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How to Make Money on Instagram and Grow Your Following

How to Make Money on Instagram and Grow Your Following
Elizabete Libiete

By Elizabete Libiete

20 min read

We’ve already shown you how to make money from home, but now we’re turning our attention to how you can make money on Instagram—one of the largest social media platforms out there.

With around 1.5B users, Instagram reaches 24% of the world’s consumers. That’s a huge market share if you ask me, so it’s definitely worth exploring how to make money on this popular social media platform.

5 different approaches to making money on Instagram

1. Become an Instagram influencer

You don’t need a million followers to call yourself an Instagram influencer and create sponsored posts. In fact, many companies are now looking for micro-influencers—people with accounts that have anywhere from 1K to 100K followers. Big influencers tend to post so much sponsored content that it gets lost in the chaos or loses credibility. Alternatively, smaller influencers still have a close relationship with their Instagram followers and post plenty of authentic content.

Think about yourself: would you trust a product review of a vacuum cleaner more if it comes from a friend who you know and trust, or from a celebrity who probably never cleans their own house anyway?

Plus, bigger influencers are oftentimes out of reach for most brands. Many charge a lot for posts, and collaboration might require lengthy contracts, complex conditions, and multiple steps. Micro-influencers offer more flexibility and quicker content turnaround times so brands are often really interested in working with them.

So how can you make money as a micro-influencer? Earn cash on Instagram by creating sponsored content in the form of a story, a post, a reel, or a combination of these things. Companies typically pay Instagram influencers per piece of content, but they’ll need to know your Instagram account statistics for recent posts before sealing the deal. They’ll want to make sure that your followers are real, the audience you reach matches with their target customer demographics, and that your content is generally engaging.

Receiving products in exchange for sponsored posts is still considered sponsored, so many influencers start off by accepting products instead of making money. However, don’t fall into the trap of only working for products. If skincare is your niche, you could end up with a cabinet full of creams and serums but no actual money to spend. As your audience and influence grows, don’t be afraid to negotiate a payment on top of the products even if a brand doesn’t offer it at first.

Here are 3 ways to get sponsored if you don’t have a high follower count:

  1. Learn about and sign up for influencer marketplaces
  2. Tag brands in your posts and hope you get noticed 
  3. Pitch companies by sending them DMs on Instagram, emailing, or even reaching out to specific employees on LinkedIn

Either way, start small. When you don’t have a proven track record to show, you have better odds of scoring a deal with the local kombucha brewery than with Coca-Cola.

2. Promote affiliate products

Affiliate marketing is a low-cost way for businesses to promote their products as there’s hardly any upfront investment they need to make. It’s also a great way for you to earn extra cash. 

While both influencers and affiliates promote products or services on their Instagram accounts, the way they earn money is what sets them apart. As an influencer creating sponsored posts, you and the brand will agree on a set sum of money, usually per piece of content posted. Brands often ask to approve the content before you’ve actually published it and may request to make changes. 

As an affiliate, however, you’ll get a unique link or promo code and a commission for sales that come out of users clicking the link or using the code to make a purchase. It doesn’t matter if it takes you a single story or 2 weeks of constantly posting about the same product—whether or not you get paid depends on the end sale. Since it’s a more flexible process, brands are also less likely to micro-manage your posts, so you often have more creative freedom.

To become an affiliate, there are 3 common ways to go about it:

  • Reach out to brands you like. Most bigger companies will already have info about affiliate programs on their website. In some cases, they might set requirements for having a certain number of followers or a specific activity level in the past months. Usually, though, like in the case of Printful’s affiliate program, your interest is all you really need. Smaller brands might not have put the information out there but will likely be willing to work with you if you reach out to them directly.
  • Join one or several affiliate networks that act as the middleman between you (the affiliate) and the brands. Apart from ease of filtering and narrowing down programs you’d be interested in, the main benefit of making money through affiliate networks is that they’ll handle the financial transactions and guarantee you payment of your commissions. You don’t have to talk to the brands directly and worry if they’re legit. Check out this list of The Best Affiliate Networks & Programs.
  • Lastly, if you’re growing your brand and have an engaged audience, take advantage of it to get noticed by businesses. Once you’ve picked a specific niche and use relevant hashtags, those niche stores are more likely to come knocking on your door. Don’t forget to develop an effective marketing strategy as well to help build your profile and get noticed by brands.

How much can you make as an affiliate? According to the Affiliate Marketing Benchmark Report 2022 by Influencer Marketing Hub, most affiliates make below $10K a year, but there are some stars making more than $150K annually. That’s a wide margin to make good money from affiliate deals. 

Learn More: 10 Tips for Affiliate Marketers to Make More Money

Lauren and Penny is a great example of an influencer doing it right. Lauren posts adorable photos of her dog wearing different accessories and puts her affiliate code in the captions for almost every post. She also has conveniently organized highlights by brands that she collaborates with and uses the linktree in her Instagram bio to promote affiliate links. This way, followers can easily find her promo codes when they need to.

3. Use Instagram to sell physical products

Another great way to make money on Instagram is by using your IG account as a storefront to sell products. Design and sell any product that you’d personally like to buy, or that you know there’s a market for. If you don’t already have an ecommerce store to guide your potential customers, here are several ways to go about it.

Get creative with POD (print-on-demand)

Probably the easiest way to start selling physical products on Instagram is through a print-on-demand provider. Partnering with a service like Printful enables you to print your unique designs on hundreds of different products (mugs, hoodies, shoes, blankets, posters, and hats, just to name a few) without having to make a large upfront investment. 

When someone makes a purchase on your ecommerce store, the POD company will automatically print your design on the product, pack it, and ship it to your customer with your branding. This way, you don’t have to worry about stocking up on inventory that may or may not sell, or dealing with the logistics of packaging and shipping your products to customers worldwide. Even when you’re on vacation in Greece, there’s always someone making sure your customers get their purchases in a timely manner. 

Printful also provides you with product mockups, production footage, and videos to showcase your items on your Instagram account. Use the Instagram Shopping feature to tag products in your Instagram stories, reels, and posts.

The Aussie Mom is the perfect example of how to make money on Instagram by selling POD products. She uses a mix of her own photos and product mockups to create a fun, colorful Instagram page. This helps promote her products to her following and ultimately get sales. 

@theaussiemom on Instagram
Source: @theaussiemom on Instagram

Try dropshipping

The dropshipping business model is very similar to POD in that you’re only responsible for setting up your ecommerce store and handling marketing while the supplier or manufacturer fulfills your customers’ orders. The biggest difference is that you don’t have to design the products you sell. Dropshipping simply means the seller accepts customer orders without having stock on hand, so you can also sell products that someone else has designed.

Some popular products to dropship are clothing, home & living products, accessories, and baby products.

Sell used, thrifted, or handmade products

Another way to make money on Instagram with physical products is to tap into the second-hand market or offer handmade goods. Both have become super popular for customers looking to make more sustainable choices, pay less for brand names, or buy novel hand-crafted items. 

If you want to test the waters, you could start by running an online “garage sale” with your own stuff. Create a post for each piece of clothing, furniture, or appliance, make a reel showcasing the items, and post video stories inviting followers to check out your offering. 

If you’re ready to take it a step further, you can browse thrift stores in your area or online and flip things you find for a profit.

Audrey Leighton Vintage is doing just that. Based in Barcelona, the brand launches a collection of elegant clothing and accessories each month. It’s made up of quality pieces that are thrifted, sourced from collectors, or made new in her atelier. New or vintage, Audry Leighton makes sure to create stunning, coherent visuals for every product.

Buy inventory in bulk

Buying things in bulk at a low price point, keeping inventory, and selling it off one by one is probably the most traditional approach on our list. However, advertise the items in your Instagram store and voilà, another option to make money on IG. 

Buying in bulk often means that you get products for a better, wholesale price, which may help you save money in the long run. Plus, the manufacturer or distributor will sometimes provide you with product photos or even marketing materials to help you get your business rolling. 

However, a major downside to this model is that it requires a large upfront investment. You’ll need to buy multiple sizes, colors, etc. of the same product without knowing if and how well they’ll sell. Plus, you’ll need a place to store the stock, which could be an added expense if the products take up a lot of space.

If you already have strong ecommerce marketing knowledge or experience running a  traditional in-person store, this could be a good idea. But, it’s a higher risk way to start selling products instead of, say, using the POD model.

4. Sell digital products and services

The market for digital goods is growing twice as fast as the market for physical products.  How can you seize this opportunity? Make money on Instagram by selling digital products and services.

  • E-books: This is an excellent way to share your insight or interests with your IG followers. It could be a recipe book, a financial advice book, a fiction book, or a book on any topic you’re an expert in or passionate about. Create posts with snippets from your book, and go live answering the audience’s questions on the topic. It’ll show your expertise—and that your digital product is worth paying for.

Atticus poetry started off by sharing their poetry on Instagram and has now published their 4th book, which is available both as an e-book and in hardcover. They also make money by selling merch with their most beloved quotes.

@atticuspoetry on Instagram
Source: @atticuspoetry on Instagram
  • Video courses: E-learning really took off during Covid-19 and is expected to continue to grow. So if you have knowledge that others are interested in, create a course! Again, you should show off your expertise on Instagram by posting snippets of the material, but just enough so your audience will be interested in paying for the complete learning experience.

Karina from Perfect Face without injections is an expert in facial massages and exercises. Her Instagram profile consists of short tutorials, before and after photos of clients, as well as invitations to join self-care “marathons”​​—video courses that followers can sign up for.

@karina_na_more on Instagram
Source: @karina_na_more on Instagram
  • Photos: Landscape photography, sketches, or digital art are all great content to sell on Instagram. Instead of creating beautiful photos of a product, your product is the beautiful photo. You can sell photos directly on Instagram or use it to promote your work on one of many websites for selling photography.

Shaun Ryken’s Instagram profile mesmerizes followers with colorful, creative, and meaningful digital artwork. If you want to own his art, he offers the opportunity to buy NFTs or printed t-shirts.

@shaunryken on Instagram
Source: @shaunryken on Instagram

5. Get recurring income with fan subscriptions

Fan subscriptions are a great way to make money on Instagram. Followers are able to fund their favorite influencers and creators by paying a monthly fee in exchange for special content or perks. 

Maybe you can share personal finance tips or do an astrological reading every week. Or, maybe you live an adventurous lifestyle and others are interested in finding out exactly how you can afford it. Invite followers to pay a monthly fee to gain access to exclusive content, increased access to you, or special discounts.

Here are some services that’ll help you do that:

  • Instagram subscriptions: In 2022, Instagram launched its own subscription service, which allows you to show certain Instagram stories or posts only to those followers who have paid a monthly fee. However, it’s still an invite-only feature.
  • Private Instagram account: Even before IG rolled out its own service, content creators figured out a way to make money on Instagram: by creating a private Instagram account in addition to their public accounts. You can get access by paying a monthly fee that generally varies between $20–$40.
  • Subscription platforms: You can also use your Instagram account to guide your followers to sites like Patreon, Substack, or Tribe. There, they’ll be able to see your content after paying a monthly or annual fee. On Patreon, you can create different subscription levels and make certain posts correspond to higher-priced levels.
  • Subscription plugins: Most popular website platforms like WordPress or WooCommerce allow you to install a subscription plugin to your blog.

You can also make money with virtual tips. Although it’s not always as consistent as a subscription, there are different ways to get paid by fans. For example, Instagram Badges is a new feature currently available to Instagram influencers in the US with at least 10K followers. It works like this: by purchasing a badge (available during live video sessions) your fans are showing appreciation for what you do. If you don’t meet the requirements, another option is to ask fans to support you through other virtual tip apps like Buy Me a Coffee.

You still need to create engaging free content to hook new and existing subscribers to your platform. Try posting sneak peeks of your content, like a few seconds of a video clip, a blurred-out image of your photography work, a single paragraph of your article, or 1 out of 9 tips, to get fans to sign up. Then, give full access to the exclusive content only to subscribers.

Tracy Anderson is a fitness coach who runs an online studio based off of subscriptions. She posts a lot of educational content on Instagram, and even offers a 2-week workout plan for free to provide her audience with the assurance that she can bring real value to their lives.  The linktree in her bio contains links to join her paid-only programs, making it easy for followers to find her plans.

How to sell your products on Instagram

It’s clear that there are many different strategies to make money on Instagram. If one of the ways you plan to earn cash on Instagram is by selling products, it’s important to determine how best to showcase your items for maximum exposure. Keep reading for in-depth pointers on how to do it.

1. Set up a business profile

Instagram offers 2 types of accounts—personal and professional. Most of us are familiar with how a personal IG account works. The professional account, however, gives you access to insights about follower demographics and post performance. This will help you learn about what your audience likes (or doesn’t like). Plus, it’ll equip you with data to share with other businesses you want to collaborate with.

The professional account also allows you to post ads and open an Instagram shop. Go to Settings > Account, and click on Switch account type. You’ll get immediate free access to these tools. It’s great because it’s free (anyone can create a business account) and it helps your brand look more professional.

2. Open an Instagram shop

Now that you have your professional account, open settings again and open the section titled Creator or Business (depending on which option you chose in the previous step). Then tap the Set up Instagram Shopping button and follow the instructions.

To add products to your Instagram shop, you’ll need to import them from an existing online shop. Instagram has partnered with Shopify, BigCommerce, Magneto, and WooCommerce (along with other popular ecommerce platforms) for easy setup, but your own online store will work as well.

Now when Instagram users open your profile, they’ll see a button called View Shop which will take them to your Instagram product catalog. It’s possible to share and save the catalog items too. 

In the US, you can set up the shop in a way that allows checkout directly on Instagram. Never leaving the app increases the likelihood of a purchase, so it’s a great option to boost sales. Instagram has promised to make this feature available worldwide, but for now, if your business is outside the US, your customer will be redirected to your website to make the purchase.

3. Tag products in Instagram posts, stories, and reels

To get traction for your Instagram shop, tag the products in your content. A link directly on the post will take your audience to the product on the shopping page, and they won’t have to manually look for your products. Tags work with any content type on Instagram—feed photos and videos, captions and comments, reels, stories, and even live videos. 

According to Instagram, you should tag products at least 5 times a month. It’s important to use tags regularly, but don’t exaggerate. Make sure a good chunk of your content still has the genuine intent to just connect with your audience and share cool insights or fun photos.

Nootka is a jewelry brand based in Stockholm. They offer “nonseasonal jewelry” that “makes you look twice.” Their founder, Lisa ​​Olsson, consistently posts lifestyle images featuring the brand’s products that serve as inspiration. But the jewelry is tagged, which streamlines the buying process. The little white bag symbol means that the product in the photo is tagged, making it easier for potential customers to discover and purchase it.

@nootkaofficial on Instagram
Source: @nootkaofficial on Instagram

4. Get user-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is probably the best brand testimonial you can get on Instagram. It’s content someone else has published showing off your products or services. In fact, UGC is “42% more effective than branded content and has a whopping 6.9 times higher engagement rate than your own branded posts,” according to a leading advertising agency

Engage with your audience and re-post content your fans have published. Everyone likes to be recognized so a simple re-post will make the existing customer extra happy, show your audience that there are real people using your product, and encourage others to tag you in posts and stories for a chance to be recognized too. 

One way to motivate your followers to create content is by running a contest or a challenge on Instagram. You could offer the opportunity to win a gift for anyone who tags you in the next week, or simply encourage people to start up a new healthy habit and share their progress. Many times being featured on a favorite brand’s page is incentive enough to participate.

With stores in both New York and Paris, The Frankie Shop has become somewhat of a mecca for those visiting the cities. A favorite among fashion insiders, The Frankie Shop designs modern clothing with subtle yet unexpected twists. Their Instagram platform is all about their community and lifestyle. The content is mainly user-generated and it adds value to their brand by giving a feel for what it’s like to wear the brand and be part of their family.

5. Advertise

Last but not least, there’s good old paid advertising. Instagram lets you boost any existing post so it’s seen by your target audience. If a post is performing well, boosting it is a great way to show it to people who aren’t following you yet, but have similar interests. There’s also the Facebook Ads Manager tool that can be used for Instagram ads and gives you more control over the audience, channels, and appearance of the ads and campaigns.

@takeoutorder on Instagram
Source: @takeoutorder on Instagram

How to build an Instagram audience

In order to make money on Instagram, you first need to reach the people who are interested in what you have to offer. Follow these 5 steps to build a large, engaged audience to sell to.

1. Find your niche and get to know your target audience

Before you can grow your follower base, you need to establish your niche and hone in on who your audience is. The counterintuitive truth about a social media presence is that the narrower your niche is the higher engagement you get from followers.

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Some very popular niches are travel, food, health and fitness, beauty, parenting, etc. but you can narrow down your topics even more. For example, traveling with kids, lactose-free recipes, workouts for people in wheelchairs, locally-produced skincare, raising twins, etc. 

Once you’ve defined your niche you’ll be able to learn more about your audience. Check out similar Instagram accounts, read the comments, and see what type of content is most engaging or what people are talking about. Pay attention to which hashtags others are using and search for more inspiration. Pretty soon you’ll be able cater to your target audience like a pro.

2. Focus on engagement—not just number of followers

Instagram engagement measures the number of times users interact with your content (by liking, commenting, sharing, or saving it) versus the number of followers you have. 

For example, an account with 5K followers with an average of 400 likes per post and several comments is much more valuable than one with 20K followers and fewer than 100 likes per post. Instagram users can easily spot if an account has a lot of fake followers and that instantly breaks their trust. 

This metric provides 3 important benefits:

  • It tells the Instagram algorithm how interesting your content is. The greater the engagement, the more Instagram will show the post to other people. 
  • It gives you useful info to share with brands that you’d like to collaborate with. High engagement can help you negotiate better deals.
  • It gives you insight into what your followers like and dislike. It’s a good idea to repeat content ideas that got high engagement and tweak the ones that didn’t.

Engagement also fosters community and gives a reason for your followers to return to your Instagram page, so communication should be reciprocal. It’s important to not only encourage your followers to be active, but also to keep up the conversation in the comments section and through DMs. Whether you’re answering a question, giving a compliment, or responding to negative feedback, always acknowledge your followers and show you care.

3. Be authentic and honest

Long gone are the days when people only expected picture-perfect content. Today, Instagram users want to see realness. Post unedited photos from your camera roll, or if you’re struggling with something, share your story. That way, your audience can relate to you and will trust you more.

Constanza Concha is an advocate for skin positivity. She’s been living with acne since she was 7 years old, and uses her IG account to share her challenges and successes as well as to promote products and brands she likes. When followers see that there’s a real person just like them behind Instagram posts, it creates trust, intimacy, and connection. These are crucial components of successfully promoting brands or selling products online.

@cottyconcha on Instagram
Source: @cottyconcha on Instagram

4. Use relevant hashtags

Hashtags are a way for Instagram to categorize user content and an opportunity for you to be discovered by people who aren’t following you yet. 

You can search for hashtags using Instagram search, and see how many mentions each has. With over 2B mentions, #love is the most popular hashtag. Although it might sound tempting to use it on all your posts, think about what value it’d actually bring to your brand. The chances of your post making it to the top of the list or staying at the beginning of the recent posts list for more than a few hours are very low. 

Of course you should include some of the really popular hashtags, but think of some that are more specific to your niche or location. If you’re trying to promote your dog grooming services in London, for example, a relevant hashtag might be #doggroominglondon (1K+ posts). This will likely attract more potential customers than simply #dog (348M posts).

To reach and engage with your target audience, the hashtags you use should be relevant to what you’re doing. But there’s no definitive answer to how many hashtags you should use per post. While Instagram suggests keeping it between 3–5 per post, marketing platform Later analyzed over 18M Instagram feed posts and concluded that 20 hashtags secure the highest average reach. More than that, 30 hashtags provide the highest average engagement rate. 

Just remember though, too many irrelevant hashtags can have the opposite effect: your posts might appear scammy both to the Instagram algorithm and to users.

5. Post quality content regularly

The rule of thumb is to post at least once a day. That way, you have more opportunity for engagement. 

The Instagram algorithm likes to show posts from accounts that regularly interact with their followers, so you need to make sure you offer plenty of possibilities for your followers to like, comment, share, and save. Some Instagram users still prefer to scroll the feed page, while others only watch stories or are hooked on reels. If you post ​​different types of content, you’ll be able to engage with more people.

For lovers and trees grew their brand in only a year, just through posting regularly and social media marketing. They are active in repeating their brand message, which resonates with followers.

@forloversandtrees on Instagram
Source: @forloversandtrees on Instagram

Start earning money on Instagram

We’ve explored 5 effective ways you can make money on the gram, discussed how to sell products on the platform, and gone over the ways you can build an engaged audience of potential customers. Now is the time to take the first steps!

If you want to learn more about how to set up your Instagram for success, take a look at other Printful blog posts where we talk about ecommerce, marketing, trends, and much more. Good luck and let us know how it goes in the comments.

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By Elizabete Libiete on Aug 4, 2022

Elizabete Libiete

Guest author

An artist at heart, Elizabete loves to express herself creatively through acting, painting, and writing.

An artist at heart, Elizabete loves to express herself creatively through acting, painting, and writing.

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Elizabete Libiete

By Elizabete Libiete

20 min read Aug 4, 2022

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