Can you make money on social media?
Moving your small business or side hustle onto social media? Here's money-making advice from the professionals and everyday people who’ve done it.
Moving your small business or side hustle onto social media? Here's money-making advice from the professionals and everyday people who’ve done it.
Even casual scrollers see influencers like Huda Kattan and Dan Bilzerian earn incomes daily on Instagram and TikTok. Influencer Marketing Hub reports that the most popular accounts can pull in almost $800,000 for a single post. But what about you? Could you make money on social media?
Maybe you’re someone with a tangible business and real-life clients and customers, like a financial planner, real estate agent, Etsy-shop owner, caterer, tutor or (insert your profession here). You may have used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn or even TikTok to get your name out to potential clients. The COVID pandemic closed doors on businesses and pushed small business owners, self-employed people and those with side hustles to find alternative ways to connect, sell products and services, complete transactions and, obviously, create new revenue streams. Social media, some say, is the answer.
The environment is right, says Jason Charlebois, Scotiabank’s senior vice-president, small business. “The last six to eight months, the business opportunity to participate digitally is more legitimate,” he says about small businesses that may have hesitated to go online or frankly just didn’t have the time to do so before COVID-19. “Consumers are more willing to adapt their purchasing behaviours.” Because of the original March 2020 lockdown and the many restrictions put in place since then, people are more willing to buy something without seeing it in person, have video consultations, arrange for pickup or delivery without signatures, sign contracts online, and engage with small businesses in other ways online.
Charlebois points to data from the New Path to Impact Report, a survey by Scotiabank, where 40% of small business owners say they are “cautiously optimistic” for their future. (The study, conducted by Maru/Blu on behalf of Scotiabank, included a range of small business owners, from sole proprietors and entrepreneurs to those with businesses with up to 50-plus employees.) Despite being in a “worse situation” compared to before the pandemic, many businesses feel prepared—almost 70% of those surveyed. Charlebois says his clients have been pivoting (reducing variable costs), using financial support from the government (like Canada Emergency Business Account loans, and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program) and bank specific programs (like payment deferrals), partnership tools (Shopify and the Canada Federation of Independent Business) and, of course, social media.
“Where else can we do business?” responds Rory Lindo, co-owner of Doll Factory by Damzels, a vintage-inspired dress retailer with two locations in Toronto. “Four or five years ago, we put our dresses online,” she says, adding that, pre-COVID, damzels.com would list 10 or 15 items for a taste of the collection in store. “It was a very simple website that was more of an introduction to our brand.” For social media, the schedule was a single post a day on the @dollfactorybydamzels. Since the March 2020 shutdown, though, every piece they’re selling is on the website or on their Facebook and Instagram pages. They also recalibrated their inventory from being mostly dresses to now include sweaters, leggings and other casual pieces. “It’s what people want right now—comfy clothes and things that look good on Zoom.” As for social media, they have about doubled their social media advertising (from once a month to once every 10 days), began tagging products in posts, doing more video content, and now posting three times a day (including one video for Instagram Stories). She’s made these changes to her digital marketing plan because, as she says, “My livelihood depends on it.”
Global social media companies have been working towards having a presence in Canada for a while now, to support local businesses here. Facebook has offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal; Twitter launched its Canadian offices in 2016, Pinterest in 2018, and TikTok in 2020. And a whopping 67% of Canadians are on social media, making us one of the more engaged nations.
Facebook recently held its first-ever Fitness Summit in August 2020, educating trainers, gym and studio owners, and other exercise professionals on how they can make money on Facebook and Instagram. “The intention here is that Facebook is really thinking about a broader menu of monetization options for various businesses, no matter what size you are,” says Devi Mahadevia, Facebook’s director of sports and fitness partnerships, based in Washington, D.C. “How do our products grow revenue? Our platform is now offering a new menu of monetization tools that help unlock revenue opportunities.” To create a revenue stream for yourself on Facebook and Instagram, you can set up paid online events (where your customers can buy tickets to a streaming video event), shopping catalogues, monthly subscriptions, branded content (when you partner with an advertiser), conversion (ads targeted to users who have interacted with your content), and Facebook Stars and Badges (when your clients or customers can “donate” to support to you). And in August 2021, Wealthsimple Cash announced that you can tip your favourite Twitter accounts by tapping the “tip jar” icon on the profile page.
And social media sites, no matter the channel you are on, offer business owners a way to connect with customers and clients, by posting content, private messaging, live streaming, creating video Stories and more.
For existing clients and customers, who already know who you are, they may already be following you, or would instantly recognize your “brand” if you went on social media. So, it can be an authentic way to interact with them now, without the natural foot traffic.
“My professional and my personal relationships are intertwined,” says public relations professional Jennifer Thompson, @Jtandcompanyhq and jtandcompany.ca. “I bet you I spend an hour and a half a day on non-client objectives [on Instagram]”—meaning, activity when she’s not rolling out social media campaigns for her clients or checking in with influencers. But then again, that time is kind of work-related. “It’s good for me to connect, observe, read and see where links go.” She uses the medium to find contacts and check bios for professional details. “It’s been a wonderful way to connect,” she adds.
And Hamilton-based real estate agent Rachelle Aurini, @makehamiltonhome_with_rachelle, agrees. “I use it to strengthen relationships I already have with people. A lot of my business comes from realtor referrals.” Her content includes posts and videos of her latest listings, her favourite local retailers and lunch spots, and the Hamilton-area charities she supports. That, she says, sparks messages and comments from old friends and acquaintances to say hello and to say they’ll soon be in the market to buy/sell. (She set up an automated response for when she’s offline and not able to answer right away.)
She creates ads on Instagram and Facebook for as little as $50 to $100 a week, which perform better for her than the real estate section of the local newspaper. “I find it pretty easy,” she says of the process. “Things change frequently, as far as algorithms go, which I find frustrating. But I do like that I can create targeted ads and reach people that would be interested in a property.” And when the COVID lockdown hit her market in March 2020, she pivoted all her in-person business to live video home tours and buyer presentations on her social accounts. And she finds that more often than calling or texting her, clients and colleagues will send her private messages. “You have to use social media,” she says, laughing at how it can be a job in itself. She would love to be more consistent with posting and eventually wants to hire someone to manage the account. “You definitely need social media presence for a business nowadays. It’s good because it puts you out there, and it helps you express your brand and you as a person. If you’re doing it right, you attract the right people.”
Your friends from high school and your family are great and all. But if you’re looking to set up your work life with a social media account (or turn your personal account into a business one), you will want to think about your “branding,” as in how you come across to existing clients and new customers, too. Thompson has done this for her own clients.
Her first recommendation: Write a bio that really represents your values as a business and/or professional. “It should clearly state who and what the business is, as well as what it does and how best to get in touch,” she says, adding that this is a place to use your professional personality and tone, too. “If it’s in a business’s DNA to share behind-the-scenes and off-the-clock content, along with the odd pet pic, together with business-centric posts, a playful nod can be noted in the business bio.”
For communications, from responding to DMs and PMs (social speak for direct/private messages) to commenting on others’ posts, the tone and language you use is just as important as how you would speak to clients in real life. Actually, it may be more important, as it’s out there for anyone to see. “In addition to being that essential handshake with e-commerce, social media is a PR tool.” And don’t be afraid to engage with comments and messages, “positive, negative or neutral,” she adds. Ask questions, take the conversation offline when you feel it’s time, such as getting payment, negotiating a contract or anything that involves personal information.
Finding new business may be critical for some right now, especially with the social-distancing and lockdown restrictions in place. Reetu Maz, who has become a financial influencer on TikTok and Instagram at age 21, posts “free content” to give her followers an appetite for the topic, so that they will want pay her for educating and consulting on personal finance. Her videos are snippets of her explaining concepts like forced savings, passive income and the best credit cards for students, along with her favourite apps for crypto and tips for improving your credit score.
In the videos, she often refers to her “link in bio.” TikTok doesn’t feature clickable links in videos and posts. Instagram does with its Stories (15-second posts available only for 24 hours) if you have 10,000 or more followers or are verified with a blue checkmark. However, both platforms do have the option of one link in the bio. Admittedly self-taught about finance, Maz uses a Linktree link in her bio, which further links to her calendar (to book paid coaching sessions) and pay-to-access downloads of her beginner finance guides. She also accepts Interac e-Transfers and uses Shopify, a turnkey e-commerce service, for payments.
“You create ‘free’ content to benefit someone else,” she says from her home in Montreal. “It teaches people something. That’s the great thing about social media. A lot of people don’t want to give away their content for free, which I understand. But people aren’t going to follow you for fun, they want to learn from you. They want to gain some knowledge.”
She started “upselling” extra content to her followers (a range of people from Canada and the U.S., aged 16 to 25, who are looking to better understand their finances) once she reached 1,000 followers and started getting requests for one-on-one calls. She says your follower number will grow if you stick to a content schedule and keep posting. “Even if you have five followers, you will get that sixth, seventh, tenth, and so on. That’s when you start getting noticed. It’s important to be consistent, and that’s what gets you noticed.” She started posting on TikTok in April 2020, and as of December 2020 she reached 90,000 followers.
But what if you already have a business with overhead and staff that depended on people using your services or buying your products—even if you cut operational costs, is it enough? For some businesses, it wasn’t. Social media certainly won’t pay your rent or your staff, and for many small businesses and those who are self-employed, a social media strategy may not be enough. But Rizwan “Sunny” Rabbani, owner of My Bollywood Body, thinks it’s worth a try, before throwing in the towel.
“It broke our backs,” he says of the 2020 lockdown, which affected his 10,000-square foot gym in Brampton with its huge overhead, maintenance, lease, as well as employee payroll. “But I had an exit strategy, with another stream to generate income through online training and coaching, running the workouts through these channels. Back in 2018, when I opened the gym, I ran Facebook ads for $1 a day and sold 500 memberships. When COVID hit, I knew I had to go back to that strategy.”
Rabbani creates a video every day, posting it at 11 p.m., when he has found his audience most receptive (after the kids are put to bed, and people mindlessly scroll before falling asleep). And each video is meant to include one to three streams of revenue:
And when he isn’t doing one of these types of videos, he creates videos for My Bollywood Body private groups on Facebook. Members subscribe for $1 a month, with payments set up through Facebook.
But providing a service on social media means you should always be “on,” he adds. “Turn on notifications. Respond to every message and comment. It’s all about customer service.”
First things first: Create a business account. This is typically an option within “settings” on the app on your phone. But there are also desktop instructions for Facebook and Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube.
Once you do that, you will have access to tools you wouldn’t otherwise see on your account, such as automated responses for messages, catalogues (if you have products to sell), post boosting and targeting, and so much more. You can even install coding on your website (called a pixel), so that when people visit your site, like or comment on your posts, you can create social media ads that will target them specifically.
Rabbani earns money on the Facebook ads viewed within his videos. Here’s how to set that up on Facebook, as well as a few more monetization tools too.
The email you use to sign up for your social media account will add you to business-related newsletters, too. These provide useful free information—if you notice a new feature, check your inbox for the announcement and the how-tos on using them.
If you’re trying to use social media to make money and be positive during the pandemic, consider the words of Jason Charlebois, the small-business banking VP: “Every crisis creates opportunity. Entrepreneurs are used to challenging times. This period is opening doors that businesses wouldn’t have otherwise opened, creating a new path for their future. Obviously, it’s challenging for many industries. And we’re still in uncertain times, but there is optimism.”
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