I am honestly still in shock! I went from having a small, tiny, unnoticed Instagram account to over 300k followers and growing in just over a year
The craziest part? I did this in 2019, when everyone is complaining about “the algorithm”, saying it’s impossible to beat.
Everyone can be successful on Instagram – yes, that 100% includes YOU!
Oh, and while you’re here, grab this cheat sheet so you can grow Insta followers fast (and ethically!! No bots/ weird apps, etc.) too!
In college, I really struggled with stress and emotional eating
So I switched my major from math to nutrition midway through college so I could understand the science behind what I was eating.
I wanted to help OTHERS find these realizations, be free from the misinformation on weight loss that’s online and on social media, and ultimately to manage their weight in healthy, fulfilling ways.
When I graduated from my bachelor’s and master’s from Case Western Reserve University in spring 2013, I started the website and social media accounts (including Instagram) for “The College Nutritionist”.
Instagram was different back then. It was much easier to grow before the dreaded “algorithm”
Pictures appeared in chronological order – your followers were shown all of your posts (versus now, when followers are only shown your posts if they view, like, or comment on your pictures often).
The (dreaded) “algorithm” wasn’t in place, and I was pretty easily able to grow to 17k followers.
I lost 3k followers on Instagram…
Alright, now 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 alone ate up my entire income
Therefore! 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
March – April 2017: Instagram follower growth stagnant at 14k followers
I felt an aching guilt when it came to The College Nutritionist.
I knew there was serious potential there, as it was a strong niche, or section of the total market that I could specifically target.
I thought: ok, I’ll give it 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 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!
August 2017 – November 2017: Modest Instagram follower growth from 15k to 20k followers
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:
Help with weight loss
Help with cooking on a budget
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 $$ as an Instagram Influencer? How did you 12x your $20k PhD stipend?
I first saw virtual clients for nutrition & weight loss, but after about 9 months of that got pretty burnt out
It’s absolutely a good problem to have – but I was in too high demand! I literally didn’t have time in the day to shower – let along sleep or take care of my own health (and I’m a nutritionist after all!)
So I created the first version of my Best Body program in August 2018
And in January 2019 I launched it as a membership program with weekly meal plans
In May 2019, I updated the membership to be an interactive website with a complex (but easy to use) meal planning function
The takeaway: How to make $$ on Instagram
There are so many ways to make an income online
Some of the most popular ways are to:
Work with clients either in person (but they find your online) or virtually
Selling a physical product (but having people find you through online sources like Instagram)
Affiliate marketing – getting a commission by promoting someone else’s product (think RewardStyle/ LikeToKnowIT, Amazon Affiliates, that type of thing)
Selling online courses or memberships
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!