For Sal Farzin, the side hustle of a lifetime almost never happened.
“‘You’re too old for TikTok, dad!’ They said to me,” says Farzin, 43. By day, the father of four works for a tech company in Austin, Texas; by night, he’s the face and voice of @SimplySalFinds, a wildly popular TikTok account that finds and shares interesting products on Amazon. The social media account, only two years old, recently passed two million followers.
When COVID-19 arrived, Farzin was hit with a temporary pay reduction at work and needed an outside source of income to help close the gap. Taking on the challenge of TikTok has led the family on an unprecedented wild ride, resulting in a side hustle that leverages two streams of income – affiliate link commissions and sponsorship deals with brands such as Kodak, Panasonic, The Container Store, and, naturally, Amazon itself.
An All-Too-Familiar Pandemic Hardship
Farzin’s motivation to start a side hustle came from pandemic-related financial hardship.
“Our company at that time made a pay reduction for all full-time employees,” he says. “So for someone like myself, where I am the only working person with a wife and four children, I needed to do something on the side to supplement.” Farzin overheard his kids talking about TikTok, an app still in its infancy, and asked about it. His family laughed at him.
“They said, ‘Dad, what would you do on TikTok?’” he says, noting that the challenge actually inspired him. Farzin and his wife spent a few weeks researching the app, and, like many of us, felt perplexed at first. “I struggled a little bit at the beginning.”
The couple noodled on different ideas before having an epiphany: as people who love to shop for gadgets and have used Amazon for 15 years, they could start a mostly-faceless product recommendations channel and leverage monetized links using the Amazon Associates Program, which anyone can sign up for. The first post on @SimplySalFinds was published on July 1st, 2020.
The posts immediately began going viral. By July 3rd, the account already had 50,000 followers. That’s when Farzin and his wife realized TikTok had the potential to be a moneymaking machine.
The Rise of TikTok
Launched by parent company Bytedance in September of 2016, TikTok’s explosive growth didn’t really take off until the fall of 2018. After acquiring lip-syncing app Musical.ly the year prior, the Chinese tech giant combined the apps into the single short-form vertical video experience we know today.
Often panned as a superficial app only good for dance challenges and pointing videos, TikTok has increasingly found its groove as the premier big tech disruptor. The app is now the most visited website in the world, dethroning Google, which had held the top spot for over 15 years, and has left competitors like Instagram and YouTube scrambling to create copycat features like Reels and Shorts, respectively. Bytedance reported $58 billion in revenue in 2021, just under half of Meta Platforms’ (formerly Facebook) $119 billion in reported revenue for the same time period.
The moneymaking potential on TikTok is incredible – if you have the right strategy with your videos. Once the Farzin family dialed in their winning formula for production, things took off.
How They Produce Viral Videos, Step By Step
The videos on @SimplySalFinds are short, fast-paced, and well-planned, a process that Farzin says boils down to three core steps.
Step 1: Research and Brainstorming
When planning out content, the Farzin family scours Amazon for unique and seasonal products to feature. They also use this time to brainstorm interesting ways to spotlight products and showcase features in a very short period of time.
“Who’s the director? Who’s the producer? We decide that first,” says Farzin, noting that his eldest daughter Neela usually takes the lead on planning because she has the most experience shooting the actual video footage.
“When we first started making these videos in 2020, it used to take us an hour to two per video, like coming up with the script and recording everything, knowing what we’re going to do,” says Neela, 17. “But now we’ve compressed that time to maybe 10 to 20 minutes per video. It’s gotten much more efficient in my opinion. We do a lot more in that time span, we can maybe record a couple of videos in a [time block of] one to two hours.”
Every new social media platform has a learning curve. Stick with it and the amount of time it takes to produce and publish will gradually decrease.
Step 2: Voiceover and Video Production
The family then takes a divide-and-conquer approach. Farzin scripts and records a short voiceover that serves as the audio and pacing for videos, and his daughter records and edits all the video footage on an iPhone. Farzin’s other children sometimes assist by holding up products or demonstrating them on camera. Storyboarding the videos beforehand helps to speed up the editing process.
“We try to keep the overall time for the video and the script under 20 seconds,” he says. Farzin notes that speed and quality visuals are critical for fast-paced platforms like TikTok. “Good lighting is a non-negotiable.”
@simplysalfinds Cabinet organization made easy 🙌 #amazonfinds #tiktokmademebuyit #organizedhome #organizeit #salfinds ♬ original sound – Simply Sal Finds
Step 3: Upload and Engage
@SimplySalFinds posts new videos daily, and Farzin says engaging with followers has helped to build community and word-of-mouth interest.
“One of the things that I think separates me from a lot of other content creators is that I communicate with my audience,” he says. “Whether it’s through direct messages or comments, I try to stay as active as I can in the first 24 to 48 hours, responding to positive comments, and spinning the negative comments into positives to keep it fun.”
How @SimplySalFinds Generates Income
The family leverages two streams of income from their TikTok presence: affiliate links and brand deals.
Since TikTok’s interface only allows one profile link at a time, Farzin uses a tool called c8ke to create a tree of links to his various Amazon shopping lists. The links have Farzin’s Amazon affiliate code, so if someone purchases a product using his link, he receives a commission.
The account’s audience has also attracted interest from companies looking to sponsor videos and have their products featured. Farzin says unsolicited inbound sponsorship inquiries have picked up as his audience has grown, but he continues to do proactive outreach to companies that primarily sell on Amazon.
“Seasonally relevant products are what take precedence for me right now,” he says. “Mosquito repellents, [products for] trying to stay cool from hot weather, those are the things that people are looking for at the moment.”
@simplysalfinds Time for more fun in the sun ☀️#amazonfinds #tiktokmademebuyit #gadgets #summervibes #salfinds ♬ Blue Blood – Heinz Kiessling & Various Artists
Where the Money Goes
The Farzin family uses their TikTok income to both pay down debt and instill good financial habits in their kids.
His children are given a portion of the income relative to how much they helped run the account that month, with Neela receiving about 70% and his other kids splitting the rest. The family also contributes the income to their children’s savings accounts, and has used leftover income to pay off their vehicles and some other debts.
“We also save some of it for some vacations to ensure we have things we want to work toward,” Sal says. “Minimizing debt has been one of the first things that we were trying to do.” Farzin notes that profit margins are strong because all of their marketing and advertising is through word of mouth and organic reach on the platform, and the side hustle’s only expenses are the products themselves, a few software widgets, and premium subscriptions to graphic design tools like Canva.
“We monitor [the kids’ saving and spending] from a parental perspective, we monitor growth, and we make sure that the proper percentage goes into their account each and every month,” he says. “Neela is getting ready to apply to colleges. Helping her save for college has been at the forefront of our minds as well.” Farzin says the college fund money funnels into a savings account for now since the additional income has been so sudden, rather than an investment vehicle like a 529 plan or a custodial roth IRA.
To Keep More of Your Side Hustle Money, Set Up a Business Formation
In the fall of 2021, the Farzins realized the money coming in was going to be consistent, so they registered their TikTok efforts as a business. Setting up a business formation for your side hustle, such as a limited liability corporation (LLC), is inexpensive and can help you keep way more of the money you’ve earned outside your day job when tax season rolls around.
The Farzins set up an LLC and elected to have it taxed as an S corporation. S corporation elections have their pros and cons depending on the nature of your side hustle or business, and it’s best to consult with a financial advisor or business formation expert to ensure your classification is a good financial fit.
For the Farzins, growing a community and making money on TikTok continues to be a family affair. And maybe dad isn’t too old for TikTok after all.
“One of Neela’s friends recently referred to me as ‘the man, the myth, the legend’,” he says. “They’re like, ‘we gotta meet her dad, we gotta meet this guy!’ It’s a cool feeling.”