Born into a world rife with disillusionment, climate change, international warfare and shattered aspirations, it’s no surprise that those born between the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2010s, a group known as Generation Z, are likely to seek a sense of socioeconomic stability.
With many members of Generation Z having witnessed the Great Recession of 2008 in their formative years, seeing their parents struggle with unemployment may have imparted a desire amongst this generation to strive to do better and profit from their own merits: clearly, pledging long-term loyalty to a single corporation like their forefathers, comes with its disadvantages. Coupled with the limitless growth of social media, e-commerce sites and technology, Generation Z is better equipped than ever to create their own businesses, market and sell their creations to an international audience.
With the phenomenal influence of TikTok and its appeal to younger, mostly tween and teenage users, the hashtag #smallbusinesscheck has amassed 6.2 billion views. The hashtag is usually accompanied by a trending background sound, and peppered with a multitude of businesses, from resin jewellery to glitter-encrusted mugs. Many products are handmade and users share tips for maximising their growth and boosting analytics. In a way, business owners on TikTok have cultivated their own community and strive to promote their products in this virtual space to a global audience.
Through this platform, many creators have evolved from mere teenagers to CEOs; gaining experience, exposure and documenting their orders for the world to see. People who would never have been able to access these spaces are finally being recognised for their crafts and talents and people from various marginalized backgrounds can access resources they would not otherwise be able to. This is especially true of Native American creators on the app, who can access the resources and products to facilitate reclaiming their cultures, share indigenous crafts and educate others on the significance of their heritage.
TikTok can be lauded as an essential tool for any small business, as highlighted by the success of many users. Certain products, including the Brami, a camisole with incorporated padding which eliminates the need to wear a bra, have developed a cult-like following through their advertising on TikTok. The designer of the Brami, Natalie Rogers of Klassy Network, not only utilised the core benefits of the app, but also reached out to a handful of “micro-influencers” to promote her products on various social media platforms. Through her extensive digital marketing strategy, which involves directly reaching out to influencers, making fun and engaging TikTok videos wearing the products and demonstrating the features of the products, Natalie, in addition to many other business owners, has been able to sell vast amounts of her products.
Another business using TikTok for marketing purposes is Stronger As One, also known as ONE. The CEO of this brand uses the platform to create riveting content which engages users of the app, through asking questions, creating pieces incorporating the usernames of every account following the brand and uses a range of trending sounds to further increase the digital presence of the brand. The brand incorporates the values of peace and unity, and boasts a range of affordable and useful products, including face masks and hoodies. The use of TikTok as one of the brand’s main channels of promotion therefore demonstrates the direct correlation between businesses using TikTok and the amount of sales and engagement. Thus, it is evident that TikTok enhances the marketing mix of small businesses and fledgling brands, through expanding the places where the products are advertised, furthering the reach and audience and creating promotional videos of an appropriate length to captivate users without becoming tedious.
However despite its advantages, TikTok only provides a snapshot of the day-to-day logistics of small businesses, and therefore entrepreneurship has become somewhat aestheticised and romanticised. Within #smallbusinesscheck, the user experiences gentle music, elaborate packaging and toxic productivity culture, promoting constant hustling and encouraging regularly burning out to fuel the growth of small businesses. There is little to no mention of the excessive costs of custom packaging, of the need to take breaks from creating content, of feeling burnt out and needing to take a mental health day or working at a slower rate. Small business TikTok is reluctant to admit the hardships of running a business alongside balancing daily responsibilities, thus many young entrepreneurs leave the community due to the unaddressed struggles many entrepreneurs face.
Yet there is hope for the new generation of entrepreneurs. As product trends shift, so do attitudes towards mental health and the myth of getting rich quick from starting a small business. Due to the diversity and accessibility of the community on TikTok, conversations are emerging surrounding the tribulations of running a business. Generation Z is paving the way for the next wave of entrepreneurs, video by video.
Anika Chauhan is a first-year LLB Law student with a keen interest in environmental law and sustainability. She also runs her marketing business, Draca Marketing and is researching the relationship between brands and UNESCO.