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, Tarla.in, and Listenfield are all gathering data to help farmers around the world run more efficiently. Tarla.in 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 Tarla.in 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

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!