In May, Hannah Williams made a leap a lot of people only dream about: She quit her day job as a data analyst to become a content creator full time.
At the time, she'd had a few months of success through her personal TikTok, where she shared experiences about job-hopping and negotiating her salary, which inspired her to launch Salary Transparent Street, a TikTok series asking strangers a question you're not supposed to: How much money do you make?
The series went viral, and Williams saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I knew that you don't just have an account that is that successful that quickly, without it being monetizable in some way," she says. "I was ready to figure it out."
Within months, Williams and her fiance, James Daniels, both quit their jobs to focus on turning Salary Transparent Street from a few TikTok videos to a full-fledged business. They've crisscrossed 10 states, interviewed hundreds of people and landed six-figure brand deals. So far, Salary Transparent Street has brought in nearly $600,000, and the couple live off a $200,000 per year salary.
CNBC Make It caught up with Williams, 26, on how she prepared for the big quit, the highs and lows of being your own boss and advice to workers who want to chase their own dreams in 2023.
While Williams finally put in her notice around May, she says she was mentally ready to quit long before. The biggest thing holding her back? In order to build out Salary Transparent Street the way she wanted to, Williams would need Daniels (the series' cameraman) to also quit his office job in government contracting.
It was a big risk to lose steady income and bet on something new. But Williams, a data analyst by training, crunched the numbers and saw that the leap could be profitable.
"I knew that there were brand deals there that were very niche and perfect fits for us that might take a couple of months to figure out, but they were possibilities," Williams says. Plus, since the couple didn't have kids or a mortgage, the timing couldn't be better to be a little risky.
As Williams sees it, "failure wasn't the worst thing." She could always go back to her old job or find a similar one if the series didn't take off. The worst thing, really, would be to not try it at all.
So, with $10,000 in savings, Williams and Daniels put in their notice.
Within two weeks, Williams connected with two agents who provided $24,000 in seed money for Salary Transparent Street's first two months. Williams and Daniels used the money to pay their bills, pay for basic living costs and travel to film.
Salary Transparent Street continued to gain momentum, reaching millions of viewers. Williams landed partnerships with brands like Fiverr, The Knot and Cleo, a budgeting app. Then, in September, a big account came through: Williams signed a six-month deal with Indeed, the job-search platform, for nearly half a million dollars.
Building your own social media brand doesn't come without challenges. Just like with any job, Williams says, being your own boss also has some downsides, the biggest one being that the internet never stops.
"So you can throw holidays out the window, you can throw a weekend out the window. It's incredibly difficult when your work is kind of your life, and that work-life balance you had before completely disappears," she says.
With that said, she'd much rather put in that effort on something she built, rather than working a weekend for a company she's not as invested in.
Another side effect: burnout. "It's been a really interesting lesson to learn that working all the time is definitely not the answer to getting stuff done," she says. "Eventually, your brain just can't handle anymore."
To deal with burnout, Williams says it's been crucial for her to understand when she's most productive, and when she can give herself a breather. For example, she likes to steal away time to work on administrative tasks in the morning before other people are awake and asking things of her.
Then, to keep from getting overwhelmed, she schedules out her work by the hour, including when she should take a break to go for a walk or read. "If it's on my calendar, I'm going to follow it," she says. Scheduling breaks builds in accountability. "It's been difficult to realize that I need to take a break and just chill for a little bit, and then get back to it. And that's going to help me be more productive rather than going at full-speed all the time."
Finally, another big downside to being an internet entrepreneur is moderating comments on her video and social media posts. Not only can it be a time suck, but sometimes comments can be hateful, which Williams says weighs on her mental health. Now that she's scaled the work, she's also hired an executive assistant who helps with content moderation, who'll earn $80,000 per year with health benefits and PTO when she becomes a full-time employee in January.
As much as Williams wants to tell others to take risks and make big career moves, she also knows people are worried about the economy in 2023. "If we do fall into a recession, it just means that there's maybe a little bit less advantage for you in the labor market," she says. "So just be informed of that and make calculated decisions."
That doesn't mean you have to stay in a bad situation, though. You can still leverage information out there to figure out if you're being underpaid and ask for a raise, or move to a more resilient job, employer or industry.
"When I quit my job, I knew that my backup plan if I failed was going back to my old job or going back into an industry where I had a strong career," Williams says. "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're informed decisions."
The new year is looking bright for Williams and Salary Transparent Street: The brand just crossed 100,000 subscribers on YouTube and is nearing 1 million followers on TikTok. Williams has two new podcasts coming out in January with deeper dives into job profiles and people's career stories.
By Salary Transparent Street's one-year anniversary in April, Williams hopes she'll have brought in $1 million in revenue.
Williams has stayed true to her messaging in helping dispel money taboos by talking about it with strangers on the street. She also hopes to make an impact beyond social media one day: Williams is vocal about the need for greater salary transparency as a means to close wage gaps, including through new laws that require companies to publicly disclose their pay ranges on job ads. She recently testified virtually in front of the D.C. council in support of its Pay Range Act of 2022, which would require employers to list salary ranges on job postings.
"I'd love to like have a voice ... to use our platform to make change that really has an impact," she says.