By Alena Maschke Naples Daily News, Fla.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Several female entrepreneurs share their experiences getting started and yes, thriving on Instagram. The photo-based social media platform has been a terrific and affordable marketing platform for many small business owners.
Naples Daily News, Fla.
When a customer first suggested she open a professional Instagram account, Ylianne Maldonado was hesitant.
Hashtags, handles and filters seemed a little obscure. "What's that? I'm not a tech person," Maldonado responded.
Today, her professional Instagram account Nails by Ylianne has over 21,000 followers from all over the world, eager to see her extravagant nail designs.
"In our industry, having that kind of following is like being a superstar," Maldonado said.
After having an account on the photo-based social media platform for a year, Maldonado began posting more regularly, and the results startled her.
In November 2015, around the same time she started using the app more frequently, Maldonado opened her first salon in a nondescript strip mall on Radio Road in East Naples. Within a year, her business outgrew the small space.
Earlier this year, Maldonado opened a full-service salon in the same building, with space for massages, facials and pedicure chairs.
Maldonado still sits in a small front room where she greets her clients and does what she is now famous for: intricate floral designs, rhinestone-encrusted acrylics, shimmering metallic colors.
Maldonado is confident that her active Instagram account played a significant part in the explosive growth of her business.
"If it wasn't for the clients that I found there, I probably wouldn't have grown so much," she said.
Christin Russo, 28, agreed. "That's how I found her, I saw her on Instagram first."
Russo has been a regular client of Maldonado's ever since. She even brought her mother to the salon.
Maldonado said she did not make any effort to specifically target anyone or grow her following. "I just started hashtagging one day and it just happened."
When Stephanie Jonas began marketing her T-shirt company Citizen Beach Apparel on Instagram, she decided to go a more strategic route.
"The main thing on Instagram is to make your page look pretty," Jonas said.
In the beginning, she was overwhelmed by the abundance of beautifully crafted accounts on the platform. "When I first started, I thought: 'How do I get an account that looks like that?' "
Jonas quickly realized that professional pictures were the only way to achieve the crisp, clean look she admired.
Today, most of her posts are shot by a professional photographer.
Despite its focus on aesthetics, Instagram's marketing power is harnessed through the personal connection people feel to the accounts they follow.
"I feel like many of my followers on Instagram, they weren't just following my T-shirt company, they were following me," said Jonas, who made sure her account represented her personality and her life as a mother of two little boys.
"I really think I resonated a lot with moms because doing anything as a mom is so hard," she said.
Being a mother was one of the reasons Jonas decided to start her own business, which she began marketing from her couch. With one small child and another one on the way, a 9-to-5 office job just didn't seem feasible.
Affordability is another factor driving small business owners to Instagram.
"It's free marketing," said Jonas, who quickly realized that a storefront in Naples would be financially impossible.
"I knew the only way I could make this work was if I did it online," Jonas said.
Despite many perks, promoting one's business on Instagram is not as easy as it may seem. Alisha Morgan owns Elysium Tattoos in Fort Myers, and it took a while to find the hashtags that work for her business.
"Sometimes the hashtags have nothing to do with what you do. It's a lot of work to figure it out," Morgan said.
Once she had figured them out, Morgan saw her business grow. One client was brought in by her teenage daughter, who had seen Morgan's work on Instagram. "I was surprised how, locally, you become more visible," Morgan said.
After years of handling administrative tasks for her husband's tattoo business, Morgan started her own studio in Fort Myers. Building a client base of her own was a daunting task.
Morgan became more diligent about posting regularly, and the feedback she received helped drive away some of her initial fears.
"I was a little scared. Then I started becoming really active, and now I'm booked for the next month," Morgan said.