Do social media followers actually lead to new work? These designers say yes.
For many designers, Instagram has become more than just a showcase for their portfolio—it’s also a networking platform that provides direct access to potential clients across the world. Once the domain of young people, the platform now attracts users of all ages (and budgets)—a prospect that can make it worthwhile to answer when a follower asks, “Who makes the lamp?” If you haven’t given Instagram much thought lately, it might be time to give your feed a second look.
Get your name out there: “I get multiple inquiries a week through Instagram. Occasionally we’ll connect with someone who is a great fit, but most of the time it’s people who want help with a single room or want to order one light fixture. That said, I look at Instagram more as a tool for brand awareness. I have started to get work in other parts of the country because people are finding me on there. It’s also how I’ve found celebrity clients—we started a friendship on Instagram and they became more familiar with my work through the platform. I just spoke with a potential client the other day who mentioned how much they love everything I post on my grid, which automatically tells me that they’re in line with my style.”
Share what you know: “I do think you have to be a resource if you’re going to stand out. You have to be willing to provide guidance and answer questions that people have. If you help someone—even if that’s just by telling them the name of a product—you might have a fan for life.”
Get personal: “My Instagram is about my business, but it also gives insight into me as a person. You can see what my Thanksgiving table looked like, and I’m taking my followers on the journey of building my own new house. In that way, it’s like you have your own editorial platform where you decide what your brand is, what the story is, what image is right. I think it’s leveled the playing field quite a bit.” —Marie Flanigan, Marie Flanigan Interiors, Houston
Make a connection: “Most of my clients are already following me when they hire me, so it’s often hard to say if they found me on Instagram or if that’s just where they vetted me. In our initial discovery call, they’ll mention my Instagram, whether it’s an image of a project or one of my IGTV videos that resonated with them. Either way, by the time we get to that call, those clients are already sold on me—they aren’t just on board with my work, they’re on board with who I am.”
Be yourself: “I had a call with a new client the other day who said, ‘I like that you’re open about your religious faith on your profile.’ Because I post so honestly about my beliefs, I’m getting clients who are aligned with my values, which makes for a better experience for us both and allows you to go deeper into that working relationship.”
Stay relevant: “I think posting frequently is key. If I looked at someone’s profile and they hadn’t posted in a month, I don’t think that would make a good impression. Similarly, I try to always have a Story posted—I never want to see that little plus sign telling me I don’t have an Instagram Story up. Whether people are discovering me there or not, I know that clients are going to land on my profile at some point, which makes me very strategic in how I use the platform.” —Cheryl Luckett, Dwell by Cheryl, Charlotte, North Carolina
The Long Game
Find your audience: “I’ve used Instagram since 2013. Back then, you never would have gotten a client off of it, but that’s changed completely in the past four years or so. It’s actual grown-ups building forever homes who are reaching out through the app—the type of clients you want to be finding you. Clients who find me on Instagram will normally do a deep dive on me—they’re reading all my press and combing through my portfolio before emailing through my website. That’s part of how I know an inquiry is serious, is if they email me saying, ‘I came across your work on Instagram,’ versus just sending me a DM on Instagram. It’s a weird distinction, but I think it’s similar to how you might call someone to tell them something important instead of sending a text.”
Think of it as a compatibility test: “I try to keep my Instagram presence similar to what I’m like in real life: I’m jokey in person, so I try to be jokey on social media. I also think people who find you through social media are often more comfortable with a little informality—which is good, because that’s how I like to work. I’ll send my clients memes from The Office, or FaceTime them from an antiques store if I find something I think they’d like. If you’re not down with emojis, it might not be the best fit.”
Be attentive: “I get DMs from non-client followers asking about a paint color I used, and I try to answer them. I don’t have millions of followers, so it isn’t that difficult to keep up with. Part of the reason I take the time comes from the fact that I’ve now had a few clients who I later came to realize I had been messaging with way before they ever hired me—I’d go to follow them back on Instagram and see that we’d had a whole conversation a year before about something I posted. It’s a good reminder to be nice to everyone on social media. You never know who you might end up working with in the long run.” —Max Humphrey, Portland, Oregon
Talk It Out
Give it time: “I didn’t take Instagram very seriously as a method of getting clients until I got my first one in 2018. I had gotten a few inquiries that didn’t lead anywhere, but then this person reached out, and after two meetings we signed a contract. It was a great big project that has since been published and even won an award. While most of them don’t turn out quite that well, Instagram is now where I find about a quarter of my work. With those clients, there are often a lot more conversations before we sign—it can be more like dating and trying to decide if you click.”
Build trust: “It’s not the same as when someone comes referred through a past client, where they have already eaten dinner in a room I designed and my past client can vouch for me. There’s a level of inherent trust that comes with those referrals, but you have to build that up if you’re starting with someone who found you online. At the same time, if someone has been following me before they reach out, they may know things about me already. They think they already know what I’m like, which can actually be helpful in developing our relationship.”
Manage budget expectations: “I’ve found that people who find me on Instagram often might not have realistic expectations of what a design budget should be. There are so many services now where you can get design at a lower price (and quickly too!), so there can be some sticker shock.” —Tina Ramchandani, New York