When I first started my business Bridesmaid for Hire as a side hustle six years ago, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't pour a lot of money from my personal savings account into starting and growing my brand. I needed to find free ways to market my services, connect with potential clients, and scale my offerings.
One of the most important lessons I learned along those lines was to use social media to my advantage.
Initially, I turned to Instagram and Facebook as my primary way of finding new customers and showcasing the services my company provided. When I first launched, there were only a few features to tap into, and I spent about 4 to 6 hours a week. That yielded only a few new clients directly from social media.
In the intervening years, the environment and my approach have changed a lot. Today I devote at least two hours every day to strategizing about how to best use the social platforms we're on to grow the business.
A lot of this includes studying the analytics, which I get for free on each social media platform, creating and optimizing posts, which I schedule for free through Buffer, and creating engaging content that captures my audience's attention and looks professional, which I create for free using Canva.
If you are starting a side hustle on a budget right now, social media can be a great free or low-cost way to make an impact on your bottom line. Here is what I do to bring in new leads and make thousands of dollars in sales each month.
When you're a business of one like I was, you have to be strategic about how you spend your valuable time. I chose to focus my social media efforts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. With some trial and error, I was able to figure out what kind of content resonated with people and establish a set of rules for each platform to streamline my work.
While it can be simpler at first glance to create one piece of content and share it across all the platforms, I've learned that it won't perform the same way in different places.
With Instagram, for example, I found that the most successful content had an eye-catching photo or video, 2 to 3 Instagram Story posts to go with it, and a memorable hashtag to make the content searchable.
Over time, tailoring my content to each distinct audience led to a much bigger impact, and I saw a 50% increase in the number of clients I was netting every month from social media alone.
Video by Courtney Stith
My best advice is to pick only 2 to 3 platforms to use when you first get started. Only use platforms that meet two criteria: Your audience cares about them and is active on them, and you are able to create content that is unique to that format.
For example, if you like public speaking, try Clubhouse. If you love photography and visual storytelling, Instagram is great for you. And as you get more comfortable, you can add more to your strategy.
Even if new features seem intimidating to learn or to try out, I've made sure not to shy away from them. I set Google alerts to get the latest updates, and spend a few minutes every day reading social-media focused news outlets like Social Media Today.
For example, when Instagram released their Reels feature last year, which are similar to TikTok videos, I spent a couple hours figuring out how to make them and started to play around with what I could do with them.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
The first one we posted in December 2020 got 148,000 views, and since then I've made 24 reels, some that have gotten over 1 million views. I've used them to talk about everything from how I prep for a wedding to how I handled actual wedding crashers at one of the events I worked.
Consistently making the short videos helped increase the awareness of our brand, and engagement with them played a big part in the tripling of our Instagram followers from January to now. We also saw our website traffic increase by 40% in February 2021, which led to the best month of sales we had in over one year.
Think creatively about how you can use these platforms to showcase your product or service. When Facebook Live first came out, for example, I wanted to use it to give my audience some behind-the-scenes access, what a day in the life at Bridesmaid for Hire looked like.
I did a livestream of trying on my bridesmaid dresses, and I did a livestream interviewing wedding industry professionals, asking them questions my audience submitted in real time.
These streams directly led to an uptick in people interested in my business who not only followed us online, but booked my services as well. They also helped us establish more credibility among our industry peers.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
When I'm using a new feature, I make a point to overuse it at first. This means I'll use it 3 to 5 times a week, for multiple weeks. After about 60 days, I'll scale back and use that feature less.
This not only helps me connect with my customers, but it also helps me figure out whether it is worth it to incorporate new features into my longer term social media strategy.
I like to use social media to provide value, highlight services, and promote my latest offerings. I share just enough that if a person is interested, they'll go to my website to learn more or buy a product or service.
I make a point to often mention my website and the actual places people can go to when they are ready to become a customer. This lets people consume on social media, while also learning about where they can go to take an action later on if they are interested.
For example, Clubhouse is an audio-only social media platform that has gained in popularity since launching last year. I used that in March as a place to explain the behind-the-scenes of my business and to highlight some of my services and offerings.
Because it's an audio-driven platform, I make sure to clearly mention where people can go to learn more about my business or work with me. After joining several other Clubhouse discussions over the course of a week, I saw a 15% increase in website traffic and earned four new clients.
I would also consider having a landing page on your website that you link to on all your social feeds. When people click on it, it will greet your audience from social media with three clear and eye-catching call-to-action buttons, like a sign-up for a course you offer, or booking an introductory service. I'm a fan of services like Linkt.ree that can design it for you.
Know that most people might not head right to your website after they see a post, no matter how much time and thought went into it. But if you make information about where they can go to learn more or take the next step easily accessible, they'll keep that in mind for when they are ready to work with you.
Jen Glantz is the founder and CEO of the business Bridesmaid for Hire, the voice of the podcast "You're Not Getting Any Younger,″ and the author of the Amazon-bestselling books "All My Friends Are Engaged″ and "Always a Bridesmaid for Hire."
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