#MakerBizChat No. 8: How to Use Instagram to Create Profitable Collaborative Opportunities

Our topic on this episode of #MakerBizChat is How to Use Instagram to Create Profitable Collaborative Opportunities.


Our guest is Sharon Fain of the Academy of Handmade, a membership organization that supports makers through community, workshops and an awards show.

You can read the full transcript on Instagram at this link. Because Instagram is designed for mobile viewing, the entire chat on Instagram, which (as of this posting) has over 150 comments and some great questions and discussion, is best viewed on a mobile device. Below is a summary of this episode of #MakerBizChat.


1. Maintain a Consistent and Professional Profile.

The first thing you need to remember is that the main vocabulary of Instagram is visual.

Lousy Instagram profiles are treated the same way an HR manager tosses a resume that is riddled with grammar errors and typos. This is not being snooty. This is just how a visual medium functions.

That said, professional doesn't have to happen by a professional. If you've got the right equipment and time to invest in setting up shots, then you can do it yourself. (There are myriad tutorials and classes online.)

Remember that this is your business so don't be cheap about putting your best foot forward with photos of your amazing products! You will need to be OK with putting in some time and money to achieve a look that is as quality as your product.

2. Make Clear What You Do.

Your Instagram profile should explicitly and easily communicate what you do. If your last few photos are your dog, your lunch, a selfie and the hilarious thing you saw running errands this morning, chances are most people won't know you handcraft beautiful artisanal soaps (or whatever you make).

Essentially, you have your last six photos to tell the story of what yo do. Sure, you can include a photo or two that is a little more abstract, but overall, the last six images need to make what you do SUPER clear.

3. Create an Engaged Community.

Okay, so this might not be as important to some people depending on who you want to collaborate with, but it can't hurt. If someone comes to your page and they click on photos and it's just crickets chirping everywhere, they might not feel you'd be a great collaborator.

The more you make your account a place where your community gathers, the more attractive it will be to potential collaborators.


1. Collaborators Offer Exposure, Assistance or Both.

You are looking for people or businesses that can either provide greater exposure through their network or can assist you in executing some part of your business, or both.

2. Don't Confuse Bigger with Better.

Just because someone has a high follower count doesn't mean that they are the right collaborator for you. Think about people who have an audience you want to reach OR they might want to reach your audience.

This might even mean creating a team of collaborators. Be smart about it, but don't think teaming up with a big, well-known account is the only way to go.

3. Search Hash Tags!

Hash tags are the easiest way to search people who have similar interests to you. As you search the hash tag, look for professional photos and visuals that align with your brand.


1. Be a Human!

My favorite thing to do is to put social media in a, well, social context. Think of being on Instagram like being at a party. You wouldn't go up to someone at a party and immediately ask them personal questions without first building some kind of relationships with them. Same goes for online stuff!

Getting to know people is fairly easy on Instagram, especially since someone is literally making public a fee of photos they care about. But having them get to know you can be harder. Be a genuine fan of their account. Don't spam them by unnecessarily tagging them in photos or comments. Be enthusiastic about the things they are enthusiastic about. If you can't r it feels forced, it might not be a good collaboration.

2. When the Time is Right, Put it Out There.

This is more art than science here, but you'll know when the time is right. It won't feel forced. An account you've been looking to work with will mention they are in need of something or love something. Be enthusiastic about how you can help or enhance.

3. Don't Try to Seal the Deal on Instagram.

Instagram is a place where social and commerce often mix, but the hammering out of details does not need to be public. No one need to know how the sausage is made.

Try to get the person off Instagram and onto email. Ask for their email and give yours IF it seems like things are going well. You can also always try to send a direct message, but that can be tricky on Instagram. Use caution and good judgement here.


1. Be Clear About What You Want.

I cannot tell you how many emails (way too many) I get from people who want to work with me and then tell me what they do and that's it. OK. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with that. Tell them what you're looking to do with them (but not in a demanding way, just a clear way).

2. Know What You Can Offer.

You might feel like because you are a small business that you do not have a lot to offer, but that is simply not true. Make a list of all of the things you can offer people in exchange for their collaboration. You'd be surprised at what they will find most valuable sometimes. If you're approaching someone to work with them,then you better have a plan. And be okay with being flexible, but at lest give them an idea of what you are looking for.

3. Be More Generous Than You Need To Be.

The surest way to sink a collaboration is to start playing the “tit for tat” game. Collaborations are a chance for you to be generous (not desperate – there is a difference) and also to have someone provide something that's valuable to you. Since a collaboration is a form of trade, both parties feeling like they got value is more important than an exact monetary exchange. And if you want to work with that person again, or have them be positive about the experience (you never know who they know!), then don't be stingy.


1. Have Patience.

Creating things that are meaningful and involve the “human element” are often a long game. Don't push it. You can can permanently turn someone off to you by trying to make something happen. Often people you want to work with have a lot going on in their businesses and their lives.

2. Be Persistent and Consistent.

So, while you don't want to force something onto someone, it's also okay to follow up with them and remind them you're there. People often ask for a magic number of days for how long to follow up. I can't tell you that. it's again more art than science, but just like other human interactions, your guy will have sme pretty strong opinions.

Connect with Sheila Fain of Academy of Handmade:

Academy of Handmade's Website
Academy of Handmade on Twitter
Academy of Handmade on Instagram


How do you use Instagram to connect with like-minded people and form valuable collaborations? What fun things have you done for your business as a result of using Istagram? Please share your experience and feedback in the comments below, or share on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.