How small businesses are using TikTok to build brand awareness and boost sales

Ritika and Niki Shamdasani, sisters and founders of Sani, a South Asian-inspired apparel brand, got on TikTok in early 2020 and by March their sixth video went viral, garnering roughly 3 million views. It was the first video they created with TikTok in mind — showing the creation process from start to finish of a garment, ideation to finished product — rather than reposting content from other platforms.

While the timing wasn’t great as this was the start of the pandemic and, at the time, Sani was focused on formal wear for weddings it allowed the co-founders to maintain brand awareness — and see what TikTok could do for the company.

Other small business owners have had similar experiences with the platform, posting organic content that goes viral and helps boost their business. ​​Back in February 2021, Bruce Graybill, founder of Sider’s Woodcrafting, had a video go “insanely viral at a time when I was thinking of closing my business down,” said Graybill. “Financially it wasn’t making sense anymore. Then we had that video go viral on TikTok and we had increas[ed traffic] to our website by 4,000%. We sold everything we had on our website in 24 hours.”

As TikTok has continued to grow in recent years, marketers and businesses have focused on the platform, often as a way to diversify their social media mix, using organic and paid strategies to get in front of the more than 29 million monthly active users on the platform. At the same time, small businesses have started to do the same, according to Danielle Johnson, TikTok’s head of SMB account management, North America.

Johnson’s team is working to develop more educational content for small and medium-sized businesses on the platform. “We’re having holistic conversations with SMBs,” said Johnson. “We’re spending as much time as we can not only one-on-one with [small and medium-sized businesses] but hosting a series for SMBs education, helping them hear from other creators to help figure out how to be successful on the platform.”

It’s unclear how much of TikTok’s ad revenue is made up of SMBs as the platform declined to share those figures. That said, the platform is looking to continue to beef up its offering for SMBs with education series as well as working closely with brands when they begin to spend on the platform to continue to improve their experience on TikTok.

Since the early viral success of March 2020, the Sani co-founders have continued to post videos on TikTok, where they have more than 145,000 followers, to help grow their small business and credit roughly 60% of their monthly revenue to TikTok. While they have leaned into an organic versus paid approach, the co-founders have recently started to test putting paid media behind their posts.

Success on TikTok has also been from organic posts, noted Sider Woodworking’s Graybill, which has seen $30,000 in sales from TikTok alone, said Graybill, adding that he’s spoken at TikTok’s SMB events. “I’ve told my story to other businesses about what works. What works for me might not work for others. But if you’re a small business owner and you’re not on TikTok you’re missing out.”

Duane Brown, founder of performance marketing agency Take Some Risk, is working to onboard a couple of SMBs to TikTok currently. “TikTok is attentive and eager to get e-commerce and DTC brands on the platform,” said Brown, adding that “there has been an increase both from prospect[ive clients] and current clients [as] everyone is looking to move money beyond Facebook.” (Brown typically works with DTC brands and said apparel brands have been looking to get on TikTok.)

Even so, Brown cautions SMBs not to put their eggs all in one basket with TikTok. “TikTok is hot and trendy… so everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. We only recommend when clients have built out a stable paid ads revenue source on Google and maybe Facebook. It’s hard to test out a new platform if you don’t have money coming in.”

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