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58. Utilizing Instagram for Your Product-Based Business with Sue B. Zimmerman

58. Utilizing Instagram for Your Product-Based Business with Sue B. Zimmerman

Instagram… the app we love to hate. But we know that it’s a VERY POWERFUL social media platform for product-based businesses. Sometimes Instagram feels like a necessary evil as a CEO… but today’s guest is breaking it down in a way that feels a lot more fun. 

Sue B. Zimmerman… the instagram expert is joining me this week for a candid conversation about what it takes to be successful on Instagram, why it IS the place to be and the #1 thing you need to master in order to sell your products on Instagram. 

This week we’ve got The Instagram Expert—seriously, that’s her Instagram handle—on the show! 

As an online marketing educator and no BS business coach, Sue B. Zimmerman has been named by Huffington Post as one of the Top 50 Must Follow Women Entrepreneurs, as well as the Top 50 Social Media Marketing Influencers by Top Rank Marketing, and Top Female Business Influencers of 2019 by Fit Small Business. 

Whether she’s taking a global stage or speaking at an industry conference like Social Media Marketing World, or even working one on one with her clients, Sue is driven to help business owners leverage the power of Instagram to meet and exceed their business goals. As a lifelong entrepreneur, she has over 30 years of business experience and with her extensive knowledge and implementation of social media, it’s her mission to teach, mentor and empower others. 

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Tell us how you discovered the power of Instagram with your Cape Cod boutique, SueB.Do

In summer, I live at my house on Cape Cod (migrating from Boston, where I live the other half of the year) where I had a store called SueB.Do for seven years. It was there that I discovered the power of Instagram for my business by strategically using geo locations, hashtags, knowing exactly who my ideal client was and who I was marketing too. 

With that came great success in bringing in traffic into my shop and realizing that I need to teach people all over the world how to have success using Instagram. That was eight years ago.

Were you shocked when you realised people were coming to your store because you posted on Instagram?

Yes! At the time I was teaching social media and using Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare. And I was the mayor at the Starbucks—it was really strategic that people found me because I went into Starbucks. I did everything with a strategy in mind.

My shop was very successful, but then Instagram came along and escalated traffic. People came in and literally asked me for the thing that I posted, and it was then that I knew it was going to be a goldmine. It was going to be the be all, end all of where to sell. 

What are “Neighborhoods” and how can product based businesses decide where they should spend their time?

When I first started teaching Instagram eight years ago, there were only 140 million monthly active users, now there’s close to 2 billion. As Instagram has grown through the years, they’ve added new features and created new places to share content within the app.

There are five “neighborhoods” in the village called Instagram, which are the five places that you can create content: 

The Feed 

This is your evergreen content. It is the content that literally validates the promise that you make in your bio.


This how you can amplify, promote and broadcast the content in your feed and really capture people’s attention. There are people who just like being on stories, rather than scrolling the feed. 

With stories comes the opportunity to have an avenue called highlights, where you can save the content that resonates with people as a resource they can click on at anytime. If you look at my highlights on Instagram, at The Instagram Expert, you will see a lot of resources that I’ve saved. You could spend a good hour tapping through all the content that I know will serve my audience.

IGTV video

Instagram is favoring video more than anything else. IGTV is really what I encourage my clients to focus on once they’re comfortable putting their face on video, because in an IGTV allows you to drop a live link, no matter how many followers you have. That’s right, you DON’T need to have 10,000 followers. 

If you’re trying to drive traffic to a product that you’re selling, you could talk about the value of that product, or maybe how that product was created, give it some context and have a great call to action to let people know that you’ve linked that product in the IGTV. Then you can use relevant hashtags and create a branded cover. 

IGTV is like having your own TV channel. You can have a series of content by categorizing them. People can tap in and check out your IGTV channel and then automatically plays the next video in that channel—kind of like YouTube for those of you that don’t want to go through all the trouble of creating a YouTube channel, which I will tell you is a lot of work. 

Instagram Live

Is exactly how it sounds, it’s live video, broadcast through your stories. 

If you’re going to do a live, think about how it matches up to content that you’ve already created, so that you’re working smarter and not harder. When I go live, I often bring on guests and when you do, their followers will get a notification that you’re live with them. 

If you do a live broadcast, maybe you want to bring on the manufacturer of the product that you sell and talk about certain features of that product and give it more information. 

It’s a great way to reach an additional audience to get some new eyeballs on what you are promoting or talking about. When I say promoting, I’m literally promoting my latest YouTube video, not something that I’m necessarily selling. 

I treat my free content the same way I treat my paid content. It’s all about value. 


Reels is what Instagram is favoring right now. You can create either a 15 second reel or 30 second reel. It is the hardest neighborhood to create content, because you have such a short period to get a powerful message across. 

Let me tell you something: dancing and pointing doesn’t cut it. There’s got to be a really, really good message. 

How do you make sure you’re getting in front of the right people? Is it really just a hashtag thing? Does it have something to do with the way Instagram shares your content?

It has to do with a lot of things. Being entertaining in a way that captures somebody’s attention and using really great music (if you’re going to use music.) It all depends on how short, sweet and to the point you are with your message.

My account has a lot of reach, but I don’t care about about views, likes or followers. I care about the engagement. I care about people that are commenting and relating to the content that I’m creating. I care about community members and opt-ins and emails. Our goal as a company is to always create epic content that educates or inspires or entertains or does a mix of all.

Conversations lead to opportunities and opportunities lead to conversions.

Is Instagram just about visibility for product-based businesses? Or is it a place to make actual product sales?

There is a shit ton of opportunity. You have to understand how to sell without selling. 

You are speaking to someone that is a SHOPPER so you need to make it easy to tap and shop with shopping tags. 

If they can avoid going to Amazon because they can support a small business that has great products, they will—as long as you make it as easy as possible for them. 

I bought a $9,000 piece of art that’s hanging in my apartment right off of Instagram. You can make money if you know how to sell without selling.

What happens if nobody’s buying your products? Is it related to content or something else? 

You’re probably selling it too hard. No one wants to be sold to. Show the value of your product. What is it about that product that’s going to change someone’s life? Or why is your product so different? 

For example, if you’re an abstract artist and you want to sell your paintings, there are restaurants that buy art, there are hospitals that buy art. The hashtags that you can use are one’s local restaurants or hospitals would search. 

It’s not just #abstractart because now you’re in a hashtag club with everyone else on Instagram. Think about a high level strategy. 

Why should you be trying to get users off Instagram on to your website?

You want them to visit your website so you can easily retarget them, but you also want them to do more than that. You want them to sign up for an opt-in so they can see how much value you offer. And you want to offer them plenty of free value.

For example, we have a free training which is an hour long and at the end there’s an opportunity to purchase Ready Set Gram. If you don’t want to, that is totally fine. We are not high pressure at all, it’s just the next step after you have completed the training and the thing that’s worth investing in if you want my continuous support. 

There’s so many tactics and strategies, every little nuance matters.

Do you have any tips or tricks to use Reels to get users off Instagram and onto your website?

Write a really good description and get people to want to take action. Promote that reel in your story. 

If you have the swipe up, excellent, if you don’t, you need to literally tell people what you want them to do and what’s in it for them. Why should someone sign up for your email list? Why should someone join your training or subscribe to your YouTube? It’s not their job to figure it out. It’s your job to tell them what you want them to do. And more importantly, what’s in it for them if they do. 

If you’re selling something, you need to talk about the solutions of that product. May is Mother’s Day so it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about looking for the perfect gift for your mother. Why would she love this special soy candle or new oven mitt?

What is the biggest failure in your business so far? 

Oh, boy. I’ve had 18 businesses, so I could give you a lot. But a product-based business fail was when I was on QVC with a craft product. I had a business partner who thought she was smarter than me because she had a degree in marketing, and I had a degree in nutrition. She convinced me that she was worth 60% of our partnership and I was worth 40%. 

Good news is that when we were $20,000, in debt, she had to pay 60% of the debt. That was the silver lining. Now, I would never be a partner with anyone unless it was equal. That’s a little advice there. 

I used to trust people very, very quickly. I once trusted one an employee who embezzled $8,000 from me and then skipped the country to Bermuda!

I’ve had a lot of shit shows for sure, but in this current business, Sue B. Zimmerman Enterprise, I can’t think of one thing. We’ve worked really hard getting to where we are. We’ve had campaigns that didn’t work, we’ve had our ads shut off, we’ve had a lot of “fails” but I learned from everything that happened. Being an entrepreneur is a journey, not a destination. 

So I never take something that doesn’t work personally, instead, it charges me to move forward. 

The really important part to remember is we’re not all going to get it right every time. Sometimes we’re going to fuck up. Sometimes other people are gonna fuck us over. 

If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, put on your big girl panties and keep moving. It’s hard, but it’s so much more rewarding than punching a clock for someone else.

What’s one of your biggest successes?

This business is a huge, massive success. I have a team of 13. We’ve built over seven figures, and it’s profitable. I don’t care that you have a six or seven figure business, if you don’t have any money in the bank, that means shit to me. 

I have a thriving business that we are doubling, if not, tripling this year. I’m so proud of this because every team member brings their own unique superpower. The more successful we are, the more of a luxury we have to hire people that are specific to a talent—we just hired a copywriter. 

I also hired a social media assistant to help with engagement because my engagement is like crazy on YouTube comments, I can barely keep up and I don’t want to be having my face in the phone all day. If I don’t want something, my CEO makes sure that we take care of it.

Slow and steady wins the fucking race. There is no fast track to success people. And there’s no fast track to Instagram success. You have to put in the hours. You have to put in the consistency. You have to show up and be authentic to who you are. I know that everyone says be authentic—I can’t stand it. But walking the talk and all that you do and setting yourself apart from everyone else 

You’ve had a few businesses, why do you think this is the business you ended up with right now?

Because this is the business where I’m making an impact. What we create helps people and so there is no better feeling than changing someone’s life and making an impact. And I have changed 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of people’s lives all over the world.

Like, for example, when my husband and I went to Iceland, I literally had someone from Russia, run up to me and say, oh my god, Sue B Zimmerman, I need a selfie! And my husband looked at me, because he’s not on Instagram. He’s just on LinkedIn. I’m like, Instagram, famous baby. And no matter where I go in the world, whether it’s Budapest, Israel, no matter where there are people that know me and want to be with me, and I do meetups whenever I travel. So that’s kind of cool. Like the ripple effect of the consistency of showing up and serving, and people knowing who I am. 

It has been happening a lot on Clubhouse, because I get pulled up on stages every day to talk, because I totally speak the truth. And don’t BS. And people can tell. So yeah, this is where I’m meant to be right now. As long as Instagram keep on adding new features and keeping me busy, it’s all good.

You sell a product but you are still changing someone’s life. You are still having an impact on their life. Whatever problem your product solves—whether it brings joy to them, makes them feel better about themselves, or more confident—lean into that because it’s going to be more satisfying for you and you’re going to sell more product. 

When you started SueB.Do, if you knew then what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

I probably wouldn’t have had as much inventory as I had. Inventory is expensive. You don’t need to hold inventory anymore. You can just pass inventory and dropship. Also, the most important thing is knowing and understanding your numbers. 

If you could give my audience one thing to take away from this episode, something they should 100% implement in their business, what would that be?

Come over to my account, The Instagram Expert and let me know what your favorite thing is that you learnt today. Be an action taker. 

I do a lot of podcast interviews and this is always my call to action. The only way that I’m going to be able to connect with you is to hear from you. And to see that you are interested in learning Instagram. I have so many resources and opportunities. 

Turn on notifications so that you can keep learning because learners are earners. It’s just that simple. I’m constantly learning and growing. Like I said earlier, being an entrepreneur is a journey and there’s no destination. So that is the advice that I want to give all of you like, let me know either in the DM or on a post.

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Hey, I'm Jessica

I support scrappy female entrepreneurs with actionable steps & strategies to grow and scale the traffic, sales & profit in their eCommerce businesses. 

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