Zero – 1000 followers on Instagram

A photo frame containing square instagram-style photgraphs

Almost four months ago I opened the ‘Not About the Kids’ Instagram account. I did this with two aims in mind. Firstly, I wanted to understand how Instagram ‘works’ when you are fully engaged with the platform (I thought that I might like a career in social media management). Second, I wanted to launch a blog and felt that I needed a respectable following on Instagram in order to drive readers towards it.

In that time the account has gone from zero to just over a thousand followers, and I have learnt a few things along the way.

I have done a fair bit of reading around the subject, and a course or two. There are many, many Instagrammers out there who know much, much more than me. This is intended as a guide from one beginner to another.

In this post, I will share some tips on Instagram growth strategy, engagement and photography. I’ve tried to put in some helpful links to further reading, and pointers towards Apps that I’ve found useful.

Me posing for a selfie wearing a red poloneck jumper and jeans

Getting used to the Instagram selfie

Who are your people?

So you want to get serious about Instagram? Then first, spend a bit of time really thinking about why you are on the platform. What are your goals, and who would you like your followers to be?

If you have a business, then these are your customers. If you are developing a personal brand, then the answer will often be ‘people like me’. In either case, you need to figure out what your people like, what are they interested in, and what they aspire to. Dig as deep as you can to try and understand how you can appeal to them. Look at the big accounts and influencers that aspire you, whether it’s in food, fashion, lifestyle or travel. Why are they successful? Follow them and start commenting on their pictures. Try and connect with their followers too.

Some Instagrammers have virtual followers in mind when they write and create a post (i.e I’m talking to Helen, who’s 41. She has a couple of kids and likes clothes, wine and going on holiday to Italy). I don’t do this, but think it’s a great idea. Once you know who you are talking to, it is much easier to start generating content that they will be interested in.

A cotton tote bag containing grocery shopping

This bag of shopping is the first picture that I posted to Instagram. It is a wonder I have any followers at all!


How often to post on Instagram is an area of hot debate. The most common rule of thumb I have found is ‘at least once a day’. The thinking is that, at least while you are growing a following, this will let people get to know you. Be consistent. If you disappear for a couple of weeks, your followers may forget about you and move on to other feeds.

But. Posting every day can be daunting and time-consuming.  For the time being, I have gone with the ‘post everyday’ strategy.  However, I think that it is absolutely fine, and maybe even preferable, to be more relaxed about your schedule. There has been the odd day when I’ve posted a picture I don’t love and am not pleased with, just because I felt I needed to put something up on the grid. I am also concerned that I might be driving people bonkers with too many photos! I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

However, I do agree that you need to keep turning up regularly. I find it very helpful to plan what I am going to post each day, around a week in advance. You can download Social Media Calendars, but I just use an Excel spreadsheet.

If you don’t have a great picture for your grid one day, there is always Stories, which can be much quicker, fun and more casual. More about Stories later.

It can also be helpful to try and understand the best time of day to post. 

Coffee cup pictured from above on a table next to a green velvet bench

This is my favourite of all of the images I have posted to NATK Instagram so far. It has not been the most popular, but I am really pleased with the colour and quality of the image.

It’s not all about you

A great, great piece of advice I got when starting my Instagram adventure was to ‘spend at least half your time on IG getting involved with other people’s content’. Which, of course, is called…


Are we sick of this word yet? Engagement, engagement, engagement……the measure of success on Instagram and why the platform is so popular with advertisers.

We are talking about liking, following, commenting on and sharing other people’s content. It is the way to become visible on Instagram, and of course what everyone is hoping will happen on their feeds.

It doesn’t matter how fantastic your pictures and captions are if you don’t get out there and engage with the Instagram community, the only people who will ever see them are your handful of followers. There are hundreds of millions of people using Instagram every week, you need to get out there and let everyone know that you are there.

Good Engagement

Writing ‘great pic’ and leaving a heart emoji is not good engagement. I’ve tried to engage with people on Instagram, the way I do in real life. Be polite and friendly. If someone leaves a comment on your image, reply thoughtfully and perhaps consider going over to their feed to leave a comment on one of their photos. The one thing that I would say I am most pleased with in the early days of my account is that I have made some brilliant connections, with fantastic, real people. It’s fun and rewarding.

Bad news, this can be very time-consuming. There is no point denying it, you could spend all day chatting away.

There are lots of clever people out there with great ideas for boosting your own engagement.


If you would like to encourage engagement on your posts, then captions are the way to do it. When you are writing a caption to go with your pictures, try and start a conversation.  Try and get to know your followers. Ask for their opinions, advice and recommendations. They are real people who can tell you so much!  Of course, you don’t have to do this every day, for every photo. Sometimes it is perfect just to let a great shot speak for itself.

This picture got a strong level of engagement on my Instagram account. In the caption, I asked people where they like to shop.


A few people have asked me whether I think that Stories are important. Yes, I reckon they are. They are a new and very popular feature. Update them regularly, and you put your little circle front and centre on your followers feed. They are a brilliant way of allowing people to get to know you better by revealing more about your everyday life, and sharing your sense of humour. Also, consider spending more time commenting and engaging with other people’s Stories if you would like to get to know them. It’s an opportunity to be really fun and creative.

Some great new ideas for your Stories


Good photographs are what Instagram is all about. Great quality images are always going to see better engagement than blurry horrible ones. So, don’t post things you are not proud of and consider investing some time improving your photography skills.

Green brooch pictures on yellow cushion

You don’t need fancy equipment to take a great picture for Instagram. This super clear image was captured on my iPhone.

Photography tips

I have always enjoyed taking photographs, and have done a tiny bit of studying over the years. I appreciate great photos and would love to create better ones.

If you feel a bit at sea in this department, here is my advice. Spend time looking at what your favourite Instagrammers are doing with their pictures. Take inspiration from lots of different accounts, then try and put your own spin on it.

A guide to creating great pictures for Instagram.

Nobody needs fancy equipment to create amazing photos nowadays. Our phone cameras are brilliant. There are lots of tutorials to find online if you would like to improve your phone photography. Just Google away or jump on to Pinterest.

Also, you don’t have to use original images. There are many accounts that do well sharing great images (get permission!). You can also run hashtag competitions to share other peoples shots. There are lots of fashion, interiors and travel accounts that do this very effectively.

Editing pictures

When it comes to your own pictures,  I would highly recommend using the VSCO photo editing app. Highly, highly recommend. I find it far better than the editing options available on Instagram itself. As a rule of thumb, I tend to adjust the exposure, contrast, sharpness and saturation of each picture before I upload it to IG. There are lots of functions and filters on there to play with.

This flat lay picture has been edited using the VSCO App. I have adjusted the exposure to brighten the image and applied the M5 filter at a low level.

Consistency again

It seems that when it comes to their Instagram accounts, people like what they like. Whether it is pictures of dogs, flowers, flat lay or fashion, they are following you because they like to know what they are getting. If you want to post about interiors, don’t drop in a family holiday shot.  If you want to post about family holidays, then your followers probably don’t want to see Wednesday night’s dinner. Be consistent.

Planning your grid

I don’t think I have quite nailed the look of my grid yet. Many of the most successful Instagrammers spend an awful lot of time curating the overall look of their feed. Especially focusing on the top 6-12 shots in the grid. This because it’s often all anyone will look at before they decide whether or not to follow you.

To help with this there are a number of ‘preview Apps’ available. They allow you to check how photos will look on your feed before you publish them. I use UNUM. It also offers some analytics (information about which are your best and worst performing pictures).


Hashtags are another window to your feed, they make your content more discoverable. People can search for pictures using hashtags, and can now follow them too.

You can use up to 30 on each image. If you don’t like the way they look in your caption, then perhaps consider ‘hiding’ them in the first comment underneath.

Generally, the advice is that you shouldn’t use the super popular ones, such as #love or #picofheday, as your post will get lost among millions of others. So have a look at which hashtags influencers and other popular accounts are using, to try and find some ideas.

A guide to using hashtags. 


Listen, being new to this game, I don’t know lots about the algorithm. But I know that people love to hate it, and this is how I understand it works…..

The Instagram algorithm detects engagement on your post, most importantly engagement that happens soon after it is posted. The more engagement it is getting, the more your picture will show up on your followers feeds. Therefore garnering more likes and comments. And so on, and so on. I’m not sure that we should spend a lot of time worrying about something that we cannot control. If you feel you can enlighten us more on this mystery, please comment at the end of the feed.

Training and further reading

There are lots of people out there offering social media training, online and in real life. If that is something that you are interested in, then here are a few suggestions.

I attended a Guardian Masterclass in London given by travel blogger and Instagrammer Julie Falconer. Her Instagram account @aladyinlondon has more than 120,000 followers. I found her insights and experience a very helpful starting point.

Hero Stores in Hampshire offer creative Instagram workshops

Instagram influencer and growth mentor Sarah Tasker offers very popular Instagram courses. Her Instagram account is @me_and_orla. There is also lots of good stuff to read on her website and listen to on her podcast.

I would love it if you would share your thoughts and advice so that we can help each other understand this weird and wonderful Instagram world together. Also, let me know if there is something that I haven’t covered, and I will update the post with more information.

A little bit about me.

What's your View?

28 comments on “Zero – 1000 followers on Instagram

  1. Jools on

    To answer just one of your questions you don’t drive me bonkers with your insta posts. The truth is every time you post something I think “Wow, she’s nailed it again!” I am really enjoying the journey. The half face selfie is just brilliant. Red lippy? Perfect. I really do like your style.

  2. Lazy Daisy Jones on

    One thing if I hide my hashtags in comments as I always used to do I get ‘shadowbanned ‘ it happens every time and I have no idea why !
    When I first started ig it was very easy to pick up followers not now so you have done brilliantly !
    I like the ‘chat’ on your account xxx

  3. Nete on

    Really liked this down to earth and hands on input to IG. Very well done. I’m new to IG and my learning curve is for sure steep. Seems like you have nailed it from the beginning:)

  4. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    Hi Jools, good to know that you can tolerate me turning up every day. It has been so great to meet and chat with you over the past few months 🙂 Thanks so much for all of your positive and encouraging comments. Superstar. Hxxxx

  5. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    I’m sort of half expecting to get ‘shadowbanned’ at some point, although it hasn’t happened yet. Thanks for highlighting this issue, I will adjust the text above, as I wouldn’t want my advice to lead to that happening to someone else. Who knows what will happen on Instagram next Ashley….only one way to find out. Thanks for stopping by. Hxx

  6. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    Hi Nete, so glad if you can find one or two useful things here. Who knows where this strange Instagram journey will take us? Thank you for stopping by for a read, it makes my day. Helenxxx

  7. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    Hello Sarah, how lovely of you to stop by for a read 🙂 I really do appreciate you taking the time. I hope that perhaps people will take one or two ideas away and apply them if they would like to. Good luck! Hxxx

  8. Liz on

    Fantastic post, thank you!
    As an absolute instagram beginner am so very grateful for any info like this I can read.
    Off to put it into practice.
    Have a great day,

  9. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    Hello Liz, welcome to Not About the Kids! I’m so happy that you might find some of this helpful. I felt that I wanted to share a bit of what I have learnt in the past few months. Really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Helen x

  10. Julie Bateman on

    Brilliant advice and I will have a look at the apps you mention! I love your feed and I think your photographs are great! @over40frolics (Julie x)

  11. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    Hello Julie! Thank you so much for stopping by for a read, I just feel like doing a little dance when someone comments on the blog 🙂 If one or two bits of what I’ve picked up are helpful for people then brilliant. So glad you like the photos Hxxx

  12. Jools on

    ….apologies if that is really naff and not what you do on a blog comment. Complete beginner. But it felt right. X

  13. Penny on

    Great post Helen. I love VSCO and have been using it more over the past few months, since I made a conscious decision to think about what’s posting a bit more. I have A Color Story too but have yet to truly explore it.

    I think all the things you say are true. I didn’t really engage much until about 2 months ago. It’s made a difference, along with other little things I’m doing.

    Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

  14. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    Hi Penny, thanks so much for visiting! There are so many amazing Apps and different things to try, I really do wish I had a couple more hours in the day! I’m glad that you like VSCO too, it’s a good fit for me. Another thing, that I didn’t mention, with Instagram and blogging, is that I really think it’s important to be patient….let’s try and stick with it together. Hx

  15. Mary-Ann on

    Hi Helen. Our mutual friend Helen Gardner pointed me towards your blog. 🙂 This is a fantastic read – really useful and interesting! I’ve already shared it with a few friends. I’m looking forward to reading more! Mary-Ann x

  16. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    Hello Mary-Ann, thank you so much for popping by to have a read. It makes me do a little happy dance every time someone leaves a comment on the blog!! I thought that it might be helpful to bring together some of the bits and bobs I’ve learnt about social media in the past few months…if it saves someone a bit of time then mission accomplished. Hxxx

  17. Mary-Ann on

    Will definitely keep checking in! Love the way you write, what you write about and all your gorgeous, colourful pics! Well done you! 🙂 m-a x

  18. KellyAnn Schiavo on

    This is fab. I made a decision to get insta-intentional last month so I signed up to the free version of Tailwind. It’s been quite good, you get insights, best times to post and can view your grid in 9 squares so that you have a visual of what it will look like once published. It will even publish straight to Insta for you without having to push the picture, but only on a business account. I got 80 new followers in Feb which is not to be sniffed at.
    I agree completely with the engagement, I really don’t like receiving an emoji as a comment, it’s just pointless. I’ve really concentrated this month and trying to ‘chat’ more and fingers crossed it paying off.
    I use Hastagger for #’s which is brilliant as it gives you a % score of how popular that # is so you know what you avoid. It also saves your searches which is hugely time saving.
    Above anything, commitment is key isn’t it… Rome wasn’t build in a day and all that…

  19. @not_about_the_kids2017 on

    I don’t think there’s an easy way to crack it unless you have a huge stroke of luck. It takes time and there’s no avoiding it. Thanks for the tips KellyAnn, I have heard of Tailwind, but mainly seen it used on Pinterest. Will definitely check out Hashtagger, as my use of them isn’t brilliant at the moment. My analytics tell me they only bring a handful of people to each post. Always more to learn x

  20. Helen on

    Hello Alice! Thank you so much for reading, really pleased it’s helpful. I still feel like a beginner myself H xxx

  21. chiara on

    Hi Helen, I have a question. You wrote:”You can also run hashtag competitions to share other peoples shots. There are lots of fashion, interiors and travel accounts that do this very effectively.”. Do you maybe have an example of interiors you could share? I’ll host a workshop about IG basics soon and I know an interior designer will attend. It would be nice to impress her 🙂 Thanks!

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