If you’re starting to gain a following on instagram, whether it’s for your artfully-arranged food pics, your eye-popping nature posts or maybe just cute pics of your cat, there’s a good chance you could start making money off your hobby too.
Most instagrammers use the platform as as an internet diary or a way to keep up with friends. But it can be a lucrative means of income if you learn how to up your game and attract sponsors. So if you’re looking for a way to share your passion online while earning a few bucks on the side, follow these tips, and see where they take you.
Make your page shine
To go from a few hundred followers to a few thousand, you’ll need to focus your page on a specific theme, then make sure your pictures pop.
There are literally millions of people to follow on the social media site, so you need to give visitors a clear reason to gravitate toward you. Instead of trying to be all things to everyone, develop a niche and make sure all your posts fit that theme.
Not sure what your niche should be? Think about your expertise and passions in life and how to tap into that—whether it’s fashion, sports, street art, music, or anything else you love.
Much of the rest comes down to consistently posting high-quality photos, writing thoughtful captions that tell a story, and engaging people with questions, conversations, and perhaps most importantly, responding to their questions and comments. HuffPost has more good tips on growing your audience here.
Think quality, not quantity
Don’t worry if you don’t have a huge following before you try to monetize your page. Micro influencers, who have fewer than 100,000 followers, are actually in high demand from paid sponsors and can earn between $100 and $1000 per post, with the average post bringing in around $300 in 2017, AdWeek reported.
Marketers love micro influencers because people tend to trust them more. In fact, 70% of millennials prefer recommendations from micro-influencers, or non-celebrity endorsers, according to a 2016 survey of 14,000 people by marketing firm Collective Bias.
“When you have a highly targeted audience who care about your brand and what you offer, they are more likely to buy from you,” said social media strategist Jenn Herman.
Pitch the right sponsors
If you want to start getting paid for your posts, you’ll have to reach out directly to companies. “I tell influencers all day long, don’t wait for brands to reach out to you,” says digital marketing consultant, Shane Barker. “Come up with a pitch and reach out to brands, explain why they need to work with you.”
It helps to have a media kit that explains your brand, who your followers are and why you would be a good person to sponsor. While you can pitch companies directly by email or call them up, you may have better luck if you work with an agency that charges a commission, such as Buzzweb, Influence and TapInfluence.
Mix #ads in with the good stuff
Figuring out how to interrupt your regular feed with paid posts is something of an art. Sabina Trojanova, who promotes eco-friendly travel to her audience of 97,000 follower, does it with coupon codes. In one paid post, Trojanova sits by the beach with her phone, promoting a language app, then puts the discount code in the caption. To make sure people know she’s getting paid for the post, she ads the the hashtag #ad.
Another more subtle approach is simply to tag the brands in your post. That’s what Michelle Lewin, a fitness instructor with over 12 million followers does. “I just tag brands, that way I keep my following without getting the ‘sell-out’ stamp.”
Market your own products
While sponsorships are the obvious way to monetize your instagram page, you can also use it to market your own products. For example, Florida-based fitness coach Zoe Rodriguez uses her page to promote her fitness ebooks.
Tiffany Aliche, better known as the Budgetnista, uses her instagram in part to promote her classes on financial literacy. While most of her classes are free, she charges a fee for serving as a keynote speaker or give private seminars.
You do you
When adding sponsors or shilling for your own products, don’t forget what got you so many followers in the first place. “Make sure the product you're advertising is in line with your morals and online persona,” travel grammer Trobajana said.
“If you don't believe in what you are promoting, it will be obvious,” added social media marketer Nicholas Kinports. “The most profitable Instagrammers start with topics they know, hobbies they are naturally good at, or neglected topics they wish had more online content.”
The right kind of sponsored content isn’t just another #ad, but a post that shows who you really are, says Manchester-based Instagram influencer Sara Tasker, whose photos are a mix of landscape photography, product shots, and intimate photos of herself with her family. “People are looking for behind-the-scenes insights and a sense of connection,” she said.
“Try to build a gallery that showcases the love, joy, and hard work that goes into what you do,” Tasker added.
Your instagram account is a reflection of yourself, so it’s worth putting in the extra care to make it great.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.