7 Mistakes You’re Making When You Sell Your Stuff on Instagram — and How to Fix Them, According to the Pros

published May 22, 2021
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Whether it’s to connect with friends and family, laugh while watching reels, or be inspired by the latest design trend, there’s no doubt that Instagram is a well-loved outlet. However, some people also use it to benefit their pocketbooks — and you can, too, by selling your wares, old furniture, and even clothes and other closet finds on your social media profile.

Whether you hunt for thrifted items, handcraft jewelry, or need to clear out a few things after decluttering, there’s room for you to sell to your followers on social media. However, beyond opening an account and using relevant hashtags, it’s hard to know where to begin. Take advice from seven account holders who have found success by selling via Instagram.

Credit: Chloe Berk

Don’t: Worry that you need to have a dedicated page or logo to be taken seriously.

Do: Just start.

One piece of advice rose above the rest: do it. If you have items to sell every so often, post them, either on stories or on your feed. If you want to make selling a more consistent side hustle, don’t worry about a jaw-dropping logo or creating a backdrop that’s just so before you start a dedicated account. Simply beginning is the first hurdle, but it shouldn’t keep you from taking the dive. “Just starting with making the first post was huge for me,” says Kelsey Goebel, owner of The Upcycled Collection, a shop with vintage home goods and clothing. “I really think that’s the ticket. Stop judging yourself so hard and just start!” 

It’s also important not to let larger accounts — or a lag in time between posting and the sale — discourage you. What could be a side gig for you may be a full-time job for someone else, and that’s entirely OK. “Find what works best for you, and define success for yourself,” says Nicole Wade, owner of vintage clothing store Ima Pearl Vintage. “It is so easy to fall into the comparison trap, but you must remind yourself that we all have different goals, different parameters, and varying levels of experience.”

Don’t: Focus on what you think will sell.

Do: Sell things you love and are interested in. 

When trying to narrow down items and curate collections, include things you are genuinely excited about selling. “When I first started, I tried to get into more ‘80s-’90s apparel which appears to be pretty hot right now, but it wasn’t my personal style, and my lack of genuine excitement showed. It sounds cliché, but it’s important to just be you,” says Kellie Pereira, owner of Greenpoint Vintage. Once she homed in on her love of vintage clothing from the ’60s and ’70s, her sales and followers started to multiply. And if you don’t love it, be honest, as that’s probably the reason you’re offloading it in the first place.

And if you’re relatable, it’s more likely that people will want to support you. “Share the story of how your products come to be,” offers Laura Cone, who sells adorably quirky hand-tufted, wool rugs through her indoor activities account. “When you take people along for the ride of what you do and how you do it, you gain an engaged audience that’s already invested in what you have to offer.” Moreover, items often mean more to the purchaser when they know the meaning behind them. Let them know that you loved the way that lamp looked in your living room, but you recently made an upgrade, so your loss is their bargain.

Credit: Anna Spaller

Don’t: Feel like you need to figure it all out on your own.

Do: Join a community.

Social media is all about connections, so using Instagram to interact with others who share the same interests can be a positive experience for all. “Instagram isn’t just a place to showcase items I have for sale. It’s a platform where I can build a community around my love of vintage — a place to connect with customers and fellow vintage lovers,” says Lesley Metcalfe, who sells vintage home decor via Fox & Phoenix Vintage. “I love looking at what others are selling, so I can be voyeur, enthusiast, collector, and seller, all on one platform.”

Networking with other folks can help you learn the answers to questions as they arise — just be mindful that you’re respectful of someone else’s time and expertise. “I speak from experience when I say reaching out with questions not only made me feel less alone but also helped me build an incredibly supportive network that is open to sharing knowledge, expertise, and a good laugh,” says Wade of her experience with other vintage clothing sellers on Instagram.

Don’t: Post your items and log off.

Do: Generate excitement and engage with your customers.

Whether you’re showing your collection of upcoming items, touring your pared-down closet, or asking your followers what to sell next, be sure to create a buzz. Showing sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes of a newly decluttered space on Instagram stories is a fabulous way to get your pieces noticed. 

It’s also important to engage with your customers, the way you would if they entered a brick-and-mortar shop. “We respond to DMs and comments and use stories for sales and to show the behind-the-scenes life in our kitchen,” says Courtney Peters and Celia Glowka, who founded Caramel Caravan Co. “Build engagement with your customers, even if your follower count is small.” Answering questions and responding to comments is crucial, both so your customer knows exactly what they’re buying, and so that they feel supported in their purchasing process.

Don’t: Post badly-lit images, or worry about investing in a high-quality camera.

Do: Spend time taking good-quality photos that honestly showcase your item. 

Crisp, clear images in carefully styled settings grab attention. Use this to your advantage, and take quality photographs of what you have for sale. “Take good pictures! They don’t necessarily need to be taken with a DSLR. They just have to be well-curated and well-lit,” advises Pereira, who puts this into practice when photographing her vintage pieces.” Even if someone isn’t a potential buyer, they may still like or share your post if it is a bit of eye candy.”

Don’t: Take sales personally.

Do: Make purchasing instructions clear.

No one likes ambiguity, especially when one-of-a-kind items sell out quickly, so let potential buyers know well in advance of your rules for purchasing items. Have instructions readily available for how to claim an object and how your customers can pay. “When I post a piece for sale, people will DM me that they are interested,” says Cone about selling her handmade rugs. “The first person to message me gets the piece, and if they change their mind, I work up the list.” Utilize a system that works best for your shop, and communicate your expectations to potential buyers.

You might be surprised at first by what sells and what doesn’t, but this is good feedback if you want to keep the selling up. “Remember that not every single person is going to be your type of customer,” advises Goebel about curating her vintage items. “If you focus on finding your niche and speaking loudly to the people that do gravitate towards you instead of attempting to please everyone, you’ll be totally fine and most likely will feel more fulfilled by your supporters.” And support is what social media is all about.

Don’t: Blame yourself for slow sales.

Do: Let go of your pride, and remember to still have fun.

When things don’t sell, it can be a humbling experience. Posting reduced price items and having sales can seem daunting, but it causes your followers to take a second look at your profile. “At first, it was mostly my ego that was hard to manage when trying to sell on IG,” says Cone. Having pieces sit and having to repost or do multiple stories felt a bit embarrassing, but in the end, it’s just business.” Instead of viewing slashing prices as a negative, you can use sales as a way to build interest and ultimately declutter your space.

It’s also worth remembering that selling stuff on Instagram is work, and people who do so professionally are putting in a lot of hours to make that happen. “I was unaware of the pressure of consistently posting content to keep people engaged and putting your trust in the algorithm hoping to gain followers,” says Ashlyn Johnson, owner of The Honey Opal. Give yourself and your items time, and remember that everyone is at the mercy of the platform sometimes.