How to Expand Your Business Using Instagram

Is your shop missing out on a free opportunity to showcase work, keep clients coming back for more, and reach new customers?

I'm a big believer in social media. It has always been my preferred way to contact new customers and stay in touch with old ones. My company, Upstate Merch, is a screen printing and merchandising shop located in upstate New York and we generate a huge part of our business from social media. I started my first company when Myspace had just come out, and for me it was perfect for sending direct messages to exactly who I wanted to talk to. There was no hunting around the internet for phone numbers and emails. I spent my days messaging people directly, asking them if they could use my print services.  


Dylan Gilligan scrolls through Upstate Merch’s Instagram feed on his desktop, keeping an eye out for inspiration and ideas.

Over time, Twitter and Facebook came out, and later, my personal favorite, Instagram. I feel that Instagram is perfect for a visual industry like ours. Customers like to see the products, the cool print techniques, and the behind-the-scenes story of how their shirt is being made. With the analytics, hashtags, and discover pages, you can target exactly the right customer for you.

Getting Started with Instagram
Starting an Instagram page is easy. Begin by creating your profile picture and bio. Use your company logo as your profile picture and make sure it looks good in a small circle: You want your logo to be recognizable as users scroll by. Your bio needs to be strong. Make sure it’s short and sweet, but shows exactly who you are. More than likely, you will be establishing a business page, so you will have options for linking to your website and email, making it unnecessary to put them in the bio. 

Now comes the harder part. If you want a good social media presence, you need to put the effort in. It doesn’t have to take up much time, but your approach needs to be consistent. Take a picture here and there throughout the work day. You can also create a few Instagram stories about the project you are currently working on. It really doesn’t have to be too complicated. It should be fun.

Social media, in my opinion, is the best form of marketing. It’s free. All it takes is time. You don’t need to dedicate an employee to it as a full-time job if you don’t want to. Instagram stories are 15 seconds. Taking a picture here and there takes no time at all.

You can use Instagram in one of two ways. You can post throughout the day using your phone pictures, or you can create curated photos that you have edited to your liking. You can put them in a folder and spread the content out. Both approaches are fine – just find out what works best for you. From what I’ve seen, the more personal you are with your story, the better. Customers are interested in seeing how things are done with the occasional silly outtake.

If you start thinking of things in terms of content potential, you can really build a good stockpile of images to use later on. Weed out the stuff that you realize later wasn’t as good as you first thought. I might take 10 to 15 photos per day, but only end up using three to five of them.

Build Your Following
On any social media platform, engage with people as much as possible. There are three simple rules: 

1. Don’t be a creepy troll.
2. Comment on posts.
3. Say something constructive. It’s called social media for a reason. Become part of the community.

Follow people who inspire you. Follow the competition. Follow key players in your industry. Follow companies and individuals that you would like to work with. Learn from what they are doing. Engage with their posts and talk shop.

Instagram is an algorithm; it’s mathematical. Algorithms love consistency. You can’t post one thing per week and expect people to be chomping at the bit for your content. Post a few times daily (once a day at a minimum) to keep your audience engaged. Use stories and only post good content directly to your page instead of anything and everything. 


The key to a successful Instagram account is a wide range of content – not the same photo at the same angle again and again. Post when your shop does something fun and unique, like live printing onsite at an event.

Sometimes posting about the work that we do daily may seem boring, but not all of your followers know the ins and outs of the print world like we do. It’s new and interesting to them. That’s why they follow you, so keep at it.

Customers love it when you showcase their order. Tag them and show it off. They will end up reposting your photo and you will gain followers from that.

Use the analytic features in Instagram. Check the statistics and figure out what type of posts get you the most engagement. That doesn’t mean all of your posts need to be exactly like the ones that connected, but it’s nice to know so you can work in that direction. Take this information and use it to your advantage by getting more engagement on your posts. Such posts can potentially be seen by more people via things like shares and the explore page.

Don’t be afraid to show not only your best work, but also your mistakes and how you learned from them. This builds trust with the customer and shows them that you will be honest with their project. (Don’t overdo it, but showing a mistake every now and then is good.) 


Incorporate staged photos of your work into your feed.

Also resist the temptation to over-promote. The accounts that have a growing following are the ones that are invested in their followers as much as the product they are trying to push. Don’t be afraid to show some of your personal life. It’s nice to see that you are an actual person and not just a corporate robot.

Make posts that have cliffhangers or contests related to your work. Nobody likes to follow a page that just posts items for sale, or a photo of today’s standard print. Try not to fall into the rut of posting photos of one print after another, all taken from the same angle; it’s not interesting. Followers are looking for inspiration and stuff that gets them motivated to work with you. (And I don’t mean a page of nothing but inspirational quotes, which is annoying.)

How I Personally Benefit
I love the community dynamic of Instagram. I follow 80 percent print shops and 20 percent current customers or companies I would love to work with. I am constantly commenting on others’ work, or talking to other shops through direct messages about print techniques and the like. When I have a problem, I know I can depend on the print community to step up and help me out.


Have fun hyping up your recent clients and showcasing your prints.

I always dig deeper into screen printing posts to learn other ways of doing things. You never know what will lead to those eureka moments. I like to take screenshots of things that inspire me. I add them to a “to-do” folder on my computer and work on them when I get free time.

The argument I always hear is, “Why would I want to share my print process with others? Why show my secrets to my competitors?” First of all, you are not giving away all of your secrets. Anybody can go on YouTube and learn everything they need to know about the print industry if they spend enough time. Sharing tips and tricks with others on social media makes me a better print shop owner, hands down. Seeing others’ work and how they do things fills me with the desire to be better, constantly motivating me to improve.

Instagram, for me, is a way to showcase my craft and what I am passionate about. It’s not always about gaining the most followers; it’s about Upstate Merch being the rad company that it is. Hopefully people recognize that and follow us for that reason. 

Get more Instagram tips from Dylan Gilligan, read more from Screen Printing's April/May 2018 issue or follow Screen Printing on Instagram.

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