This article was written in the first person by Rafaella Aguiar, Director of Marketing at Kicksta, following an interview with Erin Marie.

Building a big following on Instagram, and doing it fast, takes hard work and dedication — but it’s also one hundred percent possible, and I have the proof.

My name is Erin Marie. I’m from Portland, Oregon and attended Emerson College in Boston to study journalism and marketing communications.

Now, I’m a 26-year-old who lives in Jersey City and works in NYC — and, in my spare time, I run a fashion/fitness-based Instagram account that has hundreds of thousands of followers.

Here, I’m going to tell you how I got started and how you can grow a following for your own brand.

But first … why Instagram?

Why I Focused on Instagram Over Other Social Media Platforms

When I was in the transition phase of being a college grad but still looking for full-time work (about three years ago), I decided to start focusing on building my Instagram following. During the first phase of my social media influencer journey, I tried other platforms in addition to Instagram, but I discovered that Instagram was really the easiest way to reach my target audience.

Lots of influencers have blogs, which is great — except driving traffic to a website is a lot more difficult than driving traffic to your Instagram page (which is, after all, why brands pay influencers to link to their websites).

Ultimately, Instagram posts are highly searchable. People can find you via hashtags, location, brand tags, and more. So there are a ton of different opportunities for users to discover your content.

Initial Setbacks to Instagram Growth

Growing my account was difficult at first. Like with any new project, the beginning is always the hardest.

Initially, I only had a couple of hundred followers. It was hard to get my significant other and my friends to understand why I was working so hard on something that, at the time, showed little to no return.

In business however, you have to spend money to make money. I spent money on a camera, editing software, and new clothes in addition to spending many precious hours shooting, editing, and reaching out to brands.

It was hard to overcome these challenges and boost my following. At first, I tried using giveaways to get Instagram followers — I would collaborate on giveaways with fellow fashion, fitness, and health bloggers to get my Instagram profile in front of my target audience.

I also tried automated commenting robots, but that was a complete bust. It’s always better to cultivate a long-term strategy than to settle for quick wins.

Like-for-like, comment-for-comment, follow-for-follow, you name it — I tried every strategy in the book. Eventually I found the methods that work for my page, and used a growth service to help me get Instagram followers.

Throughout the whole process, I learned that hard work pays off. Everyone on Instagram starts at zero. If becoming an influencer was easy, everyone would do it. I put in the time and effort, and now I’m seeing an ROI on my investment. Nobody questions why I invest so much time and money into my Instagram account anymore.

Let’s dive into some of the best practices that worked for me.

3 Instagram Best Practices For Attracting Followers

1. Find the right tools for you.

Thanks to all the hard work I put in upfront, I’ve now figured out how to keep my Instagram running like a well-oiled machine. I spent hours and hours researching tools other Instagrammers were using, and eventually honed in on the tools that work best for me (including Later, a tool I’ve used in the past to schedule my posts).

2. Stay organized.

Since I work 50 hours a week on top of Instagram, it’s all about planning, tracking, and strategizing to save myself time. Tracking collaborations and planning ahead helps me stay sane!

I use an extensive Excel chart that I update daily with upcoming posts, collaborations in the works, spending, payment details, and posting dates. This was especially important, I discovered, as I continued to grow. I shoot all of my products and outfits on Saturday and edit the photos and write captions on Sunday.

3. Create content tailored towards certain brands.

Another Instagram best practice I’ve learned through trial-and-error is to edit my content so it can catch the eye of big brands. I notice that I get a lot of free publicity (and subsequent growth) from brands reposting my content on their pages.

To increase my chances of being noticed, I’ll spend time studying brand pages and their content.

If I can nail down a certain brand’s look and feel, I’ll have a good chance of getting my picture reposted. That means more exposure and a larger reach — in other words, more followers.

Surprising Results

Along the way, I’ve seen some surprising results from my Instagram journey. When I first started out and was looking for the best growth method to get Instagram followers, I used automatic commenting bots that would leave comments on other peoples’ posts.

It was a funny surprise when I realized the bot was well, just a bot — and it was leaving awkward, insensitive comments on posts, such as “LOVE THIS!” on a post that wasn’t meant to be loved at all.

While it can be tempting to purchase these tools and services in the hopes of “quick wins”, it ultimately won’t foster the kind of community engagement you want. Instead, focus on long-term strategies that can help you meaningfully connect with your ideal audience. At the end of the day, those relationships are the only ones that will result in increased customers for your business.

Overcoming Instagram Growth Challenges

I’ve also built a stockpile of advice on overcoming Instagram growth challenges. My number-one piece of advice is to be flexible and willing to evolve. Instagram is always changing, so your methods need to constantly change and improve, too.

There’s no “right way” to grow your following and become an influencer. Just keep experimenting until you find something that works for you — and when that doesn’t work anymore, go back to the drawing board and find something else.

If you work hard and strategize, eventually you’ll begin to see growth. The biggest follower jump I’ve ever experienced in a month was 10,000. Now I have my eyes set on getting 100K followers total, and I think I’ll see a big jump in collaboration opportunities with brands once I reach that number.

If you’re feeling down about your Instagram chances, take a step back and make sure you aren’t comparing yourself to anyone else. I’ve heard friends say, “How can I compete with all these perfect Instagram influencers?” The truth is, it’s easier to stand out on Instagram if you remain authentic rather than trying to compete with what other brands or influencers are doing.

Instead, your best chance at becoming a successful influencer is to find what makes you unique and then embrace it.