In May, Hannah Williams took a leap many people only dream of: she quit her job as a data analyst to become a full-time content creator.
At the time, she was enjoying a few months of success with her personal TikTok, where she shared experiences about job hopping and salary negotiation, which inspired her to start Salary Transparent Street, a TikTok series asking strangers a question you are not supposed to be: How much money do you earn?
The series went viral and Williams saw a golden opportunity.
“I knew that you couldn’t just have an account that’s so successful without being able to monetize it in any way,” she says. “I was ready to find out.”
Within months, Williams and her fiancé, James Daniels, both quit their jobs to focus on taking Salary Transparent Street from a few TikTok videos to a full-fledged business. They’ve criss-crossed 10 states, interviewed hundreds of people, and landed six-figure brand deals. So far, Transparent Street’s salary has brought in nearly $600,000, and the couple live on $200,000 a year.
CNBC Make It spoke to Williams, 26, about preparing for the big layoff, the ups and downs of being your own boss, and advice for workers looking to pursue their own dreams in 2023.
How she quit her job: “Failure wasn’t the worst thing”
While Williams finally handed in her resignation in May, she said she was mentally ready to quit long before then. The biggest thing holding her back? In order to grow Salary Transparent Street the way she wanted, Williams also had to give up Daniels (the series’ cinematographer) to quit his office job in government procurement.
It was a big risk to lose regular income and bet on something new. But Williams, a trained data analyst, crunched the numbers and realized the jump could be profitable.
“I knew there were brand deals that were very niche and a perfect fit for us, which would take a few months to figure out, but they were opportunities,” says Williams. With the couple having no children or a mortgage, the timing couldn’t be better to take a little gamble.
“Failure wasn’t the worst part,” says Williams. She could always go back to her old job or find a similar job if the series didn’t take off. The worst thing really would be not to even try.
So, with $10,000 in savings, Williams and Daniels handed in their resignations.
Within two weeks, Williams connected with two agents who provided $24,000 in seed capital for the first two months of Salary Transparent Street. Williams and Daniels used the money to pay their bills, pay for basic living expenses, and travel to film.
Salary Transparent Street continued to gain momentum, reaching millions of viewers. Williams has partnered with brands like Fiverr, The Knot, and Cleo, a budgeting app. Then, in September, came a big deal: Williams signed a six-month deal with Indeed, the job search platform, for nearly half a million dollars.
The disadvantages of being your own boss
Building your own social media brand is not without its challenges. As with any job, Williams says, being your own boss also comes with some downsides, the biggest of which is that the internet never stops.
“So you can throw holidays and weekends out the window. It’s incredibly difficult when work is like life and the work-life balance you had before is completely lost,” she says.
Still, she’d much rather volunteer for something she built than spend a weekend working for a company she’s not as invested in.
Another side effect: burnout. “It was a really interesting lesson to learn that constantly working is definitely not the answer to getting things done,” she says. “Eventually your brain just can’t handle it anymore.”
To cope with burnout, Williams says, it was crucial for her to understand when she is most productive and when she can take a breather. For example, she likes to steal time in the morning to do administrative tasks before other people are awake and asking her something.
In order not to overwhelm herself, she plans her work by the hour, even when she should take a break to go for a walk or to read. “If it’s on my calendar, I’ll follow it,” she says. Scheduling breaks builds accountability. “It was hard to realize that I need to take a break and relax a bit and then get back to work. And that will help me be more productive instead of running flat out all the time.”
Another major disadvantage of being an internet entrepreneur is moderating comments on her video and social media posts. Not only can it be time-consuming, but sometimes comments can be hateful, which Williams says takes a toll on her mental health. Now that she’s scaled up the work, she’s also hired an executive assistant to help with content moderation and earn $80,000 a year from health benefits and PTO when she becomes a full-time employee in January.
Advice for job seekers in 2023
As much as Williams wants to tell others to take risks and make big career moves, she knows people are worried about the economy in 2023. “If we go into a recession, that just means there might be a little less advantage for you in the job market,” she says. “So just be informed and make calculated decisions.”
However, that doesn’t mean you have to stay in a bad situation. You can still use information to find out if you’re underpaid and ask for a raise or move to a more resilient job, employer, or industry.
“When I quit my job, I knew my backup plan was to go back to my old job or go back to an industry where I had a strong career,” says Williams. “There are so many resources out there that can empower you to make a change if you want to.”
She adds: “Don’t be afraid to take risks. Just make sure they make informed decisions.”