How this designer monetized Instagram Subscriptions

Boh headshot
Boh headshot

Social Media | Feb 21, 2024

By Caroline Bourque

In Ask an Influencer, Business of Home explores the creator economy. This week, we spoke with Brooke Mennen-Talsma, the Iowa designer behind @brookemtinteriors.

Brooke Mennen-Talsma’s homebuilder father saw the design spark in her from an early age—and he never forgot it. She grew up on his job sites, “exploring probably where I shouldn’t be exploring” and watching him in his shop building custom cabinetry. After a freshman-year detour where she majored in radiology, a part-time job at a local design studio helped her see the opportunities in the design field.

Mennen-Talsma began taking on more of her own projects, and she eventually launched her eponymous firm in January 2023. Before long, her offerings extended beyond the usual client projects. Instagram had proved to be the engine that got her business off the ground, even generating the lead for her very first solo project. With her fast-growing following—now at 59,000—it soon became a hotbed of opportunities to teach fellow homeowners, designers and business owners how to hone their crafts.

Ahead, the designer shares her tips for turning projects-in-process into content, talks about how an AI experiment paid off big-time and how setting firmer boundaries led to new offerings in the social media sphere.

When did you find a content strategy that worked for you?
At the beginning, it was simply posting consistently. But it takes so long for projects to come to completion or get photographed, so a lot of my Instagram became focused on the process: These are the materials that I want to use, this is the elevation, this is the SketchUp file, the mood board, stuff like that. The plan was just to post a lot—even when I didn’t have completed projects photographed—in key categories like material selections, SketchUp files or 3D renderings. I focus on a rotation of those.

How do you achieve that consistency? Do you follow a content schedule?
I do not have a schedule, which sounds insane because I feel like everyone does, but it’s really just fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants: “What am I going to post today?” If I’m at a site visit or the tile supplier or wherever, I’ll take photos and always put them into albums on my phone with project names, and then I’ll also do an album called, “New to Post” so that if I’m struggling for content, I’ll just go to the album and know I haven’t already posted any of that.

If I’m fresh off a site visit, and it’s on my mind, I’ll start to make a Reel—or even make five Reels of the same project, each a little different—and then I’ll save it to my phone or as a draft on Instagram so I can post as needed.

Mennen-Talsma paired woven textures with creamy hues in this serene kitchen
Mennen-Talsma paired woven textures with creamy hues in this serene kitchen - Photo Credit Courtesy of Brooke MT Interiors

What does the physical process of producing content look like for you?
I just use my iPhone and the in-app editing features. But there are certain things I do when I take photos and videos: I turn all of the lights off and aim for natural light, particularly at golden hour. I do like to create mood boards or content for projects and materialities I’m going to be using, because it’s interesting that what looks good on the table or wherever I am looks good in person, but then when I put it through my phone’s camera and see it on the screen, it looks terrible. Then I’ll move it back or balance it out as needed—it’s mostly about exploring that and having an eye for it.

Do you have a good sense of who your audience is on social media?
I feel like it’s a mix between people or clients looking for inspiration and materials—whether they’re renovating or building their own house or just interested—and then probably around 50 to 60 percent of my audience is actually interior designers. I think they really gravitate toward the process work, like the 3D renderings and SketchUp files, and even just [how I navigate] the balance between motherhood and owning my own business. I’ve gathered a lot of followers who are interior designers and mothers and either already have their own business or want to start one while also prioritizing their family.

A muted, gray living room featuring a fireplace tiled with a geometric motif
A muted, gray living room featuring a fireplace tiled with a geometric motif - Photo Credit Courtesy of Brooke MT Interiors

Do you interact with your audience via comments and DMs?
I always try to be diligent in responding to comments and DMs, but just a couple weeks ago, I was telling my husband, “This is just stressing me out.” I always have had this absolute rule that I will reply to everyone, even if it’s from a week ago. But I made a new goal where I’m not going to reply to everything. I only have so much energy, and that’s OK. I had to talk myself off this hill [and decide] it’s OK not to reply. Now I’ve been intentionally trying not to reply to people. It’s kind of insane how many people send me their whole kitchen remodel plan and ask me all these questions—it’s overwhelming, so I’m like, “I’m not currently taking on free work right now; I already have a full project load.” I’m also like, “Oh, my God, are people going to unfollow me?” or “Are people going to get mad?” and then I’m like, “If they do, who cares? The world isn’t going to fall apart.”

Right, and ultimately those are services you charge clients for.
Exactly—that’s why I started offering a monthly subscription on Instagram. Now my response is: “Hey, I share this information under my subscribed content.” Then the ball is in their court. Now it’s like, maybe I will share some paint colors that I’m using, or my client process or light fixtures, but since I had so many people constantly pestering me for that, I wanted to try out a subscription just to see how it would go.

What’s included in your subscription—and what did it take to implement?
It wasn’t a whole thought-out marketing plan; it was more like, “I’m going to do it and see if people want it.” A lot of my subscribers are either building a house and want to see where I get my tile from, for example. And I don’t share ongoing project stuff—that’s more proprietary to the client—but if I see something out and about, or I personally want to use [a product], I share that, and it’s not going to affect any project.

It’s also interior designers who have questions about the business side of things—like, “What platform do you use to do your invoices?” and “How do you say no to clients?” So I will do a Q&A for them, and I’ll put all of these screenshots of the questions into an album on my phone, and try to answer one or so a day, like “My favorite LVP flooring is this,” or “This is the Amazon knob I use for my project,” or “This is the software that I use for some invoices.” Since people are like, “How did you get started?” or “What would you do in this situation?” I can also answer those questions here and there. Instead of thinking about what content I should post, I’ll just answer a question that one of my subscribers has already asked me.

I try to be straight-up with them—if this is more stressful than fun for me, I’m not going to do it. And if you are paying such a minimal amount, I’m not going to give you a whole-house design or show you how you should run your entire business.

How did you decide how to price the subscription?
For the first 100 people, I charged $5 per month—I just wanted to see if people were even interested. At the time, I was like, “I don’t want it to be more than your Netflix subscription,” but then I did increase it to $10, which is what it currently is. Right now I have 300 subscribers, which ends up being around $2,500 a month. There’s no follow-up work, so that’s appealing, because you’re not going to hurt my feelings if you don’t subscribe—you would hurt my feelings more if you were pressing me all the time to give you more information. So it’s a good passive-income type thing, like a whole other project throughout the year that doesn’t require any backlog.

What are the other aspects of your business?
My main focus is my actual client projects, meeting those deadlines and trying to make sure everything’s on track.

Recently, I’ve been trying new things. My husband and I made this video called How to Make AI Interior Images, because he had taught me—and I’m not super techy—and I started posting AI images, and I had so many people be like, “How do you do this?” We instantly knew, “OK, we’ve got to figure this out and make a video to show people.” So we made a video, and we sell it through Vimeo, and it has been really successful—which is crazy because it was my first video. People found it super helpful, and it’s very simple, down to the basics. But we’ve made almost $40,000 off that video. For it to do that well and require literally no follow-up—I can totally see why people sell online courses and stuff; it’s very appealing. In the future, I might do one with SketchUp, because a lot of people also ask me about 3D visualizations.

The beauty of natural wood shines in these custom built-ins designed by Mennen-Talsma
The beauty of natural wood shines in these custom built-ins designed by Mennen-Talsma - Photo Credit Courtesy of Brooke MT Interiors

How was the experience of stepping into video?
To be honest, I don’t think I even listened to the video all the way through because I was so pissed off at myself, hearing myself talk and saying the wrong words. At the time, I was like, “I’m never making another video again. I didn’t enjoy any of that.” But in the end, it was worth it.

I used to try to put myself in videos, but now I don’t mind if my face isn’t in it—I think I should try to, but I just have no desire, and I don’t mind if the video [features] houses and materials and not me. But I’m trying to get more comfortable with it, and that was actually last year’s goal, which didn’t really come to fruition. This year, it’s coming back.

Did any other services or ventures spring out of social media?
I do some one-on-one [consultations]—I don’t post about it, and I’ve never advertised for it, but I have a lot of interior designers reaching out to me, like, “How did you get started?” and “What’s your business model?” I want to help them, but I’m also trying to keep myself afloat to get through my project deadlines, because there’s a lot going on. So, every few months, I’ll schedule a day where I’ll meet with three interior designers over Zoom one-on-one and talk about where they’re at and how I got started. I think they resonate with hearing from somebody who’s like, “I don’t have it all figured out either. I’m still learning, and this is where I’m at. I can tell you what I would do in your situation, but I’m not telling you it’s the best way.”

Have you ever had a viral moment?
When I first reached around 12,000 followers, I saw what was probably the highest jump in the shortest amount of time. It was a Reel of a home show that I went to with stone backsplash, and it got around 3 million views, but the comments were either with it or very against it. It was crazy how much I just got roasted, like, “Oh, must be so nice to never cook,” and blah blah blah. It was good for my page and stuff, but it was crazy. It’s funny, because people were so rude but that was probably the most viral video I’ve had.

[Interestingly,] that video was probably out there for well over a month before people even picked up on it and made it go viral. I always try to keep that in mind. A lot of my highest-performing posts, I don’t think they’ve ever just been off-the-bat hot. It might take a month or two for people to even see it, so it’s [important to stick to] posting. A couple months later, you might just log in one day and be like, “Oh, wow, people are starting to see that finally.”

What’s the biggest challenge for you on social media right now?
The biggest struggle has been getting comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about the scope of work I'm doing, saying no to people, and setting boundaries for me and my business. I have to stand back and look at what’s important and say, “No, I’m not able to do that right now, because my priority is spending time with my family,” or whatever. Those uncomfortable conversations have been really hard for me, but I’m sure they will get easier and better with time.

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