Instagram has more than 1 billion users worldwide so it’s a huge marketplace, especially for travel brands since many of us use the phone app to seek holiday inspiration.

But Instagram is so crowded that it’s easy for a small business to get lost amongst all those photos of travel influencers pouting and posing (again and again and again) in exotic or iconic locations.

So how do you make sure that your business gets noticed on Instagram without spending a fortune?

The good news is that you don’t need to be an ace photographer, you don’t need superior editing skills and you definitely don’t need glossy hair, a beach-ready body and a sultry-over-the-shoulder smile (see above) to smash it.

Here are some of the (free) things you do need though (gleaned from some of the world’s top Instagrammers):

#1 A fake customer

Eh? Yes, you need to create your ideal customer. Let’s call her Suzy. You need to know how old she is, what sort of holidays she likes, how she likes to travel, where she likes to stay and even what she wears on her trips abroad.

Then everything you post on Instagram should be aimed at Suzy. So, if she’s one half of a middle-aged couple who likes river cruises and fine dining, don’t post random photos of teenagers bungee jumping in New Zealand.

Only post photos that will appeal to Suzy, so she can tell from the moment she lands on your Instagram feed that you sell the sort of holidays she likes. Don’t confuse her by cluttering your feed with anything else.

#2 A filter

Use filters on free phone apps like Snapseed (others are available) to create a consistent look for your images. Choose your favourite filter and add it to your photos before you upload them. This will make your feed look professional and more appealing to users checking you out for the first time.

#3 Excellent photos

That goes without saying, right? But it’s vital that you post good quality photos and only quality photos if you want users to know you’re a pro.

It’s better to use your own unique images but given that we’ve all been grounded for a year with few opportunities to take shots of fabulous locations you can also use good quality free images from online image libraries like Pixabay, Pexels, Burst, Unsplah and StockSnap.

And you don’t have to restrict yourself to destination photos, it’s okay to use other images if they help to tell a story. For example, on Mother’s Day you could post a breakfast tray with a bunch of flowers with the caption “Next Mother’s Day, treat mum to breakfast in bed in Paris”.

#4 Great captions

Instagram isn’t just about good photos, it’s about telling a story, which is where your captions come in. You don’t have to write an essay, but don’t feel you have to limit yourself to just a few words either.

When you’re writing your captions, keep Suzy in mind then it will seem as if you’re talking directly to your customers. And remember to keep it authentic.

#5 Your own hashtag

Creating your own hashtag, adding it to all your posts and encouraging your customers to use it on their holiday posts will help to strengthen your brand. For inspiration, check out travel companies that are super successful on Instagram, such as Topdeck, which uses #topdecker, NCL (cruisenorwegian), VisitScotland (Scotspirit) and Intrepid (#beintrepid).

You should also add generic travel-related hashtags to your posts, such as #travel #explore #beach #holiday

#6 A sense of humour

Using ‘quote style’ images can work really well but avoid cliched ‘inspirational’ ones (which are often sickly and/or insincere) and aim for funny instead.

Kayak does this really well, scattering funny quotes throughout its feed. Funny photos and quotes are a great antidote to the millions of inauthentic images and captions which many Instagram users have come to loathe, but make sure you stay on point and bear your ‘Suzy’ in mind.