How my side-hustle-turned-business went viral on TikTok and brought in $500,000 in 2020

"My community has grown in ways I couldn't have imagined."

Tori Dunlap is the founder of Her First 100K.
Courtesy Tori Dunlap

In July 2020, from the couch in my 600-square-foot apartment, I watched my business change overnight in the middle of a global pandemic. All because of a TikTok video.

Her First $100K started as a way to chronicle and celebrate my journey to saving $100,000 by the age of 25, a milestone I achieved in 2019. I used the blog to share advice on spending, saving, and negotiating for more at work, and grew it into a personal finance education platform for women, especially for millennials and Generation Z.  

I quit my corporate job in marketing in late 2019 to run Her First $100K full time. Taking my side hustle full time was terrifying, and I set a goal that seemed beyond ambitious: $100,000 in revenue in 2020. Instead we brought in over half a million last year.

The last nine months of Her First $100K's online life have been exciting and frankly, mind-boggling. My business has gone from a team of one to a team of eight in just over 18 months, and my community has grown in ways I couldn't have imagined.  

Here are the biggest lessons I've learned from the experience. 

Meet your audience where they are 

One of my main goals with Her First $100K is to reach a millennial and Gen Z audience. After joining TikTok in July of last year mostly for fun, I quickly recognized an opportunity to share valuable content with them.

There were already a few money creators sharing on the platform, but I wasn't seeing the kind of advice that resonated with me. And even though it was a newer platform, like so many other financial spaces, it was dominated by men. 

I started sharing small bites of financial wisdom geared towards women specifically alongside my "just for fun" content. Because of its 60-second content limit, TikTok was an easy place to try out my educational content without significant cost. So I found some good window light, made sure I was following the ever-changing trends, led with authenticity and information I thought people would find valuable, and started making videos.

Within one week of strategically posting on TikTok, I had my first viral video.

My 30-second video about leaving my corporate job to work for myself brought me a substantial uptick in followers on both Instagram and TikTok, and it continues to grow. The video currently has around 3.5 million views, 

Eight months later, a video where I spoke about the importance of investing for women hit 2 million views in a matter of days. That video's reach has continued to grow to 5 million views and counting.

Put systems in place to turn attention into revenue

In nine months, I went from 30,000 followers across all platforms to a community of 1.5 million: a 4,000% increase. During that same time frame, our email list jumped from 40,000 to over 150,000. That in turn led to more press coverage and I found that with each new feature, our numbers kept growing.

The drawback to social media is that you do not own your platform. If you are testing out a new platform, make sure you are versed in and adhering to its guidelines. If you run afoul of those rules, even without realizing it, you can find yourself locked out of your account or completely taken offline. After all your hard work, you want to be able to maintain the audience you built.

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Something like a viral video or even an influx of new followers is only the first step. My best advice is to make sure that you have systems in place to lead your social media audience back to your company. Because now you have the opportunity to turn this growth of one aspect of your business into actual revenue

We included links to a specific TikTok-friendly landing page with an email opt-in to get consumers off TikTok and Instagram and onto our email lists. Through our email newsletters, we offered both free and paid financial resources for users to try.

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One of the key parts of that strategy is our five minute Financial Personality quiz, which we designed to help our audience figure out where they are in their financial journey and help them get started on new goals.

Because these systems were in place before my second viral video this winter, the results were significant. Our stretch goal for revenue in 2020 was $100,000. We ended the year at half a million in revenue. And we're now on track to make seven figures in 2021.

Keep it simple and consistent to connect with your customers

One of the biggest lessons I learned from this experience is that these systems don't have to be complicated, especially if you don't have a lot of options or you are working on a budget. If you are working to grow your side hustle through social media, you can start as simple as offering a virtual webinar, a workbook, a course, or even a weekly email newsletter.

Early on, when we had about 30,000 followers, my community often asked me for resources that were both accessible and built around the idea of increasing financial education for women. 

In response, I started small, creating ongoing courses covering beginner finances, growing a side hustle, and landing a new job. I created a mixture of paid and free resources so that anyone at any income level could learn from me. 

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Having courses and free content in place was key to growing once we went viral. We already had a funnel ready to go to get people from social media to my email list.

My best advice for other business owners overwhelmed by the idea of having to do more is to create content that you can use across multiple platforms, especially if you are working with limited resources. We repurpose TikTok videos for Instagram and vice versa. We create and build new content based on the feedback and questions we get on our posts.

Use your platform to make an impact 

Going viral over the last few months has also helped us embrace new platforms and continue to share knowledge in new ways.

In May, I launched "Financial Feminist," a financial education podcast for women. I'm also in the midst of building an educational platform and community around investing for women. My hope with "Financial Feminist" and this new platform is to continue to expand the Her First $100K community and make Gen Z and millennial women richer and more fulfilled. 

Our growth also opened us up to new partnerships and affiliates, which has consistently been our largest revenue driver. I take special care to only work with businesses that I personally use and that I feel have values that align with the Financial Feminist movement.

We're now on track to make seven figures in 2021.

Internet virality has its drawbacks, especially scrutiny that can be intense and often unforgiving. I've had to set new boundaries in my business like making sure to delete Instagram from my phone or making myself take Saturdays off. I've also had to learn the value of letting go of what you cannot change or control. 

Ultimately, it has been so gratifying to grow Her First $100K, help others learn how to save, invest, and get their financial lives together, and share my passion for financial literacy for women everywhere. 

Tori Dunlap is an internationally recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. With a dedicated following of over 160,000 on Instagram and more than 1.5 million on TikTok, Tori's unique take on financial advice has made her a go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. Her work has been featured on CNBC, "Good Morning America," The New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes and BuzzFeed.

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