I started like everybody else on Instagram: with no followers. In the brief span of just 50 weeks, I accumulated more than 14,000 followers.

I don't want to brag. I want to teach you how to do the same thing.

As a result, I now get about 15 to 30 leads a month from Instagram for digital marketing services.

How would you like to do that?

Let me explain how you can follow my example and build an Instagram audience that will help you promote your brand.

1. Start With a Goal

As with so many other things in business, it all starts with a goal.

What do you want to do on Instagram? What are you hoping to get out of it?

You might decide that you want to use Instagram as a great way to build brand-name awareness. Or you might be thinking that Instagram is a great way to share pictures of your products because it's image-focused.

Maybe you're just looking to land some direct sales from the link on your profile page.

Whatever your goal, make sure you approach Instagram marketing with an eye toward fulfilling it. Then start looking for ways to gather your audience.

On Instagram, you have two demographics: partners and customers.

Partners are people in the same industry or in an industry related to your niche. They're not necessarily competitors, though.

For example, if you're a web developer, then people who design WordPress themes might be among your partners. They complement, rather than compete, with your business.

They can also help you promote your business.

How? By commenting on and liking your updates. They help give your Instagram account the appearance of authority.

Then, there are Instagram followers who are in your target market. Those are the people whom you want to become customers.

Once you've identified partners and people in your target market, it's time to start gathering information about them. What are their typical qualities? Where do they spend their time online?

And this is important: Whom do they follow on Instagram?

That's important because you want your Instagram account to attract them. Fortunately, you can do that by imitating other accounts that they already follow.

Find between two and five Instagram accounts that your distributors and potential customers follow and analyze them. What kind of content do they post online? Who follows them?

Also, take a look at their bio. How do they describe their business? What does the profile photo look like?

Go through their posts and look at the hashtags they use. Make a note of the most popular hashtags. You'll probably want to use those in your own posts.

It's important, though, to make sure that the post corresponds to the hashtag you use. Otherwise, you'll be branded a spammer.

Finally, take a look at their most popular posts. Make a note about the types of photos used in those posts and the topics they cover.

Now that you're armed with that information, it's time to get to work.

2. Build a Profile That Converts

Your profile is where you'll put the link to your landing page. That's why it has to be optimized for conversion.

The reality is that the only place many people will see a link to your site is on your profile page. Instagram doesn't allow links on standard posts.

Instagram does allow links on stories, though. Those are collections of photos and videos put into slideshow format (an idea Instagram "borrowed" from Snapchat).

If you think you can promote your brand best by marketing with stories, then you can add links outside of your profile.

So how do you produce a profile that converts? Follow a few simple steps.

First of all, give yourself an appealing bio. Remember the basic rule of marketing here: Emphasize what you do for customers. Tell people that you fix their problems and make their lives better.

In other words: Don't just talk about what you sell. Instead, tell people how your products or services benefit them.

Also, give yourself a fabulous profile photo. Go professional with the picture if you have to. It's your one chance to make an outstanding impression and convince people that you take your business seriously.

You should also give people a reason to click on your link. Whet their appetites with a tease such as a discount or a freebie. Then, tell them they can learn more by clicking on the link.

Keep in mind: There's nothing wrong with having a landing page dedicated solely to people who arrive at your site from Instagram. In fact, you'll probably make your Instagram visitors feel special if you do that. A few good options for this are Instapage and Leadpages.

You can also do the "Mashable trick" with the link on your profile page. As the name implies, that's a technique perfected by the website Mashable.

Here's how it works: When you post a photo, add a caption that explains the photo and include text like: "For more information, click on the link in our profile." Here's the important part: After posting the photo, change the link in your profile so that it goes to a part of your site relevant to the Instagram post.

In other words, change the link in your profile with each update.

3. Create an Editorial Calendar

If you want to move ahead of your competition on social media, create an editorial calendar. Many brands don't bother with that.

An editorial calendar is a schedule of your upcoming posts. It tells you what you'll post and when you'll post it.

Get the ball rolling on your editorial calendar by going over the successful posts you learned about in step 1. Then, go and do likewise.

Yes, copy the type of content that others have used successfully and use it yourself. Imitation isn't just the sincerest form of flattery. It's also a great way to promote your brand.

Keep in mind: Some stuff is copyrighted. You obviously don't want to run afoul of copyright laws.

You can, however, post content very closely related to the successful posts of others. There's nothing wrong with that.

Also, don't come across like a sales rep on Instagram. If you just post content that's trying to make a sale, you're going to have trouble gaining and keeping followers.

Instead, mix up your content a little. Post some humorous memes now and then. Share lifestyle tips. That will help you add some personality and humanity to your brand.

Make sure that some of your content uses the hashtags you found in step 1. You especially want to use the more popular hashtags, because they should give your posts greater exposure.

4. Publish and Engage

Once you've got your editorial calendar in place, it's time to start following it. Promote your business by publishing content on a regular basis.

There's more to being successful on Instagram than just posting content, though.

Remember: Instagram is part of social media. It's called "social" media for a reason.

You need to be social on social media.

That means you should engage with other Instagram users. Follow accounts in your niche and accounts related to your niche. Like and comment on posts you appreciate.

If you're viewed as an active member of the Instagram community, you'll come across as a genuine user and not somebody who's just trying to sell something.

Also, you'll often get a follow back from the people you follow. That's especially true if they're interested in your business.

Here's another thing to do: Look at the top profiles in your niche. Then, go through some of their posts. Follow people who are commenting on those posts. These are the most engaged people, so there is a chance they will engage with you also.

All of this will help your posts show up in Instagram search, which can send more people to your profile and business.

5. Analyze, Scale, and Promote

After a few months of Instagram marketing, take some time to review what's working best for you.

Go over your analytics. Make a note of the types of posts that receive the most engagement. Be sure to publish posts with similar themes in the future.

Also, make a note of what types of posts are receiving the least engagement. Scratch those kinds of posts off your editorial calendar if there any more like them coming up. Replace them with the kinds of posts that are more successful.

Finally, consider running ads on your top posts. That will give you a chance to effectively add a link to them.

6. Rinse and Repeat

Repeat step 5. Forever.

Go through your analytics constantly to find your top performers. Then, add more posts just like those to your editorial calendar.

Also, keep on engaging with other posts. Remember, you'll appear "real" if you're liking, following, and commenting on the posts of other Instagram users.

Finally, focus on growth. Keep working to build your audience so you can reach more people.

Then, customers will find their way to your website.

This process has worked for me and it will work for you.

Published on: May 3, 2017