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.

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.

7 Things I Learned My First Year of Freelancing (and What I Want To Do Better)

In 2018, I made two major life changes: I moved to Rotterdam, and I started my career as a freelance marketing consultant. (Because why make only one stressful change when you can make two?)

For years I have read a plethora of articles, listened to a variety of podcasts, and followed some informative yet entertaining bloggers, always trying to learn about (and prepare for?) freelancing. Spoiler alert: nothing can prepare you for the freelancing life.

Regardless of that fact, I still want to share my experience, with hopes that it either eases you into your freelancing career, or that it provides comfort to you if you’ve already taken the plunge.

1. Being an independent worker isn’t the same thing as working alone.

Previously I decided this was the hardest thing I’d experienced as a freelancer. As a full-time employee at a company, I prided myself as someone who could be trusted to get the job done, with or without help.

This is certainly an important trait for a freelancer, but it isn’t quite the same experience. At a company, I was able to lean on other team members and ask questions if I didn’t have all the answers. But as a freelancer, I find I’m the only one around with any answers – otherwise, why would I be confident enough to freelance?

Additionally, as an independent worker, I could still talk with my colleagues and brainstorm with them whenever I needed. And while there are Twitter chats, co-working spaces, and Meetups, I haven’t yet found a true substitution for workplace camaraderie.

And maybe that’s just something I left behind at the standard workplace. But in place of workplace camaraderie, I enjoy late morning fitness classes and casual networking lunches. Not the worst trade-off.

2. I want to continue building my network, both on- and offline.

I’ve listened to podcasts and subscribed to newsletters about what will make my website capture more leads, but I’ve found that the best way for me to glean clients and close deals is to meet people in person.

I’m a gregarious, extroverted woman, so human interaction is a strength of mine. While I may be hesitant when entering a room full of people chatting, I can usually overcome my shyness (especially when food and beverages are present). And because I genuinely enjoy listening to people, I can better identify how to meet their needs in person, rather than reaching out over the internet or even the phone.

I find it’s also harder for people to say no when they have to say it to your face.

It may not work for everyone, but if having a “perfect” website and active social media aren’t converting, maybe you need to get out of the house, too.

3. The first clients will likely be people you’ve already met.

Work is always about who you know, regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or a paper pusher. It’s a reality many of us have faced when searching for full-time employment: if you don’t have a personal connection at the company, who knows if your CV was even read.

It’s hard to convince someone you’ve never met that you are capable of getting the job done, especially as a fresh freelancer. But if you already know someone who may need your services, reach out to them.

It’s much easier to continue building on a relationship that already exists, rather than laying down a brand new foundation. Your potential client already has a sense of who you are and what your work ethic is, so it takes less work to convince them to hire you.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s just easier than convincing a stranger that you – a brand new freelancer – can solve their problem.

4. The hustle never stops.

This is another piece of wisdom I heard constantly but had yet to fully grasp when I started. Training never stops. Networking never stops. Improving never stops.

I always have to be ready to make my pitch. I have to be conscious of everything I’m posting on various social media platforms. I am constantly searching for more opportunities while simultaneously balancing my plates.

I evaluate and re-evaluate what I charge compared to my costs. I determine which projects I will invest my time in, and which ones I can turn away. I prioritize my pitches based on my current motivation and level of knowledge.

I look for conferences or networking events to learn about a variety of industries. I send emails and follow up on those emails. I seek connections with people – online and in person – to learn tricks of the trade.

This may sound familiar to anyone working anywhere, but what makes full-time employment different from freelancing is that there is no one pushing you (me) to accomplish any of this other than myself. A company may enroll you in training and even cover the costs, or the business may send you to a conference with a few colleagues to open new accounts. As a freelancer, I’m a company of one.

Almost every waking hour of my day, I’m thinking about how I can be better. It’s exhausting, but just like the rewards that follow, it’s all part of the hustle.

5. I want to be better at evaluating a situation (and saying no).

It’s really hard to say no when you’re embarking on your freelancing career and want as much work as possible. But the truth is that you probably can’t do all of the work well.

We’ve all accepted an assignment or five that we didn’t love. Bills need to be paid. Portfolios need to grow. Experience needs to be gained.

Of course, turning down work is much easier said than done (like most things I’ve mentioned so far). I’ve read in books and on blogs about the importance of saying no. I’ve talked with other freelancers and friends about it.

But if a project or client just doesn’t quite feel right, you (I) need to learn how to let it go as smoothly as possible. This is where treating other freelancers as teammates can help.

6. Treat other freelancers as teammates, rather than competitors.

This is one that I’ve also read repeatedly, but didn’t embrace until recently. (Looking at you, #contentclubuk.)

When I first started freelancing, I wanted any and every potential lead that I could convert. I didn’t want to share too much of my skill knowledge with others because I was afraid they’d be better at it than I am.

Maybe they will be. And maybe that’s a good thing.

I found that, more often than not, a client needs more than just what they asked for. That may be due to the fact that I am a marketing consultant, so I invite people to ask me for more than just one problem to solve.

But depending on the size of the project, sometimes it’s just not possible to do all of the things well. Or maybe you have enough work. It’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

This is where other freelancers are valuable team members.

We all have areas of expertise or enthusiasm, and sometimes it’s worth your time and sanity to pass a lead to another freelancer – a win for everyone involved. And then maybe down the road, the favor is returned.

Or maybe a client approaches you with a big project: a marketing strategy that requires a social campaign, graphic design, copy writing, event promotion, and web support. While you could do all aspects of the project, maybe it’s worth bringing in an extra set of hands to achieve the best possible outcome.

And who knows – maybe you’ll achieve a sense of workplace camaraderie.

7. I tied my self worth to my employment status.

This was an unbearably painful realization I had around 5 months into freelancing.

I had been working for other people (companies) my whole professional life. Every weekday morning I woke up and knew exactly what I needed to accomplish that day at the office. At the end of the day, I usually felt like I had achieved those goals (regardless of whether I felt fulfilled).

After nearly 10 years of full-time employment, I still kept that routine. In 2018, I woke up every morning and thought “What do I need to accomplish today?”

And often times, I didn’t have an answer. I just knew I needed work.

I built a website. I searched for work opportunities. I asked family and friends to send out my CV. I joined Facebook groups. I listened to podcasts and read blogs. I completed online training. I attended conferences.

And while I had a handful of clients, it just didn’t feel like enough. My billable hours were nothing like what I was earning previously. I would remind myself that I wasn’t necessarily working meaningful hours as a full-time employee, but it didn’t alleviate the itching, creeping despair.

And as the days became weeks, and weeks became months, I was really struggling to explain to others (and myself) what, exactly, I was doing, and whether or not I even wanted to do it. I was so hungry for work. I was starving for more value.

I started to ask myself

Am I worth anything?”

And that’s not a good place to be.

I believe in the value of hard work because it, in turn, has always made me feel valued. The key difference now? I have to grant that value to myself, instead of wait for someone else to define it for me.

In full-time employment, I could pin my value to the amount of invoices I created, the quantity of orders I fulfilled, the numbers of projects I completed, the hours I worked, or the revenue I brought into the company. I could list all of these things as reasons I am paid XX amount.

If I’m not doing any of that in a quantity I deem valuable, does that mean I’m a worthless employee for myself?

In the middle of 2018, I would’ve told you yes.

And even now, there are times I struggle to say no. I have to remind myself that there is so much more to being a freelancer than simply accomplishing the items on a daily checklist.

More than just giving myself worth, I have to decide what about myself is valuable.

To help me define my value, I started tracking all of my hours. Not just my billable hours, but the time I spend writing blogs, updating my website, networking, searching for clients, and even accounting. I don’t feel any of these activities give me value, but it’s been a helpful step towards finding it.

Final Thoughts

2018 was the year I decided to forge a new path for myself. One year later, I’m still building it, not even sure of where it’s going.

Becoming a freelancer is my first attempt at building a career path. I know it’s been done before, but not by me.

So this is my goal for 2019: to re-define my self worth, and use freelancing as a tool to find it. I’m ready to take ownership of this career path.

Interested in making me part of your own journey? Let’s chat!