One year later: reflections on 16 months without social media
Why I left, how I prepared my business + what has happened since
It's been sixteen months since I left Instagram in October 2021. Although leaving was something I stumbled into, I had been preparing my business for it for a while. In this post, I'll look back at what happened before I left social media, how I prepared my business for it, and the impact it had on my business.
First, though: there is no moral value in being either on or off social media. If it works for you, great! But if it doesn't, and it's making you feel overwhelmed, exposed, or crippled with comparison, you deserve to take a step back from it—either completely or partially.
This is what worked for me.
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Starting my business
I started my business in January 2019. Although it started as a local business rather than an online and international one, I quickly became convinced that I needed to be on social media in order to grow my “audience”.
Yet I remember quickly feeling lost about how to actually find these followers. Or rather, how to get people I didn’t know yet to follow me. As a mainly local business, I wanted to attract mainly local clients. But of course, you can’t really force someone to follow you, and I felt shy about commenting on people’s posts. I kept feeling like there were all these people out there who potentially wanted to work with me but I couldn’t find them (and they couldn’t find me).
The things that worked for me in this phase
Despite feeling like I was floundering most of the time, a couple of things did work because of social media at the point. As I got braver about contacting people, I reached out to two yoga teachers about collaborating on a workshop in the future. While in the end it didn’t lead to anything because we went in different directions, this was my first experience of how inspiring, interesting and potentially profitable collaboration can be.
I hosted two local workshops at one of my favourite stores. Asking them to share my stories about the workshops had the biggest success. Of the ten or so people that attended the workshops, nearly all of them had found out about it through the Instagram-account of the store. This showed me just how powerful it can be to get in front of someone else’s network, in a completely positive and non-icky way.
Pivoting my business and experimenting with social media
Right before the pandemic hit in 2020, I decided to transition my business from being a local business to an international, online one. I still felt like everyone had figured out this whole online business and especially the marketing-on-social-media-thing whereas I hadn’t. In all honesty, looking back, I now see that I didn’t really know what I wanted to focus on with my business: only once I landed on slow, gentle and profitable—my guiding words now—did it feel like everything was properly aligned.
I took the Insta Retreat (which, even though it was interesting, I never completed), and tried to master the art of the flat-lay. I inhaled pretty much every podcast about online business. I took at least three courses at the same time. I made detailed content plans for every month.
I love experimenting and there definitely was some joy in experimenting with social media in this phase as well. But what I mainly remember is it just not sitting well with me.
For a while I settled on a schedule that I quite liked.
Every Monday I’d post a “Monday mantra”, an inspirational phrase or a carousel with “how to” tips (around boundaries, for instance, or working with your energy). Many weeks, on Tuesday, I’d share more about my business and the kinds of things I worked on with people. On Thursdays, I’d share something more personal, generally a run-down of what I’d been reading. And on Friday, I shared what I called a #happylist, a list of things that made me happy over the week.
This schedule sort of worked for me because I had specific days for specific topics, taking the thinking out of writing and photographing. But it was still a lot.
In terms of 1:1 mentoring, I never got a single client through Instagram, although I did very slowly, more or less, start to build my newsletter list through it.
The things that worked for me in this phase
Posting nearly every day: this worked really well in terms of engagement, but not so much in terms of my sanity.
The thing that worked best was asking other people to repost my stories or share about my posts in their stories: this led to nearly all of the sales of the social media guide for small business owners in the spring of 2021. This showed me, again, how powerful working together and reaching out to people is.
Scaling back and getting clear on my marketing ecosystem
Then, in the late spring of 2021, I started scaling back. I’d just created the social media guide for small business owners, in which I helped them to evaluate how they were using social media, and how to feel better about it. More and more, I began to question the role that social media played in my business. I stepped back from my four times a week schedule, and posted less frequently.
Around this time, I also had a bit of a breakthrough in terms of my marketing. I’d landed on a couple of “channels”—Instagram, my newsletter, my website + my blog—mainly because that’s what I’d seen other people do. But I’d never given much thought to how these all fit together, so I wasn’t really a hundred percent clear on what I wanted to do with them.
Creating my marketing ecosystem changed that.
While this content or marketing ecosystem looks incredibly simple, creating it was very powerful for me. It had me think about what the place was were I really wanted potential clients to go. That place was and for 1:1 mentoring remains, my website. Unlike Instagram (or Pinterest), I have full power over my website. I can choose what I want to show, and am not dependent on an algorithm. There are things that I can do to get more people to my website, such as improve SEO, and I can tweak it or update it as much as I like.
All of the other places where I show up aim to point people to my website.1
Once I’d gotten clear on what the hub of my marketing was, I created a marketing wheel, or strategy, that fit in with it.
Since my website was my most important channel, or my hub, all of the other parts of my marketing needed to flow from the website—or, to put it differently, I stopped creating content just for Instagram, for example, and would tie in everything I did with what happened on my website.
I’d started doing more with Pinterest in the early summer of 2021, so that’s where I’d pin new blog posts, freebies, resources, and products such as my guides. Next, I’d write about topics that were relevant to the kinds of people I wanted to work with in my newsletter and mention my services, any new blog posts or resources. Then, and only then, did I post something on Instagram. I could take a snippet from my newsletter, or from a blog post or sales page, and paste it as an Instagram caption, while also referring back to my website. Now that Instagram came last in my strategy, I radically scaled down posting to first twice and then once a week. Importantly, it also started to feel like pressing to me to post: that pressure to be ‘on’ that I’d struggled with since I started my business gradually became less.
The things that worked for me in this phase
Scaling back, and getting clear on my marketing ecosystem. The main result was that I stopped feeling like I was never doing enough. I could see what I was doing, and this made me feel much calmer and much more secure.
Inspired to get clear on your marketing and create your own content ecosystem and marketing wheel? Download a copy of both to fill in here.
In mid-October 2021 I launched my second guide for small business owners, this time on setting boundaries that feel good. Even though I’d launched it less intensely than my social media guide, I needed a break.
On October 16th, I woke up with a feeling of depression that turned clinical and didn’t leave me for the next six months. I soon needed to scale back radically, and the short Instagram-break I’d planned on taking got much longer.
In March or April of 2022 I posted on Instagram for the last time. I was feeling somewhat better, but my break had also shown me that I was very happy not being on social media. I posted a “come find me off IG”-post as a kind of out-of-office reply, prompting people to sign up for my newsletter. By this time, the people that were most interested in the work I did were probably all on my newsletter list (which is where I wanted them).
In late 2022, I archived my Instagram account. This means that if you search for me there, you won’t be able to find me—although I can still go back and retrieve all of my posts if I want to. It might sound like leaving the door half open, but it really felt like the easiest option: I got more of the “I’m completely off social media!”-feeling that I wanted, while not having to think about “will I really never ever ever go back?”.
What happened to my business after I left social media
In short, nothing. As I said, I believe that the people that were interested in my work were already on my newsletter list at this point, including those people that potentially wanted to work with me.
I have to add a big disclaimer here: with the exception of the social media guide and the boundaries guide, I never made any sales through Instagram. I know that this is different for many small business owners, including many of you reading this.
Yet if I had been making considerable sales through my Instagram, I probably would’ve ended up leaving at some point anyway—the platform and the medium of images and video, combined with the fleetingness of the posts just doesn’t fit with me. I’d take many of the same steps that I’d taken, primarily doubling down on my newsletter and writing (which led to this Substack eventually), and investing time and money in a new channel, Pinterest.
Any time I give advice to small business owners or freelancers wanting to leave social media, partially or completely, I tell them to review their marketing and think about where else they’d like to focus their time and attention. For me, that was making something I already enjoyed—my newsletter—work harder, and adding something new that was directing people to my hub, my website (Pinterest).
If you’re thinking of spending less time on social media for your business, I’d love to support you. Get in touch through the website or, if you’re reading this via email, reply to the email.
The other day, I wrapped up 2022 financially. I thought I’d look back at 2021, and see how the two years compared. I was surprised to see that while I’d made more money in 2022, the difference wasn’t huge. 2022 was a year that was both really good and exciting for me, as well as one of the hardest years I’ve ever had in terms of mental health. Many days and weeks, my business took a backseat. Despite that, I feel like changing up my marketing had a positive effect. Money aside, I’m enjoying marketing my business so much more! I never thought I’d say this, but I actually enjoy it now (I know!).
If you want to change the role of social media in your business, take a moment to think about or reflect on these questions:
Review your numbers: to what extend are you selling through Instagram/social media? Can you really not “afford” to leave or decrease?
Where else would you like to spend your energy and time? What can you make work harder, or what can you add?
What makes marketing your business feel more creative or aligned? Is it sharing different content on social media, following different accounts, decreasing the time you spend on it, seeking out other channels, or something else?
the social media guide for small business owners: this primarily focuses on how you feel about social media, dealing with how much time and energy you spend on it, and struggling with comparison
email series: move your business away from social media—offers a more practical, four-week approach to moving your business away from social media
if you’d like a more bespoke approach to reevaluating the role of social media in your business (or marketing in general), I’d love to support you through 1:1 mentoring. Hit reply to this message, or contact me through my website.
I’m really curious to hear more about your experiences with social media. What role does it play in your business currently? Does it make you feel creative and connected, or would you rather spend less time on it? What in this post resonates with you? Leave a comment and join the conversation! ✨
Are you ready to shape your business to support your life, needs and desires? Do you wonder whether there’s a slower, gentler and more profitable way of running a business, without the hustle, hacks or burnout?*
I’d love to support you to create a business away from the norm that supports all parts of your humanness, whether that means starting or building a business alongside a family, another job, (chronic) illness or any other needs and desires.
There is a slower, gentler and more profitable way of running a business, and I’m here to help you achieve it.
* the answer to this question is YES!
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Have a really lovely rest of your week—I hope you get to rest as much as you work, savour hot cups of your favourite beverage and spend time doing what lights you up.
P.S. New to Substack? Click the button above to enter your email address and be directed to a page where you can select your subscription plan. You’ll only be charged once you enter your payment info there. Find more info and an image of this in my blogpost.
This has changed a bit now that I added Substack and paid subscriptions to my business, as I’ll explain at a later point.