Starting a Business on Instagram: Lessons Learned

Starting a small business during a pandemic? Check. Running it solely through a social media platform? Check. Trying to balance school, sports, extracurriculars and still take the time to make my products by hand? Check!

What started as my quarantine hobby quickly turned into an obsession, and now it has evolved into a small Instagram business. Em’s Earring Co. is my happy place where I sell unique, handmade polymer clay jewelry.

When I decided to start my own small business, I was definitely taking a leap of faith. I was only sixteen at the time, with no prior knowledge of how to run a business. Now, seven months and only 147 Instagram followers later, I am in no way an expert on social media marketing, but I have already grown significantly since I first began. 

Below is a culmination of helpful hints for starting a small business on Instagram as well as some things to avoid from the lessons I’ve learned so far.

Do: Prioritize yourself first. 

This advice is definitely #1 on my list for a reason. 

Prioritizing my personal needs over the needs of my business did not come easily to me at first. I’m a type-A perfectionist with crippling procrastination and anxious tendencies, which basically means I want everything done both perfectly and punctually despite starting the project the night before I need it to be finished. 

This was my life for the first couple of months of running a social media business. Orders were coming in quicker than expected. While I was immensely grateful for the sudden boom in business, my unhealthy coping strategies showed me that I tend to put my mental health priorities on the back burner. 

Here’s what I’ve learned: if you can, it’s ok to close your shop for a week. Or, if you’re like me, for a couple of months. If this isn’t a possibility, then it’s ok to sell out of a product or limit how many orders you receive. 

Find small ways to treat yourself, to take a break from the hustle and bustle, to simply breathe. You’re allowed to prioritize yourself first; in fact, you need to. 

Don’t: Allow comparison to kill your creativity. 

It’s so easy to get caught up in the number of likes and followers another small business has compared to your own. So often, we treat Instagram (or any form of social media, really) as a hostile environment filled with jealousy rather than a welcoming community focused on connection, not comparison. 

You can admire someone else’s hard work and dedication to their business without feeling insecure about your own. This quote from Felicia Bender describes the idea perfectly: “Creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of inner security and confidence.”

Do: Collaborate with others. 

Because who doesn’t love a good Instagram giveaway?! 

When you’re open to collaboration, you combine the styles, ideas, and perspectives of not only you but also multiple other creative, talented professionals! 

Be confident in what you have to offer while also listening to others’ ideas. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other accounts to ask if they’d be willing to collaborate or do a giveaway. Worst case scenario, they say no, but best-case scenario, you grow your community and expand your following.

Don’t: Be afraid to try new things. 

Fear is what keeps us in our comfort zone, and when we’re stuck in our comfort zone, we miss out on so many opportunities due to the fear of the unknown. 

New and different don’t always translate to ominous and scary. If you start by implementing small changes, you’ll build up the confidence to try bigger and better things along the way. A fresh logo, new product, or different packaging can pave the way for even greater change, like a website or your first employee. 

Do: Make to-do lists—lots of them. 

To-do lists are the backbone of my business. Seriously. To-do lists keep me disciplined and focused, but they can also be the reason why I lose all motivation.

Sometimes I allow to-do lists to overload my week, which can quickly lead to burnout. If you can relate, then I would highly recommend you try a “to-be” list instead. I first heard this idea from Monica Berg in an episode of Directionally Challenged, one of my favorite podcasts. 

For example, if I feel overwhelmed after a particularly exhausting week, I would make a to-be list with words like patient, empathetic, and understanding. By structuring my to-do list around a to-be list, I’m more intentional with my weekly tasks while also acknowledging my feelings in the process. 

Don’t: Be too hard on yourself. 

Although there will be the occasional comment from others, the most common forms of criticism are the negative thoughts we say to ourselves every day. 

If you do encounter judgment from a stranger on the Internet, know that these “criticisms” may not actually be critical of you as a person or your business as a whole: they may simply be a suggestion or a gentle nudge in the right direction.

On the other hand, the critiques that come from the inner voice in our head tend to be the most detrimental to our progress. So be kind to yourself; you’re still growing! Mistakes are going to happen, so expect them and be ready to learn from them.

Starting a small business on Instagram? Go for it.

For anyone considering starting a small business on Instagram, I say go for it! The task may seem daunting at first, but the risk is worth it when you find something that brings you joy.