When Lauren Wyman felt crushed under the weight of her corporate finance job in 2019, she found solace in launching a small goth and alternative clothing business.
Initially he created Facebook and Instagram accounts for his store, dark mother clothes, but generated only $5,000 to $6,000 in sales the first year. Wyman, 32, joined TikTok at the start of the pandemic, launching new products and posting a couple of videos that went viral. In 2022, he raised $217,000.
“Part of what people have done on this app is create their own slice of the much-talked about American dream,” said Wyman, who is based in Arizona, “whether it’s starting a small business or for people who they no longer face homeless people, people who can retire, creators who are now allowed to continue their creative pursuits.”
Now, creators are concerned that the platform will be taken away from them. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified in front of lawmakers on Thursday, trying to convince them that TikTok is not a threat to national security. But he was largely unsuccessful in arguing that TikTok was beyond Chinese influence. observers say.
The Biden administration has recently increased efforts to force the sale of TikTok by its owner ByteDance, which is a Chinese company subject to Chinese law, the same thing that Trump tried to do in 2020 with a TikTok ban that was blocked by federal courts. On March 15, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reportedly gave ByteDance an ultimatum: Sell TikTok or face a ban in the United States.
A recent bill introduced in the Senate that would allow the Biden administration to ban TikTok has bipartisan support.
An outright ban on the app would be a devastating blow to many of the small businesses that have turned to TikTok to reach potential customers rather than shell out for more traditional and expensive forms of marketing.
Kellis Landrum, co-founder of Los Angeles marketing agency True North Social, said that Facebook and Instagram are “pay-to-play” platforms that don’t give as much return on investment.
“TikTok offers the broadest organic reach of any of the channels right now,” Landrum said. “If you’re very successful on TikTok, that’s probably what you’re focusing on because (as) a small business, you can’t afford to attack marketing on several different fronts at the same time.”
Elyse Burns, who runs a stationery and housewares store. design company launched in college in 2015, he said he’s seen a direct correlation between his TikTok videos and sales. After posting a video planner shipment that got 2.9 million views in June 2022, he sold more than 2,000 planners in two days.
“I can look at my sales and see that that month I had a viral TikTok,” Burns said.
Last year, he had $1 million in sales through his website, which gets traffic from TikTok and Instagram. He spends four hours a day on those two platforms, but has since expanded to wholesale and open a showcase in Durham, NC, to diversify their income. Through his business, which he now runs full time, she has been able to pay off most of her student loans and buy a house.
Christina Ha experienced a similar phenomenon with her New York coffee shop and cat rescue organization, meow lounge. In late 2020, she began posting videos of her retired parents interacting with some of her foster kitties.
When she posted a video about her parents sewing cat beds to support her rescue work, her audience clamored to buy them. She raised $20,000 in one week.
“It was crazy and kind of unexpected,” Ha said. “When I look back on the video, it probably wasn’t my best work.”
A video he posted this month titled “A Day in the Life of My 76-Year-Old Dad” garnered 10.2 million views and another $30,000 in cat bed sales. It also received a flurry of visitors to Meow Parlor who signed up to breed and adopt cats and become monthly donors to the nonprofit organization.
“TikTok is so, so, so amazing. The community is extremely supportive in a way that I haven’t found on other social media platforms,” Ha said.
Even companies like garbage can cleaning and carpet repair have found an audience on TikTok.
Josh Nolan, who runs Carpet Repair Guys in the San Francisco Bay Area, said he joined TikTok after nearly two decades of carpet repair after a technician told him he needed to connect to social media. The results were amazing.
When he started moving the content he posted on Instagram and Facebook to TikTok, “they were just going through the roof in numbers,” Nolan said.
Nolan still uses Yelp and Google AdWords to build business, but he hears from customers all the time who have watched TikTok or YouTube videos of him fixing carpets, he said. He now has over 850,000 followers on the app and earns some extra income through brand endorsements.
“I still haven’t gotten off the truck. I’m still at work on my knees fixing carpets, but it’s been some nice extra money,” Nolan said. “It paid for some of my family’s vacations, and it’s a really exciting thing for someone who never saw himself as a social media content creator. I’m just a blue collar contractor. But you still have this resource here at your disposal.”
Last fall, TikTok partnered with American Express on their #ShopSmall Accelerator Program to help small businesses during the holiday shopping season. A week after the Senate bill was introduced to give the federal government the power to ban the app, TikTok thrown out an initiative highlighting small business entrepreneurs who have found explosive success on the platform, allowing many to quit their day jobs.
That’s what Wyman hopes to do, but the uncertainty of TikTok is now giving her pause.
“Wanting to make the leap but also afraid to go from… having over 125,000 followers (TikTok and Instagram combined) to just 17,000 (on Instagram) is a huge risk to take,” he said.
As part of the company’s campaign to change the minds of lawmakers, paid tik tok for a group of TikTokers to travel to Washington ahead of Chew’s testimony to protest the possible ban on his beloved app. chew yourself posted a TikTok appealing to the masses a few days before his testimony.
“I can tell you without a doubt that the next generation of black business owners will come from the TikTok platform,” said Baedri Nichole, a Columbus, Ohio bakery owner who was part of the TikTok-hosted press conference. “If you ban TikTok, you risk putting a cap on the ambitions of an entire generation of wealth creators.”
Without access to TikTok, small business owners say they would likely focus their efforts on Instagram, where they already cross-post TikTok content. But many are lukewarm about the Meta-owned platform.
“Instagram hasn’t really done much for me as a creator or a small business,” Wyman said. “I’ve used your tools, I’ve tried your ads. … The platforms are nowhere near equal in terms of their audience, their engagement.”