How to Make Money on Instagram in 2021

Updated on October 20, 2021
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For a certain subsection of the population, Instagram is more than a social networking platform or an easy way to kill some time—it’s a living. According to Mic, high-powered Instagram influencers can rake in as much as $50,000 for a single sponsored post. But you don’t need to be Chiara Ferragni or Kayla Itsines to know how to make money on Instagram. In fact, these methods are available to people with just a few thousand followers.

Ahead, we’ll walk you through three of the most reliable ways to make money on Instagram: working with brands on sponsored content, becoming an affiliate marketer, and selling your own products on the platform. We’ll also throw in some tips to help you maximize your new career as an Instagram influencer, whether you earn $50 or $5,000 for your work.

3 Ways to Make Money on Instagram

Ready to make money on Instagram? These three strategies can help you do it.

1. Paid Sponsorships

Probably the best-known way to make money on Instagram is through sponsored content—or, more specifically to individual influencers, paid sponsorships. In this scenario, a brand pays the influencer to post about a particular product or service, and influencers themselves are responsible for setting their rates. Of course, lots of factors go into setting your rate, including your number of followers and engagement; but as a rough guideline, influencers charge one cent per follower or $10 per 10,000 followers.

Who Can Get Paid Sponsorships?

Contrary to what you may believe (or fear), you don’t actually need thousands of followers for a brand to be willing to sponsor you. In fact, from a brand’s perspective, micro-influencers (i.e., influencers with about 1,000 to 10,000 followers) can yield even more power than people with millions of followers. That’s because, typically, influencers working on a smaller scale see more engagement than celebrities. It all comes down to niche: By narrowing in on your audience, nailing down your brand, and committing to authenticity, you’ll attract like-minded people who feel a sense of connection with you, and, ultimately, develop loyalty to you. And as you know from being a consumer yourself, you’re more inclined to buy something from a person whom you trust has your best interests at heart than some faceless corporation which, sometimes, mega influencers are at risk of resembling.

How to Find Brands

Also contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to leave it up to fate for brands to find you. You can take the reins and pitch brands directly, either via email or DM. When you’re first starting out, you’ll have the best luck aiming for smaller, indie brands, since they’ll be more inclined to work with micro (or micro-micro) influencers than, say, Adidas or Cartier. (Though if you want to shoot them an email, we won’t stop you).

But you can still work to maximize your chances of brands approaching you. When you feature brands’ products in your posts and Stories, be sure to tag them and use their hashtags. You may also want to sign up for a marketing platform like Grapevine, Fohr, or Upfluence, which helps content creators and brands connect with each other.

In all of this, the most important thing is that you’re aiming for brands whose niche aligns with your own, as you’ll need to prove to them why you, and your loyal followers, can be an asset to their sales. Importantly, too, only work with brands whose values you agree with. In other words, don’t be a sellout. Not only does it feel morally icky to compromise your integrity in pursuit of cash, but partnering with a brand that doesn’t square with yours is a shortcut to losing your followers’ trust—and losing them entirely.

Follow Posting Guidelines

Influencers are legally obligated to be transparent about posting sponsored content, per the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines, which means including the tags #sponsored or #ad “clearly and conspicuously” in paid posts. Alternatively, you can use Instagram’s handy business partnerships feature, which automatically tags sponsored posts with the label “Paid partnership with.” It’s also a good idea to read up on Instagram’s branded content guidelines to ensure you’re remaining aboveboard.

2. Affiliate Marketing

Another way to make money on Instagram is by becoming an affiliate marketer. In this scenario, influencers help brands make sales on particular products or services by providing their followers with a unique promo code or trackable link, which helps the brand track sales. Marketers can share these links in posts, Stories, or their bios—essentially, anywhere their followers can find them.

Then, the influencer only gets paid, either as a flat fee or a percent-based commission, when someone buys the product using that discount code or link. (That’s opposed to the upfront fee an influencer charges for a sponsored post.) Commission rates vary, but they typically range between 10% to 20%.

How to Find Affiliate Partners

You can reach out to brands directly and ask if they work with affiliate links. But an even easier way to do it is by signing up for an affiliate network, like Amazon Associates, Pepperjam, ShareASale, Rakuten, or Clickbank, which facilitates the process between brands and marketers. They can also provide marketers with important tools, like analytics and tracking tools.

Post Transparently

Affiliate or network marketing also falls under the FTC’s definition of sponsored content, so you’ll need to be transparent about this type of content too. Just like with sponsored posts, the FTC requires that affiliate marketers “disclose your relationship to the retailer clearly and conspicuously on your site” (or your post or Story), which enables your followers to make an informed decision about their purchase. In this case, “clearly and conspicuously” means not burying information in loads of text. As the FTC said, “they shouldn’t have to hunt for it.”

3. Sell Your Own Products

Not into the whole “working with a brand” strategy? No need to. The third and final way to make money on Instagram (for today’s purposes, at least), is to use the platform to sell your own products. Using Instagram as a sales channel gets your business in front of billions of potential customers and provides them with a seamless shopping experience. That’s a hard opportunity to pass up. If you take this route, though, we’d recommend that you set up a standalone online store through a platform like Shopify and use Instagram as an extra sales channel, rather than your primary source of revenue.

Lots of online store builders, Shopify included, are equipped with Instagram integrations that enable Instagram users to buy products directly through your Instagram posts. Otherwise, you can set up an Instagram Shop, which allows users to buy directly from your posts, Stories, the Explore tab, and a standalone Instagram store. Note that you’ll need to meet Instagram’s eligibility requirements in order to open an Instagram store. That includes having a business account, complying with their policies, and being located in a country that supports Instagram shopping, among other guidelines.

Unfortunately, Instagram Shop only supports the sale of physical items, not services. However, marketing your business through Instagram is a powerful (and, dare we say, crucial) aspect of a holistic online marketing plan. So even if you can’t utilize Instagram Shops, you can, and should, still start an Instagram business account dedicated solely to your business.

4 Tips for Selling on Instagram

Whichever method you land on, maximize your earning potential on Instagram by following these top tips.

1. Engagement Matters

As we’ve mentioned, when it comes to making money on Instagram, the number of followers you have doesn’t really matter as much as how engaged your followers are. Sharing, commenting, liking, reposting—that all counts toward your engagement rate, which is something brands consider seriously when evaluating which influencers they want to work with (and how much they’ll pay). So populating your follower count with bots is not an effective shortcut. Instead, work on getting your human followers to interact with your account. There are some excellent guides on how to improve your engagement rate out there if you need some help on that front.

2. Photography Matters Too

Instagram is an aesthetics-driven platform so, across the board, the most successful Instagram influencers (and any other Instagrammer you admire) have gallery-worthy grids. If you’re not a natural photographer, it’s worth taking some time to read up on Instagram photography guides, experimenting with editing tools and filters, and practicing, practicing, practicing. Some of your favorite influencers may even have blog posts or YouTube videos explaining how they edit their pictures.

3. Use Instagram Tools

There are lots of Instagram marketing tools out there to help you automate, streamline, and optimize your processes and content on the platform, including scheduling, editing, and analytics tools. Lots of them are free. Make liberal use of them to make your life a little easier and your content a lot better.

4. Be Authentic

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: Authenticity is crucial to your success as an influencer or marketer. With so many influencers on the platform, Instagram users can sense a poser from a mile away. As a consumer yourself, you know you’re less inclined to buy a product hawked insincerely than you are from someone you like and trust and who really, truly likes and trusts the product in question. So if you’re considering working with a brand that doesn’t quite mesh with your personal brand—or which you straight-up don’t like or believe in—don’t take the bait. Maintain your integrity and wait for a brand to come along that you feel good about supporting.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, making money on Instagram is a small business like any other: It requires equal parts dedication, consistency, resilience, and creativity. And remember that you probably won’t see returns on your investment for a while. It takes time to build up a strong base and healthy engagement rate, both of which you’ll need to leverage in order to fetch higher rates from brands or prices on your own products. But with all that said, it’s almost guaranteed to be a fun side hustle.