Building a Business With Instagram – An Interview with Brandon Eckroth
Posted on: 05/11/16, 10:57am
Continuing our interview series with creative artists and content creators, we recently spoke with Brandon Eckroth. Professional photographer, adventurer, and entrepreneur, Brandon has amassed more than 67,000 Instagram followers—all while being a full-time student at the University of St. Thomas.
What are the keys to Brandon’s success at such an early age? How does he manage running a growing photography business while being a full-time student? Our curiosity propelled us to interview Brandon to see what creative insights we (and you reading this) could gain from his journey.
Growing up in North Dakota, Brandon hid his creative side. He did sports and music throughout school, but it wasn’t until he moved to the Twin Cities and faced a family crisis that he truly channeled his creativity. “Two years ago my parents got a divorce,” he told us in a recent interview. “I went and bought a camera and used photography as a creative outlet. Since then, it stuck. I never thought I would get this far, and I would be doing what I’m doing now.”
“I went to Montana the summer my parents got the divorce,” he said. Capturing beautiful landscapes in Montana sparked a desire to share his work and continue his landscape photography. His Instagram feed is a tremendous homage to the American landscape. Just to warn you before you follow Brandon’s Instagram, it will make you want to get in your car and head out on an adventure!
His love of adventure and the outdoors turned into a business shortly after he began photographing landscapes. However, it went in a direction you might not expect. “I do sell prints when people ask. But that’s not part of the business at all,” he said. “Most of my business right now is portraits, engagements, and weddings.”
Clients started coming to Brandon for portraits and engagement photos about 18 months ago. “About a year ago, I started getting passionate about weddings. This summer will be a lot of weddings,” he said with a laugh.
Wedding photography is an extremely competitive business. It’s difficult to set yourself apart from all the other photographers out there. “One thing I will always do is stick with my brand: outdoors, landscape, adventure.” He loves to capture the adventure aspect of a couple’s story and wedding. “I’ll meet with clients before they book me,” making sure the clients are looking for the story he tells through his photography.
“A lot of photographers take most clients who come to them just because it’s work,” he said. “I am pickier. I work with couples who emulate the adventure I want to capture. The couples who come to me want an outdoor, adventure wedding.”
Brandon brings his outdoor adventure aesthetic to the couples who book him for their engagement and wedding photos. He draws a niche crowd. He has a vision of the aesthetic, the story, the adventure a couple is on, and he takes clients who fit with that. Instead of being a photographer who is hired to take a family portrait, Brandon is an artist who comes to the couple’s event with a unique aesthetic and story to tell.
Brandon has actually turned down couples instead of taking the work, which was a struggle at first. He wanted the work, but he didn’t want to deviate from his style and vision for his photography. He had friends who had been running their own businesses for years, and he turned to them for advice. “They encouraged me to stay with my aesthetic,” he said. When he really thought about it, if he booked a traditional church wedding, he “wouldn’t put it on his website.” The look of the photos would be so inconsistent with his art, that he wouldn’t include them in his portfolio.
In the end, he decided to stay true to his artistic vision, and it has made all the difference for him. “I want to do art. I want to provide art for others.” It turns out there are plenty of people who want him to do just that!
Many of his clients find him through the photos he shares on Instagram. In the beginning, he just wanted to share his photos and connect with people over his art. “I had no intention of starting a business. My art started, and the business organically happened. It’s one of the best ways for a business to start. I just did what I love (sharing beautiful photos) and people came to me.”
With over 60,000 followers on Instagram, we had to ask for some advice, “The biggest thing I’ve found is that followers like consistency. I post on certain days around the same time. Consistency is huge. If followers don’t know that they won’t see a photo for a week, or they’ll see ten in a day, they don’t like that. When you aren’t consistent, people lose interest.” Like clockwork, Brandon shares a new photo to Instagram Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday mornings.
Consistency goes deeper than just the time and day he posts a photo. There also needs to be consistency in the aesthetic. “People change their editing styles, or change from portrait to event to landscape,” he said. “Followers like you for your brand, so keep it consistent.”
In addition to running his business full time, Brandon is also a full-time Entrepreneurship student at the University of St. Thomas. When I asked him how he manages to find the time to do both, he told me that the two complement and enhance each other. He isn’t forced to choose between his business and his education because, “a lot of the projects for class are building brands, companies, and businesses. I use my business in those projects, and I use my education to improve my business.”
Though it sounds good on paper, it is a balancing act. His advice for other students attempting to run a business and finish college? “Make sure you have time to rest. This will give you time to be creative, rest your mind, think about things you don’t usually think about.” And one more thing – “Prioritize! Schedule yourself!”
Brandon is currently taking a Social Entrepreneurship class. He wants to make an impact on his community and the wider world through his photography and knowledge of business. He’s in the beginning stages of a project that would help underprivileged communities. His artistic vision goes beyond landscapes and making a difference in the lives of engaged couples. He wants to have an impact on the neediest members of his community.
So, how can you grow your own Instagram account?
Share Content Consistently
The phrase “content is king” gets thrown around a lot, but consistency is just as important. This goes beyond Instagram to every other domain. Casey Neistat’s YouTube subscribers doubled to more than a million only 5 months after he started posting videos daily. Marketing guru Seth Godin has built a huge tribe by publishing one blog post daily. The examples are endless. Yes, quality is important, but aim for quality that’s repeatable.
Have a Theme for Your Social Account
Brandon also mentioned the importance of a consistent visual aesthetic. Another name for this is theme. The concept of theme is something everyone is already familiar with. When you eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner, your meal likely has a theme to it (few people eat hot dogs with a side of spaghetti). Having a consistent theme makes it much easier for people to understand what type of content they can expect. And the easier it is for people to understand your account, the more likely it is they’ll click follow.
Want more creative inspiration? Follow Brandon on Instagram and visit his website.