn!” on a bride’s photo – not the best impression you want to be giving.

Bot tools that automate likes, comments, and follows can also get you in trouble with different social platforms.

For example, bots violate Instagram’s terms of use, meaning it could get your account shut down.

Instead, focus on creating unique, organic, and personality-packed posts specific to your audience.

Take a look at these Instagram comments in comparison.

good instagram post comments

The user 1wanderlustsoul picked something unique in the image, commented on it, and asked a question.

This kind of real engagement can show your audience that there is a person behind the accounts and you’re prepared to get to know your customers and clients.

One final automation tool to cover is chatbots.

When an online shopper makes a purchase, they want to know exactly what they’re getting.

This means they’ll probably have a question or two that need to be answered before they pull out their credit card.

Unfortunately, if you’re only available for your e-commerce business a few hours each day, this can leave shoppers waiting long periods of time before they get a response.

By the time you answer, they’ve moved on to a competitor.

Chatbots can help you solve this problem.

Here’s an example of a chatbot from HelloFresh.

hellofresh chatbot

A chatbot can be there to answer basic questions, provide feedback, and handle certain requests while you’re away.

Shoppers can use a chatbot to complete purchases, get recommendations, or even get updates on an open order.

Using a chatbot can help to take some of the pressure of off you.

In HelloFresh’s case, they were able to increase incoming messages by 31% and decrease their response time by 32%.

This means more satisfied customers without needing extra time from you.

Chatbots can also alert you to when there is a situation that they’re unable to handle.

You can then jump into these conversations or return messages to customers who might be looking for a more detailed response – ensuring everyone gets the information they need.

3. Get your audience to do your marketing for you

Marketing is all about connecting with your target audience.

While there may be list after list or guide after guide of appropriate ways to market your e-commerce business, none of it matters if your target audience isn’t paying attention.

When you’re trying to run a full-time business in part-time hours, every minute is precious.

This means you can’t waste time with marketing tactics that are going unnoticed.

However, you can work around this by curating content from your shoppers.

Take a look at Aerie’s Instagram page.

Mixed in with their professional, branded images, they have content from their shoppers.

customer content on instagram

Not only does this mean Aerie marketers can save some time producing new content, but they also get their shoppers involved – making the process more exciting for them.

They also partner with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to help raise awareness about eating disorders.

By supporting a cause, they’re able to gain free publicity that can garner even more attention from shoppers.

Asking your shoppers to show off using your products or items through a unique hashtag can help you enhance your marketing strategy without needing to add more time to production.

You’ll also want to get picky about the way you promote your products.

There is no reason you need to be on absolutely every social media platform.

As an e-commerce business, you want to consider which can bring in the most traffic that will ultimately convert to sales.

Think about who your target audience is and where they’re most likely to spend their time.

For example, if you’re trying to attract women between the ages of 18 and 29 in urban areas, Instagram might be the right platform for you.

sprout social demos 2

However, if your audience is more women between 30 and 49 in suburban areas, Pinterest might be a better target.

sprout social demographics

Focus your efforts on these platforms while ignoring the others.

If your audience doesn’t use Twitter, don’t waste your time writing and scheduling tweets. Likewise, if they’re not using Instagram, don’t waste your time.

You want to focus on getting the message in front of your audience in the most efficient way possible.

Another way to do this is with affiliate and influencer marketing.

Affiliate and influencer marketing are similar, although they work a bit differently.

With influencer marketing, you’d pay a celebrity, blogger, or another individual with a large following to talk about your products on social or their website.

However, they must post that the content is sponsored.

Here’s an example of a sponsored Instagram post from Chris Pratt and Michelob Ultra.

chris pratt sponsored instagram post

This can help build trust and get more traffic to your e-commerce store.

However, affiliate marketing works by allowing other individuals to sell your products for a cut of the profit.

Here’s an example of an affiliate post from blogger My View in Heels.

affiliate post on instagram

For every item they sell, they’d make money.

This encourages them to push your product, giving you additional marketing channels that you don’t need to work for.

For an e-commerce store owner looking to grow their business with minimal time investment, creating an affiliate program is a great option.

Affiliate programs are also great for smaller store owners.

Because you only need to pay for each item the affiliate sells, you can maintain a high ROI and reduce risk.

4. Outsource whenever makes sense

Sometimes, you just can’t do it all.

And that’s perfectly fine.

You shouldn’t try to do it all – especially when you have limited time.

Stretching yourself too thin can leave you overworked and stressed while the quality of your store suffers.

If you’re unable to give something your full attention, consider outsourcing.

Hiring a virtual assistant is one way to take some tasks and responsibilities off your plate.

Here’s a look at some virtual assistant profiles from Upwork.

virtual assistants on upwork

Outsourcing the tasks you don’t like doing, you’re not good at doing, or you just don’t have the time to do can not only save you time but increase your bottom line.

When deciding what to outsource, first take a look at the tasks you struggle to complete.

If you don’t know how to write successful social media copy, outsource it.

If you don’t have the skill to take high-quality images of your products, outsource it.

If you can’t create product videos in the time you’ve allotted for your side hustle, outsource it.

Choosing to hire a professional may be more costly than just doing it yourself, but it can actually help you bring in higher returns.

With better quality copy, images, videos, or other forms of content, you can attract more shoppers and sell more products.

Take Justin Alexander, bridal collection retailer, for example.

He chose to outsource development of his website.

outsourced development of website stats

By hiring developers to work on his site, he was able to create a high-powered page that attracts over 30,000 visitors per month.

While it may cost more money in the beginning to outsource a project, it can also bring you higher returns on investments.

Not only will you have a better finished product, but you’ll have more personal time to focus on your career, family, or hobbies.

Conclusion

Stop thinking you need to hustle just to have a side hustle.

It’s totally possible to have a full-time career, side gig, and social life – you just need to be strategic about the way you go about it.

By using proper planning, automation tools, and scheduling your time appropriately, you can see your e-commerce business take off – even if you’re only able to dedicate 15-hours per week.

What side-hustle tricks have you found to get more done in less time?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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Facebook continues to refine its app data & ad-targeting safety measures

The site announced a number of changes to its app APIs and introduced a new ad-targeting prompt that reminds advertisers about anti-discrimination policies. The post Facebook continues to refine its app data & ad-targeting safety measures appeared first on Marketing Land.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
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Aggressive Sell, Soft Sell … What Works?

Recently, a student of ours asked whether “we” (content-based marketers who might prefer a more subtle approach) can learn anything from “those” marketers who use somewhat obvious tactics like silly quizzes or hyped-up headlines. In the course of answering this question, the phrase “orange hat marketer” occurred to me. (Don’t worry; this has nothing to
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The post Aggressive Sell, Soft Sell … What Works? appeared first on Copyblogger.

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6 Instagram Marketing Trends To Be Aware Of In 2018

Last year, my friend checked her Instagram engagement numbers and noticed something unusual.

They tanked.

“I used to get lots of likes and comments, but now it has totally dropped off,” she told me.

I asked her what she was doing differently.

Her answer?

“Nothing.”

And that was the issue.

Instagram has changed a lot since it first launched in 2010.

They now have 800,000,000 monthly active users.

And while that number is incredible, what is more striking is the rate at which the platform is growing.

In 2013, it had 100,000,000 users.

In 2016, it had 500,000,000 users.

By April 2017, it had 700,000,000 users.

By September 2017, it had 800,000,000 users.

This means its user base rocketed by 100,000,000 users in five months.

This graph maps out Instagram’s impressive growth numbers over the years.

instagram user growth

Since Instagram is purely visual, it’s an incredibly captivating way to make a connection with your customers.

But only if you know how to use it in 2018.

Let’s take a look at the top Instagram trends all marketers need to know about in 2018.

1. Instagram is becoming ‘pay to play’

At first, access to 800 million users might sound like a marketer’s dream.

But the more you think about that number, 800 million users means more competition.

And more clutter.

To make matters worse, Instagram continues to make changes to their algorithm, negatively affecting brands’ organic reach.

In March 2018, Instagram announced that “introducing [algorithm] changes to give you more control over your feed and ensure the posts you see are timely.”

These changes include:

  • Testing a “new posts” button to help users control when their page refreshes to see new posts in their timeline
  • An update “to ensure that newer posts are more likely to appear first in your feed.”

What does this mean? Instagram is still toying with their algorithm.

Good for users. Bad for brands.

That said, it isn’t all doom and gloom for businesses.

For one thing, 8 out of 10 users follow at least one business.

Increased competition means more saturation. That fact, combined with decreasing organic reach, means you’re going to have to pay to play in 2018.

Promoting your basic Instagram posts isn’t the same as running an Instagram ad campaign. But it is your best shot at getting content to stick out from the crowd.

southwest airlines sponsored instagram advertisement

Only Instagram Business Accounts have access to promoting posts.

To get started, make sure your profile is set to public. You can do this by heading over to your profile.

neil patel edit instagram profile

Then click the gear shift wheel icon and switch to a Business Profile.

switch to business profile on instagram

Tap on the post you want to promote, select “Promote” and then tap to fill in the required details. Here is an example:

promote button on instagram

Setting up a boosted ad is one thing, but knowing which posts to boost is another.

Naturally, you’ll only want to boost posts that people are engaging with.

Your Insights will quickly aggregate all of this basic reach data.

instagram insights

But there also third-party tools you can use including Socialbakers, Simply Measured, and Union Metrics.

To get even more engagement for your posts, you need to pick the right hashtags.

How to pick your hashtags

If you use trending hashtags that are relevant to your audience, your posts’ discoverability will increase.

But how do you make sure you pick the right ones?

Well, there are a variety of tools that can help you decide which hashtags are the right ones for you:

  • Command – This tool will show you how your hashtags are performing. However, it is only available in the App Store for iOS users for $1.99 – $9.99.
  • Hashtagify – This is a free service that will allow you to search any hashtag. It will provide you with the hashtag’s popularity, current trend, and other related hashtags to consider.
  • KeyHole – This tool is interesting because it allows you to track a hashtag in real-time, provided up-to-date data on the hashtag over a set period of time.
  • SeekMetrics – SeekMetrics’ Hashtag Generator will source popular hashtags based on the keywords you input.
  • But how many should you add to a single post?

    TrackMaven took a look at hashtags on Instagram and found that 9 is the optimum amount for engagement. The report also found that longer hashtags (we’re talking around 24 characters) outperform shorter ones.

    optimal amount of instagram hashtags

    But you can always check to see what hashtags your competitors and your customers are using.

    To do this, type into Instagram’s search bar. The app will display the most closely related hashtags.

    instagram search for shoes

    It will even tell you how many times that hashtag has been used in total by Instagram’s users.

    instagram shoes hashtag

    Once you have a decent collection of hashtags together that are aligned well with your target audience, you can then start posting with them.

    But don’t just post and forget about them. Follow them. At the end of 2017, Instagram released a new update allowing users to follow hashtags.

    Simple, but effective.

    2. Customers can buy direct with Instagram shopping features

    Got an e-commerce store?

    If so, you need to be using Instagram’s Shopping feature.

    Like, right now.

    It improves product discovery on the app by condensing and making information available in one place.

    Shoppable posts can be identified on account profiles by a white shopping bag icon at the top right-hand corner of posts.

    instagram jcrew shoppable

    Users can see these posts natively in their feed while scrolling. Each post that uses this feature will show a white shopping bag icon or a “Tap to View Products” pop-up.

    instagram shoppable button

    Instead of having to click on links to get access to product pricing and descriptions, this key info will be available on a brand’s Instagram post.

    Shoppers can do their browsing without leaving the app.

    jcrew shop now instagram

    For businesses, the advantages are obvious; it’s simply an easier way than ever for customers to push your products.

    The stats don’t lie either. According to Instagram, 75% of users who see a business post take action.

    The clothing company, Lulus, tested this feature with great success. They found “nearly 33% of people who tap to learn more about a product visit our site through ‘Shop Now’.”

    lulus instagram shoppable button

    This tells you one key thing: consumers love to connect with brands on Instagram.

    So how to get started? Well, Instagram is busy rolling out the feature, but you still need to be approved to use it.

    Once you are approved, simply upload a post to Instagram like you usually would. Then, tag the product using the “tag products” feature.

    instagram tag products

    It’s just like tagging a person.

    Then, simply share your post to your page, and you’re done.

    How to increase the reach of your shopping posts

    To take things one step further, there are numerous integrations and tools to increase conversions depending on what platform you are using. Some of my favorites are:

    • Snappt – You can use this tool to embed your shoppable Instagram feed on your website. It makes a nice gallery that will be linked to your feed and dashboard.
    • Salesforce Marketing Cloud – This tool helps you manage campaigns that will help drive engagement and optimize your shoppable Instagram posts.
    • Integrations with BigCommerce and Shopify – This makes it easier than ever for small businesses using these platforms to integrate the shopping feature.

    3. Reach more followers organically with live streaming

    Gulp. Going live fills many of us with dread.

    But let’s face it. Instagram Live is a fantastic way to connect with your audience, answer questions on the fly and solve any issues they might have.

    Daunting? Sure. But it’s so easy to go live.

    Start by tapping the camera icon on your screen (top left).

    instagram camera icon

    This will open the camera.

    Tap “Live” followed by “Start Live Video.”

    live on instagram

    Provided your notifications are turned on, your followers will be notified that you’ve gone live.

    But what should you do? Here are some live content types:

    • How-To Demonstration
    • Behind the Scenes
    • Event Updates/Streaming
    • Exclusive Content
    • Contests
    • Product Demonstrations
    • Cross partnerships
    • Exclusive Content

    For example, Dunkin Donuts mastered Instagram Live by providing a behind-the-scenes look at some of their sweet creations inside their test kitchen on Valentine’s Day.

    dunkin donuts instagram live

    Beyond Yoga used Instagram Live to showcase how their clothing items fared after performing various yoga poses.

    yoga instagram workouts

    Want even more engagement? Use Instagram Live with friends.

    Instagram Live with friends means you’re live on camera with a guest. This can be a great way to involve another brand or partner in the mix.

    Jared Leto and Gucci teamed up for an Instagram Live with friends broadcast.

    This provided a chance for Gucci’s Instagram audience to be exposed to Jared Leto’s brand and vice versa.

    gucci jared leto live

    Want more added exposure? The more popular your broadcast is, the more of a chance it has of appearing in the Explore tab.

    explore tab instagram

    Awesome, right? There’s also such a thing as Top Live Instagram Stories. The more viewers and guests you’ve got, the higher you will rank.

    It’s easy enough to use too, but there’s a big thing you need to bear in mind: comment moderation.

    Comment moderation should be turned on if you’ve got a “clean” brand with an audience that wouldn’t want to be subjected to bad words in the comments.

    To moderate comments, go to your Settings, head on down to “Comments” and pick the comment moderation options that you’d prefer.

    comments options on instagram

    Another thing you need to do is promote your Live broadcast in advance.

    Use Instagram Insights to discover a good time to go live (this will be a time when your engagement is usually at its peak).

    But that’s not all. Instagram recently made it available for you to save your live streams to your camera roll.

    Now, you have great content to repurpose for other social media channels as well.

    4. Target micro influencers to promote you

    In his book #AskGaryVee, Gary Vaynerchuk says that anyone who has a following on Instagram is an influencer.

    Gary knows what he is talking about, with having over 3 million followers.

    garyvee instagram followers

    You might be thinking, “3 million followers?! My brand doesn’t come close to that.”

    Don’t panic.

    You don’t necessarily need thousands of followers to make an impact. Studies show engagement peaks at just 1,000 followers.

    instagram like rate vs followership

    This is why micro influencers are great.

    Those with mid-range followings (1000 – 10,000+) can have strong engagement numbers and be incredibly impactful for your brand.

    Launching a micro influencer campaign doesn’t have to be costly either. In fact, working with influencers on Instagram can often give you a better ROI.

    Influencer Marketing Days performed a test to compare the value between micro and mega influencers. Their results were interesting, although not surprising.

    Mega influencers had high engagement numbers, but low sales. Micro influencers resulted in high sales, but low engagement numbers.

    mega vs micro influencer results

    Why was that the result?

    Despite smaller following than influencers, micro influencers often have a higher engagement rate and more of a personal relationship with their followers.

    They might even think of their followers as friends and vice versa.

    Additionally, most micro influencers are invested in their craft which makes them useful for marketers targeting niche markets.

    Below you can see Erika advertising Capri Blue candles. A perfect fit for her brand and audience.

    retroflame instagram

    She tagged the post with “#ad,” which is incredibly important. The FCC has imposed regulations to ensure that influencers and brands state their relationships on posts.

    How to get in touch with an influencer

    You can find influencers by searching for popular hashtags related to your product.

    Sometimes you don’t even have to look past your current followers. A passionate fan could also be a great micro influencer for your product.

    If you’re stuck and can’t find anyone who fits your target audience, there are platforms to help you source micro influencers. Some include Upfluence, Grin, and Gnack.

    Once you find an influencer, you can contact them through their DM’s or email. If they are commonly involved in campaigns, they might have their email on their page.

    If so, simply email them to connect. Many leave their email addresses in their bio.

    But what do you say?

    You can send them a simple email like this to begin the conversation:

    micro influencer email targeting

    They get additional content for their channel. You get additional exposure.

    It’s a win-win scenario.

    5. Instagram Stories offer real-time engagement

    Nope, I hadn’t forgotten Instagram Stories. Maybe I was saving the best for last?

    There are a few reasons why Instagram’s user base keeps on growing at a crazy rate, and one of the reasons is Instagram Stories.

    Of course, we’ve all seen a similar feature before over at Snapchat.

    Snapchat’s business plan is built around their Stories feature, a popular feature which is arguably responsible for them experiencing a surge in daily active users over the years.

    By the end of 2017, Snapchat had 187 million daily active users.

    snapchat user growth

    Instagram then went and launched their own Stories feature in mid-2017, and it has paid off.

    Since adding it, Instagram’s user base has rocketed by 100 million.

    By August 2017, the feature had 250 million daily active users, a figure which eclipses Snapchat.

    instagram stories vs snapchat user growth

    This means Instagram Stories has a bigger audience, which you need to target.

    It also has a wider audience too, which means you’ve got a better chance of reaching your targeted persona.

    Snapchat is experiencing a downturn in users at the moment, with studies showing that a percentage of its audience is actually heading over to Instagram instead.

    snapchat vs instagram stories

    What does all this mean for you?

    You need to use Instagram Stories.

    Stories can now be viewed on desktop, while Story Highlights is a brand new feature that lets you showcase your most popular Story for longer than the usual 24-hour limit.

    refinery29 instagram stories

    How to maximize Instagram Stories

    Whether you use photos or videos, Instagram Stories are a great way to give your audience a “behind-the-scenes” glimpse of your business.

    Below you can see the company Benefit sharing behind-the-scenes footage of their beauty shoot.

    benefit beauty shoot instagram stories

    But your story doesn’t have to just be showing what’s going on.

    You can craft a compelling narrative, too.

    If customers or employees are happy to be involved, you should make them the stars! NASA spotlighted their employees who shared why they like working at NASA.

    nasa instagram story

    It’s really easy to record a video, too.

    All you need to do is head over to the main Instagram Stories screen and press the icon at the top left-hand corner of the screen.

    going live button instagram

    Then press the middle button and hold it, before releasing once the video is done.

    To take a picture, just tap the button once and release.

    Then, upload the video (or image) and add a caption or draw text onto it.

    wikihow instagram story

    Off-the-cuff videos work because users appreciate live footage. It creates a sense of intimacy between you and your audience, and it’s good for transparency.

    You can also use Instagram Stories to create a series of how-to articles or do-it-yourself tips on your page.

    Below you can see Real Simple share quick household tips in their Instagram Story.

    real simple instagram story

    How to put together a how-to article via Instagram Stories?

    The best way to do it is by using slides.

    Simply put the slides together in a sequence before uploading them to Instagram Stories.

    instagram stories

    The slides need to be eye-catching, colorful and engaging.

    If you’re not the most visually creative person in the world, you can use Canva to design your Story before uploading. It’s very easy to use for non-designers.

    End each how-to Story with a compelling call to action that tells the viewer what they need to do next.

    gucci sunglasses announcement on instagram

    6. Showcase brand personality with augmented reality branded face filters

    Instagram developed face filters for its users.

    Some can make you look like a rabbit, and others can give you a crown on your head.

    The filters work when using both the front and back camera on your phone.

    But how can these filters benefit your business?

    instagram face filters

    By using branded face filters.

    We know that Instagram is in hot pursuit of Snapchat.

    And we have already seen Snapchat offer sponsored Snapchat lenses for Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Michael Kors, and more.

    sponsored snapchat lenses

    So, Instagram likely isn’t far behind from opening face filters up to brands.

    But this feature might not be available to every brand until 2019 and also may not be cheap.

    A source that previously bought a branded filter on Snapchat and Facebook for their company spoke to AdAge and agreed Instagram’s branded face filters are impactful.

    They said, “Instagram is a better place than Facebook for lenses. The way people use Instagram, it’s just more of a camera app.”

    But that’s still a ways off.

    For now, consider adding a hashtag sticker to your Story for more context.

    To do this, create your Story first.

    Then simply tap the sticker icon at the top right of your screen.

    Next select and customize your hashtag.

    Finally, add it to your Story.

    hashtags on instagram stories

    Of course, make sure the Instagram app on your phone is always updated.

    You don’t want to miss out on any new features being dropped.

    Head over to the Play Store for Android users or the App Store for Apple users.

    Remember, people are less likely to follow an Instagram page that looks messy and inconsistent.

    60% of the best brands use a consistent filter on Instagram.

    A consistent aesthetic – and this includes the color palette, content, font, composition – is going to be essential to Instagram success in 2018.

    Have a look at Desenio.

    They use the same colors over and over again.

    desenio instagram

    Take a step back and look at your feed as a whole. Do the images look good together? Is your aesthetic compelling and consistent?

    If one moment a business is posting photos of food and the next moment they’re wading in on the current political climate, it’s going to be hugely confusing.

    Their core message will be lost.

    Don’t let this be your business.

    Leave behind the bad habit of throwing your followers a curveball with a post that adds no value and makes little sense. Be predictable.

    If there are old posts that no longer fit your aesthetic, you can either delete them or hide them using the Instagram Archives feature.

    Conclusion

    Instagram isn’t going away any time soon.

    Users will continue to have faith in Instagram, and its audience is only going to grow and grow.

    But unless you adapt to the changing trends, you’ll fall way behind your competitors.

    Each time Instagram rolls out a new feature, such as Instagram Stories, don’t sit back and hope it goes away because you don’t like change. Be among the first to adopt it.

    Take advantage of micro-influencer marketing. Target influencers in your niche that have already developed a relationship and trust with their audience.

    Use Instagram live to create a sense of intimacy with your followers and connect with them regularly.

    Carefully analyze your analytics so that you don’t waste your money on boosted posts. Take the time to build a community and treat your page just like you treat your brand.

    Next, consider branded face filters. They may be available for your company to use very soon.

    What trends are you using in your current Instagram campaign?

    About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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