Field Notes / From 0 to 58,000 followers in three months: How TikTok swallowed my life

From 0 to 58,000 followers in three months: How TikTok swallowed my life

Last quarter I wanted to write a book and earn $100k from consulting. Instead, I posted 105 TikTok videos and got 58k followers. Was it worth it?

Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do.”

If that’s true, then I’ve become an algorithm-pandering “micro influencer” obsessed with followers and likes and video views — aka a TikTok floozy.

Let’s rewind.

In my last update, I said I had the following goals for Q4 2022.

1. Be a damn good dad. Key metric: Take 2-3 weeks off when baby #2 was born and cut back on work 20-30% to focus on family.
2. Finish first draft of new novel. Key metric: Write 90,000 words.
3. Maintain consulting income. Key metric: Do 2 consulting calls per wk.
4. Increase analyst income. Key metric: Complete 1 analyst project per mo.

Best laid plans, amiright?

Literally a day after publishing these goals, I was out doing errands and decided to record a video and put it on TikTok for shits and giggles.

The video got over 50,000 views.

Huh, I thought. That’s interesting.

So I kept going. The next few videos did OK with 5,000 to 15,000 views each, but the sixth video blew up and hit over 100,000 views in less than a day.

That, friends, was the moment I sold my soul to TikTok.

Six pulls of the social media slot machine. That’s all it took — poof. Dollar signs danced in my eyes like I was Mr. Krabs from SpongeBob, and visions of fame kept me up at night with vanity-metric-fueled excitement. Apart from my first goal (“Be a damn good dad”), the rest of my objectives were promptly swept aside as I went all in and became a full-time creator.

But why TikTok?

As a marketer, I’ve been bullish on TikTok for a long time.

It’s still in its golden era — that magical twilight zone where it’s possible to grow a big audience without having to pay a cent on advertising. But, like Instagram and Facebook before it, that window will soon close and I knew I had to double down now or regret it later.

“But isn’t TikTok for tween memes and dance trends?” you’re wondering. “Wouldn’t LinkedIn make more sense for corporate content?”

Get with the times, granny. Everyone’s on TikTok. The Boomers aren’t coming — they came — and no one cares, miraculously, because the algorithm is 🔥

What is my channel about?

My channel is @BoardroomConfidential. It covers compensation and negotiation tips for senior leaders, as well as outrageous stories from my own career.

Top videos by views. These three clips alone are responsible for over 30k followers.

It’s the channel I wish I’d had as a young executive.

No one ever taught me how to negotiate equity or structure senior comp packages or protect myself in exit scenarios, and I ended up leaving millions of dollars on the table. Now I want to help other leaders learn how to not get screwed.

Turns out that type of content resonates with a lot of people.

After posting for 12 weeks, here are some of the milestones I’ve hit.

• Crossed 10k TikTok followers in 1 week
• Crossed 50k TikTok followers in 6 weeks
• Generated 3.5M video views in 12 weeks
• Grew my email list to 5,000+ subscribers
• Sold thousands of dollars of ebooks and guides
• Connected with 10+ execs at Google, Amazon, Spotify, etc.

Best of all, here are some messages people have sent me.

“I did what you have suggested, they are reworking on my compensation now! 🥰 Thank you so much for the tips!” -@christian29909

Thanks to your advice, they gave me what I asked for! I was screaming! 🤗🤗😁😁 Thank you!!” -@YvonneTau

“Negotiating an offer and binged all your videos last night. ty 🤞” -@ky

“Bro I’m getting so close to a hot offer and appreciate your videos so much. I’m finally going to play the game! 🥰” -@Grd

“You took over my feed and it’s the greatest thing that happened. Keep up the amazing content!!” -@k3dari

And my personal favorite…

“I know it’s random thing to say but you’re so handsome, bye 🏃🏻‍♀️🏃🏻‍♀️🏃🏻‍♀️🏃🏻‍♀️🏃🏻‍♀️🏃🏻‍♀️” -@Moony🎵

Not only is all of this humbling — it’s validating. After 10+ years doing nothing but poring over spreadsheets, attending stupid amounts of meetings, and hiring teams to do the grunt work, it’s good to know I’m still an operator capable of building an audience and parlaying it into value.

What are my goals with TikTok?

My long-term goal hasn’t changed.

I still want to be a successful writer who doesn’t have to rely on consulting to pay the bills and cross things off my bucket list.

Building an audience is rocket fuel for achieving that goal.

Here’s how I think about it…

As MythBusters once demonstrated, the fastest route between two points isn’t always a straight line. Momentum is key. By building an audience on TikTok, I can accelerate my transition into entertainment and away from consulting.

Artists who build their own fanbase gain more leverage and ultimately find it easier to break into entertainment than those who focus exclusively on their craft.

It’s not a new concept. Macklemore, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean. Christopher Paolini. Amanda Hocking. Artists who build their own fanbase find it easier in many cases to get record deals, option scripts, or sell books than those who focus exclusively on their craft. They’ve removed risk by building their own brand.

Catch 22? Absolutely. “To get promoted you must already be well promoted.”

But that’s the nature of the beast. Many wannabe writers or musicians or actors take the “direct” path, focusing only on their art because they hate self-promotion, and end up flaming out. That’s why there are so many starving artists. They have no leverage.

I asked Sam Parr, a successful entrepreneur and business podcaster, his opinion on the matter, and he confirmed what I already knew.

Sam Parr, well-known entrepreneur & podcaster, told me what I already know. The best way to break into traditional entertainment these days is to get popular on YouTube or TikTok first.

So that’s what I’m doing. Focusing on TikTok to build leverage.

In my head, the order of operations goes something like this…

>> Keep growing. Post daily on TikTok to continue building my audience and selling ebooks direct to consumers to earn some cash.

>> Get repped. Use social following to get an agent, specifically for representing my business books. If following isn’t big enough to gain traction, continue growing.

>> Land book deal. Work with agent to land a book deal for my business content with a large publisher.

>> Transition to fiction. While working on business content, complete fiction projects simultaneously. Use TikTok to interview my idols in entertainment, promote personal projects, collab with other creators, and leverage my audience to make strategic connections.

>> Have an identity crisis when AI replaces traditional writers.

It sounds simple, but simple =/= easy.

It’s a lot of grunt work. But it’s also a chance to take my creative transition more seriously and accelerate my plan. I just have to give myself permission to say no to other opportunities and not stress financially for the next three months.

What could go wrong?

A lot, actually. It’s a high-risk, high-reward plan.

Here are some of the things that could go wrong off the top of my head…

>> TikTok gets banned in the US. A year ago this was crazy talk, but recent legislation and negative sentiment is scary for someone spending so much time building an audience on TT. I don’t think it’ll be banned, at least in 2023, but that makes it more important to take advantage of this golden era now.

>> TikTok’s algorithm goes south. TikTok’s algorithm has already reduced organic reach in the last few months and most videos are getting a fraction of the views they used to. If this gets worse, it’s possible the perceived value of my channel tanks.

>> Burn out. The daily content slog is brutal. I don’t think I’ll run out of things to say, but it’s possible I burn out or become disenchanted with the pithy, ephemeral types of clips that go viral on TikTok. I already resent some of the stuff that does well — e.g., controversial clips designed to rile people up.

>> Publishing market dries up. I’ve heard some publishers aren’t taking on new authors or projects right now because the economy is uncertain at best. There’s not a lot I can do if the industry bottoms out and overall timing is terrible.

>> Consulting and analyst jobs dry up, too. It’s one thing if the industries I’m trying to break into go cold for a while, but it’s scarier if the projects currently paying my bills go tits up. Since I’m not revenue-focused this quarter, I would have to dip into savings, sell share positions at unfavorable prices, or abandon my plan and scrounge around for gigs I don’t want. Let’s not think about that.

What's next?

Boiling it all down, here are my goals for Q1 2023.

GOAL #1: Complete novel and adapt it for film

>> Complete WIP novel. Write 60k words in 30 days & polish in 30 days.

>> Adapt novel into screenplay and apply for competitions. Adapt novel into screenplay and apply for PAGE, Nicholl, and Slamdance competitions.

>> Read 10 novels. Read 3-4 novels per month (“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” —Stephen King)

GOAL #2: Leverage TikTok to accelerate transition from consultant to creator

>> Post 100 pieces of content on TikTok. Keep posting 1-2 times per day.

>> Interview 2 strategic guests per month. Complete 8 interviews with other influencers, personal idols, or people I’m trying to connect with in entertainment.

>> Cold email 100 agents and publishing contacts. Use clout from TikTok to reach out to agents in entertainment and get representation.

GOAL #3: Maintain income from consulting, affiliate, and analyst projects

>> Maintain consulting income. Complete 2 consulting calls per month.

>> Maintain analyst income. Complete 2 analyst projects in quarter.

>> Maintain affiliate income. Generate consistent # of monthly leads.

If I can accomplish 70% of the above, I’ll be happier than a possum up a pant leg. I would break even on my monthly burn rate and, I believe, accelerate my journey from lame-ass consultant to full-time creator.

Even if it doesn’t go according to plan, I know that by putting out more content, I’ll increase my “surface area of luck” and unlock new opportunities I can’t see yet, and that’s hella exciting.

Whatever happens, it won’t be boring. See you in April 👀

Pictures from the field this quarter

Things I was obsessed with this quarter

>> TikTok. Obviously, duh.

>> Off Book. Off Book is a podcast that combines my two favorite things: improv + musical theater. Jess McKenna & Zach Reino are GENIUSES.

>> AI. I met an AI artist and had crazy amounts of fun feeding one of my kids’ books into AI and getting it to generate beautiful art. Was going to release a promo book but the tech wasn’t quite there in time for Xmas. Next year. But check out these crazy cool images it generated!

>> VHS Christmas Carol. Being the holiday season, I couldn’t get enough of StarKid’s modern Scrooge story. The music is sooo good.

>> History of my favorite video games. When I was flu-ridden for a few days, I spent hours watching YouTube videos about my old favorite video games, including Donkey Kong 64, Rayman, and Mario Kart.

>> Return to Monkey Island. Speaking of video games, I finally got to play the new Monkey Island game. Hit me right in the feels in a good way.

>> Cracking a cold case. The thing I was most obsessed with last quarter I can’t talk about (yet). All I can say is I’m trying to dig something up and I’m getting close. More on that next update.

That’s it, that’s all. Catch you in another three months!


Devon Hennig

Devon Hennig is a writer, marketer, and ex-game-show host. He quit his job as a software executive to make a go of it on his own. Follow along as he tries not to go broke.

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