Reality Bites: Start-up businesses aren’t built on Instagram

After her departure on Wednesday 28th's episode, Apprentice contestant Jackie Fast talks social media - and why chasing likes and follows isn't the be-all-and-end-all in marketing

In a three-part series, Reality Bites, Young Gun Jackie Fast gives an exclusive insight into her experiences on the BBC’s hit show The Apprentice, including the lessons she learned each week and how she has applied them in business.

After her departure from the competition in Wednesday 28’s episode, Fast talks social media engagement – and her hacks for making sure you don’t waste all your time chasing likes and follows…


I’m going to start with the caveat that some businesses do rely heavily on their social profile to build their brand.

However, I’d argue that 99% of start-ups today do not have a business proposition that is built on followers or likes – and yet most founders spend an extraordinary amount of time on content.

Following The Apprentice, my Instagram followers grew by over 9,000 in a month. I was, of course, thrilled and over the moon. “Now I have over 10,000 people I can talk to about my business,” I naively thought.

However, as the weeks went on and my posts grew, I noticed that the conversion and engagement I should have seen was faltering. Those 9,000 followers were not very interested in what I was doing, my new business REBEL Pi ice wine, or even Apprentice happenings.

They were mostly interested in sending me private messages along the lines of “Can you tell me who has won?” and “What do you think of the other candidates?”. And as much as I love never-ending diatribe with complete strangers, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

During my time on The Apprentice, I tried a number of different variables to see if I could bolster my engagement rates. From post timing to content – it didn’t make too much of a difference, and I found myself spending considerable parts of my day trying to work out content generation rather than focusing on building my REBEL Pi ice wine business.

From someone who has the eyes of almost 6 million weekly viewers on them through one of the most popular shows on British television, it’s a pretty shocking discovery to find out that almost none of that transpires into actual sales.

Having worked with several global brands on content and PR through my previous sponsorship agency, I know first-hand how important great content is. However, those businesses have teams of people in multiple territories all executing the business to varying degrees.

If you are a start-up, you can be easily suckered into growing your vanity metrics thinking it will eventually transpire into sales. However, business success was based on many other factors before social media came on the scene – and it still is.

Do not waste your time focusing on growing your audience, unless you can see a direct correlation between your audience and purchases.

But saying can be easier than doing. It’s human nature to get excited and want to devote significant time to social media – the instant gratification, personalisation, and creativity makes it a wormhole for time.

To remain focused on what grows your business (and to stay off your mobile phone, unlike Kim Kardashian), here are my three hacks:

1. Focus

It is important to really understand what drives growth in your business, including the necessary steps required. For my new business REBEL Pi, our biggest challenge is getting people to first understand the category of wine (dessert wine), then understand what ice wine all is about.

This is a huge education piece, therefore I know I need to focus a big portion of my time on educating the market. How I do that is by charming the industry influencers and getting more people writing about it.

Although social media is helpful to direct people to these pieces of content, the soundbite on social media doesn’t provide the long-tail education that one needs to have from multiple sources. As such, the priority for me with REBEL Pi is getting out there – getting people loving, trying and talking about our ice wine.

2. Really manage your time

There are several great productivity and time management apps available. Equally, a simple Excel spreadsheet can also do the trick.

When founders really break down their days and weeks, they are often shocked by how much time they think they are dedicating to an area within their business (e.g. new business) and how much time they are actually spending. As time flies when you are having fun, many people spend more time than they realise on things they like doing – especially true for social media.

By really understanding how your time is being spent on the business, you can start to devote the necessary parts of your day to the things that really matter.

3. It’s okay not to be popular

As one of 16 people on The Apprentice, I can very quickly and easily gauge how interesting I am to the general public by comparing my own social media channels against other candidates. Whilst this exercise can be both gratifying and painful, the most important thing is whether my popularity (or lack thereof) is causing a hindrance to my business’ potential.

If you look at the majority of famous entrepreneurs, you’ll soon realise that, unless they have an agency managing their social media channels, they lack any significant following. This doesn’t reduce their ability to make money in any material way.

Social media is a fantastic way to build awareness of your product or service, but as a start-up business you really need to ensure your time isn’t monopolised by chasing followers.

By focusing on what truly drives sales, you’ll eventually be able to hire a team to manage this more effectively rather than posting pictures of what you ate for breakfast.

More start-up tips can also be found on my blog: jackiefast.com/blog/.


Read Jackie Fast’s other Reality Bites blog posts: