Business Development Through Instagram Direct Messages



DISCLAIMER: This is not an original idea. 

This is an expansion and the results from my implementation of a strategy that I learned about through Gary Vaynerchuk's video series "Daily Vee."

A year ago, he didn't even think this was a good idea.
Read through to the end for more on that.


I design websites on the SquareSpace platform. Depending on the service or product you’re offering, the strategy may have to be adapted slightly. If you use Instagram to promote your business, you should be able to find value in reaching out directly to potential customers or clients. If you don't use Instagram to promote your business, it's never too late to start. 

I listen to Gary Vaynerchuk's audio content regularly. I tend to stay away from the video stuff because, frankly, I don't feel the need to spend 15 minutes of my day watching a guy get a fucking haircut. Pardon my french. But if you're a Gary V fan then go back and read that sentence in his voice. I feel like he'd appreciate that.

Anyway. I wanted to take one of Gary V's social media strategies and run with it. This is a complete breakdown of how the technique works and what I've learned after 2 weeks of implementation. 

click here to listen through the podcasts app.  
skip to 5:15 if you're not interested in hearing gary describe his entire schedule for a random week in january.


Sweating the technique.

  1. Search Instagram by Niche hashtag or by location.

  2. Visit their profile and qualify them as a potential client.    

  3. Send them a message with a value proposition.

  4. Rinse and repeat.   


1. Search Instagram by niche hashtag or by location.

Search by hashtag when you're focusing on a particular niche

If you want to sell your services to plumbers or plumbing companies, start out with a search for #plumber. Scroll through both the “top posts” and the “most recent posts." The top posts will be full of larger accounts generating lots of attention. The most recent posts will have tons of smaller, potentially undervalued accounts. Focus first at the top, but don't sleep on the smaller businesses below. 

Switch up the tags that you're browsing or you'll repeatedly run into the same accounts at the top. Luckily, Instagram makes it very easy to browse related tags. Don't be afraid to venture down a #wormhole.


QUICKTIP: Find a less popular, industry-specific hashtag that people within that specific niche use. There will be significantly less posts overall, but you may find some smaller accounts in your wheelhouse.


Search by location when you want to target local businesses

If you want to sell your services to local businesses specifically, search by location rather than by hashtag. You will have to sift a bit through the nonbusiness posts, but you’ll immediately have something in common with whoever you reach out to. I've found that I generally get a higher response rate from brick and mortar business owners when I tell them that I'm from the area.

I've had luck searching for businesses located in suburbs on the outskirts of large cities. I'd be willing to bet that they've hardly ever received a direct message on Instagram and are happy to hear that someone appreciates the fact that they're promoting their business on Instagram, even if you're trying to sell them something. 

Keep switching things up. Spend time searching through a hashtag, then start working on your town and the town over from yours. 

2. Visit their profile and qualify them as a potential client.

Immediately, I know that I may be able to provide value to this business. Maybe their site is down for scheduled maintenance, or maybe they're totally fed up with their current website and have been too busy to reach out for help. Either way, sending them a quick message won't hurt.

When I see that an account has a great, mobile-friendly website, I back out and move on as quickly as possible. This might go without saying but it's important not to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary gathering information. There's no shortage of businesses on Instagram. Keep it moving.


Working with influencers in exchange for exposure

There is no hard and fast rule for who you should be reaching out to. After a few days of receiving responses and being ignored by potential clients, you’ll get a better feel for what types of businesses are responding well to you. 
In my case, I am still searching for exposure and word-of-mouth marketing. I’m doing my best to develop a steady clientele funnel. Herein lies the case for working with Instagram influencers. Think of these as businesses or people who have >10k followers and readily appear in the "Top Posts" for certain hashtags that you're searching for.

MY ADVICE: If you have a social media influencer interested in working with you: do it. In your negotiations, tell them that you would be willing to lower your price in exchange for a post (or two, or three) over the course of the next few weeks promoting your service on their platform. You'll have to determine exactly how much cash you can concede in exchange for the positive exposure. Do not, however, make any concessions in the quality of work that you do for an influencer. This is only useful if your final product goes above and beyond their expectations.

No technique or social media strategy will ever be a replacement for providing a customer with a quality product.

3. Send them a message with a value proposition. 

Best-case scenario.

I know what you’re thinking: you staged this conversation; that’s lame. And I agree, that would be really lame. But it’s not staged. This is a real-life interaction that I had with someone who ended up being a great client. 

Hardly anyone is going to respond this way. Maybe no one will respond this way. But the fact that it’s even a possibility makes this technique worthwhile.


Open with a compliment & Personalize the message

This is something Gary hits on from the jump. “Love what you do.” - “Appreciate your work.” Whatever you think is applicable to the person or business you’re reaching out to. Even if you’re just saying the business owner’s name in the first line, it’s better than a canned message. “Hey Jennifer, love what you do” is better than “Hey, love what you do”, even if the difference is slight. 

Not a great first message. Too impersonal. Too sales-y. No response. Go figure.

Not a great first message. Too impersonal. Too sales-y. No response. Go figure.

Keep it short and skip the sales-speak

Most people open up Instagram when they’re in a non-work setting: sitting on the couch, waiting for the water to boil, on the bus ride home. Ultimately, Instagram is a social media platform, people aren’t necessarily expecting to receive business inquiries. And when they do, they expect the tone to be casual and conversational. A couple of sentences is all you need. Tell them you're a fan of their work, introduce yourself, provide value, sign off. 

Hit send and move on to the next.

Provide value up front 

This is something that I touched on in my last blog post. I like to offer new potential clients a free sneak-peek at what their new website could look like. That might not be realistic for you, but you should be 100% willing to provide something up front without asking for anything more than a conversation in return. A simple suggestion can go a long way in gaining a potential client's trust. This is Gary V's patented "jab, jab, jab, right hook" method. To borrow a quote:

"There is no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup."

4. Rinse and repeat.    

What's great about this technique is that you can do it whenever you have down time. Ya know, when you're sitting on the couch, waiting for your water to boil, or on the bus ride home. Implement it into your current client acquisition process.

When you get a response, answer immediately even if they're not expressing any interest in your product. Maybe they weren't in the mood to think about it. Maybe next week their nephew will tell them that they should really look into getting a website that looks good on an iPhone and guess who will be at the top of their mind? Lay the groundwork. 

And finally,

What Gary didn't mention

Don't go too hard. Instagram will suspend your direct messaging privileges for sending too many within a short period of time. Especially if you’re not using Instagram regularly. It happened to me and I felt dumb. I got real excited and shot off 15 or so DM's in the span of 10 minutes or less. I don’t believe the acceptable number of DM's/hour is available, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Switching up your initial messages so that you're not sending the same crappy, canned intro's over and over also helps.


A year ago, Gary didn’t think that this was a good idea

In the video, Gary states that marketing via Instagram DM is a bad idea mainly due to the perception of what direct messages were used for (Instagram specifically.) I wanted to speak anecdotally about this apparent inconsistency. 

Public perception on how features within social media are used are constantly changing and evolving. In January 2016, sliding into the DM's of a plumber in order to ask him about his outdated website may have been viewed as a complete misuse of the feature. But it's not January 2016 any more. 

Clearly, Gary has done a complete 180 on this and that’s a good thing. If you get bogged down in what you thought to be true a year ago, your business model is going to get bogged down with outdated ideas. The world seems to spin a lot faster these days. It's OK to change your strategy up. You need to be able to recognize when you've grown stagnant, reassess the market, and adapt. That goes for all of us.


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