Starting an Instagram business?
We asked powerhouse Lizzie Darden how it’s done!
HOW LIZZIE DARDEN CREATED AN INSTAGRAM BUSINESS FROM CANDY!
YOUR CHILDHOOD DREAM REALISED.
Our friend Lizzie Darden has built a sugary empire using the world’s most colourful photo props, CANDY!
Lizzie is one of those people you wish you could be friends with just by looking at her photos, she’s one of those cool trendsetters without even trying. She’s got an Instagrammable wardrobe and we’re still not sure how much of the pizza she actually eats but hopefully this post puts us in the good books for the next movie and pizza night.
Her job is one that we dream of (and some days I wonder how she still has teeth). Lizzie is an actual, real life, lolly stylist and pin designer. Her days are spent arranging lollies in delightful ways to visually tantalise consumers, which matches her brand creating amazing wearable pins.
We caught up with Lizzie, (ok so we kinda stalked her when she thanked us for making Plann), to share how she manages to make money on Instagram from candy and pins in order to help you with your dreams.
Ok Lizzie, we’re totally jealous of your Instagram Business and full set of teeth.
Can you talk us through HOW you went from Graphic Design grad to lolly stylist extraordinaire to now selling your beautiful pins, clothing range, and explain how you created a look that had your business thriving within 12 months?
I graduated in the fall of 2015 and had kind of a “what now?” moment that a lot of recent grads probably get. I took a bit of a break, worked on my creative pursuits and eventually I took a part time freelance design gig at a local agency. It was nice as I still had time to myself to work on art, and that led to playing around more with food photography. I had no idea that was even a career path but it seemed a lot more creatively fulfilling than my desk job.
As the orders started to pick up, I left my agency job to focus on Instagram and content creation full time.
The whole pin thing came about sort of at random, actually! A super nice pin designer reached out to me one day through Instagram and told me how cool my food puns could look in pin-form, and VERY kindly gave me their contact to the manufacturer they used to make their pins. I instantly loved the idea and that same day I turned a few of my favorite food puns into illustrations to send off to be made into pins! It’s been so fun to see my art come to life in that way, and to see people all over the world actually wearing them out and about! About a month ago I started designing tees as well, and eventually I plan on venturing into more product design. It’s addictive!
How long have you been on Instagram now?
Well my very first post was in late 2013 (had to fact-check that!) but that’s back when I was using Instagram solely as a photo album of my cats haha. I started using Instagram more artistically in the spring of 2015. I then started taking it more “seriously” (if you can call photos of pizza and sprinkles serious!) in early 2016, so about a year ago now.
What was the a-ha moment when you realised that using candy as styling tools was the perfect branding match for your pin business?
When I first got into pin-designing it was still a blossoming trend — definitely a decently established market but nowhere near as huge of a phenomenon as the pin game is now! A lot of people were out there sharing photos of pins on denim jackets, pins on sweatshirts, that sort of thing. And they were awesome photos, I just wanted to try something different! So I started shooting my pin collection (and soon after, my own original pins) on donuts, pizza, ice cream, anything fun and delicious. It seemed like a natural way to fit my love of pins into my own feed, and I think that really helped to brand my pins as my own.
At the beginning, were you nervous to ask people to buy your product? How has your strategy to get people to purchase changed over the last 12 months?
Absolutely! It was kind of like I was putting something out into the world that nobody had really asked for, ha, so it felt pretty risky. It’s a very vulnerable feeling, especially when it’s something you designed. It felt way different actively asking people to buy my own product versus advertising someone else’s product on a sponsored campaign, like I usually do.
In the very beginning I felt pressured to push, push, push, and talk about my product all the time since it was so new. But over time I’ve kind of eased up on that. The rollout of Instagram stories has been super helpful with that, since I can use that tool to more casually talk about my product whenever I have a sale or something new going on, instead of creating an entire post about it.
What would you say are your go-to business tools to be able to run a successful business on your own?
I’ve kind of been learning as I go along, because I have NO business background whatsoever (which at times is a bit overwhelming and shows that anyone can do it!) First and foremost I couldn’t survive without my accountant! Filing taxes as a small business is way more intense than I ever expected! I also use Google Drive and Google Sheets ALL the time, and a ton of organizational apps. (Oh and my planner and I are totally inseparable!)
Did you keep an eye out on which posts drove the most sales? Could you share any insight with the Plann family what these were?
Discount announcements are always a biggie! (Ha, of course!) But I realized the standard “X% off everything” sales weren’t really doing much for me. My customers respond more to the special kind of promotions, like “10% off when you buy 1, 20% off when you buy 2” or a mystery freebie with every order. Those have been much more successful. As for photography, posts that show the actual product being worn on somebody, versus just a flatlay, usually drive more sales for me.
Did you notice a difference in sales when you really nailed your branding?
Definitely! I think it really helps to create photos of your product that people are inclined to share and repost, something that’s more artistic and “grammable”. One thing that’s really helped me is when my photos of my pins on food get reposted, by fellow pin-makers or maybe just someone who enjoyed the photo, and it ends up bringing in a fresh set of eyes and new potential customers.
Your account has really blown up in 12 months! We know you’ve worked your sugary buns off but is there anything (like collaborating?) or anyone that you’d mention as attributing to your wild success?
Collaboration is a big one! At least every other month or so I like to team up with other creatives, whether it’s a joint giveaway with another maker or a collaborative photo series (like two people taking the same prompt and interpreting it in their own way, for instance!), it always helps widen my audience and consequently my customer base. Plus you get to build friendships with other like-minded creatives, which is always fun and fulfilling! I’m a major proponent of the community aspect of Instagram; I think building those relationships helps everyone involved go so much further, and it’s great to have that support system, especially when you’re taking a leap and starting a business.
What top 3 action points, or top 3 advice nuggets would you give to anyone starting an Instagram business?
Keep at it! If a certain selling technique or product isn’t working well for you, switch it up, try a different angle, but never give up completely. If you believe in something enough to want to sell it and want to have it existing out in the world, chances are there’s other people out there that believe it and want to buy it, too! They just might not have found you yet.
It may be “business” but that doesn’t mean it has to be serious all the time! Have fun with your customers, maybe show some behind-the-scenes where not everything is picture-perfect all the time. It’s easier for customers to connect with you when they see you as a person behind a business, and not just a business.
- If you’re selling product, take the time to really think about the packaging. Whenever I order something in the mail, it always feels like a little present to myself, so I try to keep that in mind and “gift” my customers their orders. I like to wrap the product nicely, pop in a little thank you note, and then stick everything in my signature pink mailer. It’s nice when your customers know you’re thinking about them and going that little extra mile, and a lot of times I really believe it turns a customer into a repeat customer.
Your Instagram feed is ON POINT to say the very least.
How do you plan your posts for maximum impact?
Thanks! I have a few little “rules” I like to stick to when organizing my feed.
I use pink a lot in my feed, but I like to alternate between light pink and darker pink; I don’t like to have two of the same shades right next to each other. Maybe I’ll throw a pastel blue or purple photo in there every now and then to spice things up!
Plann helps A LOT in that sense so I can test out how a certain color background is going to look next to my existing photos. I also avoid posting two of the same foods right next to each other. So say I took a bunch of different photos of a cake one day, all styled differently, I’d spread them out over the coming weeks to make sure there’s variety in my feed. Plus it always feels good to have photos “in the bank” ready to go like that!
What inspires you?
So much! I always head to Pinterest and Tumblr first for inspo, but out in the “real” world I love exploring small art galleries, especially when I travel. I also get a lot of inspiration for color combos from street murals and vintage packaging.
Who are 3 your favourite IG accounts?
Eek I have so many! Hmm it’s hard to narrow it down but some of my all-time favs are:
@violettinder , @tasteofstreep & @geronimoballoons
What hashtags do you scroll through when you’re laying in bed at night?
Ooh another toughie! #abmlifeissweet, #meetkvell, #sugarandclothloves, #studiomuccisugarcrush, and #candyminimal, are some that are always full of treasures!
Have any questions for Lizzie or left puzzled over something she mentioned?
Drop your questions or thoughts in the comments below!
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Hi I’m Lizzie, a sprinkle-loving, glitter-covered, pun-obsessed gal who thinks life should always be viewed through rose-colored glasses. I have a background in graphic design but my latest passion is photography and quirky pun-centric food styling. I currently work with brands both big and small to create unique, colourful content and I feel so lucky to call this my job!
Fun fact: I can pretty much quote every line from every episode of every season of 30 Rock. Tina Fey is my absolute HERO and I lost count how many times I’ve watched that show after about the eleventh time. Hahah.
Connect with Lizzie on Instagram here