Cash Machine: 7 Strategies to Make Money on Instagram

A woman with pink hair holds up a glittery shoe in front of her camera to record. She's an influencer for social media.
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With the amount of time we spend scrolling through social media platforms, we might as well make money on Instagram, right?

In fact, every scroll generally yields at least one friend or neighbor who has started using their followers to sell something. Maybe it’s time for a little spring cleaning, so they’ve decided to sell their old sweaters and boots through their Instagram stories.

Maybe they knit in their spare time, so they’ve turned to the platform as a way to share and market their work. Or maybe you know an influencer whose day job is using their 10,000 followers to make money on Instagram.

7 Ways to Become an Instagram Entrepreneur

It doesn’t take being an avid crafter or Instagram marketer to make money on Instagram. The key is having a good engagement rate, understanding your audience, writing multiple posts and knowing what works and what doesn’t.

Post regularly and engage with people that you follow. Leaving it up to chance will leave you and what you’re trying to sell in the dust. It’s a bit of a game and you have to play it.

And remember — when it comes to social media, don’t be afraid to give the product some personality.

Ready to sell and start another revenue stream? Read on for how.

1.   Build Your Brand

You’ve likely heard it before, but branding and follower count do matter on Instagram. While you can’t build a personal brand or a business profile overnight, you can use your aesthetic and the topics you typically post about to boost the products you’re trying to sell.

Find your niche. Do you find yourself often posting about your outfits or your home décor? Consider selling items that coincide with those interests. Are you outdoorsy and always posting shots from your latest hiking trail or kayaking trip? Try selling your old outdoor equipment on Instagram.

People want to buy items from someone they consider an expert. Build up a following based on that persona first and then sell your items accordingly. In essence, you want to become an expert in Instagram marketing.

2.   Know Your Audience

Knowing how to market your products on Instagram comes from understanding your audience. If you tend to interact on Instagram in a highly personal voice, then sell your items that way. Try sharing plenty of photos of you in stories using the item that you are now trying to sell. Talk realistically and passionately about the product. Did your daughter love her prom dress and now you want it to have a second home? Sharing that story and harnessing those relationships might make someone more willing to make the dress their own.

And if you want to hit your target audience, there are ways to do that, like through an appeal or a promo code. Offering promo codes through your posts encourages Instagram users and your followers to buy your products. A promo code — which prompts users to input a certain word at online checkout and receive a discount — can encourage on-the-fence users to become a customer.

You might incentivize people by asking them to follow your Instagram account or like your Instagram posts for a promo code. They might even think you’re a social media expert.

3.   Take Good Photos

On social media, visuals are more important than any words you could write. If you’re trying to sell items that need a little work, take well-lit and well-staged photos. And take these tips from two experts. If you’re selling an article of clothing, don’t crowd the photo with other accessories or objects. Ideally, put yourself or the article of clothing against a plain white or colorful background.

The same concept goes for objects. If you’re trying to sell your old chest or a cat tree, photograph the object from multiple angles against a plain background. Be honest about any flaws, but no need to draw extra attention to them.

 4.   Explain Your Process

 If you’re selling a hand-crafted product on Instagram, this is your chance to shine! People love personality and they want to understand the creative process that went into the item they’re considering buying. Instagram even suggests using your stories to document each step — from concept to creation.

Once you’ve taken your audience through the entire affair, you can save the story as a highlight on your Instagram page for future viewers to refer to in perpetuity.

 5.   Tag Products on Instagram Shopping

If you already have a business account, you may be eligible for accessing Instagram Shopping, an e-commerce option through the social media platform that makes it easy to advertise and sell merchandise through your Instagram account. 

Instagram Shopping accounts can set up a curated shop that allows users to browse and buy items directly through the app’s checkout feature rather than directing users offline to a separate website.

Once you have the shopping side set up, you can tag individual products within your posts and easily direct people to buy the item. Instagram allows vendors to tag up to five objects in one post and up to 20 products in a multi-image post.

6.  Know the Shipping Cost

If you’re selling items to customers all over the country or a heavier piece where shipping can add up, be honest with buyers. Shipping entities like the United States Postal Service, UPS and FedEx all have shipping calculators on their sites. Some sellers put shipping immediately in the post.

And if you’re adding any cost to the shipping, let buyers know why. Perhaps you are charging for the time to package and ship the product? Or perhaps you have other business expenses? People are more willing to shell out for shipping when they understand why. 

 7.   Some Things Sell Better Than Others

There’s nothing on Instagram that absolutely won’t sell, but there are categories of items that tend to do better than others. Objects in the fashion and beauty realm — think slightly used clothes and jewelry — tend to do better than used home tools or appliances, which might fare better on more practical sites like Facebook Marketplace or Nextdoor.

In general, if your item has a good aesthetic and a good story, you might as well give Instagram a try.

Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder, often writing about selling goods online through social platforms. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Smithsonian Magazine and the Tampa Bay Times.