9 Marketing Techniques I Used To Get 39,000 Instagram Followers (With $0 Marketing Budget)

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In 2013, I started an Instagram account showing healthy breakfasts that I’ve indulged around the world. Today, I have 39,000 followers, a wellness business, two products, and events around the globe, and all of this stemmed from my Instagram account. I had no strategy or intention to make a business out of my love for healthy lifestyle, but looking back, I see clearly what I did right—and after receiving hundreds of questions about this, I’m here to share it with you for the first time.

#Foodporn is one of the most popular hashtags on Instagram with more than 55 million posts. Whether you’re the person who makes everyone wait until you take the perfect Instagram picture of your meal, or the one who rolls your eyes at the concept of sharing your meals with strangers on the internet and bonding over it, the fact remains: beautiful food photographs is one of the most popular categories on social media, and it’s a hot commodity for individuals and brands alike.

Among popular hashtags that relate to wellness are #fitspo (23.3 million posts) and #cleaneating (16.5 million posts).

The most interesting thing about the Instagram food, yoga and general wellness phenomenon is that anyone has a chance to become “Insta-famous”. From a 14 year old school girl in the UK who assembles the most beautiful breakfast compositions, to an acclaimed fitness instructor in New York. And from what I’ve seen, it’s the former that usually succeed, in Instagram terms (think tens of thousands of followers and big name brand collaborations).

Instagram marketing budgets are no longer a foreign concept for brands. While it’s been a familiar practice within the fashion industry, now it’s becoming a norm for the wellness and food industries too. This shift is changing the game for brands while creating opportunities for talented Instagrammers.

When I started my Instagram account, @breakfastcriminals, I didn’t have a strategy. Heck, even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t imagine that almost forty thousand people from around the world would want to know what I eat for breakfast every day, and that I would be teaching people around the globe (New York, Los Angeles, Moscow and Nicaragua) how to make superfood breakfasts, as well as create a successful recipe e-book.

In this post, I’m uncorking all the things I did that led to the creation of a recognizable, profitable wellness brand. Joining Instagram has changed my life and my career, and I believe that it’s possible for anyone. These tips for nailing down your Instagram strategy are sure to boost your numbers and are useful for individuals, solo entrepreneurs, and businesses.

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1. Be Friendly

This is the most important strategy, and I can’t stress it enough. Instagram is not a one-person game. It’s a community. So be friendly! Always respond to questions and comments. Say thank you. Connect. Appreciate the time of everyone who stops by your page. And make sure you listen to your followers: this is how I came up with my two products (heart shaped ceramic bowl and recipe ebook).

2. Create A Community

Creating a like-minded community is the most important thing you can do to get quality followers on Instagram.

Follow accounts that align with your philosophy and your vision, and—most importantly—engage with them. Go beyond the like. Once someone hits a few thousand followers, chances they’ll see your “like” on their post are close to zero,since the news feed only shows 100 latest engagements (likes, comments and follows). Comments, however are much more visible, especially when left under someone’s most recent post. So if you want to be noticed, take the time to leave thoughtful comments instead of just double tapping a “like”.

It’s easy to tell when someone comments without reading the caption. It makes all the difference when you actually take the time to read the caption, and give the person on the other end of the screen a reason to establish a more meaningful relationship with you.

3. Find Your Niche

Choose the one thing you want to be known for, and focus on growing that. Later on, you can strategically expand your brand message and offering. What’s the one thing you’re really good at that comes naturally? Something that wouldn’t feel like a chore to talk and post about daily. The thing that’s already an important part of your life. Is it killer kale salads? Or the most beautiful cappuccino art around town? Or handstands on the beach? Maybe pictures of your dog stealing your breakfast? If you’re not sure, ask your friends—sometimes the most obvious things are more visible from the outside.

Once you figure out that one thing, streamline your message around it. And think about the kind of a follower that will be interested in it. Make her a real person. Before every post, ask yourself—would this post capture her attention?

For me, it was superfood breakfast bowls. Breakfasts have been my big love ever since I can remember, and when I started learning about superfoods, posting pictures of my daily breakfast experiments was what I started doing. It was also the most realistic thing to do given that I would go to school or work every day, and would only have time to post during the commute.

Once I had a solid, actively engaged community, and became known for açaí bowls, I made a strategic decision to expand my messaging into lifestyle, and by then, all kinds of lifestyle brands reached out to work with me (from famous workout gear labels to wellness-oriented hotels and holistic beauty lines).

4. Be Authentic

Followers know when you really care about something—real passion and authenticity shines through every picture, and even through the words in your Instagram captions. Share your personal values and allow your followers to be part of your world. Whether you’re posting as an individual or a brand, there’s always a human behind the Instagram post, so show it. Give your community a chance to want to get to know you better.

Another important piece of advice on authenticity is don’t jump on a trend because it made it to the “popular” feed on Instagram. Stay focused on what’s true to you, and it will go a long way. Fads come and go, authentic passion doesn’t.

5. Use Hashtags

Find 10-15 popular hashtags that relate to your content and use them consistently. The trick is to post them as a comment to your post instead of a caption. If you overload a caption with hashtags, it starts looking desperate. Also, take it to the next level by creating your own hashtag and encouraging your community to use it. For example, my hashtag is #breakfastcriminals, and today there are over 12 thousands healthy breakfasts from around the world tagged with it. Your hashtag doesn’t have to be the same as our Instagram name—for example, wellness blogger @tallulahalexandra coined the hashtag #GoddessVibes, spreading the mantra of holistic living and positive thinking.


6. Be Consistent

Consistency is another very important rule to live by if you want to “make it” in the world of Instagram. That goes for the consistency of posting, subject of your posts, the feeling that your images create, colors, filters and captions. Check out the account of a top Instagrammer and cookbook author @deliciouslyella—it’s a great example of what consistency is. Same goes for traveling yogi @gypsetgooddess.

Gypset Goddess instagram

When you’re consistent in your messaging, followers will know what to expect from you, and will come back for more (if you keep it interesting and fresh, of course).

Deliciously Ella

7. Stay Active

Speaking of keeping it fresh—a rule of thumb is to post at least once a day to keep things current, and also keep your followers in the loop of what’s going on. I wouldn’t recommend posting more than three times per day on your more active days, but test posting at different times to see when they perform the best for your followers.

8. Be Available

Whether you’re an individual or a brand, if your goal is to connect with others for collaborations or work opportunities, put it out there. Include your email on your bio, and think through formats of collaboration and sponsorships that you can offer.

Special note on shoutouts and sponsored posts: Shoutout for shoutout is the most popular way to gain more followers, and sponsored posts is the most well known way to make money on Instagram. If you do too much of either one, you risk looking like a sellout. Keep your own content vs. other posts balanced with a ratio of at least 5:1. And of course, if something doesn’t feel authentic to you or your brand, don’t do it.

9. Take Great Photos

Last but not least, if you really want to make it on Instagram, you have to nail down how to take great photos. That includes having a good eye for the right angles and prop styling, having a good camera phone that will take sharp, focused images (life hack: get a high quality camera with WiFi to transfer images to your phone in minutes, I love my Sony Alpha 6000), and photo editing. Let me be honest: I got a semi-professional camera only two years into the existence of Breakfast Criminals, for the purpose of shooting a variety of angles for my blog. But for Instagram, my iPhone did just fine.

Any successful Instagrammer will tell you that they approach smartphone photo editing as meticulously as they would professional DSLR editing. Photo tone, contrast, exposure and filter can make or break your post. The top three Instagram editing apps among popular Instagrammers are Snapseed, Afterlight and VSCOcam. Try them out for yourself, find what resonates with your brand, and stick to it.

Did you find my guide to getting real Instagram followers useful? Make sure you check out my BreakfastCriminals and sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know more about my upcoming e-book, “The Business Of Wellness: Mastering Social Media”

Ksenia Avdulova

Digital Girl Boss, Creative Consultant, Breakfast Criminals


Ksenia Avdulova is a digital marketing strategist, journalist and ethical trade activist with a strong background in luxury fashion and a passion for wellness. Ksenia is the founder of the Breakfast Criminals wellness blog and PR director at Visual Therapy luxury styling. Her passion lies in helping wellness brands to establish extraordinary social media presence through creative storytelling and meaningful community building. Ksenia's work has been featured in Shape, Self Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, Lululemon Blog, Cameron Diaz' The Body Book, Well+Good, MindBodyGreen and Refinery 29.

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