From Personal to Business Account: How I Naturally Increased Engagement and Followers on Instagram

As I built my business around myself (i.e. my personal brand), I realized that I could leverage my Instagram as a business account. But to me, Instagram business accounts consist of inspirational quotes, stock images, and posed-but-also-candid photos (a.k.a. “plandids“). On one hand, that’s not the kind of person (or Instagram account) I want to be. But on the other hand, tailored Instagram accounts look more professional. So I asked myself: how do I naturally increase engagement and followers on Instagram in order to capture clients, but still stay true to myself?

Here’s my TL;DR answer: Find the intersection between what you want to communicate to potential clients and what your clients want, and make content that reflects that message. For a more in-depth explanation, read on…

My most engaged photo on Instagram since switching to a business account

Before I Changed My Profile

It’s an obvious statement: communicate your message via your social media. But if you take a hard look at what you’re posting about your business, how well are you achieving that? And taking it one step further: is it the same thing your customers want?

When I decided to business-ify my Instagram account, I attended Elise Darma’s free Instagram masterclass to determine whether to invest more in changing my profile.

What the Instagram Masterclass Taught Me

I need to answer my client’s needs. My tagline is I want to help your business grow and save you time. So how do I communicate that on my Instagram? This process has been a great exercise for me to solidify this statement, rather than simply use it as a nice soundbite.

I need to offer value. As a marketing professional, I offer so many different services, but what value am I providing to clients? This has been a question I’m always trying to answer, and is closely related to the first point.

After the masterclass, I decided not to pay for the InstaGrowth Boss program, mostly because I was still undecided about how to use Instagram for my business. But it gave me enough to start.

How I Changed My Instagram Profile

Here you can see what my account looked like when I made the change on 2 April:

I had already converted it to a business profile, but you can see how personal it is. If anyone visited my Instagram to learn more about my business, they would’ve learned about me (sort of), but not what I can do for them.

So to communicate who I am and what I can do for clients, I decided on five themes/types of posts to create:

Me and my work environment. Many people who find me on Instagram don’t personally know me, so I want to share more information about who and where I am.

My projects and clients. To help my audience (and potential clients) understand what I do, I decided to feature my existing clients on my Instagram feed – it helps us both!

How I relax. Part of “keeping it real” on Instagram means sharing a peek behind the scenes, so posting about the ways I enjoy my time off is like showing people how the sauce is made.

Events I attend. I find myself attending a lot of networking events, conferences, and workshops, so I want to share that knowledge and experience.

Quotes from my writing. Because copy writing is one of my primary services, I want to feature that work on this photo-oriented platform.

These five categories have helped me figure out what I want to communicate about myself. And that’s what I’ve really learned from this: no matter how business-oriented I try to be, my Instagram (and my brand) is about me.

What I Learned About What People Want

About five weeks later, this is what my account looked like on 13 May:

It looks a more professional with a new profile picture and description, but the content still looks a bit like a personal account. I published an image every 2-3 days, with a detailed post about the content of the image. And I stayed with my five themes, without repeating a theme twice in a row.

Throughout this change, I’ve had three major realizations:

I was surprised that my selfies received the most engagement

As of 13 June, eight of my 9 top engaged posts are of me. But they’re not just nice photos of me: 5 of them are “professional”-looking (my make-up is done and I’m doing something work-related), one is of me on King’s Day, one is a gym selfie, and one is a post specifically about not wearing makeup.

As the literal face of my personal brand, I am the first and foremost piece of value that I have to offer. It made me feel good to know people like me! And of course, that “plandid” has received the most engagement.

My most engaged content on Instagram as of 13 June

People like (detailed) stories on Instagram

I’m still trying to figure out the best length for an Instagram post, but overall, people actually respond to what I write. That surprised me because Instagram is an image-centered platform, and I didn’t think people read the posts.

But if people are engaging with both the image and the description, then that must be pretty good content.

I wasn’t gaining followers in my local area

I learned that 20% of my followers are from Atlanta, which is where I lived for five years. But I haven’t lived there since 2015, and I want more followers in the Netherlands. So in addition to networking with more people here, I now use Dutch hashtags and follow more Dutch businesses. As a result, I’ve connected with other entrepreneurs in Rotterdam and around the Netherlands.

How to Make My Instagram Better

I’ve resisted creating an aesthetic primarily because I don’t think it looks natural. (And also because I’ve been too lazy to do it.) But as I look at other content creator/digital marketer accounts, I have to admit: aesthetics look professional because they look curated.

And if I want my Instagram account to communicate professionalism, then maybe my feed should look more thoughtful instead of spontaneous. That’s where Instagram Stories play a role, right?

And speaking of Stories, I asked my followers “What convinces you to follow an account: An Individual Post or Overall Aesthetic?” Out of 127 people who saw it, all five people who responded voted for overall aesthetic.

Two additional people also messaged me personally to describe what they look for in an Instagram account, which was primarily content. So in the next few months, I’ll experiment with creating a visual aesthetic for my account and see how it goes.

Next Step: How To Build Trust in My Brand

If I’m trying to sell myself as my brand, as well as highlight my services, then it seems I need more high-quality pictures of myself (plandids?!). But back to square one: what is the value I want to communicate, and how does it satisfy the needs of potential clients?

Instead of spiraling on that recurring question, I’ll look at this as a learning cycle. With changing algorithms, trends, and aesthetics, there’s no way find a one-size-fits-all solution. We have to constantly adapt to the new challenges and evolve as businesses.

As I refine my services, my Instagram will have more focus. And now that I have an idea of what my followers want, I can tailor my content towards them, but still stay true to who I am and what I do.

Three of the Most Impactful Panels at The Next Web Conference

I had the distinct pleasure of attending The Next Web Conference at NDSM 9-10 May, 2019. When I first looked at the workshop and speaker panels, I was so excited that I felt like one of those “heavy breathing” GIFs. There were so many types of tracks offered – marketing and branding, trade, the future of work, the art of tech – that I really had to consider what I wanted to get out of this conference in just two days.

And on reflection, what I learned was how tech affects every corner of our daily existence and has the potential to improve our lives as well. I attended numerous panels at The Next Web Conference, but there are three that continue to impact the way I think about technology and how I approach my future.

Check me out at 0:37! But also watch the whole video

Combating Human Trafficking Through Data Science

After reading Kevin Bale’s Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, I constantly think about how I can be a better consumer to fight human trafficking. On average, between 40-60 slaves work for the average person, due to the nature of the modern supply chain. And this isn’t just about sex slavery. Modern slavery happens in restaurants, on farms, in construction, and in clothing factories, just to name a few industries that depend on human trafficking.

So what are the best ways to fight modern slavery with our money? As it turns out, simply banking with ABN AMRO may be an option. While survivor testimony is compelling, financial records are hard evidence against human traffickers. The University of Amsterdam, ABN AMRO, and the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment work together to locate survivors and arrest their traffickers.

left to right: Jill Coster van Voorhout, Jeroen Hermens, and Raila Abas
  • 📑 The University researches patterns of behavior, such as traffickers forcing their workers to withdraw or transfer their entire salary deposits
  • 🚩 The University presents these findings to ABN AMRO, who then flags a variety of unusual activity that could indicate a trafficker or survivor
  • 🕵️‍♀️ The bank then has its people look at the activity to separate truly suspicious cases from false positives, and passes the information to the Ministry
  • ⚖ The Ministry then examines the information even further to determine whether they have a viable case, and if so, they pursue an investigation

From the time the Ministry receives the information, it can take anywhere from one month to two years to make an arrest.

Human trafficking – as well as invasion of privacy – is a serious crime that should not be taken lightly. This process may slow and tedious, but since they’ve started the program, they’ve discovered 50 survivors who may not have been found otherwise.

How Open Innovation Fuels Ground-Breaking Tech Solutions in Food and Agriculture

Another favorite subject of mine is food – specifically how technology helps farmers around the world. I enjoy reading reports and listening to podcasts about food supply, food waste, and ethical supply chain management. It seems that, while many food manufacturing companies want to emphasize and strengthen their relationships with farmers, the farmer will always get the raw end of the deal.

But people don’t become farmers for the money. “Farming is something you usually inherent from your family,” Yasir Khokhar from Connecterra said. Farmers see themselves as growers, and they stay with it because they love the lifestyle.

left to right: Patrick de Laive, Yasir Khokhar, Rassarin Chin, Erdem Erikçi

But, as I learned at this panel hosted by Rabobank, the way they are farming has to change. There simply aren’t enough skilled people to continue farming the way we have been for hundreds of years. And this is where artificial intelligence plays a vital role.

Connecterra,, and Listenfield are all gathering data to help farmers around the world run more efficiently. collects climate data to help finance companies and farmers conduct risk assessments, while Listenfield uses environmental data to help farmers determine best planting times for greatest yields and profits. And Connecterra is helping dairy farmers maintain healthy herds, but you already know that from my previous post.

While they are all using various forms of AI to help farmers, the farmers don’t actually care about the data itself. Farmers want someone to interpret the data for them and then tell them what needs to be done. For Connecterra, this means Ida has to not only collect the data, but interpret it, and present a solution to the farmer, all without the farmer’s interaction or prompting.

But the million dollar question is, as always: can it scale? All three companies have experienced incredible growth and change over the past few years, but as Erdem Erikçi of says, “The decision-making process is slowed” as the number of decision-makers increases. But without their efforts to reduce food waste, increase food supply, and improve the lives of farmers, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to have these conversations.

Marie-Elisabeth Rusling talks about the importance of female investors in entrepreneurship

Virtuous Circles, Snow Ball Effects and Golden Opportunities – The Case for Female Investment with Marie-Elisabeth Rusling

And after attending this panel hosted by The Next Women, I’m seriously considering switching from freelancing to investing. Not because I have money to invest, or because I have any understanding of investing, but because so few women are investors, and without female investors, female entrepreneurship will never grow (#powerofthepack).

As I’ve learned with the International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam, when women are in positions of power, they are more likely to support other women. We like to think that we will all succeed based on our merits and dedication, but at the end of the day, everyone tends to help those who look like themselves.

Business Angels Europe did a study to learn more about why women aren’t joining the industry. The most common response was that women don’t know where or how to start investing. Women depend on their networks for guidance and support, which doesn’t really exist in the investment world. And they don’t seem to have access to knowledge resources that could encourage them to invest.

It’s easy enough to become an entrepreneur: you feel like you’re good enough at something that you can sell it. Taking a risk in yourself seems easier than taking a risk with someone else’s idea. Business Angels Europe found that, if women build a foundation for other women to learn how to become investors, women are much more willing to join the industry.

Georgina talks about what her team learned by changing the Big Spam newsletter

BONUS: The Big Spam on the Big Stage

I love the Big Spam newsletter. I subscribed because someone who didn’t offer me a job told me it was one of his favorite resources for tech news. And ever since that company rejected me, I have found endless entertainment and occasionally great information in Big Spam.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that the newsletter was a bit of an experiment. Georgina Ustik talked about what they learned when they changed Big Spam (apparently it used to look boring). Some insights included:

  • 🤔 Subject line is key
  • 📊 People love polls
  • 😨 People like to engage with confusing and disgusting things
  • 👏 Having an engaged community is better than having a big one

I loved this panel not only because I was part of it (see photo below), but also because I can apply these insights directly to my own work. And that was really the joy of attending The Next Web Conference – connecting with and learning from people who are doing incredible things.

This was my contribution to The Next Web Conference
My classy contribution to the Big Spam slides at The Next Web Conference

3 Steps to Set Up Your Website

Setting up a website is never as simple (or as quick) as we originally think. If you need my help designing your website, I’ve outlined three steps to make it a bit easier!

Step 1: Let’s chat.

I like to talk with clients to learn more about their needs, and it’s no different with setting up websites. A few questions for you:

  • What is the purpose of your website? Are you selling products? Are you selling services? Do you want people to make appointments?
  • What kind of content will you put on your website? Do you want to have a blog? Do you have photos or videos to share? Is there something for people to download?
  • What do you want your website to look like? Are there other websites that inspire you? Do you have examples you can share?
  • What would you consider a successful user experience (i.e. a conversion)? Do you want people to sign up for a newsletter? Do you want people to contact you? Do you want to make a sale?
  • How often will it need to be updated? Will you rotate products or have sales? When will you update or change the content? Or will the information generally stay the same?

A website’s design is more than just the content. We need to consider what you want the visitor to see first, how they navigate the website, and where the most important information is located…just to name a few attributes.

Step 2: Let’s walk through what you currently have.

If you’re starting from scratch, there’s a chance you already purchased both your domain and hosting options.

What’s probably happened, however, is that you’ve purchased your domain to make sure no one else could have it (greed is good, after all), but you haven’t purchased hosting.

What’s the difference?

The domain is simply the information in the address bar. You’ve heard about the mishaps of or the various campaign blunders with website domains. This is why buying your domain is important, even if you aren’t using it.

Your hosting plan is how we put things on your website. Hosting includes things like storage space, email options, and website builders. Once you purchase a hosting plan, we can start putting content on your website. (Well…almost.)

For example, I own the following domains: | |

Here, you can see my personal website, and if you visit The Asian Craving, you’ll find my food blog. But if you visit Marrow Sucker, you won’t see any content because I haven’t paid for hosting. I bought the domain years ago with the intent to create a line of custom broths and bouillons, and I didn’t want anyone building a website under that name.

During our chat, I recommend that we log into your account together, either in person or via screen sharing. This way I can clarify what you want and determine what I need to start building your website as soon as possible.

Step 3: Let’s install the right website builder.

If you purchased your domain and hosting through WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, or any other website builder, then you’re golden and we can start building right now!

If you purchased your domain (and possibly hosting) through a registrar like GoDaddy or DreamHost, it may take a few extra steps before we can start putting content on your website.

When we chat, we will talk about what type of web builder will be best for you. For example, Shopify isn’t a good choice if you’re creating a website about your legal or marketing services. If you want more control over your design, Wix or Weebly may be the best fit.

I highly recommend you check out Website Tool Tester’s review of various website builders, as well as a separate guide to help you decide whether WordPress is right for you.

Let Sterling Schuyler help you build your website!

Let’s Work Together

A website is important for building trust in your brand, but you don’t have the time to make it happen. Whether you’ve already installed themes or if you haven’t thought of a website name yet, I’m ready to work with you.

Am I Freelancing Correctly?

When I read Dave Smyth’s article What Is Undercharging?, I hoped there would be a magical solution for charging the perfect amount. Instead, it reassured me that I’m not alone trying to determine whether I’m freelancing the right way.

Month to month, year to year, it seems that freelancers are constantly trying to figure out what works best for them. What makes them happiest? What earns them the most money? What platform gleans the most clients? What is the perfect number of hours to work?

How do you freelance correctly?

This isn’t a blog post that will give you the right answer or even the best answer. This is an article that outlines exactly what one freelancer did in non-billable hours in January 2019. In an effort to determine my own self-worth, I hope it helps you, too.

How I Spent My Time Last Month

As I mentioned previously, I started tracking as much as possible, including non-billable hours. I do this to remind myself that even though I’m not getting paid for certain tasks (like writing this blog), I’m still working.

In January 2019, I worked a total of 118.87 hours. Here are some of the non-billable tasks that I track:

  • Finance/accounting: For adding up my hours, creating invoices, sending invoices, talking with my accountant, and managing any other money-related tasks. Total time in January: 1.22 hours
  • Graphic design: For tasks such as designing coupons for my services or graphics for my website. Total time in January: 1.91 hours
  • Job applications/networking/research: Includes consultations, phone calls, coffee meetings, researching leads, drafting proposals, and intentional social networking. I know some people charge for consultations and creating proposals, but I don’t (though I’m considering it). Total time in January: 17.62 hours
  • Training: For online courses, tutorials, live broadcasts, and reading anything that I consider professional development. Total time in January: 0.55 hours (not enough!)
  • Writing/blogging: For writing blog posts and updating my website. Total time in January: 10.72 hours
  • Planning with IWNG: I genuinely enjoy working with the International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam, and it’s growing in a very exciting way! I value my time with IWNG, but at the moment, these aren’t billable hours. Total time in January: 33.46 hours

I worked a total of 65.48 non-billable hours in January. Another way of looking at it: I will not be paid for 55% of the hours I worked in January.

How to freelance correctly: push buttons, have ideas, send emails, profit

Is This the Best Way to Work?

At first glance, that seems like a harsh reality to accept. But look at those numbers again: I worked a total of 118.87 hours in the month of January.

In order to earn full-time pay, a person has to work 40 hours per week (at least in the States), which totals 160 hours per month. But those 40 hours aren’t full of meaningful work. Even for a part-time employee, every hour of scheduled work isn’t always packed with tasks that directly make money.

Before freelancing, full-time work was the only type of work I knew. I still compare myself to that standard, but I’m trying to change that mindset.

For example, I spent 33.46 hours working on IWNG affairs. We planned an incredibly successful event, and as a result, I’ve made some great personal and professional connections. That kind of self-investment is incredibly valuable to my career as a freelancer.

As great as it would be to be paid for all 118.87 hours at my current rate, I’m still happy with the balance I achieved.

So…am I undercharging?

Short answer: probably.

In regards to Dave Smyth’s article on Work Notes, my paid/unpaid balance seems to be in line with what he sees as his golden standard for sanity and happiness that also pays the bills.

The rates I charge (that anyone charges) account for education, experience, materials (including software subscriptions), time, expertise…the factors are endless.

But this is where talking to other freelancers has been extremely helpful. We talk about our areas of expertise, what skills we want to build on, what our strengths are, and how we each balance our workloads best.

While I “figured out” the work hours trick, I now have to determine what I should charge, which will lead to ultimate happiness! Easy enough, right?

Interested in getting to know me? Want to share struggles, ideas, or questions? Let’s talk.

Follow-up Friday: International Women’s Networking Group

Previously I wrote about the International Women’s Networking Group in Rotterdam, and how they’ve helped me find my way here in the Netherlands.

On January 25, 2019, we hosted a networking event for women to eat, learn, and most importantly, make meaningful connections for both their professional and personal aspirations.

left to right: Ria van Doorn, Yustine Alvares, Sterling Schuyler, Kristina Jackson. Photo by Sharon Salerni

What Women Want: Women Who Get Shit Done

The day of the event, I realized I was truly supported by women who knew how to get things done.

I previously found myself managing events because most people involved simply didn’t care, or were too afraid to take responsibility. No one was willing to commit to solving a hard problem, but they were eager to take credit for any aspect of success.

I’m not a big fan of failure, and I will do my best to prevent it. I am a person not only willing to take the credit for a successful event, but also to take the blame for a bad one. Someone has to get it done, right?

But for this event, it wasn’t necessary for me to carry the whole burden. None of these women were afraid to take responsibility, and none of us were willing to let it be a bad event.

In fact, I found that I was able to enjoy the event because we had all the pieces in place from the start. Early in the evening, I said to Kristina, “I’ll be running around during the event. There’s no way I can just sit down and enjoy myself. That’s just part of managing an event, right?”

Turns out it doesn’t have to be when you have the right team.

Motivated to Create Me-Time and Meet New People

We had two program blocks – Achieving Success and Personal Branding – as well as a networking activity prompted by Ria van Doorn. This was my favorite part of the evening because during the 30 minute break, I never saw a woman alone.

Ria van Doorn leads an exercise about establishing Me-Time. Photo by Sharon Salerni

Meeting new people is hard, especially in a roomful of strangers. But it became clear that these women were ready to start relationships, and the questions Ria provided were a comfortable way for women to initiate purposeful conversations with each other.

Have you ever been in a room with that kind of energy? Where everyone present wants you to walk up to them and introduce yourself? By the time the event had well-passed its conclusion, there were still women connecting and getting to know each other.

We had attendees asking how they could get involved with the next event, eager to continue making meaningful connections. I’d say my only disappointment with so many people attending was that I didn’t have a chance to meet them all.

Our Support Team: The People Who Make the Event Memorable

While we worked hard to make this event happen, we also had incredible support from both inside and outside the International Women’s Networking Group.

The Event Planner

Anna Gallo came on board at the last minute to help us create the ambience. I’ll admit: I was nervous about bringing on an event planner a week before the event who hadn’t seen the event space, and hadn’t been part of the event planning process.

But she was truly professional. She arrived with an armful of fresh flowers and a suitcase packed with magic, and she transformed that space from a co-working paradise to a cozy experience.

Attendees break the ice at Business, Bubbles, and Bites: A Women’s Networking Event

Again, I hate that my previous experience with event management has made me so jaded. But Anna truly restored my faith in working with professionals.

The Location Manager

And speaking of the space, Leon and his team at Progress Bar were simply amazing. Progress Bar is a co-working office that offers space to gather with like minded peers, so that members can achieve progress together. It was a great environment to host our first IWNG networking event.

Cintia Taylor talks about the power of storytelling. Photo by Sharon Salerni

We didn’t give Leon much guidance for a menu, other than a general ratio of veggies, fruits, cheeses, meats, and breads that we wanted (i.e. more veggies than meats). We also knew we wanted red and white wine, as well as a welcome drink.

It was a bare amount of information, but Leon transformed our request into a varied spread of snacks, beverages, and cocktails. He even made guacamole from scratch to go with the tortilla chips.

And beyond just our food and beverage needs, he made anything and everything we needed easily available to us, from kitchen equipment to music streaming. It was such a delight to not stress about these seemingly small components.

Nigerian meat (and veggie) pies by Kajose Culinair

The Featured Chef

While there wasn’t a full kitchen available for Ediri Sobotie of Kajose Culinair to warm up her meat (and veggie) pies, Progress Bar still offered everything they could. Speaking of those meat pies though, if you’ve never had Nigerian food, it needs to be on your bucket list.

It may look like an empanada, but the spice profile is unlike any other cuisine (at least as far as I’ve encountered). If you have an event to be catered, consider hiring Kajose Culinair. Not only will the food be a crowd pleaser, but you’ll also have Ediri’s bubbling personality to accompany it.

Final Thoughts

It was heart-warming to see my notifications full of praise for the event, the group, and all the women who attended. I am so proud to be part of this team, and I’m humbled to know such incredibly inspiring women.

This was the first large event that IWNG has hosted since its founding in November 2017, and I will say it’s the first of many. I can’t wait to see what we come up with next.