It’s no secret by now that the COVID was an economic disaster. Small businesses scrambled to stay afloat, taking risks and experimenting with tactics that could ensure their profitability and maybe even survival. But in the face of the crisis, many people got entrepreneurial, instead deciding to launch their own brands.

According to the Census Bureau, more businesses launched in the U.S. during 2020 than any other year in history, with the vast majority (80%) being business-to-consumer (B2C). In the U.K., over 85,000 online businesses launched during the first lockdown.

More than five million users identify as a small business, business professional, or brand on Linktree, according to new data. That’s over five million people using social media to market themselves or their products online—a trend that’s only grown stronger this past year as shopping became more virtual. Luckily, small businesses have thrived on places like TikTok and Instagram, prompting platforms to integrate new features specifically for shopping.

“Years ago social media was seen primarily as an amplification tool to drive customers to your website or app where they could learn about your product, make purchases, connect with other customers, read product reviews, etc,” Kim Robinson, the founder of 3pts, a marketing resource and newsletter for small businesses, tells us over email. “Current social media has destroyed that model. Brands now use social media to sell, provide customer service, market, create community and provide other direct services.” That probably explains why 76% of consumers say they’ve bought something they saw in a brand’s social media post, according to a 2017 survey conducted by Curalate.

For many small businesses who sell products online, success has come from following an accumulation of simple tips. We spoke to a handful of small business leaders—from bakers to ceramicists to retail stores—who have cultivated active online communities, as well as some social media professionals, to get their best advice for small businesses looking to grow a following on social media, increase brand awareness, and encourage sales.

1. Post frequently on social media to grow your following

This first tip comes from Rachel Karten who, after working for almost four years at Bon Appetit in the social department, is a social media consultant for brands and runs the social media newsletter, Link In Bio.

“To grow your audience and learn about your community it’s vital to post a lot—and not be too precious about posting,” she says. “When I worked at Condé Nast I met with Instagram and this was their biggest piece of advice. The more you post, the faster you’ll grow, and the more your audience will want to hear from you. This might sound overwhelming but if you start to treat everything you do as content and come up with series that ladder up to the brand stories you want to tell, the posts should come a bit more easily.”

So how much is enough? During Instagram’s Creator Week in June 2021, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri laid out a simple formula for people looking to grow their following: two feed posts a week, two Stories per day. Despite this, Hootsuite reports that the average business posts 1.56 feed posts per day, so it’s worth posting more if you’re trying to compete, especially because growing a following is a slow and steady game, with businesses on Instagram reporting a 1.46% monthly follower growth.

2. Share business updates on social media to encourage orders and prevent confusion

“View social media as the behind the scenes, not just a place to advertise shiny photos of what you’ve got for sale,” Polly Vadasz, the founder of Sighh Studio, a stationary and accessories brand with over 40,000 Instagram followers, says. “It’s a platform to teach your (potential) customer base about the business, get them invested in your vision and connected with your personality and company culture.”

Vadasz recalls this paying off recently when Sighh was open with its followers about having to cap the Back To Uni sale at 900 orders, in order to prioritize timely shipping.

“That was a customer experience over profit decision, and not only did it probably encourage the final 100 to get their order in before it was too late, but we had virtually zero customer emails asking where their orders were,” she says. “We shared how many we posted at the end of each day and if it was on target, did lots of packing videos on stories, and got customers involved in the excitement.”

This content was originally published here.