Housewife Plus Instagram Workshop

This workshop was created to help Instagram users better understand how to grow an audience that is engaging, authentic, and genuinely interested in your hard work. So, who is Sarah Cottrell of Instagram account @housewife_plus?

Sarah Cottrell is a journalist, parenting and lifestyle writer, and social media influencer. Her work has appeared in many publications you know and love including Scary Mommy, Babble, Washington Post, VICE, New York Magazine’s The Cut, REAL Simple and seven anthologies including the New York Times bestselling series, I Still Just Want To Pee Alone. You can learn more about her work at

Her Instagram account, Housewife Plus sat stagnate for years, growing at snail’s pace. Thanks to the generosity of the sites Cottrell wrote for, her Instagram grew to around 9,000 but eventually, she wanted to really dig in, figure out how the platform works, and then rapidly grow an audience to hit a goal of 100k, which she is still working on. In 2018, she went from 9,000 followers to 50,000 and man was it amazing to watch unfold. This workshop covers the tricks and advice that Cottrell has picked up along the way.

Housewife Plus on Instagram

A snapshot of HWP’s Instagram follower count


This workshop is for informational purposes only and does not guarantee success. Growing a brand requires you to commit to the work required of any social media platform. The Sarah Cottrell Housewife Plus Instagram Workshop is the copyrighted and published material of Sarah Cottrell, all rights reserved. This may not be reposted, published, distributed, or sold without the expressed written consent of Sarah Cottrell.

What’s Inside?

  • How to create a cohesive niche
  • An overview of Insights and why you need them
  • How to create a signature look
  • Four tried-and-true types of posts to engage users and attract more followers
  • Proper sharing etiquette and the ethics of sharing on social media
  • A list of free online resources for future reading
  • Personalized feedback – you will be emailed this information.

How to Create A Cohesive Niche

What Is A Niche?

Finding your niche is hugely important. You can think of a niche as a hyper-specific topic. For example, some Instagrammers are about motherhood, but if we look closer, we can break the category of motherhood down to different specific kinds of motherhood accounts. From snarky “hot mess” moms who post about parenting struggles using sharp wit to moms who display pristine homes and put quotes of cute letter boards, counter-culture moms, vegan moms, single moms, trans moms, etc., there are many specific ways to find your niche in any huge category on Instagram.

What Are Your Boundaries?

Will you post images of you, your children, or the inside of your home? Will you post only the products you sell, projects you are working on, or text-based memes that you create? Knowing what you are comfortable posting versus what kinds of content you won’t post will shape your online voice. It is important to think about boundaries as you grow as a creator.

Watermarks and Why You Need Them

If you have the good fortune of having others share your work then you will want to make sure your name appears on the graphic so that once it is unleashed out in the wilds of the Internet, people will begin to recognize your brand and follow you. Furthermore, by using a consistent watermark, you are creating a distinctive look that can become recognizable. Think of this as branding 101.

How to Use Captions

When you post an image, generally it is a good idea to include a caption. The caption is where you can communicate directly to your followers by telling more about what the post is about and why you are sharing it. Decide early on what kind of language you want to use because this will also determine how distinctive and consistent your account is. Ask yourself questions like, do you only use funny one-liners in your caption? Do you allow yourself to use profanity? Do you micro-blog (write long captions that read like a blog post)?

@ #

One tactic that is beneficial is to @ yourself and # yourself in your captions. Why? Because when you @yourhandlename it cues those who aren’t following you to click that follow button.  It also helps when others copy and paste your caption when they go to share something of yours with their audience.

Creating a # for your account is a brilliantly effective way to put all of your posts in one easy to peek at spot. This is especially helpful if you post material from other accounts regularly as it separates out your original work for others to quickly find.

Hashtags + Shadow Bans

Use between 7 and 11 hashtags that are relevant to your specific post. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags but that many clutters a post and becomes difficult to maintain when you consider that using the same exact hashtags for every post may eventually get you shadow banned, which means that Instagram will throttle your reach to a dramatically low number of other users.

Shadow banning is a technique that Instagram employs when they suspect an account of spamming, which is what using the same hashtags every time will trigger. Switch up your hashtags between posts so that Instagram doesn’t think you’re a spammer.

Search on Instagram for hashtags that you think you will want to use and make a list of 50 or more that you can hand pick from quickly for each new post. One of the smartest ways to do this is to check out the biggest accounts in your particular niche and peek at their hashtags. Make a list of 50 or more hashtags that that account is using regularly and then switch up your own 7 to 11 hashtags from that list.

If you use a free service like Hootsuite, it will save every single hashtag you enter making it simple and easy to find just the right hashtag without all the research.

Write A Better Bio

Your bio should include your website link, your Instagram #, and a few quick facts about your account so that Instagram users can get a clear idea of what your brand is all about.

An Overview of Insights

If you don’t already have a business account then switch over to one before you do anything else. Insights are the Instagram tools used to measure the performance of your posts and stories.

Because there is too much to fit in about how Insights work, this will be a brief overview of the most important parts of Insights.

Your Demographics

Demographics is a fancy term to describe, in numbers, who follows you. You can tap into valuable information such as location, gender, age, and time of day and days of the week when your followers interact with you. This is critical to know because if you can understand your core demographic then you can craft posts for their tastes, giving them an authentic and engaging user experience and giving you a boost in followers.

To find your demographics, go to Insights, Audience, and scroll to read all the information.

You will see your following count, Top Locations by city and country, Age Range of men, women, or both, Gender, and Followers divided by hours and days. Note that under Followers you can tap on the bar graphs to see specific numbers.


Under the content section, you will see Feed Posts, which will show you your six most popular posts. Pay attention to that because over time you will begin to see patterns emerge about what content does a killer job on your account.

Stories are found directly below Feed Posts and give information about any stories that you have currently published. Stories are ephemeral and, unless you save a story to a highlight (those cool buttons under your bio on your profile) they will disappear from public view but you can access them all in your Insights.


Activity is where some people can obsessive over numbers so take this section at face value. Here is where you will see your reach versus impressions, profile clicks, website clicks, email clicks, and more. The two most interesting figures in this section are REACH, which tells you the number of unique accounts that saw your posts and IMPRESSIONS, which is the total number of times that anyone saw your posts.

Definitely, spend time clicking around your Insights until you get a second-hand feel for the information you need and where to find it.

How to Create A Signature Look

We’ve talked about how to figure out what your niche is, why you need watermark and how to use captions. But what is your signature look?

Instagrammers do some creatively clever things to make their feeds stand out. Some will use bright colors to grab your eye and others will only use black and white images or soft pastels.

Some will create neat checker patterns in their feeds by alternating between two contrasting styles of graphics.

Some incorporate videos by posting so many static images in between videos.

Meme makers, at least the really good ones, are distinct and consistent in their graphics choices too. Some will only use text-based jokes or quotes but use a consistent color or background so that their feeds take on a signature look. Others will use imagery that may seem all over the place but when placed all in one feed begin to show off a specific visual style.

Whatever design element that you choose, make sure you try to choose that same type of design into every single post you create.

For example, Housewife Plus tends to use only text-based quips. The backgrounds may differ but they are always from the same color palette. If you look up #housewife_plus, you will see a definite style emerge from the collection of memes created.

Of course, trends change over time and as a content creator, you may feel compelled to change with them, which is a good thing. But don’t abandon your authentic voice for the sake of capture the zeitgeist of a current trending moment online.

When to Post

This is perhaps one of the most popular questions Instagram users have. The simple answer is, there is no one idea time. But you can use human behavior as a clever predictor for when your specific audience is going to see your posts. Think through a typical day for the average person. People wake up, have a morning routine, they may have a job to go to , have lunch, then eventually dinner, after dinner activities (putting kids to bed, date nights, happy hour, you name it) and then after hours when most folks are likely home and staring at their screens.

If we follow this basic presumptive routine of the average American person then we can see that the times 9:00 am, 12:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 6:00 pm, and 9:00 pm are popular times to post. Incidentally, Instagram also lists these same times in their Insights as typically high performing times to post and now we see why.

Aim to post at least once a day and space your posts out by two or more hours so that you don’t burn out your audience on your amazing content and risk losing followers. Housewife Plus posts between 4 and 8 times a day.

Liking and Commenting

There are some Instagram accounts who never interact with their followers and this is mystifying because why have a social media account if one doesn’t plan to be social? Liking and commenting is a fantastic way to connect with the people who are giving you their attention.

Just like in the boundary section, however, ask yourself what you are willing to share in comments and what you are not. If someone is abusive and nasty then report and block and don’t look back. Remember, this is your curated space.


Four Types of Posts to Try Right Now

Content creators have been figuring brilliant ways to reach new followers for years. And, thankfully for us, we can try a few of these tactics that we already know work wonders.

Call to Action

Possibly the most fun type of post of all is the call to action because it put you in the position of telling your followers to join you in engaging. You can tell your followers to “tag a friend who needs to see this” or ask people click on the link in your bio for that latest blog post you wrote. You can ask your followers to “caption this meme” and then interact with their responses. If you’ve posted a story and you want to make sure it gets all the eyeballs it can, you can publish a feed post and tell your followers “not to miss my latest story!”


If you have a way with words then this is a fantastic way to drive up engagement and to capture new followers. Post an interesting image and then in your caption, write out a story all about it. Captivate your audience with personal thoughts of brain-bending information. Mixing in a long-form post once in a while is a great way to shake up your feed and keep your followers excited about you and your content.

Share Another Creator

Sharing posts that did exceptionally well on another account is a great way to tap into new followers on your own account. When you do this, be sure to @ the creator in your caption, tag them appropriately, and then tell your followers to “check out @myfriend because she gets it” or something similar. Think of this as Networking 101because it crosses audiences and gives you the opportunity to get to now other creators in your Instagram category.


Whether you’re a meme maker, small business, artist or whatever, your followers will want to see YOU sometimes. Don’t be shy about posting that selfie! This is especially effective when you have an influx of new followers and you want to give everyone a personalized introduction to yourself. This makes you feel approachable and people love that.


The best part about Instagram is that you can experiment with post styles because you can always delete things that ultimately fall flat. Through experimentation, you may be surprised to find that your followers LOVE live story videos or they can’t stand micro-blogging, or they fall all over themselves to post responses to your direct questions like, “what state are you from?”

Ethics of Sharing 101

First of all, go follow @digitalcontentpolice right now. I’ll wait. All set? Ok, let’s get into the nitty-gritty because this is super important stuff.

When creators share content from other creators online they MUST follow ethical guidelines. When an author creates a work and their watermark is cropped off – or worse, replaced by someone else’s watermark – it creates a situation in which the original authorship (writer, photog, meme maker, you) is lost forever.

Big accounts on Instagram are waking up to this and are starting to block and ban or publicly call out those who knowingly (or even unknowingly) steal content.

Here is what you can do right now to make sure that you build your reputation on Instagram that other creators will trust you and your followers will know you as a legit creator.

  1. Never crop off a watermark
  2. Always give a shout out to the original creator in your caption by typing something like, “Follow @author” or “RP: @author” or “Found on @author” you get the idea.
  3. Always tag the original author as well. This alerts the author that you’ve shared his or her work and it may open up opportunities for you network with that account in beneficial ways. DO NOT tag accounts unless you are sharing their work, though. Whoever tells you that’s it’s great to post your own stuff then tag every big account you can find lied to you. You’ll get blocked.)

If you find something you want to share that has no author you are not off the hook. Here is what you do.

  1. Do a search for the text on Google, Twitter, and Facebook. Many times, you’ll quickly and easily find the original that way.
  2. Use an app that can do a reverse image lookup on major search sites like Google.
  3. If you’re finding nothing then go ahead and post but do the honorable things and include a line in your captions that read, “Creator unknown but if you know please comment or DM me.” The reality is that some quotes and images are anonymous and always have been.
  4. Not all creators are OK with using “creator unknown” and in the wake of the #fuckfuckjerry movement, many have opted to post clear policies around how they share others’ work, which includes only sharing original watermarked content. Housewife Plus is one such account.

It is never ok to say, “I found it like this on Pinterest” and then post willy-nilly. If you do post content that is not watermarked and that original creator reaches out to you asking you to take it down then don’t be rude, just take it down. Let them know exactly where you found it so that they can have erroneously marked versions of their work removed from the Internet.

Follow @Digitalcontentpolice

The person or group of persons who run this account are anonymous. They do a fantastic job of educating creators on how to ethically share work. If you ever have a hard time with thieves stealing your work then you can private Digital Content Police and they will help you through what to do to get your work removed from the offending account.

It costs nothing to be kind online. The rewards of being an ethical content creator are GREAT so why not do it?

Online Resources

This is a list of online resources that can help you learn all kinds of useful information about Instagram. For full disclosure, Sarah Cottrell of Housewife Plus in not affiliated with nor does she endorse any of the listed resources and does not receive anything in return for including them here. That said, she also does not guarantee the claims of any site listed here.

  1. Everything you want to know about Instagram “shadow banning
  2. List of banned hashtags 2018
  3. Hootsuite – free edition for scheduling posts in advance
  4. A free tool to show you how authentic your audience is
  5. Unsplash – Creative Commons Licensed images (copyright free)
  6. Write a better Instagram bio, learn how here


Creates memes and gifs copyright free for you to use on Instagram

Create professional graphics easily on this user-friendly app with templates for social media

Look up images to find out who made them or where they came from, also handy to locate original copyright.

A Final Piece of Advice

Building a social media platform is slow going in the beginning. You’ll get discouraged, you’ll want to quit, but don’t. Reach out to other creators who are posting material in your niche and that you respect. Form relationships and begin to share each other’s work and build up an online community of your own be it three people strong or 30,000 strong.

If you are thin skinned in the beginning (we all are!) then do yourself and your mental health a huge favor and delete or ignore unpleasant comments, focus on the parts of social media that bring you joy, and relish your dreams and goals for where you see your work heading.

Above all, remember that Instagram is YOUR CURATED SPACE and you get to have the final say on what you post and when. So, enjoy yourself!

So, What Now?

Sarah Cottrell will check out one Instagram account of your choosing that you own (some folks have multiple accounts) and she will give you professional feedback privately via email.

Coming soon is a subscription newsletter that will spell out lots of fun things with nitty-gritty practical details on the following:

  1. What are share groups and why you should start one
  2. How to get started making money by selling ads on Instagram (no, you don’t need to have a billion followers!)
  3. More on etiquette from blocking and deleting, reporting other users, attracting the attention on bigger accounts, and so much more.
  4. Everything you ever wanted to know about how to use STORIES and SWIPE UPS to grow your audience.
  5. How to drive traffic to your blog, yes, there are ways!

What’s Next?

Stay tuned for my upcoming subscription option for those who want to dive deeper and learn how to do things like

  1. Create engagement or share groups (and what’s the difference between the two)
  2. How to monetize your Instagram by selling ads
  3. Tips and tricks to optimize your captions to boost your engagements and follows
  4. How to appropriately network with the biggest accounts in your niche
  5. All things Instagram etiquette

Recently, I had to finally admit to myself that I no longer have the svelte body of a 19-year-old. Mine is more of a 38-year-old married woman with three kids and a horrible problem with midnight snacking and red wine guzzling.

That tends to show on the hips after a while.

So, I did what smart women everywhere do. I went to Pinterest and started a board called “Lose 30 Pounds” then spent hours pinning insane workout regimens and extreme diets with loopy fonts and skinny thighs in the descriptive images.

I was really going to nail this losing weight thing.

I wiped off the Cheetos dust from my fingertips, wiped the ice cream off my chin, and went to Amazon to order stretchy bands and cute yoga pants in four matching colors.

But wait, I thought, what on earth is a workout without the right music? So off to Spotify to look up all the Beyonce songs and, of course, Eye of the Tiger for when I was really in the fat burning zone.

I chose a date on the calendar for when I’d start this epic journey into fitness where I will watch my fat cry and melt off my size 14 hips. Mondays are not good, Tuesdays seem weird to start a lifestyle so I skipped all of those. I looked at the beginning of the following month, hmm…too far away. I needed to punch this fatness in the face right now so I went with a Sunday. Seems fitting, maybe if I double up on the Crossfit cardio then I can release enough endorphins to trip my face off and see God. Who knows. Sunday it is, I told myself.

Sunday came. I woke up, ate two muffins, drank a pot of coffee, and then remembered that I was supposed to start a fucking diet. Dammnit.

Feeling like a failure I went back to square one: Pinterest.

While looking up words like “sugar detox” and “waif” I found something called “fasting for women” that included a “foolproof” schedule. What the hell, I figured. I can try that for one day.

The next day: fasting. I woke up and immediately looked at the clock, it had been roughly seven hours since I chucked the pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream in the garbage can and swore off my crappy habit in favor of being fit. But according to Pinterest, I was supposed to fast for at least 16 hours.

WTF. Who can go that long!?

I pulled up my britches and dug into this new plan. Hour ten passed and I was starving. Hour eleven passed and I started a new board on Pinterest called “Things to Make With Puff Pastry Dough”. Hour twelve…Jesus Christ, I’m gonna die, I thought.

Fasting is dumb.

Back to square one.

Pinterest says to start a diet off by measuring waistlines, stepping on a bathroom scale, and taking a “before” picture.

I find a cabbage soup recipe and promptly make my house smell like farts and rotting garbage cans. While cleaning up the kitchen, the elementary school calls and says my kid puked in the library. I go to pick him up.

Turns out to be Norovirus and everyone in my house gets it. Five people puking and shitting for nearly three days.

And voila! Just like magic, I lost two pounds.

And you can too.

Growing up as a Latch Key Kid, I ate my dinners in front of the TV where I watched families like the Huxtables talk about their day around the dinner table. My mother held down two, sometimes three, jobs and was not around much for great swaths of my childhood. Dinner conversations in those days were usually me telling our family dog to stop begging me to share my Dinty Moore stew.

My mother, when not working, spent her free time being actively involved in local and state politics, which often meant that she traveled to conferences and lectures, town hall meetings, and rallies. For her, being well-spoken was as important as wearing a clean shirt and matching her belt with her shoes — her speech was something that was on display. And so she spent a great deal of time explaining to me that how I speak would eventually matter.

For my mother, speech was something that she could use to signal to the world that she was educated, bright, and capable. But for me, speech became a tool that I could use to learn how to listen to people — to learn empathy.

When my husband and I had kids, I vowed that we would not eat in front of the TV and turn into boob-tube zombies. We would eat around the kitchen table and have conversations. Those impulses that my mother had had to teach me the art of speaking well were percolating in me as I stepped into motherhood.

In the beginning, conversations with the kids around the dinner table in our house didn’t go very well. While I wanted very much to teach my young children how to engage in conversation, I clearly had some learning to do myself.

“How was school today?” I would ask our kindergartner. He’d look at me with a bored face while slurping down his pasta and grunt, “good.”

“Did anything interesting happen at school today?” I would ask, eager for more details to flesh out that ‘good’. But I wouldn’t get much of a response.

If you can’t think of anything to talk about, just remember the alphabet was a tip my mother had once given me. She would give me examples like, “…and V is for Voter registration, so you could ask, ‘how are your efforts to increase voter registration in your district going?’” Her alphabet tip was brilliant, but I wasn’t sure how to apply it to a five-year-old child without sounding forced and inauthentic if not altogether confusing. My kids may not have been nuanced in conversation by that point, but they could sure tell when I was faking interest for the sake of making a point.

Over time, I began to approach dinner conversations with my kids as more of a way to bond with them and less of a way to mold them into being well-spoken little people. I couldn’t make them show interest in my latest writing project just like I couldn’t force them to tell me more about their days at school outside of “it was good.”

But then one day, I had an idea.

I dressed up in my fanciest dress, swirled my hair into an updo, and dusted off my high heels. I sat down for dinner dressed more for the opera than for pizza and board game night. My kids were astonished and amused.

“Mom, why are you dressed like that?” I got them with curiosity.

“Well…” I started slowly “I was feeling like being in a new mood so I thought I would try this. What do you think? Too much?” I asked with a mirthful smirk on my face.

“You look weird, Mom.” My oldest said as he stared at me with a confused look on his face. “I mean, what if people saw you dressed like this?”

“If people saw me dressed like this then I would hope they’d compliment my amazing sense of style, darling.” At this point, I started speaking in a horribly botched British accent. I was really playing this up now.

My children broke out into giggles. They couldn’t believe that I would dress with such pomp for a dinner of greasy pizza. Their curiosity begged many questions about how comfortable I was, how silly I must have felt, did I often do goofy things like this…could they also dress in funny clothes for dinner?

What took me by surprise about this encounter was watching my children initiate a conversation with me about what I was doing and how I felt about it. They were so curious that they listened intently to my answers. No, I wasn’t comfortable, but I sure looked fabulous! Yes, of course, I felt silly, who wouldn’t? Sure, they can dress up funny too.

For weeks afterward, we tried to coax fun questions out of each other during dinner by wearing funny hats or showing each other cool projects from school or even playing 20 Questions.

The art of dinner conversation, though learned through unconventional means, has ultimately taught my children that while speaking articulately is important, being curious and compassionate enough to learn about the people around us is more important.

As a mother, this experience in conversations with my kids has solidified the lesson that while a fifty-cent word might appear as dazzling as matching leather belts and shoes; the art of listening and conversing for the sake of bonding and practicing manners and empathy is more valuable and important.