A millennial whose TikTok business generated $100,000 in sales said a ban on the app could doom his business. But he's developing a backup plan. (2024)

The St. Louis-based millennial told Business Insider he worked full-time as an independent artist and content creator about his polyamorous lifestyle, which is when more than two partners engage in a consensual romantic relationship. He uses his platform to educate people about polyamory and discuss the struggles of transitioning from monogamy.

Spangler said the vast majority of his income comes from selling digital art designs — primarily as apparel, stickers, and enamel pins — through his website and Etsy. In 2022, his solo business generated over $103,000 in online sales, according to a document viewed by Business Insider. His take-home earnings were $36,000 after accounting for inventory-related costs, platform subscriptions, and other expenses.

The majority of his customers find him through TikTok, Spangler said, where he has over 300,000 followers across two accounts. In 2022, over 75,000 visits to his website came from a link in his more popular TikTok profile, according to a document viewed by BI. Instagram was responsible for roughly 44,000 visits, followed by Facebook, Twitter, and Google at 2,000, 429, and 161 visits, respectively.


Spangler started selling his designs full-time in 2021 after quitting his corporate job and said his wife was earning the majority of their household's income while the business grew. He said his goal was to get back to the annual income level he had at his old job — roughly $57,000 — but that he was worried about one thing getting in the way: a TikTok ban.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that TikTok is my livelihood," he told BI last year. "The immediate impact of a TikTok ban would be a loss of my primary income source."

@thegoodchad I don't have the followers on this account for a link in bio. It's thegoodchad.com/shoporiginals #savetiktok #tiktokban #smallbusinesstiktok ♬ original sound - TheGoodChad

Initially, Spangler said he wasn't too concerned about the app being banned. But after TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew's appearance before Congress in March 2023, "the feeling that the ban could actually happen sunk in."

On March 13, the House of Representatives passed a bill that could effectively ban TikTok if it gets through the Senate and is signed by President Joe Biden. The legislation wouldn't entirely ban the app in the US. Instead, it would give any company owned by a "foreign adversary" 180 days to divest or sell to a US-based company in order to continue operating, BI's Madison Hall reported.

Lawmakers have raised concerns that TikTok's Chinese parent, ByteDance, could give the Chinese government access to US user data and pressure TikTok to show or restrict certain content to American users for its own interests. A forced sale or spinoff — which would serve to isolate the company from Chinese government interests and alleviate some national security concerns — could allow the app and its users to continue business as usual. An outright ban would be bad news for the over 100 million US TikTok users, including the millions of businesses, many of them small shops, the company says use the platform to reach customers.

Some narrower restrictions have already been implemented across the country. More than half of all US states banned TikTok on government devices, which led many public colleges to block TikTok from campus WiFi networks and university-owned devices.

Why Instagram isn't the backup plan

While Spangler said he'd been on Instagram a year longer than TikTok, he has 123,000 Instagram followers — less than half the number of his combined TikTok followers — and he said it's the second-biggest driver of sales for his business.

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He said he was trying to move away from Instagram and Facebook — and that he was giving his followers the heads-up. The reason: He was no longer comfortable using Meta-owned platforms "because of their involvement with the spread of disinformation about TikTok."


In March 2022, The Washington Post reported that Meta was paying one of the largest Republican consulting firms, Targeted Victory, to run a campaign intended to turn the US public against TikTok. Using a variety of measures — such as opinion pieces, letters to the editors, and stories about viral trends that supposedly started on the platform — the firm reportedly planted anti-TikTok content in small and large media outlets. Spangler said he believes these activities unfairly characterized TikTok and helped fuel the scrutiny that has led lawmakers to consider banning the app.

"From my view, at best this is a shady business practice, and at worse an intentional effort to influence lawmakers," Spangler said.

A TikTok spokesperson told the Post that the company was "deeply concerned" about "the stoking of local media reports on alleged trends that have not been found on the platform." When asked about the report in 2022, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider that all platforms should face "a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success."

Spangler acknowledged that ditching Instagram would be a significant risk, however, and said that losing both TikTok and Instagram would "decimate" his income. That's why he's taken every step he can to ensure his business would survive without these platforms.


"I'm preparing for this as best I can by working on my YouTube channel and letting my current followers know that's where I plan to be," he said. "I'm also establishing a direct email list to best reach those who want to continue seeing my content."

YouTube is a 'more stable, long-term place for content to be seen'

Ever before the Post story came out in 2022, Spangler said he'd been working on building up his YouTube channel for two reasons: the longevity of content and the better pay rate compared to other platforms.

He said that the content he posts on YouTube shorts — the short-form section of the platform — had "behaved mostly the same as TikTok or Instagram reels," initially getting a burst of views before leveling off fairly quickly. But contrary to TikTok and Instagram, he said, YouTube is also well suited for his long-form videos.

"YouTube is a great fit for me because any content I post can be served to people for years to come, giving my videos a much longer life span than other platforms," he said. Spangler said a video he posted about a year ago about jealousy in polyamorous relationships continued to be his top-performing video.


When it comes to pay, Spangler said YouTube compensated him for his views at a rate much higher than TikTok or Instagram.

"YouTube's longevity of content and the much better pay rate make for a much more consistent source of views and income," he said.

Establishing his YouTube presence is still a work in progress, however. Spangler has roughly 15,000 subscribers on his most popular channel and said he was working on a system that would enable him to post content more regularly.

But ideally, Spangler said, TikTok will avoid a ban and he won't have to rely too much on a pivot to YouTube.


Spangler said he doesn't think lawmakers realize how important the app is for many Americans.

"It feels like our government believes this app doesn't matter and is simply for funny dances and memes," he said. "The reality is it is an effective way for millions of Americans to reach each other, and in my case, a critical part of my small business."

Editor's note: This story was originally published in May 2023.

Do you make money through TikTok and are worried about a potential ban? Are you willing to share your story? If so, reach out to this reporter at jzinkula@insider.com.

A millennial whose TikTok business generated $100,000 in sales said a ban on the app could doom his business. But he's developing a backup plan. (2024)


A millennial whose TikTok business generated $100,000 in sales said a ban on the app could doom his business. But he's developing a backup plan.? ›

But he's developing a backup plan. A millennial credited TikTok for bringing in $100,000 in sales for his business in 2022. He said a US ban of TikTok could crush his business, but he doesn't want to pivot to Instagram.

What companies banned TikTok? ›

In July 2020, Wells Fargo banned the app from company devices due to privacy and security concerns. In August 2023, New York City banned TikTok on government-owned devices for security reasons.

Why is TikTok getting banned? ›

(Trump has done an about-face on the issue and recently warned that banning TikTok will only help its U.S. rivals like Meta.) TikTok stands accused of being a conduit for the Chinese Communist Party, guzzling up sensitive user data and sending it to China.

How many people rely on TikTok for income? ›

Many of TikTok's 170 million monthly active U.S. users rely on the app to generate secondary and even primary income streams. That includes 7 million small businesses that use the platform to drive growth, according to a joint report from Oxford Economics and TikTok released Wednesday.

Has the TikTok ban been approved? ›

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app TikTok if its China-based owner doesn't sell its stake, as lawmakers acted on concerns that the company's current ownership structure is a national security threat.

How long is a permanent ban on TikTok? ›

Temporary suspensions usually occur due to a first violation of advertising account policies and can last around 2-4 weeks. Permanent suspensions are typically the result of repeated violations, involving banned content or products. If an account is permanently suspended and cannot be reopened, it is lost forever.

Is TikTok getting deleted in 2024? ›

TikTok has been under fire in the U.S. for years while raising questions about data access laws. Those concerns led the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation in March 2024 requiring Chinese company ByteDance to sell off the social media app within six months or be banned from U.S. stores and websites.

What happens if TikTok is banned in US? ›

What a ban would mean for TikTok users. If TikTok were banned in the U.S., the more than 100 million users who have downloaded the app would likely still be able to access it. New users would also potentially be able to download it using a virtual private network.

Does China own TikTok? ›

In particular, they worry that TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, could share data with the Chinese government or manipulate content displayed on its platform. So far, there's little evidence to support these concerns.

Why is TikTok getting banned in states? ›

The primary reasons for banning TikTok in the US were concerns over national security due to its Chinese ownership and potential data privacy issues.

How much does an average Tiktoker make? ›

Based on those numbers, the median salary for TikTok influencers is somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000. Just under one-third of influencers are making a full-time salary. If you're wondering where all this money for influencers is coming from, keep reading as we break down how TikTok creators monetize their content.

Who owns TikTok now? ›

'Shaking Sound'), is a short-form video hosting service owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance. It hosts user-submitted videos, which can range in duration from three seconds to 10 minutes. It can be accessed with a smart phone app. TikTok Pte.

Is TikTok losing popularity? ›

For the first time in TikTok's history, its user growth is stagnating, according to people familiar with the matter.... U.S. average monthly users ages 18 to 24 declined by nearly 9% from 2022 to 2023, according to the mobile analytics firm Data.ai.

How many states have banned TikTok? ›

More than 30 states have already banned TikTok from state-issued devices amid national security and privacy concerns, which could be extended to citizens as a bill that could potentially ban TikTok nationwide makes its way through Congress.

What happens after TikTok is banned? ›

If your account has been banned, you'll receive a banner notification when you next open the app, informing you of this account change. If you believe your account was banned incorrectly, let us know by submitting an appeal.

Who voted yes on TikTok ban? ›

Votes in the House, by party
104 more rows
Mar 13, 2024

Who almost banned TikTok? ›

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump sought to ban TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat but was blocked by the courts. In recent days he had raised concerns about a ban but nearly all House Republicans shrugged those off.

What company took over TikTok? ›

TikTok's parent company ByteDance was founded by Chinese entrepreneurs.

What brands should not do on TikTok? ›

Using A Hard Sales Push

One big “don't” when it comes to using TikTok for business marketing is to try and push sales too hard. TikTok is all about entertaining and engaging content, not pushing sales messages. Trying to sell too much on TikTok can turn away potential followers and customers.

Can employers ban TikTok? ›

Yes, your boss could ban TikTok — on work devices

“You don't have a right to use your work device to access anything you want,” Nelson said.

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