How Jenna Kutcher Leveraged Instagram to Build Her Six Figure Business
...and matched her corporate salary within one year
Jenna Kutcher is one of those rare, inspiring women that you feel equally certain you could drink a margarita (or three) with, and hire to help you grow your business at the same time. She's brilliant yet relatable; we can't help but see ourselves in her every time she declares her love of macaroni and cheese or admits to wearing yoga pants as often as possible.
But just when you're convinced that you're soul sisters, you stumble upon her Instagram with 65k+ followers, and remember that while you might be on the same page as her with her food and outfit choices, this girl definitely knows a few things about social media and business that you don't...yet.
Today we're getting the dirt on how Jenna has leveraged her Instagram to build a six-figure income photography business and how we can start taking actionable steps to make our Instagram feed not only popular, but profitable.
Name: Jenna Kutcher
Current title/company: Owner of Jenna Kutcher
Education: University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point: Bachelor Degree in Business Administration and Communication, with a minor in economics
The last time we chatted you were running a full-time photography business, delving into painting, and had recently worked on a mug design for The Everygirl shop. Give us an overview of what has changed in the last few years in your business.
Oh man, so much has changed (but so much has stayed the same!). I feel like the journey of an entrepreneur is a constant evolution. I am still photographing weddings and loving every second of it. On top of wedding photography, my print shop has sold over 2,000 pieces, I’ve launched three different online courses for creative entrepreneurs, and have been speaking all over the country about social media! I would say my business shifted to a brand that is all encompassing from photography to teaching, painting to speaking! It’s been amazing to see the transition and to be able to chase dreams outside of photography.
Photo by Chloe Ann Photography
You also moved to another adorable home, which we are obsessed with. What prompted the move?
YES! Well, it was anything but planned. We had dreamed of building a home but one day while I was hunting for land, I stumbled upon the Kutcher Craftsman and fell in love. It’s over 100 years old, sits on a river, and has been gutted and restored. It has all of the old charm (built-ins, glass knobs, beautiful woodwork) with all new modern amenities like the kitchen and bathrooms! I fell in love and convinced Drew to move in December. It’s the perfect mix of us: I love charm and character and he loves new and sleek. The mix of old and new fit us perfectly! Living on the water is so peaceful and we left our little village of 1,200 to a roaring town of 12,000! Being in town and able to walk to yoga, to the coffee shop, and the pub is such a welcomed change of pace for me since working from home can be a bit isolating!
Let’s back up for a minute, because I’m sure plenty of our readers are wondering how you got your start. You’ve been named the top wedding photographer in Wisconsin, have 65k+ followers on Instagram, and boast an overall thriving digital presence. But you had to start somewhere! What ultimately led you to the decision to become an entrepreneur, and what were you doing before?
At the age of 23, I was living what I had “dreamed” about for years. I had a degree, a husband, and a corporate salary with benefits. The only thing I was lacking? Happiness. I felt like I was climbing a corporate ladder that I didn’t want to get to the top of. I was stressed, anxious, and knew I needed to make a change.
While planning our wedding, I purchased a camera on Craigslist and fell in love with photography. I had zero training, no degree, but I had a ton of passion and that led me to leave my corporate job. It was a leap of faith but one that paid off big time!
The idea of going full-time with your side business is such an overwhelming idea. How did you make it feasible? What steps did you take to prepare, and how did you know you were ready?
It’s incredibly overwhelming (and scary!). I was so afraid of failing, I was worried what people would think of me, and I was scared to admit defeat if it should happen. I knew if I was going to take the leap, I had to know the net would be there if the worst happened. I hustled hard and booked 25 weddings my first year, matching my corporate salary, knowing that I would at least financially survive year one as a business owner. I set out to give every single client the best experience, and this got word-of-mouth marketing to happen. The rest is history.
Were there any lifestyle changes you had to make in order to make the leap? Did you ever doubt your decision?
Definitely! Fear is something that plagues dreamers every single day (it still gets at me when I let it!). The biggest change was transitioning from a corporate office to working from home for myself. At first it felt like a vacation but I am thankful I always kept my life structured. I wake up at the same time every day, work out, get to work, take a lunch break (and a nap), and then finish up when Drew gets home.
There were definitely times in my business where I just took on too much, where I struggled to say no because I was so worried about missing out on an opportunity or a big break. My third year in, I was on this upward trajectory of more, more, more, and I hit a point where I just stopped loving it. I was burnt out, stressed, anxious, and exhausted. I made a dramatic move to cut back and focus on less. It was the best thing I ever did for my life and business. Less can really be more.
I made a dramatic move to cut back and focus on less. It was the best thing I ever did for my life and business. Less can really be more.
How did you initially market your services when you were first starting out? What platform would you say gives you the most leads/clients to this day?
My first year of business, I was starting from scratch in a village of 1,200 people (none of which we knew!). So it wasn’t easy by any means. I made the decision to pour thousands of dollars into online advertising and it paid off back then – but if I could go back and do it all over again, I would do it so differently. I now run my six-figure photography business with zero advertising dollars because I’ve learned how to leverage social media in a way that allows me to speak directly to my dream clients.
Looking at that first year, my clients were definitely not my “ideal” clients (they were wonderful people) but more so clients who simply needed a photographer. Now I get to work with people who have to have me, who hire me for who I am and the work I do, not just because I own a camera! All of my clients now find me on social media or are direct referrals from past clients.
On that note, you now offer The Instagram Lab, a five-week online workshop dedicated to helping creative entrepreneurs market their services and products on Instagram. Tell us about it! When did you launch the course and what inspired it?
The Instagram Lab is my brain child! The thing is, everyone that uses Instagram is pretty obsessed with it but I was tired of seeing my creative friends struggle to grow a following of genuinely invested people. The Instagram Lab is a five-week, go at your own pace course that teaches people how to leverage Instagram in an authentic, genuine way that allows people to know you, love you, trust you, and hire you!
That’s right, Instagram impacts my bottom line in big ways and I am finally teaching people how to not just grow a following but to grow a profit as well. I think so many of us focus on popularity but popular doesn’t pay the bills, profitable does!
What topics are covered in the course, and how did you decide what content to include?
The course is built in a way that creates a big system for my students. I think so many of us open the app and wait for inspiration to strike. We know we should be posting but we don’t know what to post or what the heck to say about it. Each week builds off of the last and I cover: branding, content planning, knowing your audience, converting followers into friends, and how to create kick booty images!
I solve all of the big debates like whether you should have one account or two, how to collaborate with brands on Instagram, how create viral images, and I even show people how I shoot and edit my photos on my phone! It’s an all-encompassing look at using Instagram to grow your following but also how to create a marketing strategy and message with each post you share!
What advice would you give to a fellow entrepreneur about making the most of Instagram?
To me Instagram isn't about being perfect, it's about keeping it real. My slogan is: Keepin' it real since 1988! I believe that our story needs to be woven into our feeds in such a way that every post adds to the last. My following really started to skyrocket when I started letting people into my life beyond just pretty photos. It's been so much fun empowering others to use their feeds for more than just Instagram-worthy moments and teaching them that it's OK to show the real side of life, because that's when the true connection begins!
How long did it take you to launch the course, from concept to creation?
I had been thinking about it forever! I love Instagram and it’s the subject I get asked about the most. It’s also the topic I get asked to speak on at workshops all over the country, so it was a really easy subject for me to tackle. I started recording it in April, so it’s been about 100 days from start to finish, but I am SO proud of it and really happy to have my name on it. Each time I create a course it just gets better, easier, and more beautiful!
When you’re first starting out, building your social media platforms (and followers) can feel completely overwhelming, and very much like you’re speaking to an empty room. What is your best actionable tip for a new entrepreneur in this space?
I always tell people that social media feels like a shouting match. Instead of joining in on that shouting, it’s about whispering to the people who have been waiting to hear your message. When I stopped speaking to the masses and started really speaking to my “tribe” of people, my engagement went WAY up.
We are constantly being sold to online, on TV, in magazines and we’ve trained our brains to skim through ads. So instead of feeling like every post should be a sales pitch, think of it as an invitation to join you, whether that’s visiting your shop, hopping to your blog, or simply commenting on your post. So many people are waiting for permission, for an invitation. We don’t want to be sold to, we want to be asked to join!
...Social media feels like a shouting match. Instead of joining in on that shouting, it’s about whispering to the people who have been waiting to hear your message.
What resources do you regularly seek or recommend to help stay inspired both creatively and in the marketing/business sense?
One of the biggest principles I live by is: Create, then consume. I think every day we are consuming and it can cloud our vision, our dreams, and our realities. I try not to consume until after I’ve created for the day – so not opening apps first thing when I wake up, not being online while I’m writing content for my blog, not looking at what everyone else is doing. It totally frees me up to be inwardly creative and then I can enjoy what everyone else is putting out there. I’m not one to go with the flow, so it’s been important to protect my creativity and for me, boundaries majorly help!
Resources I love: The Rising Tide Society. It's a community over competition movement started by my friends that helps support other dreamers, doers, and entrepreneurs. I also love keeping up with my friends blogs, taking courses, and I hired a business coach to help propel me and my business dreams forward. We are never done learning, so always trying to grow, experiment, reach out, and offer support to others has been instrumental in my business success!
How would you like to see your business evolve in the next five years?
Drew and I recently miscarried our first baby. It was a really tough time for us but it also gave me a giant perspective shift as an entrepreneur. It made me evaluate where I was with my business and where I wanted to go. After the miscarriage I finally started hiring help, so I now have a little team that helps me in my business. It removed so much stress and freed me up to do the things I love most: photography and teaching!
I am hoping in the next five years we will have two kiddos, I’ll be able to still do what I love, work from home in yoga pants, and hang out with my dogs. I love being at home, I love teaching, and I will always want to shoot weddings! I think it will look much of the same, it will just continue to evolve and simplify the more I do it all. Less work, more life is my motto, so being in pursuit of that daily will guide me to where I am going!
Believe that you are special.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before launching your business, what would it be?
Believe that you are special. I think it sounds simple but we are often driven by fear. We feel like we aren’t unique enough or special enough to share our story. Our story is what connects us to others, so don’t be afraid to be different, to share the things that you are passionate about, to open your life to others.
Trust me, I’m not extraordinary. I live in a tiny town in Wisconsin, I love yoga pants and wine, I eat macaroni and cheese every Monday, rescue puppies, love my husband, and am a giant homebody. Typical, right? Yet my story connects me to so many incredible people (just like you!).
Jenna Kutcher is The Everygirl…
Favorite subject or event to photograph?
Weddings that are centered on marriages. They are planned even more beautifully than all the details of just the wedding day.
Best way to blow off steam?
Crossfit (Or I just take a nap… I love naps!)
One thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I am a giant homebody. I hate wearing real pants or makeup and my happy place is home on the couch! Some may call me a hermit.
Instagram or Snapchat?
Instagram, for sure.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Joanna Gaines, I would probably order mac and cheese if it was on the menu!