How I Grew My Instagram Following & Advice For Growing Your Business + Brand

Lifestyle & Wellness

I’m excited you’re reading this post about how I grew my Instagram following and changed my career trajectory in less than a year because it either means you want to establish your own brand on social media or at one point or another you’ve thought maybe, just maybe the job you are doing right now is not the only thing out there for you.

As the temps warm up here in Chicago, I am reminded of exactly those two feelings. Feelings that I almost felt as if I couldn’t feel because it could never happen, that I could never actually act on them. Fear that followed me around like a constant dark cloud of anxiety. In a strange way, I felt like I was living a double life. And the daytime me was getting harder and harder to satisfy. She wanted to do something else but was very afraid to say it out loud. Know the feeling?

I have to start this by saying that the professional experiences I had very early in my career were crucial in not only giving me the skills to succeed at what I’m currently doing but to know what I really wanted to do. My experiences working with others in the field of dietetics who are doing amazing and constantly elevating the profession propelled me, motivated me, and gave me major FOMO at the same time.

My reason for leaving my traditional 9-5 was two fold. One is that I wanted to gain experience with one-on-one nutrition counseling. Put my degree to work, talk to people, and problem solve with them to find healthy solutions that work in their lives. The second was that fall was coming up. Yes, I’m serious! I started thinking about all of the things I could do with pumpkin on social media if I just had a little more time in the day. I couldn’t get that thought out of my head all of last summer. I began envisioning what it would be like to have a day where I didn’t commute to work, where I created the types of projects I wanted to take on. It was a slippery slope because as just as I could feel the seasons changing, I could feel myself changing. I became less scared of the idea and rather than asking myself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” I asked myself “what’s the best?!”

In September of 2017 I left my job to gain experience counseling nutrition clients and further build my blog. I didn’t have a tons of plans lined up, I had a few projects for pumpkin season and a couple dietitians that took a chance on me to help them with a few projects. I was determined to build on that every single day. Trust me every day has not been amazing, but worth it? 1000%. I don’t think I knew what the word rewarding truly meant until I started working for myself!

In July of 2017 I had less than 10,000 followers and in a little less than a year have doubled that. Now it’s not all about the numbers. I’m not in it for the numbers, because if there were no follower counts at the top I would still post pictures of food, my life, and my dog! Having my following has opened the door to some new experiences and opportunities that might not have been possible before and I want to share how I put the puzzle pieces together to get where I am today. By no means are all the pieces there, either! I’m still learning in the process!

So let’s dive right in…

I can guarantee that you can’t see something pumpkin in a store and not think of me. I don’t mean that in a creepy way at all, what I mean is that however “basic” you think my Instagram is it still sets me apart because let’s face it, pumpkin is everywhere and not just in the fall! I’ve had people message me from Thailand that they ate pumpkin soup and thought of me. I’ve had people take pictures of license plates that say pumpkin and so much more. Not only does this make me so happy, and truly fuels my passion, but it shows me that I have a connection with people who want to see more pumpkin, and more of what I have to say about it.

  1. Figure out your niche. What’s that one thing about yourself that if you kept saying over and over again people would remember you for it? There are thousands of bloggers out there and I believe that to truly set yourself apart, to stand out in the crowd you need your one thing. Now I caveat this by saying I don’t always post about or talk about pumpkin, and at first I was really worried about that. How does a fall focused food blogger dietitian talk about other topics and get likes, followers, and partnerships? Simple. I just started. I knew I had one “leg” of the chair with all of my pumpkin things, my love for pumpkin, and my pumpkin recipes, and then I started to ask myself what other legs my chair could have? As a millennial interested in helping other people on their health and nutrition journey, my other legs came from that. I started peppering in my love for fitness, my opinion on trendy food topics, and what I generally buy at the grocery store. All things that I’m interested in at this stage of my life, and figured that others would want to know too. So while pumpkin remains and always will, I very much enjoy expanding on other topics and am proof that your social media name while v. important doesn’t necessarily define you in the way you might think it does! What’s your pumpkin? What’s your thing that someone will message you from halfway across the world about?!

Ok so I had my niche, but figuring out how to make ideas blossom into collaborations, and relationships into working projects  was definitely something I had to get really good at really fast if I could start to think about growing my brand and starting a business.  

2. Take A Walk Around the Block. Think local! Start a list of your favorite restaurants, gyms, grocery stores, local small businesses and brands and anywhere else you go on the regular. Then think about ways you could help that business. Hair salon? Maybe your hairdresser is also trying to build a social media account and would love a mention on how great her services are. Gyms? Maybe a lot of their clients are asking for nutrition help and the gym has no one to recommend. Enter you. Restaurants? Perhaps they have a seasonal dish (I’ve done this about 10 times in Chicago with restaurants that have pumpkin dishes) you could photograph and feature. Grocery stores? Maybe you whipped up a delicious meal using stuff you bought at their store. If they see it and share your photo on their page, think about all the other local people who might be seeing it and start to follow you.

Email, introduce yourself and right off the bat highlight how you could SERVE them. I’m not a beauty blogger but I’ve emailed nail salons, medical spas, hair salons and more asking if I could showcase their services as where I go for my appointments. Any local business would appreciate you reaching out and asking how you could help share information about them if it’s a good fit for your brand and I’m sure they would do the same for you in return.

On the topic of grocery stores, you know I’m at ones in my area almost daily, talking about their products, new finds, talking about the store in general and showing myself hauling their bags around town. If it’s brand partnerships you’re looking to strengthen use the grocery store to your advantage. Local brands are usually marked, and beyond that if you’re drawn to pa spot something new that you know you could talk about contact them, start the conversation and I promise a lot can happen from there! I’ve had monthly partnerships pan out from brands that I happened to spot at the store. It’s almost like going to work for me, ha! Pumpkin lady in aisle 3!

I know social media can make everything seem like roses. Am I going to show you when I feel really stressed, or crying? No! But the truth is that those days happen, and I’m still figuring things out and finding out what works and what doesn’t. When I’m going through a funk or feel stuck on my next move or defeated and thoughts of “did I make the right choice” start creeping into my mind I lean on and take note from some really inspiring people in my field and in my life who are proof that you can make opportunities happen!

3. Reach Out to Others in Your Field But Don’t Be Selfish. Please, please, please, do not begin an email to someone you admire on social media or in your field with the line, “I just wanted to pick your brain”. More times than not it will be trashed automatically. I even tread lightly when it comes to inviting them out to coffee or a drink because I realize how precious their time is. After all you are reaching out to them because they are an expert and have done some amazing things that you want to learn how to do. Respect that and be grateful if you do end up meeting up. I’ve been lucky enough to have amazing dietitians take a chance on me and share their experiences with me to help with mine. I really feel like having that type of professional support system to bounce ideas off of or ask questions to is so clutch when you are the boss and still can’t figure something out (happens to me a lot!)

My biggest piece of advice here dumping your dreams goals, aspirations, burdens, worries and thoughts on them all at once! I know I probably did this to a few people when I was contemplating making the job switch and still feel bad about it! Of course they will naturally ask you about your goals and offer their advice on what to do to begin to know how to get their. I graciously welcome any and all points of view but also make sure I take the time to LISTEN to them talk about their own careers, aspirations and barriers. Because guess what? That just might lead a to job for you!

Chances are this awesome RD you contacted out has grown their business to a point where they need outside help for blog writing, social media, recipe photos or even seeing clients. If that’s your forte than you’ve just figured out how to help someone who is offering you advice all the while benefiting their business and growing your skills to benefit yours.

I knew I wanted to start nutrition counseling but I didn’t really know how. Where would I get these clients? Who are my ideal clients? I’m definitely still figuring that out but what’s great about being in the health and wellness field is that your client is literally everyone!

I do know is that opportunities are literally everywhere, especially when you’re not expecting them like in the backseat of your Uber.

4. Turn Uber Drivers Into Clients. A man picks me up in front of my building and asks me where I’m headed. I respond that I’m going to a food event hosted by a local Chicago company and he automatically asks, “so, what do you do”. I then say “I’m a registered dietitian, I help people get their diets on track and make healthy choices to help them feel great”. Well it just so happens that my Uber driver was just diagnosed with type II diabetes and was told by his doctor to eliminate all sugar and monitor carbs. Being an uber driver isn’t exactly conducive to eating a well balanced meal in between drop offs. Enter me! We exchanged phone numbers, and I left that ride having one more client for the price of a two mile ride. Not bad if you ask me!

This story is one I’ll always remember because I really believe it was one of those right place right time things too. I’ll say I’m not always the most talkative person, chances are I was on my phone and looking down but opened myself up to it when we started talking and low and behold it was beneficial for both of us.

Back to brand partnerships on social media for a minute. There was and still are a lot of dream brands that I would love to work with. At the time I was forging ahead full force I had about 10,000 Instagram followers and was finding that unless it was something pumpkin related that it was hard for me to get brands to want to partner with me. How was I going to work with some of these brands that don’t have pumpkin products but that I love and use in my everyday life? Easy. Start talking about them in your everyday life!

5. Do Things For Free. Yes, I do receive payment from some of the brands I work with for the content I create and the pictures I capture that highlight their product. Was that always the case? Hell no! So although I can’t pay my rent in coupons, I do think that offering to promote a product on Instagram, do a mention, or snap a picture of a product you use daily is the best possible thing you can do as you grow your business. Why? It not only shows that brand that you are interested in them, but also shows that you have an option, or a new way to incorporate their product. That right there is your ticket to the opening conversation with them!

I work with a lot of smaller brands (who have awesome products!) that don’t have huge promo budgets but that have supported me from the beginning when I had 5 followers, and that support still means a lot to me. When I truly believe in a food or product and think it could better your life too, I will show it to you! That’s one of the things I love about being a dietitian and having a voice on social media! I follow my gut on that and don’t turn away everyone who can’t pay me. When it works for me and I can help them too I will. And when that little brand you did a post for grows you might just be at the very top of their list to work with.

6. Spy On Your Neighbors. When I say neighbors I mean all of your other friends on social media. I don’t mean this is a negative competitive way, but if you see that someone you follow on Instagram is partnering with a brand that you would like to partner with that might help you to find out if they are looking for additional partners. Keep in mind they are not going to want the same thing you just saw, so there’s your leg up tell them how you use their product and what you would want to create with it.   

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different. Again, there’s a ton of food bloggers out there and a ton of recipes. What are you doing in yours that is memorable? At first I really wanted to fit in with the Instagram crowd, post similar things, etc. but now when I’m approaching content, I always say to myself…dare to be different. And then I know it feels right and authentic to me. Forget for a second all of the stuff you’ve seen on social media and just create something for yourself. Post that and watch!

8. Show Interest on Social Media.  When it comes to brands, potential clients, peers and colleagues you’re following, show them a little love on social. Instead of aimlessly scrolling and giving your thumb a workout, leave a few thoughtful comments. That comment is your marketing stamp. Sometimes it won’t show up on a photo, but sometimes it will be the only comment showing. Who knows who could see that and click on your name! That’s so exciting for so many reasons one especially being that a brand could see it and see a potential partnership with you.  Someone else could see it and contact you the next day for nutrition counseling. Plant these seeds wherever you can because you never know if one of your followers also happens to work for your dream client. This has happened to me a couple of times and it’s such a nice surprise and reminder to really put your best foot forward in your stories and in your tone when you set out to write a caption.


I hope that my story, experiences and plain old trial and errors have resonated with you on some level and that you can implement some of these things in your own business, or brand. For all of you RDs to be out there talk to me! I’d love to help if you have specific questions on how to get yourself out there in this field. If you’re looking to bust out on the scene on social media and want someone to talk to about it, I really would love to help. Here’s to finding your pumpkin and all of the beautiful things that can happen when you just begin!




Join the Conversation