Despite not launching internationally until 2017, TikTok (together with its Chinese-market counterpart, Douyin) was the 7th most-downloaded app of the 2010s. For entrepreneurs, that’s a lot of marketing potential.
If you’re looking to leverage TikTok’s massive user base in building your audience, here’s a look at the strategies of the social media platform's top creators.
How to make money on TikTok
- Join the TikTok Creator Fund
- Sell merch to your fans
- Go live and collect virtual gifts
- Partner with influencers or other brands in the TikTok creator marketplace
- Create in-feed ads with the TikTok ads manager
- Crowdfund projects by collecting donations from fans
- Collect “tips” from your audience
- Start a Patreon and offer fan subscriptions
Deciding how to monetize will become easier once you’ve gained a deeper understanding of your target audience. There’s no single approach to monetization, but the highest earners usually maintain a number of complementary income streams.
Let’s go over some of the most common ways users make money on TikTok.
1. Join the TikTok Creator Fund
As we touched on earlier, users who’ve built up a substantial following might consider making money through the TikTok Creator Fund.
Revenue from the Creator Fund can vary from user to user, and is calculated based on factors like the size of your audience, the quality of your user engagement, and the frequency of your posts.
To join the TikTok Creator Fund, you’ll need meet the following criteria:
- You must be at least 18 years of age.
- You must be based in the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, or Italy.
- You must have a minimum of 10,000 followers.
- Your videos must have 100,000 video views in the last 30 days.
- Your account must adhere to the TikTok Community Guidelines and terms of service.
The Creator Fund is a great idea if you’ve already established a following, but it can be very exclusive, and steady payment is not always a guarantee.
If you’re just starting out, there’s a lot of other ways to monetize your account. And even if you’ve joined the Creator Fund, it’s still a good idea to have additional streams of revenue.
2. Sell merch to your fans
And with a wide variety of print-on-demand companies, there’s a ton of merchandise to choose from. You might sell t-shirts, tote bags, pillow cases, hats, coffee mugs, stickers, notebooks—or any combination of products.
Selling print-on-demand products even has benefits beyond revenue. Owning branded merch gives your fans a more personal connection to your work, and every follower that wears your gear in public creates new opportunities to spread the word about your brand wherever they go.
Get inspired: Unxpectd
Clothing brand Unxpectd was originally conceived as a school project for six high school seniors. But when the group took to TikTok to promote the clothing they were hand-crafting in their parents’ basements, their lives changed forever.
Unxpectd’s TikTok account had its first viral hit in December 2020, and in just a few months, the size of its following skyrocketed. Since graduating, the team has relocated to Los Angeles, where they still dye and embroider their own products—when they’re not creating fresh TikTok content.
Thank you all. We love you more than you know.♬ Unbreakable (with Sam Gray) - Telykast & Sam Gray
What works about Unxpectd’s TikTok account is that it’s rarely used to directly promote its products. Instead, Unxpectd invites followers to get to know the brand’s founders on a more personal level, bringing them along for its brand-building journey.
Turn followers into customers
Inspired to start your own merch brand? Learn how Shopify's tools empower creators to monetize their audience on TikTok (and every other social platform).Learn more
3. Go live and collect virtual gifts
Live gifting is one of TikTok’s most useful features for creators looking to monetize their content through livestreaming. Most social networks have a livestreaming feature, but what makes TikTok unique is that it allows followers to show their appreciation in real time by sending virtual gifts, which can be redeemed for payment.
Here are a few tips to help get the most out of going live on TikTok:
- Pick the right time. You’ll want to go live when most of your followers are online. Check your audience insights by going to your profile settings and selecting the Analytics tab to see when your audience is most active.
- Stay live longer. Not every user will stick around for the full duration of your live stream, but staying live longer will give more users the chance to log on and catch a glimpse of your broadcast.
- Post during your live stream. When you post a short video while live, TikTok prompts users who see the video in their stream with a link to your live broadcast, helping to grow your live audience.
- Use TikTok hashtags. As with other social media networks, users frequently browse hashtag pages looking for new accounts to follow. Use TikTok’s hashtags to increase the reach of your videos.
- Test your internet connection and other equipment. Don’t overlook the technical aspects of going live. Make sure that your internet connection, lighting, and sound equipment are capable of being used for prolonged periods of time.
- Stay safe. Remember that TikTok gives you the ability to filter comments, mute users, and block viewers. Don’t be afraid to use these features for users who aren’t contributing to the conversation in good faith. No one should have to put up with bullying or harassment.
Engaging with users in real time is great for building valuable relationships with your fans. Audiences that have a strong connection to a creator tend to develop a personal stake in their success, which means going live can help to boost other monetization streams as well.
Get inspired: Habits 365
Founded by teenage brothers Eli and Spencer Zied, Habits 365 is a New York–based apparel company centred around the mantra that success is built by nurturing positive habits—with the brand’s optimistic young founders acting as the perfect ambassadors of this philosophy.
The success of Habits 365 lies in its founders willingness to let users get to know them personally. They make frequent use of TikTok’s live feature, often posting short videos of themselves working on their brand late into the night.
4. Partner with influencers or other brands in the TikTok creator marketplace
One of the most innovative ways TikTok allows its creators to make money is through its creator marketplace. The creator marketplace helps connect the right brands to the right influencers, facilitating partnerships in a way that’s fast and easy for both parties.
Brands looking to run an influencer campaign are able to browse the marketplace and quickly shuffle through content made by creators they can be sure are open to partnering with brands.
The creator marketplace acts as an influencer agency, letting both sides indicate their willingness to work with one another, relieving some of the awkwardness of approaching influencers that marketers might experience with influencer marketing on other platforms.
Get inspired: Peace Out Skincare
Like so many great businesses, Peace Out Skincare was created when its founder encountered a problem that didn’t have a solution—until he created one.
After struggling with acne and hyperpigmentation, among other skin issues, Enrico Frezza started researching the skincare product development process and building his own brand of skincare products.
Wanna hear more about how Peace Out Skincare partners with TikTok influencers to grow their brand? Check out our interview with founder Enrico Frezza on the Shopify Masters podcast.
5. Create in-feed ads with the TikTok ads manager
TikTok has a ton of great organic marketing opportunities, but if you’re willing to spend a little to expand the reach of your content, you might consider creating your own in-feed ads with the TikTok ads manager.
TikTok ads appear in users’ “For you” feeds and auto-play like any other TikTok video. With paid ads, you can make sure your videos are reaching audiences that are most interested in your products.
But the best part? TikTok’s ad manager seamlessly integrates with Shopify. That means you can create TikTok ads, select a target audience, and rack your ad’s performance—all from your Shopify store.
Get inspired: Luxe Collective
Luxe Collective is a Liverpool-based luxury fashion outlet offering up-to-date, pre-worn luxury goods for a fraction of the price you’d find at other retailers. It was on Instagram, not TikTok, where Luxe Collective originally saw huge success growing its social media audience.
But in the last year, Luxe Collective has fostered a huge TikTok following, seeing it grow to nearly triple the brand’s number of followers on Instagram.
Luxe Collective’s TikTok account is full of fashion tips, tutorials, and the latest news about all the biggest luxury fashion brands. Allowing the character of its audience to dictate its content, Luxe creates a social media account that doubles as a news source for the exact audience that would be interested in purchasing its products.
6. Crowdfund projects by collecting donations from fans
Crowdfunding is one of the most accessible avenues for creators looking to make real money. You put a lot of time and effort into creating content for your fans, so offering an easy, no-pressure way for them to give back is great for securing a regular stream of income.
Crowdfunding can take many forms, depending on what type of funding you’re looking for. If you’re looking for startup funds for a specific project, you could rally your followers by setting up a funding goal and hosting live fundraising events.
If you’re looking to fund a specific project, here are some crowdfunding sites to explore:
- Kickstarter. Kickstarter is the web’s most widely used crowdfunding platform, so the volume of supporters and knowledge of the brand is its biggest asset.
- Indiegogo. If you don’t have a set funding target, you might prefer Indiegogo, which offers a more flexible fundraising goal, letting you receive funds after your deadline.
- Fundable. Fundable lets startups offer equity in exchange for funding, making it a great tool for finding investors. Currently, though, Fundable is only available to users in the United States.
- Crowdcube. Crowdcube offers companies that succeed in their fundraising goals exclusive benefits from their partner organizations through their Crowdcube Funded Club.
- Crowdfunder. Crowdfunder let companies raise capital through accredited investors, with a network of more than 12,000 venture capitalists and angel investors to connect with.
- Mighty Cause. With no fees or waiting period for approvals before launching your campaign, Mighty Cause’s easy-to-use platform is great for quickly creating a funding page to collect donations.
- SeedInvest. SeedInvest allows laypeople who aren’t accredited investors to invest in companies on their sites. On SeedInvest, your backers are investors, rather than supporters—so funds are given in exchange for equity.
7. Collect “tips” from your audience
If you don’t have a specific project in mind, or aren’t ready to offer equity to investors, crowdfunding platforms might not be the ideal avenue to take. For a fast and easy way to accept donations, consider using a tipping platform.
Tipping platforms are a more personal finance option. They work just like a real life tip jar. The option is available to fans, but not mandatory, and they can donate any amount they like at any time they want.
If this sounds more appealing to you, here are some great tipping platforms to check-out:
- Tipeee. Tipeee doesn’t offer subscriptions, but its strength is in its simplicity. On Tipeee, creators can set up a page for their fans to directly “tip” any amount they want, whenever they want.
- Buy Me a Coffee. Buy Me a Coffee prides itself on being built for creators, as opposed to businesses. Like Tipeee, its strength is its simplicity. Followers are sent to a page where they can purchase as many “coffees'” for the creator as they like. “Coffees,” in this case, are $1 payments that are transferred to the creator via PayPal or online banking.
- Ko-fi. Ko-fi offers tips, memberships, and ways to offer users commissions for personalized content, like a custom tutorial or video chat.
8. Start a Patreon and offer fan subscriptions
Crowdfunding works for big projects and tipping is the simplest way to collect funds quickly—but what if you’re looking to secure a more regular stream of income? In that case, you might consider using a creator-based subscription platform, like Patreon.
Subscription-based models of income work great for content creators, because you can keep individual subscription costs low and focus on growing your number of subscribers.
A low-cost subscription of, say, one dollar a month is an easy sell to a single, dedicated fan. If you have a lot of dedicated fans, those dollars start to add up.
Patreon was the first large platform built to let creators and influencers generate revenue through paid memberships from their most loyal fans. On Patreon, you can set up membership tiers that allow you to offer exclusive content to your biggest supporters.
Alternatives exist (most notably Ko-fi, which also includes a tipping feature)—but Patreon has the added benefit of brand awareness, which adds a level of trust from prospective supporters.
If you’re thinking a subscription service might be the best way of monetizing your TikTok account, here are some best practices to keep in mind:
- Be transparent. Success on Patreon involves building a high level of trust with your audience, so be transparent about the amount you’re making and how your funds are being spent.
- Entice your fans with rewards. Audiences are likely to increase their donations if they’re getting something worthwhile in return. Reward your biggest supporters with alluring benefits, like exclusive content and free merchandise.
- Thank your supporters directly. Make your fans feel appreciated and they’ll be more likely to keep supporting your work. Reply to comments, tag users, and give video shout-outs to your supporters as frequently as you can.
- Promote your Patreon profile. Fans can’t donate if they don’t know you’re accepting donations. Link to your Patreon page from your TikTok profile and mention it in your videos, especially if you’ve recently gotten a lot of new followers.
- Keep subscription costs low. It’s easier to get $1 from 50 followers than it is to get $50 from one. Keep your subscription costs low and focus on growing your number of subscribers.
- Create new content consistently. Paying audiences have higher expectations when it comes to how frequently you release new content. Keep a content calendar and release new content regularly.
Who makes the most money on TikTok?
Last summer, Forbes published its inaugural list of the highest-paid TikTok stars:
- Addison Rae Easterling, $5 million (84.3M followers)
- Charli D’Amelio, $4 million, (124.3M followers)
- Dixie D’Amelio, $2.9 million, (55M followers)
- Loren Gray, $2.6 million, (54M followers)
- Josh Richards, $1.5 million, (25.5M followers)
- Michael Le, $1.2 million, (50.1M followers)
- Spencer X, $1.2 million, (54.7M followers)
Each of these users made over a million dollars in 12 months—but how did they do it? Let’s go over some ways the top-earning users make money on TikTok.
Do you get paid for uploading videos on TikTok?
TikTok does not directly pay creators to produce and upload videos. TikTok does offer funding for creators in the form of the TikTok Creator Fund (more on that later), but payment varies based on factors like the number of video views, the level of engagement, and the authenticity of users engaging with the post.
There are some cases where brands might pay a popular influencer to create videos, but TikTok’s highest-paid users usually monetize their accounts through multiple income streams.
Multiple income streams provide greater security, but when deciding how you’ll make real money on TikTok, the biggest factor is your audience.
First, understand your audience to make money on TikTok
On TikTok, your audience is likely to skew younger. A majority of users (62%) are under the age of 30, and a whopping 32.5% of users are under 20. A lot of people tend to think of TikTok’s popularity with Gen Z as its defining characteristic, but this could change quickly.
Recent surveys from Fortune magazine show a growing number of millennials joining the platform, and social networks tend to be most popular with teens at their inception—so a head start on catering to TikTok’s older users could give you a big advantage in a few years.
TikTok content widely varies. What works for one audience might not for others. The type of content you post should be guided by your audience’s interests, but there are some common features of TikTok content that its user base is likely to be more receptive to:
- Authenticity. The most popular TikTokers may range in their talents—from dancers to comedians to philosophers—but what they all have in common is their willingness to be their authentic selves.
- Audience engagement. TikTok offers a ton of unique ways to engage with your audience—like its Q&A feature, duets, and video replies to comments. TikTok users expect a more “personal” touch, so use these features frequently.
- Frequent posting. A consistent stream of content will keep you at the forefront of your followers’ minds, add value to your content in the eyes of TikTok’s algorithm, and give you more opportunities to go viral and expand the scope of your audience.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to TikTok, but having a solid understanding of your audience will put you in a better position to find the best ways to monetize your following.
How to “sell” without annoying your audience
The tricky part of using social media to sell products is not overdoing the amount of promotional material. Your fans understand that you need funding to keep creating the content they love, but no one wants to follow an account that just feels like it’s advertising constantly.
This is especially true with TikTok, since the platform itself is so geared toward forming personal connections with your audience.
Users appreciate good content, so it might help to take a “content-first” approach. Rather than starting with your sales pitch and building content around it, create the content first and let it inspire the best ways to monetize your account.
Get inspired: Partly Sunny Projects
Partly Sunny Projects is an online plant distributor shipping stunning California greenery across the country. Founder Sonja Detrinidad started the business as a distraction from the stress of her day job as a mortgage professional.
When she quit her job and decided to work on her business full-time, she started thinking about ways to direct traffic to her store. And that’s when Sonja turned to TikTok.
It didn’t take long for TikTok audiences to fall in love with her captivating personality. Sonja’s no nonsense approach to gardening is just the type of authentic content that perfectly resonates with TikTok audiences.
What makes Sonja’s use of TikTok for her business so successful is that she is focused on creating content she knows her viewers enjoy. Sonja covers topics related to gardening, effectively capturing the attention of the exact type of follower that can be turned into a customer.
Join the creator economy
Creators are rarely driven by the prospect of making money. Creators are artists—and as such, their fulfillment in creating doesn’t come from the money they make but from the creation itself.
But to be a creator in the year 2021 means a lot more than it used to. Creators aren’t just artists anymore. They’re artists, entrepreneurs, marketers, salespeople, accountants, founders, CEOs—and everything in between.
In the creator economy, stars are self-made—their big breaks aren’t born out of the pocketbooks of wealthy gatekeepers, but out their own creativity, passion, and desire to build something unique.
Time is money—and making more money from your art grants you more time to create art. If the money itself isn’t rewarding enough, the extra time it buys will be.
Illustration by Eugenia Mello
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Making money on TikTok FAQ
Can I make money on TikTok?
Yes! Anyone can make money on TikTok with the right tools and an effective strategy. If you’re looking to make money on TikTok, take a look at the tips above and start considering which strategies are best for you.
How do I make money on TikTok through the Creator Fund?
If you’d like to apply to the TikTok Creator Fund, simply follow these steps:
- Open the TikTok app.
- Go to your account settings.
- Click Creator Tools.
- Select TikTok Creator Fund and follow the prompts.
How do creators make money on TikTok?
The most successful TikTok users make money through a combination of revenue streams that can include sponsorships, fundraising drives, product sales, and working with brands and influencers.