At any given moment on TikTok, any user can go viral for posting about seemingly anything. Case in point: The most-viewed TikTok videos of 2022 included a giant chocolate giraffe, a toddler reminding her mom “I’m just a baby,” Squishy the chipmunk’s return from hibernation and — of course — that corn kid remix.
But creating a viral post and generating revenue are two different things — and TikTok is notoriously difficult to monetize. So, as I prepared to launch on the platform, I knew I needed a strategy to help turn all the content I was told I needed into tangible income. Instead of wasting my time and money, I began searching for someone who was already getting the results I wanted. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over decades as an entrepreneur, it’s that success leaves clues.
My target was someone in the top 1% of creators, with a proven history of monetization on the platform. That person turned out to be London Lazerson. Known as @Londonlaz, the 29-year-old viral content creator has more than 9 million followers and 1 billion views; that makes him the world’s 1,100th largest TikTok account.
Keep reading for the lessons I learned, all of which you can apply to your business today to start earning income from your TikTok following (hint — monetization is about brand deals, not the TikTok Creator Fund).
Related: 7 Easy Ways to Use TikTok to Make Money
The case for monetizing TikTok
In the world of social media monetization, it’s tempting to begin with YouTube. The platform is known for its robust ad platform, and the top YouTubers make significantly more than the top TikTokers, at least by Forbes’ estimates. This begs the question: Why TikTok?
Whether you follow the social media landscape for business opportunities or its role in your personal branding, it’s clear that a massive shift has been underway. By 2020, Facebook was already losing U.S. users. YouTube had a full suite of monetization tools, but it had also become oversaturated. And then there was TikTok. While Facebook was shedding users, the short-form video platform was fast approaching 1 billion — a “hockey stick” growth rate that compelled both Meta and YouTube to launch similar short video features.
In the few years since 2020, Tiktok has left an undeniable imprint on popular culture. About 30% of American adults are on TikTok. More than 50% of U.S. users are 30 years or older, and they spend an average of 80 minutes daily on the platform. Even outlets like The New Yorker and NPR have jumped on the TikTok bandwagon, covering viral trends and the creators who launch them into our social consciousness.
Although TikTok is the new “it” platform, there’s room for more than one in your monetization strategy. It helps to think of influencing as a giant funnel, not unlike the one you’ve likely used for your venture’s inbound marketing campaigns. TikTok is the top; that’s where you should post the most content. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat form the middle of the funnel, and YouTube is the bottom. In other words, Tiktok is the big net. Catch all the fish on TikTok, then send them to YouTube.
Creators can earn money via the TikTok Creator Fund and TikTok Pulse, but they’ve largely reported disappointing earnings so far. The key to making money on TikTok is landing brand deals. And that’s all about learning to sell smarter — a skill that’s foundational for any entrepreneur, social or otherwise.
The most creative people on the planet are no more creative than you. They’re just better salespeople.
Related: How to Integrate TikTok Into Your Video Marketing Strategy
How to start making money on TikTok
To monetize TikTok, you need the social status to show that your strategy works and case studies that show you can do this for someone else’s brand. The rationale is simple: Why would you hire Joe Schmoe’s agency when you could hire Gary V’s?
Here are the three steps you should follow to not only land your first brand deal but monetize TikTok in 2023. To give yourself a head start, leave the “follower” mentality at the door. Your value to clients is in your ROI, not your follower count.
1. Create free ads until one goes viral:
No one wants to work for free. But to charge brands for your content, you need a case study. And for that, you need a proven track record. How can you get started? Try some old-fashioned cold-calling. Reach out to as many brands as possible and offer to create an ad in exchange for a free product.
If you have 20K followers, focus on case studies. Your pitch should be, “Let me create free videos for your brand and post them to my page.”
Keep doing free ads until one of them goes viral. When one of your videos eclipses 1 million views, you can start charging — but never before.
2. Develop your case study:
Once one of your ads goes viral, create your case study. But remember, your case study is not your follower count. It doesn’t matter if you have 1 million followers if no one wants to buy what you’re trying to sell.
Your case study should tell a clear, concise story about a successful brand campaign. Outline the brand’s KPIs, the campaign structure, the concrete results you delivered and the “so what” of why those stats matter. Make sure to illustrate your performance against the campaign’s KPIs using analytics.
3. Sell your case study:
Say you had a video go viral for a makeup brand. Your next step should be to go to a competitor with your case study. Tell them you did a brand deal for another brand in their space and got 1 million views. Then, ask your price.
While some brands value email signups, others want a campaign to generate purchases, boost awareness or even achieve a certain click-thru rate. Keep KPIs in mind when pitching brands, and present case studies that reflect their goals whenever possible.
Most brands have never talked to an influencer that cares enough to understand their brand’s goals. Be the influencer who cares enough to ask for their KPI.
Once you’ve sold the brand on your case study, it’s time to dictate the creative. Proactively offer concept approval, as most brands will require it anyway. Once you’ve posted the content and measured your results, create the next case study in your marketing toolkit. By doing so, you could be on your way to achieving what few have on TikTok: not just monetizing your following, but earning enough to never work a full-time job again.