Pulling off a $10k Instagram Launch (Without Any Automation or Ad Spend)

content planner on shopify masters

You might think a large following is the key to success on Instagram. But amassing an audience of inactive accounts won't do much to grow your business.

small audience of qualified customers is what you're actually looking to build first, as our guest on this episode of Shopify Masters demonstrates.

Meet Katherine Gaskin, the creator of The Content Planner: the first and only physical planner for your blog and social media content.

Find out how she grew an Instagram following just large enough (3,000 followers) for a successful 5-figure launch without spending any money on ads or relying on social media automation (i.e. bots that auto-like and -follow other accounts).

On Instagram they have this new feature where you can pin stories on a highlight and my best advice is to treat each one as a webpage.

Tune in to learn

  • A "layering" approach to finding the right Instagram hashtags to use
  • A framework to manage all your social media posts.
  • How to decide what goes into your Instagram stories versus Instagram posts

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Show Notes

Kat creates hashtag groups of niche tags that focus on the specific traits of her target audience.

She treats each highlight like a webpage with a hero slide that covers a different topic (e.g. product features and planning tips).


Felix: Today, I’m joined by Katherine Gaskin from The Content Planner. The Content Planner is the first and only physical planner for your blog and social media content. It was started in 2016 and based out Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Welcome, Katherine.

Kat: Hey, Felix. Thanks so much for having me.

Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. Tell us a little more about this idea, where did the idea for a product like this come from?

Kat: I am by trade a graphic designer and that turned into a career in content creation, so working with brands and building my own Instagram through sharing content, using hashtags, collaboration with other Instagram accounts to grow my following and just create my personal brand through Instagram. I found that when it came time to actually plan my strategies … Okay, what am I going to post today? What hashtags do I want to use to attract a new following or different brands? There wasn’t anything physical that I could write down my strategy, and I think I’ve been using a daily planner let’s say for the past 17 years so since high school. I think I’m dating myself a little bit. I’ve been using a planner and I’m still used to writing things down and making lists. I’m very goal oriented. When I saw that there wasn’t any sort of physical planner on the market for your content marketing, as a graphic designer, I just decided to create my own.

Felix: Very cool. You decided to create your own. Did you have experience starting businesses before or creating your own products before?

Kat: No, absolutely not. I had zero experience. I started as a freelance graphic designer. I had worked full-time and then quit my job to live that digital nomad lifestyle, to work less and travel more. Eventually the graphic design led to creating content on Instagram and that continued to fuel my travels and then I wanted to let go of the service-based side of my business because I realized that I couldn’t scale. I was still at the mercy of my clients, and if I was in Hawaii or the Maldives, they could email me literally in the middle of the night and I would have to do work for them, and I also wanted to get into more of a product-based business and somewhat build passive income. I mean, if you’re an eCommerce business owner, I feel like you work even more hours. But I had zero training.

Yes, I know a few things about marketing and how to build your brand through design, but in terms of everything else that comes with eCommerce like using Shopify and finding your product and sourcing the manufacturer and all of that stuff, that was completely new to me, and I’m still learning new things today.

Felix: This transition from service to product, that makes a lot of sense. You’re saying that a lot of entrepreneurs, they go into starting a business with the mindset of, “Oh, I’m going to set my own hours and do all these things for myself.” But a lot of times, especially again if you’re in a service-based industry where you are a freelancer and just creating a job for yourself where you have to be on the hook a lot more than just a regular kind of corporate 9-to–5 job. You recognized this, that the key to having more time, having more freedom is to move away from selling essentially your time for dollars and move towards creating something scalable like a product. During this transition, I think this is a place where a lot of people want to be transitioning from service to product, what surprised you during this transition that maybe was easier than you had expected?

Kat: Yeah, I think one of the easiest transitions was how much money can be made online. I mean, with a project depending on if it was shooting content and creating lifestyle content or writing a blog or managing someone’s social media or designing something for them, the more time you put into it, essentially the more money you’re going to make. But with eCommerce, you can put in an hour and make the same amount of money you would have with 10 hours of graphic design work. It was so cool to see that my work in just a small amount of time yielded such great results financially. I had never made that much money before doing freelance graphic design and being in that service-based industry, so that was a huge eyeopener for me and then to also see how powerful social media can be in driving the traffic and actually converting your followers into sales.

Felix: Was there a particular moment where you remember recognizing this where you’re like, “Wow, this is way better than what I was doing before where I was more in the service side?”

Kat: Absolutely. I think that moment for me was when I launched the official version of The Content Planner. When I first started The Content Planner, I launched a very small quantity in late 2016 and that was the very first edition and I wanted to put it out there to see if people would actually buy it if it was actually a viable product and if there was a market for this sort of thing and it did sell out. But there were definitely things I wanted to change and update. I would say at that time the product was maybe 70% where I knew it could be and I rejigged it and I updated it and I listened to my community.

Then I launched the official version in November 2017 so the November that just passed. Right when 5:00 p.m. hit on launch day, which was when it was set to go on sale, right at 5:00 p.m., my phone just lit up like it almost froze because I was getting so many sales all at once and it becomes addictive because you hear that Shopify "ching" which I love. You keep on hitting refresh and all the emails are coming in saying, “You have a new order. You have a new order.” The people are posting on social media. It takes a snowball effect. Just seeing that happen at 5:00 p.m. seeing all those sales come in from all your hard work, I was like, “Wow. This is the most money I’ve ever made in two hours.”

Felix: I don’t want to discount the amount of, I think, effort that you’ve put in ahead of time, right?

Kat: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Felix: Because you were saying that there is … You’re making money essentially in your sleep. But to get to the point, you have to build this kind of momentum and inertia behind the business first. I want to take a step back to get a better idea of what led to this point. It sounded like you’re saying that you are already building a following before you had a product to sell. Is that right?

Kat: I have a personal account which is Kat Gaskin and that is Salty Pineapple which is my personal brand and that’s where I got a lot of my content creation clients and a lot of my graphic design clients. Then I started The Content Planner’s Instagram a few months before launching the soft launch in 2016. Honestly, I didn’t really have a strategy because there are so many roadblocks that happen when you first launch a product. I mean, I’m sure people listening right now, if they’ve launched a product, that’s always the hardest part. I mean, for me, that’s been the hardest part is going from completely nothing to having a product that sells and having it run on its own.

Getting that started up was my biggest challenge and I would say from late 2016 up until selling out in the soft launch and then updating the planner and listening to my community, reading all the reviews and adding in all the features that they needed, that took about six months of work. Redesigning, working with my printer and then also figuring out what my fulfillment process looked like, how would I be able to ship from Canada and the US and just figuring out all those smaller details. That was at least six months of work. Then posting on Instagram, having a strategy for The Content Planner, writing down all my hashtag groups and how I would target different communities where my ideal target customer would be hanging out.

My strength is in Instagram and social media marketing because that’s what I had been doing for brands for the past two years. When it came to doing that for my own brand and designing the brand and then building it through social media, that just came second nature to me.

It was funny because I actually used The Content Planner to plan out the launch for The Content Planner. I was like, “Okay. This does actually work.” It’s a product that provides a system for business owners to write down all of their email marketing, all of their … Maybe they’re running Facebook ad campaigns or at minimum at least they’re posting to social media everyday and that’s where I planned all of my strategy.

Learn more: How to do an Instagram hashtag search for your brand

Felix: I guess that’s what they call eating your own dog food where you use your product to actually run your business. That’s cool that you’re able to demonstrate that. Just so I can fully understand, you were building this initial version of your content planner, the version that you said that wasn’t … It was good enough to get out there but not where you want it to be. You had that created. You had a production run of that first and then you started to try to sell it, so you actually build the brand after you had the product?

Kat: Yes, the soft launch was in November 2016 and I launched with a few hundred planners and I just launched on Instagram just hoping, crossing my fingers that one of my followers would buy it. I think at the time I had started with 200 to 400 followers. But because my content was so targeted to my niche, I knew exactly who my customer is because she’s like me. She runs her own business. I know the age bracket she’s in, her location, what kind of hobby she’s into and the overall aesthetic. I knew exactly how to target my customers so you don’t necessarily need 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 Instagram followers to prove that your product can sell. I think I had, yeah, like I said, a few hundred at the time and then I got my first sale and the rest is history.

Felix: These 200 or 400 followers, these were part of the business brand or was it part of your personal brand that you are targeting?

Kat: This was part of the business brand so The Content Planner Instagram, and to get those first hundred followers, I posted on my account, but it wasn’t like a one-to-one because now I have about 60,000 Instagram followers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that when I post about The Content Planner all 60,000 of those people will funnel to The Content Planner. I posted as much as I could on my own personal account with content that included The Content Planner but was still on brand in terms of Salty Pineapple.

Then because of all the connections I had made within the Instagram industry with brands and other influencers, I asked them if they could post a photo of The Content Planner so I would shoot a photo with my product and their product together. Let’s say I reached out to a watch company. I would make sure that I was wearing their watch but then also using the planner. I leveraged a few of those relationships. It wasn’t by any means huge accounts of millions of followers. It was just anyone and everyone who I knew. I asked them if they would be able to post about it.

Felix: I like that. Lots of cross promotion. For anyone out there that might think, “Oh, no. She had 60,000 followers. That’s why she’s able to launch successfully.” I think you could do the same thing by doing this influencer outreach that you’re talking about. You may have to do a little more because these are probably going to be more business relations rather than more of these personal connections that you had. You might have to pay a little more to get this to happen, but there’s still ways to leverage other people’s audiences and their followings to drive traffic to your page, especially if there is some kind of overlap between the audience and your example I think that’s great where you’re able to find ways to … In that picture of that post itself, you’re able to incorporate things to help both brands with that watch and then your Content Planner.

I want to take a second to let listeners know that eligible Shopify store owners can now tag their products on their Instagram post with the Instagram sales channel. Now, with these Instagram product tags, you can drive the engagement that you’re getting on Instagram over to your Shopify store which makes it even easier to get the traffic and sales funnel link from Instagram over to Shopify. You can go to shopify.com/instagram to learn more.

Now, when you’re driving traffic or followers to The Content Planner Instagram profile where you didn’t have a product yet, what kind of content do you post in that situation that’s led up to launch where there is no product just yet?

Kat: Within the time period of production and launch … I’ll use the 2017 launch which just happened because that for me is the official launch where I actually had eyes watching to see when it was going to launch. I posted content that was serving my community and that was giving them content planning tips so that when my actual product launched, they were so ready and they are confident in exactly how they would use the planner because it’s not just a daily planner, it’s a business tool to make money online and to get organized and to create more time to do the things you love because we’re on social media all the time. But if we don’t have any sort of purpose, we’re just doing nothing. We’re just scrolling aimlessly and consuming. But as a business owner, you can’t afford to not have a strategy and to not have an intention behind what you put out on social media because there are people out there scrolling who are literally waiting for you to give them their money. They just need you to tell them why they should buy your product.

Leading up to the launch in November, I would post between one to two times everyday because I wanted to make sure I was hitting all of the timezones. I have the majority of my customers come from the US. But because I’m in Toronto, I do have a very good Toronto customer base and then I can’t leave out international customers. I wanted to make sure I was hitting both timezones. Then I also made sure that my hashtag groups were very targeted. I think that’s something that people fail to do when they’re first starting out their Instagram because hashtags are very powerful.

I’ll give you an example. If you’re in the fitness industry and you just hashtagged fitness, #fitgirl, those are huge hashtags. They’re very popular. They have between, I don’t know, 10 to 20 million posts attached to it. But if you really whittle down your niche and be like, "Okay. I want to be someone in fitness who is vegan, who lives in Texas and who only wears Lululemon, then there is definitely a niche for you and you can leverage hashtags based around that instead of just hashtagging fitness. Does that make sense?

Felix: That makes sense. These three layers essentially of a potential target audience that you’re going after. Now, how do you actually set that up when you create a post and you say you want someone that is in fitness, that lives in certain part of the world and that’s also a vegan? Knowing that, how do you actually find the hashtag that makes sense to go after the audience?

Kat: I like to do all of my research right on Instagram. What I’ll do is I’ll find my favorite influencers who align with my brand. If I find an influencer or a content creator who I know her followers will like my product, I’ll actually go to her post and look at the hashtags that she’s using so that’s one. That’s the base layer. Then to validate a hashtag, I’ll click on it and see what the number of post that have been shared to that hashtag because I don’t really want the five millions, even the one millions. If I can get between 10,000 to 200,000 posts, that’s like the happy medium because you know there are people posting to the hashtags, but it’s not so popular that if you were to post your Instagram, it wouldn’t get pushed down by after five seconds or even three seconds. Do you know what I mean?

Felix: Right. That makes a lot of sense.

Kat: That’s the second layer. Then the final thing that I always look for is how often people are posting to the hashtag and if the overall content aligns with the vibe of my brand and resonates with my target audience.

Felix: Can you say a little more about that? You’re seeing how frequently a particular profile that you might want to mimic or you might want to have their audience how often they’re posting?

Kat: No, how often is the hashtag being posted to.

Felix: I see.

Kat: If you look up like #womenwithaplan which is like The Content Planner hashtag, I just like to see how often people are posting to it. Then one that’s related to that is Create Cultivate which is a women’s conference for creative business women, so that aligns really well with my brand. If people are posting to it 24 hours ago, two hours ago, 30 minutes ago, it shows that it is relevant.

Felix: I see. I see what you’re saying. Now, when you identify these hashtags, you’re not talking about creating a post and then having three hashtags, one that says fitness and one that says Houston and one that says vegan. You’re looking for one hashtag that incorporates the three potential I guess layers of that audience.

Kat: Yeah. I mean, you’re allowed to fit 30 hashtags in each post, so I actually once a month, and this is why I included a hashtag section in The Content Planner, each month I create hashtag groups based on different themes. For my customer, either she could be a travel blogger. She runs a social media marketing company. She’s an eCommerce business owner. She’s a fashion blogger. For each one of those customer profiles, I have a hashtag group that is related to her interest, her hobbies, what kind of hashtags she’s also posting and the communities that she likes to hang out in.

Felix: Got it. Now, one thing that you’re mentioning that I think is really is about how you have to be deliberate with the kind of content that you’re putting out on your Instagram, deliberate with the caption and the hashtags you use. When you sit down and say, “It’s time for me to come up with the two posts,” or however many posts you’re posting in a day, what kind of questions do you like to ask yourself to make sure that you are deliberate with the content you’re putting out there?

Kat: I think that’s a huge struggle with a lot of people with social media. The number one question is probably, “Okay. What do I post today?” I found for me when it come … With my personal account, it’s really easy because it speaks more to my creative side and I have more fun with it so I just post whatever I’m feeling or I’ll post about my travels. But with The Content Planner, it’s completely different intention. I want to sell products. I want to make sales and I want to convert my followers into customers. Without getting too salesy with every single post, because that’s a huge no-no, you don’t want to be selling every single post, I like to create almost a cycle of captions that I can go through.

I have five to six different types of captions and then everyday I’ll just cycle through each one. For example, you can have a giveaway. You can have a simple question that you ask your community. You can have one where you actually do sell your product. You can have a quote from someone that relates to your business. I always love quotes about planning and organization. The next one can be a community feature so you repost a photo from someone in your community and then maybe the next one is another business related one where you showcase your product and explain to your customers how it’s going to benefit them. I like to cycle through those different types of captions just so I’m not constantly selling and beating my customers over the head with it.

Felix: I like this approach of having this framework that you’re working within because it does something for me which is that it reduces this potential decision fatigue where everyday you have to make a decision on what you’re posting. You just duplicate … This is what’s up for today so let’s work with that. My concern whenever I create something like that, and I would love to get your opinion on this, is do people think, “Oh, this is becoming formulaic,” where they know that a certain type of post come up every single day and they pick up on that? Is that a real concern or is this just something that maybe because I am so exposed to it and I’m the one that’s running this account or using this framework that I am more susceptible to seeing that?

Kat: Yeah. I totally understand that. Maybe as a business owner you’ll get tired of going through that same cycle. It’s really up to you how flexible or how much you want to stick to that plan. I know for me it’s like, yeah, I do have it written down and I do have a plan. But I like to leave room for freedom and for just different opportunities because you never know what’s going to happen on Instagram. You don’t know what new features are going to pop up or maybe a brand is going to DM you and they want you to post and collaborate with them. I think it’s good to have a loose guide but to also leave room for those kinds of opportunities.

Honestly, with the algorithm and the feed not being chronological anymore … If you don’t know what that means, it basically means the Instagram feed is no longer like someone posted 10 minutes ago and then 20 minutes ago and then an hour. It’s now organized based on what Instagram things you would like. Even if you were posting the same thing, let’s say you had one for each day of the week and Sundays were always your giveaway days and Mondays were always your product focused days, I feel like people would really like that because they know what to expect and you can create fun hashtags around that and people will know that you are going to post everyday and they like to know what’s coming.

Felix: This whole change in the Instagram feed where it moves away from the chronological to more of, like you’re saying, a personal … I guess the way that Instagram is setting it up now it’s a much more personalized feed. That’s a feature that some people will like, some people don’t like. What features about Instagram that you have seen recently do you think that is maybe underutilized from entrepreneurs, fewer brands in general?

Kat: A huge feature that Instagram just added that I think a lot of brands do completely wrong is the highlights feature. On Instagram, they have this new feature where you can pin Stories on Highlight and my best advice is treat each one as a webpage. You can now categorize them into different Highlights and you can them something specific and you can add a cover so they can look very on brand. You can design them however you want. You can use icons.

I see a lot of brands and they post Instagram Highlights and all they do is just post the highlight and each cover is called highlight. I was like, “No. This isn’t how you use this.” It’s made so that you can categorize your Stories so that your followers spend more time on your account.

For example, with The Content Planner, I have a highlight that just features posts from my community and then I have a highlight about messages from me, the business owner Kat, and then I have a highlight for planning tips. I have a highlight for features so that when people come to my Instagram account, they can look at my posts. But if they’re looking for something specific, they can click on one of the highlights.

Felix: It’s almost like a navigation bar when you go to a website, you have those top level menu items. You got any website, any eCommerce website, you’ll see that. I think it’s a very similar user experience that you should certainly adopt. Could you imagine going to a website and everything is the same name at the top level?

Kat: It’s just called page, page, page.

Felix: Exactly. I personally wouldn’t bother going inside to learn about what is page one versus page two. I would just move on because it’s too much effort to do that. I think it’s very important that you are talking about being more methodical about how you categorize it and then also be descriptive with how you categorize it. Now, how do you decide what goes into an Instagram Story versus what you would put into an Instagram post?

Kat: That’s a great question. For me, how I decide what goes into a post versus a Story is completely different. A post has my hashtags and the caption and the photo, which I treat as the starting line, and then the Stories is the entire race. The post is supposed to pique someone’s interest, so to really introduce them to your product and you have to act like people are seeing this who have no idea who you are, what your product is, what your brand is, what your business is and you somehow have to tell your story in just a picture or just a few words in a caption so that’s how I treat the post. I’m thinking that people who are looking at this whether they follow me or not, maybe they don’t know what The Content Planner is, but they definitely need it in their lives.

Then with the Stories, because the only way you can really see the story is if they come to your account with the post. People can stumble on it from anywhere. They can see it if someone they follow liked your post or if someone followed your account, they can come to your account and look at the post. But with the Stories, I find people who watch it had to cross a few more barriers so they are somewhat familiar with your brand and with your business. If they’ve decided to click on the Stories, then that means there is some sort of interest in your business. I think Stories are great. If you’re not using them as a business owner, you’re missing out because it gives your customers and your audience a much more personal perspective of who you are and why you created your products and the person behind the brand.

I think with The Content Planner, yes, it is a product-based business and it’s a tool for your business to plan your marketing strategy. But a lot of the people come to The Content Planner to listen to me tell them about how to use it and they really like seeing how I use it in my day-to-day business.

Felix: I like that approach much more than what I think I typically see which is that Stories are for content that is disposable, that’s not good enough to be permanent on a page to the post and then a post, of course, ones that you want to keep permanent. But I think it’s important that the way that people discover the two types of content whether it be the Story versus a post is different. Like you’re saying, they’re actually a little more familiar with your brand, with the product, with the problem that you are trying to solve when they are coming to a Story because they probably browsed your profile a bit first before they commit to going to your Stories. Then with that knowledge, you should produce content differently.

Kat: Just to add one more thing, I think that where a lot of people fail in Stories is that they don’t actually tell a story, they just think that they can recycle the content that they’ve posted and just simply post the photo to the Story and that’s it. But whenever I post a photo to Instagram, I always [inaudible 00:30:04] after I post, I’ll do between four to six Stories of me talking to my audience and I do a mix of photos, Boomerangs, selfie videos. People want to engage with you on such a deeper level than just seeing a static picture.

Felix: I really like that, too, because you’re saying that you want to capture them first with that post and they’ll probably click on it and they notice, “Oh, you have Stories lined up. Let me click on that.” Then you’ll go into a little bit deeper. It’s almost like the post itself is the headline. Then the Story is the rest of the content.

Kat: Yeah, exactly.

Felix: Very cool. I think you mentioned already that you have this personal brand that you have which sounds like it has a larger following than the business brand that you’re building which is obviously newer. How do you balance the both of them where you are … You’re saying it’s different but it’s also I think very similar where they are … People that are working online at least. How do you decide how much attention or how much effort you should you put into one brand, your personal brand versus your business brand?

Kat: For the record, Felix, I have to be honest, I’m still working on finding that balance because both businesses are so new. I launched another eCommerce business called The Salty Pineapple Shop which is a print on demand model. Balancing that with The Content Planner which is a product-based, I only one sell one product that I design personally, I’m still working on finding a balance between that. I think what guides me is what is honestly going to make more money right now. For that reason and that reason alone, The Content Planner is what’s deserving more of my attention and I also learned that for me personally I can’t juggle businesses. I can’t do let’s say six hours in the morning for Content Planner and then six hours at night for Salty Pineapple Shop.

Maybe people listening to that now maybe they can do that and that’s great but I think even just being self-aware and figuring out what works for you and how you can balance things, that would be my greatest advice for anyone who does run multiple businesses is to actually realize what you can and cannot do and I am working on outsourcing more from The Salty Pineapple Shop because I love The Content Planner so much. Outsourcing and trying to really systemize the business so it will free up more time.

Felix: I think that’s important where we have to recognize that this contact switching from business to business or even from task to task, it’s not free. It is expensive and it will burn some cycles. It will require some brain energy essentially to switch from, in your case, business to business, which is why I think I see a lot of times entrepreneurs batching tasks or batching work on a specific business. Maybe they would spend one day working one business and only that business. Then the next day when they have that kind of reset to work on another type of business. It certainly isn’t free where you can just switch back and forth. You will tire yourself out by doing that.

Now, when you do sit down and decide to focus on creating content for a particular topic, a particular group of hashtags on your page, what’s your process? Are all the content that we see on The Content Planner is that photos taken by yourself? How do you curate all of this?

Kat: Yeah, I shoot all of my content because that’s my background and I love shooting and creating concepts. It is really fun to go from creating branded lifestyle content for other brands and then to finally be able to do it for my own brand because at least I won’t tell myself no or that I have to re-shoot or that it doesn’t align. I create all of the imagery for The Content Planner Instagram. Even if you’re not a content creator like me or you don’t have a camera, you can absolutely outsource this and there are so many great stock photographers out there now or content creators like me who you can hire to shoot content for you.

What my planning process looks like, it’s an everyday thing. It’s just like going to the gym or eating healthy. You have to be consistent with it or else you will fall off the map. I have my Content Planner on my desk everyday. I have it open. Whenever an idea pops up into my head, I’ll make sure that I write it down or that I have it recorded somewhere so that it doesn’t leave my head because, as an entrepreneur, you have tons of ideas flowing through your mind and I have The Content Planner open. I write down my ideas.

When it comes time to shooting, I don’t shoot content everyday. The most efficient way for me to create content is to just schedule in shoots either once a week or once every two weeks. Then when I set up the shoot, I’ll shoot between, I don’t know, a hundred to 250 photos just with different flat lays and different props and setups and different intentions with the planner to showcase different features and that allows me time to edit all at once. I’ll shoot in one day, edit in one day and then just fill up my Dropbox folder. I call it “to post” so these are all photos that I need to post. Then when it comes time to posting, I’ll download all those photos and then transfer them onto my phone into a folder called “to post” and that way I know … Okay. Now I have 50 photos that I just shot ready to go. They’re all edited. Then once I post them, I delete them out from that folder and then once that folder gets down to let’s say like 10 to 15, I’ll schedule in another shoot time.

Felix: I think an approach that I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs do and I would love to hear your take on this is when they hear you talking about this, they might say, “Oh, why don’t you automate all of this? Why don’t you just use some kind of tool that post everything, schedule it all out?” What are your thoughts on that?

Kat: I personally don’t believe in scheduling your Instagram post because as much as I would like to automate Instagram, I really like posting and being there for my customers so that if they do leave a comment right within the time that I post, I make sure that I automatically respond back for two reasons. One, because that’s really good for the algorithm and responding back to comments also shows that you’re there for your business and that you show up everyday for your business.

What a lot of brands do wrong is they post and they just leave their community hanging. They don’t interact back with them and they don’t respond back to their comments. I don’t spend hours and hours waiting for people to comment, but I like to post. Within the first 10 to 15 minutes, I’ll hang around and hit refresh to analyze the statistics, also to see how many likes I’m getting, if it’s generating followers and also who’s commenting because you know the people who comment really quickly are going to be your most popular fans, your most engaged fans. I personally would never schedule my posts and I think that comes off in your feed that it is scheduled. But, hey, if your content plan is really great and you’re able to plan all those out in advance, then I would do it.

Felix: I think what it also does when you are constantly everyday, every couple times a day posting it yourself is that you don’t lose touch with your community. I think when you are sitting down once a week or sometimes I see people doing once a month, they sit down and plan out the entire month and just schedule everything at once, they don’t see until the next month. You lose this feedback cycle of was that a good post or not? Because by planning everything ahead of time, by automating it, you almost … Because you’re saying entrepreneurs, we have so many things to do, so many things to think about that we have to think about it, we just stop thinking about it. If you plan everything ahead where you’re automating everything, you stop thinking about checking in to see if there’s good engagement or people are commenting or not. I think it’s important that you’re saying that.

Then the second piece which is that you are showing, and to some degree, almost training your audience to say, “Hey, if you comment on this as soon as it goes live, I will reply and I will engage with you.” I think that’s very motivating for the community, too, to respond. I’m starting to see this in other mediums. I think YouTube is another popular one where the algorithm really depends on people not only subscribing, but then you also would have to have notifications on. I’m starting to see a lot of YouTubers, what they’re saying is that if you comment within the first 30 minutes, I’ll come in, also respond to it just to train people and to say, “Hey, engage because I will also engage, not only engagement, engage timely like get into this conversation today right now so that I can participate with you.” I think that’s an important technique that you’re talking about why it’s important maybe not to automate because you can stay more within your community by manually doing it yourself. I think there’s a lot of value there.

Kat: You miss that opportunity to connect with your most dedicated customers and even the ones who have purchased The Content Planner, they are still very active on my Instagram account both on the business one and then on my personal one because we become friends and we’ve made a connection and that’s what people want to buy. They want to buy into that connection with you because they see that you’re so successful. They see that you live this sort of lifestyle and now with Instagram, they’re able to see everything that you do in a day or [inaudible 00:40:08] even for you to comment back and to show that there is a real person behind the product and behind that business. It takes five seconds to comment back a few words. But you don’t realize that that person will not remember you forever.

Felix: Yeah, definitely. When you are creating the post itself, what’s your thought process when it comes to the caption? How important is that compared to the photo itself?

Kat: This is also something that people take for granted is the caption. They think that, okay, I have a great photo, but I’m just going to put emojis as the caption and call it a day. But I would say that the caption is equally as important as the photo and they have to complement each other, work together to promote your brand and sell your product.

My biggest advice for people who write captions is to be honest and to be authentic, but most importantly, even with the way that Instagram is structured, you can’t just type five paragraphs and expect people to read the entire thing. People on Instagram literally have the attention span of a goldfish. They just want to scroll and scroll and scroll. Instagram is not a reading word type medium. It’s just for pictures. If you can craft a really engaging caption, then you have your followers for a few minutes and you can sell to them. You can make them follow you. You can make them like the photo. You can essentially control what they do.

How I like to execute this is I caption in a Google Doc. I always have that open in my computer and whenever I come up with an idea, I’ll just jot it down in my Google Doc. Then I’ll go back and edit it so that the juiciest line or the most captivating detail, I put that at the beginning and that way I treat it almost as a newspaper headline. You always want to put the most interesting thing at the beginning, especially now that Instagram has the dot dot dot and it cuts off your caption. You want to draw in your followers and draw in people to actually read the caption because you do have important things to say and you don’t just want to post emojis or post basic quotes all the time. You actually want to create meaningful connections with people and speak to them on an emotional level.

What I like to do is put the juiciest detail at the beginning and write my captions backwards. Instead of telling a story and then have the climax be right at the end, I put that right at the beginning and then I expand on that.

Felix: Right. The idea of not burying the lead where you … People aren’t forced to read your content so you have to hook them in and it’s important that you aren’t building up to something. In your post, you want to hit them from the beginning so they actually captures their attention because again people are scrolling like you’re saying. If your content is not … The point that you want to get across is not within that first paragraph before Instagram cuts you off. People aren’t going to read more from there. That’s important.

You mentioned that if there are entrepreneurs out there that are not creative or don’t have photography skills that they can outsource in. Because you’ve been on that side of the table, what recommendations do you have for entrepreneurs in terms of how they can work better with a freelancer when they want to create a more aesthetically pleasing Instagram profile?

Kat: I think when it comes to working with creatives whether it’s a graphic designer, web designer, content creator, someone who is creating visual assets for your brand, it’s important to speak the same language. For me, I’m a completely visual person. I would rather you show me photos or create a Pinterest board with images that communicate the vibe of your brand as opposed to just telling me what you want and that’s always more effective to me than getting a list of words or feelings from a client saying, “Yeah, we want our photos to be happy and bright and clean.” That’s totally different than if they showed me a Pinterest board of what that actually looks like.

I think being clear and using photos to communicate how you want to look is really important and knowing who your target audience is so knowing exactly who your customer is and letting the creative person who you’re working with, let them figure out how to communicate the best to your audience because that’s what we’re here for. We’re professionals and we know how to design and create to really speak to a specific audience. Trust your designer. Trust your content creator. But, first, you have to know exactly who your target audience is and be able to visually communicate that. I like to use Pinterest or I’ll just … I can screenshot from Instagram or go in Google Image and I’ll put together a little package. Brand have done that with me, too. They put together a style guide which gives me a much better idea of the kind of content that they want to see.

Felix: One thing I’ve heard, too, is that not only do you want to put together what you want your assets to look like, but then also put together what you don’t want your assets to look like to give that contrast.

Now, I want to talk a little bit about the product itself as well. You sell a complete planner which I believe is currently sold out for 2018 and you are taking presale essentially or emails at least for the 2019 version. But what you’re also doing which I thought was very interesting that you are also selling basically per month printable planners. Is that how it’s set up?

Kat: Yeah. Initially, I just had the physical planner and I realized that because this planner is not available in store, it’s a completely new concept, there’s nothing like it on the market, there is going to be people out there who are hesitant to commit to a $60 planner. Is it going to be right for my business? Am I really going to use it everyday? Can I plan for 15 months even? People have a lot of questions and a lot of doubt when it comes to buying a product they’re not familiar with.

I found that offering a two month printable so it’s a dated two month printable that is digital download, offering that for a fraction of the price was not only appealing because of the savings, they didn’t have to commit to paying $60 right now. The two month dated printable I sell it for 9.99 and that also includes some extra worksheets that it’s essentially an upsell so people will buy the dated planner and then they’ll fall in love with having to have somewhere to write things down. Then they’ll essentially end up buying the actual physical planner at the end of the day, so I’m making more money per customer.

Felix: Yeah, I love that that you are finding ways to build that early trust with the customer that doesn’t know who you are yet by giving them a much more entry level purchase into your brand. I’m not sure if it can be applied to all the industries but certainly makes a lot of sense for the product that you’re selling.

When you were launching … I want to talk about the launch day. When you were launching the more completed version, I think you said 2017, of this planner, what led up to it? What was the lead up like to the launch day? What were you doing? What kind of preparation did you have to do to make sure that will be a successful launch day?

Kat: I was posting bare minimum. I was always posting to Instagram because I knew that was my highest converter of sales and I knew that’s where my target audience hung out. That was my strength. I know it like the back of my hand. Everyday for five to six months I was posting strategically, methodologically every single day one to two posts so that was fine. Then I was constantly reminding people from Instagram to sign up for the presale and that’s pretty much how I prepared for the launch. I actually didn’t spend any money on advertising or Facebook ads or lead generation. It was all through Instagram that I built my email list. That’s what led me to have such a successful launch because the people already knew my company. They knew who I was and I was able to even just have a small email list. It was I think at that time about 3,000 subscribers and I ended up having a five figure launch in one week with one product.

The way that I launched The Content Planner, I did it in phases. On November 2nd at 5:00 p.m., the people who had previously purchased The Content Planner, the ones who had bought the 2016 trial version, they received the best deal. They got a free pen, a discount, and some free printouts. Then the people who had never bought The Content Planner, they were able to buy it once that presale had ended and their package was a little bit less. They didn’t receive the discount but they still received a free pen. Then I did a public presale so I launched The Content Planner in phases depending on how dedicated my customers were, and I found that was really successful.

Felix: Very cool. 2019 planner is available for presale today or at least you can sign up to be notified about it. What else are you doing in preparation for I guess lead up to this? Where do you want to see your business go as you get closer towards the next launch?

Kat: I’m still in the very early stages of building The Content Planner. I’m not at the stage yet where I can completely outsource everything. I mean, 2017, I was shipping out planners from my house here in Toronto and I had someone in the States shipping out my planners. For this round, I definitely want to work on finding better fulfillment and being able to serve my international customers better, finding better shipping rates and each planner is launched in a new color. Right now, my community can vote on what color combination they want to see for 2019 and then I’m also again reading reviews, listening to my community and I want to update and redesign the planner so that it has everything that my customer needs and I want it to be the perfect planner for them and I’m always trying to work out how can I be better and how can I save more money? How can I streamline? But the main focus right now is just tweaking it so that it’s finally at that 100% potential.

Felix: Very cool. Thank you so much for your time, Kat. @thecontentplanner is the Instagram. thecontentplanner.com is the website. I think I also found @katgaskin, K-A-T-G-A-S-K-I-N, is your personal brand and then also The Salty Pineapple Shop is the other Instagram. Lots of Instagram,

Kat: I have a lot.

Felix: … Profiles obviously. Thank you so much for your time.

Kat: Yeah, thank you so much, Felix. If anyone has any questions, feel free to DM me. I’m always available by Instagram.

Felix: Awesome. Thank you.

Kat: Thanks.

Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.

Speaker 3: It is absolutely fine if you look at my keyboard, you go to the website, you look at this thing and you say, “What is this? I don’t like it. I’m never going to buy this thing.”

Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial. Also for this episode’s show notes, head over to shopify.com/blog.