How Instagram influencers launch their own product lines & brands
Sales & Marketing

How Instagram influencers launch their own product lines & brands

Published:
June 4, 2023

TL;DR

Instagram influencers and creators have an incredible advantage in launching their own product lines, brands, and services by capitalizing on the audience they've built over the years. But to do it right, you must 1) understand both the constraints and advantages of your influence and 2) leverage those advantages into opportunities your business can capitalize on.

In this guide you'll learn how to start thinking about launching your own product lines, service offerings or brands. Here's a quick overview of some of the topics we'll cover in this how-to guide.

In this guide you‚Äôll learn ūü§Ē
  • How to understand your value as an Instagram influencer
  • Why Instagram influencers should launch their own product lines & brands
  • How Instagram influencers launch their own brands & products
  • The #1 mistake Instagram influencers make when trying to launch a product
  • How to pick a product or service to sell to your Instagram audience
  • How to test selling your first product to your Instagram following
  • How to sell your product to your¬†Instagram followers when you launch
  • How to make more money as an Instagram influencer even if you don't launch a brand
  • And much more!

This topic is so exciting because Instagram influencers and content creators have such a distribution advantage when launching products, services and brands. Let's get started!

In case you want to skip around, below is a detailed table of contents for this guide.

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Understand your value

Here's the thing about selling anything: The hardest part is distribution.

And the hardest part of distribution is finding the right sales channel: how you sell the product to your customer.

And that's why Instagram influencers have such an advantage when launching their products: Instagram influencers are the embodiment of a sales channel.

Instagram influencers are the embodiment of a sales channel.

That's why brands pay Instagram influencers like you to sell their products: they want to take advantage of your reach.

But why shill products for thousands when you could sell your own for millions?

Why shill products for thousands when you could sell your own for millions?

Maybe selling your own products and launching a brand is right for you, or maybe it's not, but you should at least consider it. So, let's talk about it.

Why Instagram influencers should launch their own product lines & brands

Your Instagram following is an investment. You've invested years creating compelling content to grow your audience and earn trust. Now, you can monetize your audience by selling access through brand partnerships, sponsored posts, and more. This is a great way to capitalize on what you've built.

But let's be honest, being a successful influencer or content creator is a LOT of work, and burnout is real. Now, if you love making content, then keep doing it. But if you want a change, launching your brand or product line is an opportunity to do that.

Even if you don't want to move away from making content, launching your products and brand is a way to earn more from what you're already doing.

Unfortunately, there are more ways to do it wrong than right, so let's talk about how to do it right.

How Instagram influencers launch their own brands & products

Unfortunately, most influencers do it wrong and start with the product. They pick a product they like and try to sell it, but that's the wrong approach. You can do that later once you have an established product brand, but early on, you need to understand the constraints and advantages of your influence. Here's an example.

A story: The #1 mistake Instagram influencers make when trying to launch a product

Imagine there's a food influencer in Kansas City named Annie. Annie grew up on a farm where she had horses. She absolutely loves horses. If she could raise horses and sell products like saddles, she would -- it has always been her dream.

But life happened. Her parents sold the farm and moved to the city, where they opened a restaurant. Annie worked at the restaurant through high school and decided to go to culinary school because she enjoyed cooking and wanted to help her parents take the family restaurant to the next level.

While working part-time at the restaurant and attending culinary school, Annie started an Instagram account to share pictures of new recipes she'd try, dishes she was proud of, and plates from her favorite restaurants around Kansas City. Over time her Instagram following grew.

As her classmates got jobs at local restaurants and she met more people from around the culinary world, they started to offer her gigs for reviews and shoutouts. Eventually, after a few years, Annie would make enough to do this full-time.

But after a while, Annie started to get burned out on creating content and doing paid gigs. After all, she loved cooking, not creating content. What could she do?

Then one day, Annie went to a local influencer meetup where one woman talked about how she leveraged her Instagram following to start a product line. That's what Annie could do! She could leverage her Instagram audience to launch a product line!

And better yet, Annie could return to her real love, horses, by selling products like saddles, bridles, clothing for riding, etc. right? ... Right?!

WRONG.

Why? Because Annie's audience is foodies and chefs, not horse aficionados. Annie trying to sell horse stuff to her foodie audience would be like watching a fish climb a tree (it doesn't work, I've tried it).

Now, if Annie wants to sell horse stuff one day, she absolutely can -- that's a great goal. But for now, she needs to leverage her existing audience and focus on products they want to purchase. Then as that grows, she could sell it to fund a new opportunity or branch out to new areas.

The lesson: Know your audience, know your opportunity

The key takeaway is that you've invested for years to build your audience. That's both an advantage and a constraint:

  • Advantage:¬†You have a large audience who knows, likes, and trusts you, so they're open to buying your products.
  • Constraint:¬†Your influence is (initially) constrained to the niche you built it in.

Most people think constraints are bad, but they're often good in business because they force you to focus and breed creativity. In business, you succeed by doing what you're uniquely good at. And while your influence (audience and niche) is a constraint, it also makes you unique. So double down on it and leverage it into something more.

Businesses succeed when they focus on what's unique to them. Your uniqueness is your influence (audience and niche), so double down and leverage it into something more.

Even if you feel burned out on your niche (which is quite common), look at it as a starting point to branch into something you're more interested in. Because the audience you've built is something valuable that only you could have done, so use it!

How to pick a product to sell

The context above was long, so I'll make this short: Pick a product your existing audience wants to buy, especially from you.

If you've done a lot of brand partnerships, you probably have a good idea of what that might be. And if you know your audience, you probably have a few ideas. But if you don't, start with some brand partnerships or as an affiliate to see what sells.

How to test selling your first product to your audience

This is the hard part.

Building products takes work, especially with complex manufacturing needs. There are a lot of services that could help, some are good, and some are a rip-off.

Here's what I'd recommend: Find the most cost-effective, no-strings-attached way to make some prototypes of your product, then get feedback from your audience. Then do a first run of limited quantities and try selling those.

If it's an expensive product, you may need a crowdfunding campaign (e.g., Kickstarter) to raise funding or partner with a company.

If it's something simple like a custom print, you could use a service like Printful.

Key things here:

  • Your first ideas may not work, so you want a cheap, fast way to experiment and find what will work.¬†DO NOT¬†blow all of your money on your first, unproven idea!
  • Experiment and iterate quickly, get customer feedback, and talk to your customers to find out what works. It's a journey, don't get discouraged.
  • Do not get locked into anything with unfavorable terms. For example, some may offer you a cheap first production run in exchange for taking a lot more later. Save the upside for yourself.
  • Do not worry about your margins initially. Margins come with scale. For example, Printful takes a lot of the profit and has cheaper materials, but it's a fast, cost-effective way to test new ideas and designs. Once you find what works, you can find a manufacturer to get better materials and margins. Don't worry about profit when you're testing. The goal is to find what works!

There are many resources on this topic that depend on the product you want to sell, so do your research.

How to sell your product to your audience

Here's the important part because this is how you leverage your audience.

This is your marketing plan. This can be a complex process, but I wrote a guide on creating a Shopify marketing plan (it's written for Shopify stores but will work for anyone) if you want to go in-depth. But if you don't, here are the wave tops:

Marketing is a 3 stage process:
  1. Attract your target customers (prospects)
  2. Make the sale (leads)
  3. Make them happy so they buy more & tell others (customers & referrals)

Instagram influencers selling their products and services have constraints, which makes this process MUCH easier. So next, let's walk through each of the 3 stages for Instagram influencers.

Attract your target customers (prospects)

Instagram influencers have the advantage here:

  1. You know who your target market is: your existing audience
  2. You know your message: why people follow you and like you (your niche)
  3. You know your channel: Instagram
Make the sale (leads)

Here's the new part: how you start building your brand and product business.

  1. How do you capture leads?
  2. How do you nurture leads?
  3. How do you convert leads?

Here's where we convert your influence into sales.

You're an Instagram influencer with a big, valuable audience, but here's the problem: Instagram followers aren't worth a whole lot because 1) you don't own your audience, 2) it's hard to track on Instagram, and 3) it's hard to convert sales on Instagram without paying a ton for ads. So this next part is about how we address that.

A bit of early context before the next sections, to sell your products, you need two main things:

  • A place to sell
  • A higher-converting sales channel
A place to sell

You can use an Instagram shop or something similar to sell, but I would not recommend it. You should own your store on your domain name. I highly recommend using Shopify.

A higher-converting sales channel

Email marketing is often the best sales channel because of its flexibility and ability to track and drive conversions. SMS can also work if that's what your audience prefers, though SMS is generally less profitable and less common than email marketing. Assuming you're using Shopify, the Shopify Email app is a great, easy way to get started with email marketing. Klaviyo is a more advanced option if you have more needs, but also more expensive. I wrote a short guide on choosing the best email marketing for Shopify stores.

In fact, there's a saying that social is for discovery (finding customers), and email marketing is for conversions (making the sale). We can say this more succinctly for Instagram influencers starting their product brands...

Instagram is for discovery, email is for conversions.

Once you have a store (e.g. Shopify) and a better sales channel (e.g. email marketing), you're ready to capture, nurture and convert those leads!

How Instagram influencers capture leads

Assuming you're using email marketing as your sales channel, you first need to get your Instagram followers onto your email list.

Lucky for you, Instagram has a way to do this that Instagram users already love: Instagram giveaways.

Instagram giveaways are a compelling incentive to get your followers to take a specific action in a fun and engaging way. But to work, you must use the right rules, prizes, etc.

Here are the Instagram giveaway rules to use to get your followers onto your email list:

  • Follow me
  • Tag 2 friends in the comments
  • Join my newsletter (biolink) for 10 bonus entries!

That's it. Instagram giveaways drive many comments, and around 40% of those who comment will opt-in to your email list.

Now, you might be thinking: How do I track entries, make sure people follow the rules, check to see if the email addresses are valid, pick a winner fairly, etc.? Well, you're in luck because our Shopify Instagram lead gen app automatically does that for you.

If you're unfamiliar with Instagram giveaways and want more tips on how to do them right, check out our Instagram giveaway guide.

How Instagram influencers nurture leads

Ok, so you have your Instagram followers on your email list. What do you do next?

The answer is to create compelling content in a regular newsletter (e.g. weekly) where you share valuable content, new products, deals, etc., with your audience to build a relationship over time and drive sales.

But that takes time, so start by making a solid welcome email with a limited-time introductory discount. The content of your welcome email and follow-on sequence depends on your industry but will tie back to why people chose you and the unique value you can provide.

How Instagram influencers convert leads

Next is everything you do after the welcome email. You'll need to balance promotional emails with valuable, engaging content to drive conversions without inducing subscriber fatigue from constant sales pitches. Limited-time offers, discounts, and bonuses can also help conversions.

You can also tie these into the content you share on Instagram and collab with other creators to keep it fun and interesting.

How it all comes together & why it works so well

Hopefully, you see how this comes together, built around your valuable Instagram following. So here's a quick summary:

  1. Over the years, you've built a valuable Instagram following that knows, likes, and trusts you.
  2. Your niche and your audience's preferences show you what your first product should be.
  3. Test your product ideas to validate demand and the ability to sell to your audience.
  4. When you're ready to sell, you need a website (Shopify) and a profitable sales channel (email marketing).
  5. Use Instagram giveaways to get your Instagram followers onto your email list (Shopify Instagram lead gen).
  6. Use email marketing to nurture and convert product sales in your store.
  7. Continue to leverage your Instagram following to reach more people (e.g. do collabs with others) and get them into your email marketing funnel.
  8. As your business grows, expand to new products and niches as you wish.

It's not easy, and it's not guaranteed, but it's possible -- especially since you already have an audience you can leverage for distribution.

How to make more money as an Instagram influencer even if you don't launch a brand

Even if you decide not to launch your product line, you still know more about business and how brands earn money than before, so use it to charge more for your brand partnerships!

As a refresher, marketing has 3 stages:

  1. Attract your target customers (prospects)
  2. Make the sale (leads)
  3. Make them happy so they buy more & tell others (customers & referrals)

Instagram influencers solve the most important part of marketing: distribution. You live at the intersection of steps 1 and 2 above by bridging discovery (finding customers) and conversion (making the sale).

So you can leverage this to help brands get more engagement and followers on Instagram and accelerate movement down their sales funnel by getting your followers onto their email list.

You can do this by running Instagram giveaways with joining the brand's email list as one of the entry criteria in the collab post. The Instagram giveaway rules for brand collabs would be:

  • Follow @brand and @youraccount
  • Tag 2 friends in the comments
  • Join @brand's newsletter (biolink) for 10 bonus entries!

Do this as a collab post so it appears in both feeds, and add the giveaway entry link to collect email opt-ins in both biolinks (yours and the brand's).

As an Instagram influencer doing paid partnerships, you're essentially selling access to your audience. But that 'access' only has so much value (follows, likes, awareness, etc.). So, what's something more valuable that you can sell? Email subscribers. And what we discussed above is how you do it!

And if you need help deciding what to charge, think about the additional value you're delivering to brands. To help, we made an Instagram email calculator to help show the revenue potential of followers when converted to email subscribers. We built this calculator with Shopify stores in mind, but it should be a good estimation for any ecommerce store since it uses industry data.

That's right, now you're thinking like a marketer. Build that muscle, and it'll help you earn more, either as an influencer or later as a marketing professional. Opportunities are everywhere!

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