Nicola Broughton, better known as the wildly successful @the_girl_with_the_green_sofa makes the rest of us look like slackers. She’s an Investment Director, a mum to two boys, has the most beautiful home – oh, and has 105K followers on Instagram. If you’re looking for Instagram tips for interiors – and, let’s face it, life tips in general – you could do worse than asking yourself W.W.N.D. (What Would Nicola Do?)
Nicola chatted to us about juggling her online life with the real world, as well as the magical unicorn of Instagram: actually making hard cash from your profile.
Hi Nicola! Your handle and bio are quite specific – how important is it for new interiors Instagrammers to find their niche?
It ultimately depends on why someone is using Instagram in my opinion: for business, for fun, to create a brand?
For me, I started using Instagram for fun and I quickly became known for my velvet green sofa, so it seemed natural to play on that association with my name. I have become known for more than just the sofa now, but in many ways, I never expected to create this brand for myself because I wasn’t looking to monetise my account, it just happened.
Having said that, Instagram is crowded and if you really want to stand out having a niche is important. Whether that’s being known for supporting small businesses, or being an expert in DIY, to having a pink theme, or dark interiors. If you are a small business brand identity must come across in your Instagram niche and handle, I think. Otherwise how do you stand out from the noise?
Very true. As well as featuring your own dark colourful interiors, you also spotlight accounts you love and interview small creative businesses. Can you talk to us a little bit about the community aspect of Instagram and how you want to use your Instagram profile?
The community aspect of Instagram is what keeps a lot of people coming back. Many of us have met good friends through the app, made other friendships virtually. Quite a few people have launched careers and businesses.
In many ways, being part of an interiors community has validated what a lot of us have been doing for years, in our own homes, as “closet stylists”. My local friends always comment when they visit my house, but finding someone with the same passion for a cushion, well, it was always hard to find that outside the Instagram community and it’s always fantastic to finally meet someone in person and find that you can talk for hours, because you have that thing in common.
I have always firmly believed that sharing accounts and doing shout outs is part of being in the community. Why? Well, firstly for small business, it is a great way for them to be seen, for their products to reach a wider audience. But, to grow their own Instagram account while also running a business (challenging in itself) is hard. I know what it is like to run a business, albeit a high tech one. I understand the challenges in being an entrepreneur who has to juggle it all, so why not help? Because if you give support to the community, it also comes back to you.
Instagram has grown massively. I was lucky to join when everything was shown in chronological order and you didn’t have to compete with a sponsored post to be seen. There are a huge number of wonderful small accounts who just don’t get seen by others because of the volume of photos on the site. It can be a little bit demoralising if you have carefully styled a photo, or recently decorated a room you are really proud of and no-one sees it. It may feel like “what is the point?” if you are hearing about how wonderful the community is, but no-one is commenting or liking your post. But, these smaller accounts are no less valid than a larger one, many of them have astonishingly beautiful interiors, so in the same way as I support small businesses, I also regularly feature smaller accounts, so that others can find them too.
You’re an investment director, mum of two AND you run a wildly successful interiors Instagram and prolific blog. How do you get the balance right of maintaining your account but not letting it take over your life? Also, are you superhuman?
Ha-ha, that is the question I get asked the most, funnily enough. I have a very busy and full on day job. I regularly work long hours, and I have to be enormously organised, quick and efficient to be able to do that. I guess that spills into many aspects of my life.
I’m very lucky in having the support of my husband who took a back seat to allow me to have this career. In reality, I am the “father” figure in our family, going out to work while he juggles the kids and the household chores. So, that is the first reason I am able to do a lot of what I do.
Secondly, my interiors side of my life is my sanity relief against a very business/scientific job and a busy career. I can regularly be found “faffing” with ornaments or cushions or doing DIY, as a way to switch off. I need that to balance me, so I have to make room for it in my life.
Instagram and blogging started as a way to fill time stuck in a hotel room, or for something to do during long train journeys. It has become a bit of a second career in itself, which is where the challenge lies, because I have to be able to balance everything without dropping all the balls. If I can help I most certainly will, but I am conscious that it can’t eat into time with my kids. I’m also conscious that I can get stretched too thin.
So, blogging gets done when I’m away from the family, styling gets done when the kids are out at football or at other events where I’m not needed. Instagram posts get done after they are in bed. I miss out on a vast number of events, I simply can’t attend because I work full time. And, at this time of year when I am exceptionally busy, I simply don’t post as often, accepting that I will take the algorithm hit and most likely have to turn down opportunities, but that at other times of year I will be more engaged and able to participate.
Do I get it right all of the time? Absolutely not, I’m several hours short every week, to be able to do everything and do it well. But, I suspect most mums juggling a career are too.
Paxman question time: It seems like more people are trying to use Instagram as a shortcut to free swag and payment for posts. How viable is Instagram as an income stream?
There is no such thing as free swag in my opinion. Every gift is sent with an expectation that you will share it, style it in your home, and that takes time and so actually, it is a payment in kind for what you are doing for a brand, for your time.
Instagram has launched many careers, people have started businesses, write for magazines, write books, but that is actually their income stream, not Instagram per se. Making money in return for an Instagram post is possible, many people do and some do reasonably well out of it, but I have found it is not a regular source of income. It’s seasonal (Christmas is a busy time) and often you are also required to blog at the same time, not just post a picture to Instagram. Personally, I have found having my blog has been the main driver for any income I have made, not just my Instagram account. Will they ever make me enough money to give up my career? No, I don’t suspect they will.
What would be your top tips for Instagrammers who want to build their profile?
Engage with others, like their posts, comment, share others regularly. Be part of the community. With so many active users, it is hard to be seen, but if you share others, you will find they remember and return the favour, which then builds your profile. I should also add that a good photo and engaging caption really helps. When I have been lazy with my caption, writing something mundane, I get much less engagement than if I write about something that others can engage with and comment on.
What do you take your photos with?
For the most part, my iPhone Max which has a great quality camera. If I am doing paid work, or require depth of field shots or wide angled room shots, I have a Nikon with several lenses. I also recently invested in a photography light. I get a lot of work pre-Christmas, when the days are dark and it is next to impossible to get good quality pictures by the time you have styled a shot.
Talk us through your favourite or most successful post of all time, the image, the caption, the hashtags and why you love it.
You might expect me to say it was a post with the “green sofa”. Naturally these did very well for me in the early days, but actually in terms of engagement it was the post that launched my green sofa club. It had a massive response.
I had posted the previous week about how the MADE Scott sofa (my green sofa) was their best seller for the whole of 2018. It got me thinking that there must be a lot of green sofa owners out there and it was a light bulb moment. Start a green sofa club!
I wrote the post as if we were the famous five, meeting in the woods, for a secret green sofa club. Having an adventure with green sofa club badges to identify us. Essentially, I thought about all the secret clubs I had had as a child and what I loved about them and brought that too the post. It was completely spur of the moment, but everyone really engaged with the idea, adding their take on the story, offering to bring cake, suggesting a secret handshake, it was a lot of fun.
I also asked everyone to share their green sofas on stories, so I could save the club to my highlights. Loads of people commented, shared and engaged and now I post a green sofa club member to my feed each week.
Naturally I don’t have time to have these brainwaves often, but it goes to show that an engaging post can really change your interaction with people, and for me a whole new side to my Instagram.
Thanks for chatting to us so honestly and insightfully, Nicola.