In 2022, it’s not a matter of who is on TikTok, but who more a matter of who isn’t?! The short-form video app announced it had reached 1 billion monthly active users in September 2021, making it the fastest growing social media platform.
With this in mind, it’s no wonder that small businesses and big corporations alike are setting their sights on TikTok, with more and more organisations joining the app, hoping to reach untapped markets.
Small businesses, in particular, have found a home on TikTok, with #SmallBusinessTikTok flourishing as a corner of content on the app. Here, business owners share behind the scenes of what it takes to run their companies, funny stories from the trade, and the joys and struggles of running a small business, all in the hopes of connecting authentically with customers and boosting sales.
Many businesses who strike gold with a viral moment on TikTok share a similar origin story. They joined the app in 2019 or 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and found success through a video that went viral unexpectedly.
TikTok Born & Raised
That was the case with Davina, founder of Empyrean The Collective, a Sydney-based business specialising in handcrafted gifts. A video featuring their personalised flower polaroid frames went viral in November 2020, with Davina waking up to a sold-out site the next morning.
Davina started Empyrean The Collective in July 2020, combining her passion for photography, videography, and design. What started out as a small jewellery line has grown into a six-figure business, and Davina attributes “almost all of it” to TikTok.
“Going viral completely changed the game for Empyrean,” Davina says. “[It] significantly helped my business get off the ground as its audience reach is crazy!”
Already an avid user of TikTok before launching Empyrean, Davina says she noticed that #SmallBusinessTikTok began to boom in the middle of the pandemic. She says that seeing the success of other businesses on TikTok inspired her to document her own journey, and began making TikToks to promote Empyrean two weeks before she launched the site.
A Game Changer for Existing Businesses
While TikTok has always been in the picture for some businesses, the ever-elusive algorithm has proven that it’s never too late for anyone to find viral success through the app.
Melbourne-based cake artists Tegan and Katie started their business Cake for Days in 2017, working out of a spare room in Katie’s home. They joined TikTok in September 2020 during the long Melbourne lockdowns— a decision that proved to be a turning point in the growth of their business. Since joining the app, their TikTok account @tiggamac has gained over 720,000 followers. Aside from a dedicated online following, it has landed them major collaborations, a follow from Gordon Ramsay, and a segment on The Today Show.
A long way from their humble beginnings, Tegan says they always knew social media would play a “huge role” in promoting their business, but didn’t necessarily have a social media strategy.
“We just tried to share our cakes and be ourselves, [but] growth was very slow,” she said.
On joining TikTok amid the grueling Melbourne lockdown, Tegan shares, “Events were cancelled. We had no work coming in. But what we did have was time. Time to spend on our socials. So I started TikTok. I never thought it would take off like it has. It was almost like a bit of an experiment […] but it’s turned into so much more than that now”.
More than a Marketing Strategy
As an interesting side effect of viral success, Tegan can now also add “content creator” to her job title.
With the impressive following she and Katie have built on TikTok, they have scored brand partnerships to create sponsored content in the same way an influencer would.
This means that rather than using TikTok purely to promote Cake for Days, their content has generated a whole other stream of income.
“A few years ago, all of our income came from cake orders. Over the last six months, [the] majority of our income is content related,” Tegan explained.
“It’s the reason we have been able to stay in business during a pandemic”.
Nobody’s an Expert
With Davina and Tegan achieving such dramatic success through TikTok, you would think they hold the keys to understanding how to create a viral video.
But neither of them claim to know the answers.
“TikTok’s algorithm is so unpredictable!” Davina says, “Funnily enough, it’s always the videos that I spontaneously film on the spot that do well compared to the ones that I edit on my desktop”.
“It’s really hard to pick what is going to go viral. But we have found that videos that [evoke] an emotion in someone do well,” Tegan shares similarly.
And while a viral video can mean that business is booming for a while, there’s no knowing how long it will be until the next time a video goes viral.
In a recent video, Davina had a heart-to-heart with her followers, sharing her struggles with measuring success through TikTok views, especially when she was experiencing a slump in numbers.
But only a few days later, Davina posted a video with her sister singing along to the soundtrack of Disney’s Encanto while filling orders, which at 8 million views, has become Davina’s most-watched video to date.
Advice to Those New to #SmallBusinessTikTok
While neither Davina nor Tegan claim to have all the answers, they do have some hard-earned wisdom to share for those hoping to join #SmallBusinessTikTok.
Tegan thinks the key to using TikTok to promote a business is to be “authentic, fun and interesting”.
“I think part of the reason we have done so well is because our content is a bit different. It’s fun to watch, it’s engaging and honest. Also, people learn something!” she said.
As for Davina, she suggests using viral sounds, spending time on the app to keep up with trends, and having a clear idea of the type of content you’d like to make.
She’s also against the “guilt tripping” angle that #SmallBusinessTikTok has unfortunately been associated with.
“It may deter customers,” she says, “Instead find trends and put your own twist to them!”
With the new year well and truly underway, here’s hoping that TikTok brings more small businesses their big break in 2022!