When Karim Ullah opened his restaurant in March 2020, he did not expect to be forced to close 11 days later.
Karim Ullah, owner of the Brohmon restaurant in Essex, joined TikTok three months ago
During the pandemic, Karim was forced to stay open for takeout and the restaurant has since successfully launched its own craft beer and gin.
He is now looking to TikTok to bring his business to the masses after his daughter found success on the platform with her own music ventures.
Today’s economic climate is tougher than ever for smaller businesses, and like Karim, many business owners are looking for new channels to promote their products.
Given its popularity with a younger audience and more and more businesses moving to TikTok, could it be the answer for small businesses?
Can TikTok help my small business?
Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can be a great way to reach a larger audience, and businesses large and small alike have benefited.
There have been some runaway successes who have used social media to build their own business.
Joe Wicks, who rose to fame during the pandemic delivering physical education lessons to the nation, has developed his own fitness app, while Grace Beverley, another fitness influencer, launched her own clothing line and recently secured an investment.
TikTok is the newest kid on the block. It now has 1 billion active users and launched in the UK in 2018.
Unlike other social media apps that prioritize connections, TikTok’s ‘Page for You’ presents users with videos related to their interests through its unique algorithm.
It also now has its own shopping feature, where creators and businesses can sell their products, from which TikTok receives a small commission.
To many it may not seem like the most obvious place to advertise your business, but for many business owners it has proven to be a risk worth taking.
Candice Mason, founder of Mother Cuppa, found early success on TikTok
A new report from Oxford Economics found that one in five companies founded less than five years ago spend more than half of their social media budgets on TikTok.
Candice Mason joined TikTok just six months after launching her Mother Cuppa Tea business and found almost instant success.
“I tried to build a following on a variety of platforms,” he said. ‘I found TikTok to be a really lovely and friendly place. There were women of a similar age who came together at a similar time and we built our own little community there. At first, the videos worked amazingly well.’
The Oxford Economics report found that 47 percent of TikTok users bought a product or service on the platform and 45 percent visited a restaurant or tourist attraction as a result of viewing it on TikTok.
Karim, who runs the Brohmon restaurant in Essex, only started posting to TikTok three months ago and has had limited success so far, but he is confident he will be an important part of the business.
“I think we may be a little bit ahead of our journey,” he said. “As we go down the road, I hope TikTok is very successful. [for us].
‘TikTok is known as something that young people use to post, but I’m amazed at how many people my age have joined TikTok to see what’s going on. I think all businesses should be on TikTok’.
How does TikTok compare to other platforms?
One of TikTok’s defining features is its algorithm, which is based on interests rather than followers, so you don’t need to gain thousands of followers to be successful.
Users view content based on topics they are interested in and other videos they have engaged with, which can be a great way for small businesses to reach a new audience.
One of the benefits is that TikTok prefers users to upload videos that are between 15 and 30 seconds, instead of more than 3 minutes like on Facebook.
I think all businesses should be on TikTok
Karim Ullah, owner of the Brohmon restaurant
Claire Gleave, founder of maternity brand Natal Active, said: “Sometimes I’ve made videos where I’ve been playing with my kids running in the background and I’ve answered a question in the video.”
However, a video platform may not work best for the product or service you are selling.
Ben Spray, founder of digital marketing agency We Are Marketable, said: “On Facebook, we found that you can do different types of creatives: images, videos, carousel posts, text, so that’s where we found you earn a lot more.” .
“There are other features, like instant lead forms, where Facebook and Instagram can pull your profile details… I haven’t seen that available on TikTok.”
Crucially, Spray found that small businesses tend to get a higher return on ad spend on Facebook compared to TikTok, where product prices tend to be lower.
“You’re earning three to five times the ad spend on TikTok, whereas on Facebook it’s £5-10 for every pound spent.”
For Candice, who found early success, investing in TikTok helped little: “I spent £350 on marketing and all it did was get about 1000 views. I didn’t get any sales.
They offered him one-on-one advice to help with marketing, but he said it “became more about trying to get sales and money through the platform and it just leaves a bit of a bad taste.”
Digital marketer Ben Spray believes business owners who advertise to a younger audience should join TikTok.
“Basically, I sit on a very consistent number of views, very, very little engagement, a lot of effort for very little result.”
Most importantly, the success of TikTok for your business depends on the type of product you’re selling and who you’re trying to sell to.
Spray said: ‘I would personally recommend [TikTok] for people who are targeting a younger demographic, because that’s the majority of the market there. And also from clients we’ve worked with, a service or product that is lower cost, because it seems to work better than higher cost services, for clients we’ve tested.’
The TikTok store is inundated with discounted merchandise, from clothing to kitchenware, and as a result, Claire has had a hard time selling her wares.
“If you’re spending £55 on a pair of maternity leggings, you wouldn’t necessarily buy on impulse,” she said. “You’d like to get to know the brand, read the reviews, and learn a bit more about the product before doing so.”
Slave to the algorithm?
TikTok’s algorithm can be very unpredictable and while you may have built a loyal following, users may not always see your posts, unlike on Instagram or Facebook.
Karim is as baffled as other creators: ‘The algorithm is crazy, I know why it’s doing what it’s doing. When my daughter started, she would get 500 people to see her videos. Then when she started posting more posts, thousands of people were looking at her. She does not know [why] any.
“I think it’s just about posting videos and building your brand and your channel. I’d love to find a good reason why some things work, I guess that’s anyone’s guess.
Claire Gleave, founder of Natal Active, has had mixed experiences with TikTok after going viral
This lack of understanding means it can be hard to keep up the momentum, and some creators have been forced to post more and more.
Candice said, “As time went on, I realized I needed to post more than once a day to get the same traction from views and engagement.”
And while TikTok’s algorithm may seem to work for its billions of users who are presented with relevant content, it can also attract unwanted attention.
“I had some videos that went viral and attracted the wrong kind of people, which is a complete waste of time,” Claire said. ‘I’m not interested in vanity metrics on TikTok, I want to attract my ideal client. I don’t want a million followers if they are all men interested in breastfeeding.
“I understand how the algorithm works, it will launch your video to, say, 300 random people, and see who interacts with it. Whoever gets involved with it will show up to more of those kinds of people. If I get dubious guys involved with a breastfeeding video, it just shows it to more and more people who have those kinds of predilections.
“I don’t show it to breastfeeding moms, who are the people I want to target.”
Candice had a similar experience: ‘My product is aimed at women over 30, I couldn’t be clearer. When I bet my money and looked at the stats I got 14 year olds. That is a waste of my money. It just didn’t make sense.
Create brand awareness
What is clear is that TikTok is not for all small businesses. The algorithm can be confusing and if you are looking to communicate directly with your loyal fans, this is probably not the platform for you.
Business owners who aren’t particularly savvy about social media may struggle with how often to post on TikTok.
Candice said, ‘You need time to really put your energy into [social media platforms] to gain momentum. I’m still working full time trying to launch a business and trying to be on all of these platforms. You end up feeling like you’re spreading yourself too thin and not really doing a very good job on any of your platforms.
What it could help with is building brand awareness. Claire found that she gets a lot of traffic to her website from the platform when she uses it regularly, and in particular when videos of her have gone viral.
“I think it’s very much about brand awareness,” he said. “When the wrong people leave and the right people filter through, then we remarket through Instagram and Facebook ads, and the occasional TikTok ad when I’m posting.”
For Claire, TikTok might not be the runaway success she might have thought it would be, but after a few viral videos, she’s willing to give it a try.
His main advice for business owners is: ‘Put your face in front of the camera and try different things. I highly recommend going against anything that is not in your niche, because follower numbers don’t mean much if they are the wrong followers. You want people who are your ideal customers who want to buy your products.’
Candice isn’t so sure: ‘I don’t think it’s a business platform. I think it’s a platform of influence, and I think it’s a fun platform.
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