Most people think of Instagram in terms of influencers, brand sponsorships, and long, humble captions about authenticity. But the truth is an Instagram account is an asset like any other. You can buy one at a lower price, flip it, and sell it at a higher price just like you would a house. You can “rent” out space to other accounts for a monthly income. You can build one specifically with the purpose of selling it to the highest bidder.
When I bought the Instagram account that would become my main gig, @Thegrowinginvestor, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was working with some friends in a branding agency at the time, buying shoutouts for one of our clients’ accounts. We were buying ads from @thegrowinginvestor, which a Dutch kid, just eighteen years old, had grown to 554k followers. He was making around 1,000 euros a month from it, but he was worried Instagram would soon shift its algorithm *, and it would no longer be an asset to him.
*A note aside; When you own an asset like an Instagram page you’re basically borrowing a username from Mr Zuckerberg. If Meta decides to pull the plug your asset disappears overnight. A similar thing happened to Facebook business pages when Facebook introduced their ‘pay to play’ concept, where reach disappeared into thin air and businesses, were prompted to pay for promotions if they wanted some of it back. This is the main reason why I look closely at Blockchain and especially NFT’s. If you’re into the ‘digital asset business’ or thinking about it make sure you dive into the world of NFT’s. You can read more about it in my article NFT’s; Let’s Redefine Value.
I took that bet. We bought @Thegrowinginvestor for 20k euros in 2019.
Then Covid happened. The agency broke up. I was the only one from the company who knew what I was doing with it, so I took on the debt and made the account my own.
Today, I’ve grown the account to over 1 million followers and make around $5–6k per month with it. This is how I did it.
Instagram followers don’t really want new content.
This was the first thing I realized. The previous owner of the account was spending most of his time ideating brand new content for his account, creating custom posts. One of my core beliefs is the Pareto rule, so I decided to apply it here. Rather than constantly creating new content, I took the top 20% of posts from all the previous content with the highest engagement and performance and scheduled those. That bought me around 3 months of time while I figured out what I was doing.
What I learned was fascinating. There’s a popular myth that the human body replaces its cells at a rate that in seven years, you’ve got a brand new body. Instagram accounts are surprisingly similar. Over the course of 6–12 months, the account lost enough followers and gained enough new ones to have a practically brand new follow base.
This meant that even though the content I was recycling was old to me, it was still getting new eyeballs. My account quickly attracted new followers by posting content that was popular with old followers.
Many DMs waste your time.
As I learned what @thegrowinginvestor’s audience really wanted, I started collecting data about how to monetize the account. I got tons of DMs about paid shoutouts, but I quickly learned they fell into one of two categories: the profitable ones, and the time-wasting ones.
The profitable ones are easy to spot: they need very little information. They are ready to buy a shoutout and don’t need to negotiate. By contrast, if someone is in my inbox asking questions about my demographic information, they’re looking for a bargaining tool to lower the rates.
Furthermore, the advertisers that are really ready to roll will come prepared with artwork to post, maybe a link or a landing page, too. If they don’t have those assets ready, I deprioritize them because they’re just browsing and wasting my time (and theirs, to be honest).
I automated some keyboard shortcuts for both types of DMs and started increasing my income.
I want to note that I turn down paid offers regularly. Readiness to pay is not the most important quality a client can have. Frequently, I’ll settle on an agreement with a client only to find they’ve become arrogant or unpleasant to work with. I refund them with no hesitation. I prefer to create long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with clients I enjoy working with over a quick buck.
Never give your client a first-time discount.
My marketing teacher taught me that lesson, and it stuck. He told us how one of his students offered an expensive machine to a client at cost because it was their first partnership, in the hopes of luring them back for more business. The client came back and wanted 10 more — at a lower rate for the bulk purchase. That student ended up losing money due to a low-profit margin.
A lot of my Instagram clients have a similar attitude. They ask for a discounted rate for the first post since it’s just an experiment. My reply is always the same: I’m not responsible for your testing.
Once a client has committed and has paid, at that point I’m happy to work with them to ensure success and add value. I’ll happily post content twice, run experiments, and otherwise try to figure out why their first post didn’t go as well as we’d both expected.
This is why, even though I don’t offer first-time discounts, 80% of my clients are still with me after their first ad purchase. It may be old advice, but it’s true: it’s much easier to keep old clients than gain new ones.
The Instagram shoutout business model.
I spend about 15–20 minutes a day scheduling posts, but most of my time is spent in conversations with advertisers. I post four times per day to my account and mix in shoutouts from other accounts with those. This model works well for both investment and growth — advertisers tend to give me their best-performing stuff to post, in a bid to get more followers to their account. This makes my existing followers happy because its high-quality content. It also helps my account attract new followers. This model earns me around $80k per year from this one Instagram account, a number that is steadily growing as I gain new advertisers.
I’ve learned three crucial lessons about making money with my Instagram account.
- Always look for ways to add value for existing clients. This holds true throughout all my side hustles and business ventures. By keeping existing clients happy and impressed with my work, I keep a stable and growing income.
- The world is what it is, not what you want it to be. The previous owner of the Instagram account believed his followers wanted new content. It may be hard to accept, but the strategy that does best is simply posting your popular content. Your hard work creating new, original content might be a waste of time that your followers don’t appreciate.
- The long-term win-in is worth the wait. Now that I’ve grown the account to over one million followers, I’m ready to try something new — offering both my followers and my advertisers more value. I plan to do this by upgrading the content I offer to make it deeper and more valuable. As I experiment, I expect there will be fluctuations in performance both from Instagram as a platform and my followers as my content strategy shifts. However, if it works, I’ll have developed a more satisfying business model for everyone involved.
Instagram accounts can be a truly valuable asset — but only if you know how to monetize them.