Since the pandemic hit Canada in March 2020, small businesses have been struggling to remain open. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) reports that many small business owners had to use credit cards and retirement savings to cover the rising expenses. While some small businesses struggle to make ends meet, others look for customers online and use social media platforms like TikTok to get millions of video views and attract attention.
TikTok, a video-sharing network with more than 680 million active users, is one of the few social media platforms where a small business can go viral and sell out of stock overnight. The short-video format seems perfect for small businesses as it is easy to show how they create and package their products. TikTok followers can quickly become customers and save a small business from going bankrupt.
‘It shows that the people behind those small businesses are relatable’
Random Candle Co. is a small Canadian business that was launched by two sisters, Paige and Hannah Whibbs, in November 2020. One day, they decided to make candles as a gift to their friends for Christmas. Their idea grew, and they founded a sustainable soy candle company based in Kitchener, Ont. They released their first line before Christmas and quickly sold everything they had in stock.
“We were in lockdown due to COVID protocols and we were just bored at home,” Paige said in an interview.
Hannah and Paige use TikTok to show a behind-the-scenes process of running a small business and now have more than 100,000 followers.
“TikTok gives you limitless reach. It is like a free commercial,” Paige said. “But I think on TikTok, you show a more realistic side of a business especially, a small business. It shows that the people behind those small businesses are relatable.”
Random Candle Co. is committed to making their business as eco-friendly as possible. The company uses soy wax, sustainable fragrances, and recyclable packaging. A video, where Hannah and Paige show how they use upcycled beer bottles to make their candles has since reached more than 15 million views and got 2.6 million likes on TikTok.
“We are trying to get wine bottles now. It is funny. We don’t drink, I don’t drink at all, and Hannah barely drinks,” Paige said. “We rely on our community to actually get these bottles. We reached out, and people are so generous. We do our local bottle drives. It is a cool way to interact with a community and also stay sustainable.”
Social media platforms like TikTok often provide small businesses with great resources and opportunities. However, like any social media, it can also create a toxic environment and, as a result, harm a person’s mental health.
“Paige doesn’t read the comments, so I do. It is the way the TikTok algorithm works: if people comment and you answer them, it boosts your video,” Hannah said. “You do need to be engaging with people in the comments, even if they are negative. Sometimes you will see a video that has gone super viral, and it is, possibly, because someone is getting cyberbullied in the comments.”
‘It is getting more expensive to own a business’
The average small business is now $170,000 in debt, according to recent estimates by the CFIB, a non-profit organization that advocates for entrepreneurs in Canada. Since the start of the pandemic, many small businesses have faced significant restrictions, challenges, and new costs.
“It is getting more expensive to own a business. A lot of supply chains have been interrupted, so the material that they are getting might have gone up in price, the cost of transportation and the cost of fuel might have gone up in price, even the cost of insurance has skyrocketed recently,” said Milena Stanoeva, a spokesperson for the CFIB, in an interview.
The Canadian government offers three major support programs to help small businesses: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, and the CEBA (Canada Emergency Business Account), but those programs are not available for businesses that started after March 2020.
“A lot of business owners are concerned that once the economy reopens and the government programs close, they will be in an even worse shape. Right now, they are getting at least some government support, and then they will be left with nothing and a massive amount of debt,” Stanoeva said.
Social media platforms like TikTok can put small businesses on a map and help them to increase their revenue, but views and shares do not cover the extreme losses that many business owners are currently experiencing.
“Many people maybe aren’t in a position right now, especially during a pandemic, to spend a ton of money on candles or things other than necessities, and we understand that. Just give us a like, give us a follow, come to say hi to us, we love that. I feel that’s a way to support a lot of small businesses,” Paige Whibbs said.
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