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How to Make an Income on Instagram

October 21, 2019

How to Make an Income on Instagram

instagram growth

Let me paint a (somewhat depressing) picture for you 😅

Just 2 years ago…

I was a stressed out & mega financially struggling PhD student

My academic stipend was $20k per year and I was living in NYC – where my (rent stabilized) apartment alone ate up my entire income


Naturally… I had 3 additional jobs

From 6am to 9 or 10pm I was out of the house Monday through Friday, and of course, one of my jobs was all day Saturday, and on Sunday I worked all day on my PhD thesis

It was a crazy time and honestly I’m pretty impressed by the amount of adrenaline I had to keep me going like that for 4 years 😂

The last year of my PhD though, I actually had some extra time –

Since I was so diligent about working my a** off on my dissertation the previous four years 😉

And of course, like any good millennial, I couldn’t just let that extra time sit there

I felt an aching guilt when it came to The College Nutritionist.

I had started the accounts 5 ish years ago – and had grown a few thousand followers initially,

but I let it fall by the wayside since I was super busy with school

I thought: ok, I’ll give Instagram & my business one more try.

Being creative and helping others is something I knew I loved doing. I thought that at least, this could fill up that little extra free time I would have over the next few months.

May 2017 – July 2017: Slow Instagram follower count growth from 14k to 15k followers 

I began posting on Instagram nearly daily. I wish I could tell you it was a breeze – everyone loved my photos, and I was an overnight success!

I can’t tell you how much further from the truth the reality was!!!!

I was mortified. I posted (what I felt like were very) beautiful photos, and would get less than 100 likes per post. I was so. embarrassed.

During this time, I was networking with other foodie Instagrammers, and one friend who was growing rapidly told me: You know, your content just isn’t that good.


Even though I was a bit stunned at the remark, it was a big revelation for me.

I couldn’t just blame the algorithm, I had to take ownership and responsibility for my results.

The problem was ME!

In Fall 2017, I signed up for a mastermind weekend workshop.

This workshop reminded me of the power of TALKING to my audience to figure out what they want. The next week, this is exactly what I did.

After spending some time really learning what my audience wanted (through talking with people and sending out surveys), I was able to figure out what they wanted from me most, in order:

  1. Help with weight loss

  2. Help with cooking on a budget

  3. Help with meal prepping for 1 person

This truly was THE turning point for me.

I changed my bio and my content to EXACTLY focus on addressing my audience’s desires, or, as I learned, what entrepreneurs call “pain points”.

My engagement immediately began to jump, and with trial and error, I began developing more creative content that addressed college students’ & recent grads’ “pains” – those areas where they wanted help.

In my experience, I saw that the quickest way to grow on Instagram was by developing creative, clever content that the algorithm would pick up and move to the top of the Explore page, based on how initial users interact with the post (e.g. staying on the post for a little longer before scrolling to the next one, and of course liking it and commenting on it).

So much more than using the right hashtags, writing the perfect caption, or taking the prettiest picture, creative, clever content performs best on Instagram.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what idea will take you to the next level!

December 2017 – July 2018: Exponential Instagram follower count growth from 20k to 199k followers

The growth since December has been exponential, and my photos consistently get thousands of likes.


Like any social media platform, Instagram does constantly update and change, and it’s up to me (us!) to keep up with it and to come up with more and more engaging, clever content that helps my followers eat better and feel their best – ultimately solving their problems.

So how do you make $$ as an Instagram Influencer? How did you 12x your $20k PhD stipend? 

Excellent Q!

I first saw virtual clients for nutrition & weight loss, but after about 9 months of that got pretty burnt out

It’s absolutely a good problem to have – but I was in too high demand! I literally didn’t have time in the day to shower – let along sleep or take care of my own health (and I’m a nutritionist after all!)

So I created the first version of my Best Body program in August 2018

And in January 2019 I launched it as a membership program with weekly meal plans

In May 2019, I updated the membership to be an interactive website with a complex (but easy to use) meal planning function

The takeaway: How to make $$ on Instagram 

There are so many ways to make an income online

Some of the most popular ways are to:

  1. Work with clients either in person (but they find your online) or virtually

  2. Selling a physical product (but having people find you through online sources like Instagram)

  3. Affiliate marketing – getting a commission by promoting someone else’s product (think RewardStyle/ LikeToKnowIT, Amazon Affiliates, that type of thing)

  4. Selling eBooks

  5. Selling online courses or memberships

  6. Working with brands, advertising their content (sponsored posts)

Which one (or two, or three) works best for your business?

I recommend starting with one and mastering how to sell it, before moving to another income form!

A note: I actually don’t recommend doing that much work the brands

I know it seems very “cool” and high end, but it’s SO out of your control

Social media algorithms change constantly, and so much of what people see is actually out of your control

And, while budgets are fat, sure companies will pay

But whenever companies fall flat, or we have an economic downturn,

You better believe companies are going to scale back on their promotions big time

AND! Working with companies often falls flat – you start talking with someone, but then they stop responding, or they end up not having the funds to pay you…

It can really become a mess

Do you want to grow on Instagram too? 🤩

I would LOVE for you to check out my Beat the Algorithm course where I’ll walk you through, step by step, how to grow your Insta too –

But first, make sure you get my Instagram growth cheat sheet (FREE) so you can jumpstart your success NOW!

Don’t make these Instagram mistakes!

Get my secrets to success straight to your email

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