Get social savvy
The expert's guide to social media for small businesses
In partnership with @plusnet, the broadband suppliers for small businesses.
How social media can help you attract more customers, build your brand and transform your business, by interior designer and consultant Nicki Bamford-Bowes, founder of & then they went wild @andthentheywentwild.
I’m really happy to announce a new partnership with broadband superstars @Plusnet. They recently did some research looking into the true value of social media for small businesses. The big news? Businesses are missing out on over £7k annually, especially from the millennial market, mainly because they aren’t showcasing their work on social media. So, they asked me to give expert advice on how small businesses can create beautiful images for social media platforms. As an interior designer, I rely on the skills of tradespeople every day, so it’s great to help them build their businesses.
As the research revealed, when it comes to finding the perfect tradesperson, today's design-conscious, tech-savvy customers automatically turn to social media when they want to make their dream home a reality. These days, people don't just rely on word of mouth, they want to see examples of completed work too. In fact, a single image could be make-or-break when it comes to a client picking one tradesperson over another.
The power of beautiful images on social media has helped me transformed my own business. In less than two years, I went from zero presence on social media to having over 70,000 followers on Instagram, a key platform for interiors fans. I've found brilliant clients and opportunities this way, and so can you.
The most useful platforms include Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. They are all easy to set up and can be controlled via any smartphone. Unlike traditional advertising, they are absolutely free. All you need is a decent phone or camera, plus a good, reliable broadband provider which works when you do – such as Plusnet Business.
These tips will help any small business to create and share inspirational images from the very start of their next job.
Making great images that work for you
For this recent interior design project, I worked with Edwin Veru of Jose Construction and Decorating – @JCDLTD on Instagram. He and his team have worked with me on previous design projects. They pour their time and effort into creating beautiful spaces, but don’t always share that work on platforms that could help them grow their business. I wanted to change all that.
My client wanted a sophisticated look with a contemporary twist and a high-end finish for her Victorian home. For her sitting room, she wanted to visually increase the height of the room to add drama and grandeur. Edwin and his team set to work making my design a reality. They first added faux panelling using simple timber mouldings applied with precision. Then they carefully prepped the walls and woodwork before applying a stylishly dark shade of paint – Little Greene's Hicks Blue – from the skirting to the coving. This is an effective way to visually increase ceiling height. The overall effect was polished, picture-perfect and very Instagrammable. It was time to create some gorgeous pictures.
To show clients how you can transform their homes, it’s important to take 'before' pictures. I showed Edwin how to take simple iPhone snaps showing the areas we were going to work on, such as the tired paintwork, the off-the-peg fire-surround, and the flat walls lacking in interest. I also encouraged him to take pictures of the work in progress. It doesn’t matter if the photos aren’t beautiful at this stage but do ensure they are level and in sharp focus, as this looks more professional.
Then I returned to assist him in taking 'after' pictures. I showed him how differently things could look through a lens compared to in real life and suggested he always look around the room through his camera or smartphone when planning shots.
If you’re a tradesperson looking for ways to shake up your images, don’t always take pictures at eye level. Get up on a ladder and look down at a beautiful floor, for example, or crouch down to look up at a ceiling. I talked to Edwin about making the most of natural light, which gives a glow and freshness, rather than relying on the yellow glare of overhead lights. He could always adjust the exposure in an app after if the images looked a bit dark.
We looked for angles that captured the way light fell on the new panelling, then took photos of the entire room, and finally then went in close to pick out interesting details.
Styling made simple
If you are a tradesperson, you might think that social media posts should only show the work you've done, but I always encourage the use of props to create interest in your pictures. These don't have to be complicated or expensive. For these images, I used a simple bunch of flowers in a vase, a decorator's ladder and a pot of the paint. For an even more styled shot, I asked the client's permission to use her own floor lamp, chair, side-table and books. This type of ‘real life’ image is very popular on social media. Other ideas include snapping work boots on a beautifully tiled floor, or showing a newly fitted bathroom with a towel artfully draped over the side of the bath.
Anyone taking pictures for social media should take plenty of photographs – you’d be amazed how many shots a pro photographer will take in order to get that one perfect image. Don't be afraid to experiment.
Before long, anyone can be confidently snapping and sharing on social media and seeing the amazing benefits this can have for business.
NICKI'S PRO TIPS FOR FABULOUS PHOTOGRAPHY
Anyone can take great pictures with a decent smartphone. Experiment with photo editing apps, many of which are built into modern phones, to lighten dark corners, boost colour intensity and make images sparkle. I tend to use Instagram’s own filters and editing tools, but also like Snapseed and Photoshop Fix – find those on App Store.
Discard any photos that aren’t in focus or look messy or cluttered. Spend time on Instagram and other social media platforms and see which images catch your eye or have a lot of likes. Bear them in mind when taking your own pictures.
Make sure your beautiful ‘after’ shots are the ones clients see first on social media. On Instagram it’s possible to ‘stack’ pictures, showing before and afters. The best shots should be on your ‘grid’ – the pictures people see when they go to your account. Hide the before shots behind them. Use your captions to tell followers to swipe through to see the full transformation. Remember, we all want to feel inspired!
It can be a worthwhile investment to employ a professional photographer and stylist, especially on a big project. This may cost up to £1000, but remember, with social media, you aren't paying for advertising. Plus, a single image can be used over and over again, on a business website and on multiple social media platforms.
'Sharing' is the way social media users can repost pictures, and this massively increases your reach. So why not add a Pinterest button to your website? This makes it possible for people to share images on this highly influential 'virtual pinboard', while always retaining the link back to your site. Search online for how to do this. Create an Instagram account for your business and share your images there as well as on Facebook and Twitter. On Instagram, always tag brands such as the companies that make paint or tiles you use. If they like your picture, they may well repost it via their own accounts, vastly increasing your social media reach.
Brilliant pictures are great. But can you be sure that enough people see them? This is where the power of hashtags come in. Hashtags are simply words that people use to search for the kind of content you are making. They help them find your images fast. I recommend using specific hashtags such as #panelling or #metrotiles plus geographical ones that help you connect with people in your area, such as #London #Londoncarpenter. I also use bespoke hashtags that are unique to me, for example, #andthentheywentwild and ones that describe the services I provide, such as #interiordesign. Think about creating a bespoke hashtag such as your company name so, if someone is specifically looking for you, they can find you. Use up to 30 #hashtags per picture but no more. Photo tagging is also a great way to get noticed. Tap on the image on Instagram, and you will be able to ‘tag in’ the brands you use, such as @farrowandball or @toppstiles, and if those brands like your image, they may repost them to their vast following which opens up more leads. Tag yourself too, so you are associated with those brands if and when they repost your images.
Pay attention to detail. For example, I nipped up that ladder and personally polished the homeowner's chandelier, which had become dusty during ceiling work. Then it really sparkled in pictures. Remove clutter and dustsheets.
For even more compelling shots, ask if you can come back when a project is finished and a room furnished to get the kind of lifestyle images that potential clients love.
Always remember to ask the homeowner's permission before taking and sharing photographs of their property, and, if you are working with a contractor such as an interior designer, check in with them too.
Keep dipping into your various social media platforms, posting new pictures, answering questions and engaging with those potential customers. It's a great way to build relationships and trust – vital for anyone's business.
I worked with Plusnet on this campaign, showcasing the power of social media for small businesses. To find out more, visit the Plusnet Newsroom, where you’ll find the Blueprint guide further case studies and blogs from industry experts.