Home BUSINESS A 26-year-old content creator explains why she gave herself a $75k pay cut

A 26-year-old content creator explains why she gave herself a $75k pay cut

by Ohio Digital News

The TikTok phenomenon Salary Transparent Street (STS) hinges on a classic formula: Hannah Williams, a cheery and approachable 26-year-old, stops people on the street in various cities and asks them what they do and how much they make. 

Less than two years into its existence, STS has clearly hit on the zeitgeist, amassing 1.3 million TikTok followers and nearly 32 million likes across each of Williams’ short-form videos. She also sends out a newsletter, keeps a running database of salaries in different jobs across the U.S., and has published negotiation guides and interview pointers. 

This week, Williams landed on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. Propelled by her commitment to normalize money conversations among all demographics—she says younger people have been more likely to share their pay than older people and women more so than men—she’s, per Forbes, testified on behalf of DC’s Pay Range Act, which would mandate all DC job listings to include salaries; brought her camera crew to nearly half the country; and surpassed $1 million in brand deals. 

“A lot of people don’t know how to price themselves in the market…and that’s why Salary Transparent Street exists—to try to help advocate for employees to do market research to figure out what they should be asking for so employers don’t take advantage of them,” Williams told Fortune last year.

So it’s worth noting when Williams, in her true to form candor, shared with Fortune this week that she gave herself a whopping pay cut. 

Given her partnership with Capital One and the jarringly high pay most influencers can command, you can imagine that Williams rakes in a hefty salary as a TikToker. When she threw herself into content creation full-time in May 2022, she says she set her own salary at $200,000, up from the $115,000 she was previously making as a senior data analyst at CATHEXIS, a government contractor firm outside DC. Today, she’s at $125,000—a $75,000 self-imposed pay cut. (The average U.S. salaried worker earns just over $59,400.)

The big reason for paring down? “I didn’t want to hold the company back, in terms of growth, in order to pay myself more,” Williams tells Fortune. 

In order to find success in the rapidly evolving creator economy, you need a long-term approach. That means eschewing any kind of “get-rich-quick” mentality, she says.

Williams understands the impulse. “When you see money coming in, it can be tempting to pay yourself a high salary, because you think, ‘I do the work,’” she explains. “But right now, I’m more invested in growing my team, improving my content, and setting up the page to grow on its own without me having to watch it 24/7.” 

Running the ship

Williams, unlike most workers, is uniquely suited to take such a significant pay cut. That’s mainly because it was on her terms; she’s half of a double-income-no-kids (DINK) household, and as founder/CEO, she makes the rules. She’s also ramping up her sponsorships, recently partnering with Deputy, a software platform for managing hourly workers, to draw more attention to shift workers who don’t make an annual salary at all.  

When she went full-time at Salary Transparent Street, Williams says her then-fiancé, now-husband was making $112,000, and for their lifestyle in Alexandria, Virginia, that put them in good shape. “We knew how much we could live off, and we felt that while we made that sum of money, we were doing really great, getting on top of debt,” she says. Plus, the two share frugal values and even had a micro-wedding earlier this year. “As long as bills are paid, I’m happy,” she says.

When she was making $200,000 before the cut, she says she was paying her husband $65,000 as her cameraman. “So I thought, $265,000, that’s a lot more than we were making combined before [I left my data analyst role],” she recalls. “We can afford the pay cut. We know we have a very good budget, we know our expenses, and know exactly what we need to be on top of it.”

She and her husband are the only full-time employees of STS, which has since swelled into a hub of resources and content across various channels, all with a main goal of helping increase pay equity through advocacy and transparency. She also pays “five or six” part-time workers to help with social media management, accounting, and website development. 

But pay cuts aren’t for everyone. Job hopping—which Williams herself has done and staunchly advocates for—is often the best way of doing the opposite: Grabbing higher salaries. Staying at one organization can quickly lead to pay stagnation, whereas moving around every two years or so ups the chances of boosting your salary better than pretty much anything else. Taking a pay cut for a new job can set you back years and years; every raise builds on the salary that came before it, so it’s critical to start as high as you can—and stay there.

Generally, the only times it makes sense take a pay cut are when you’re switching industries or if you’re getting a way better work-life balance in exchange. (Case in point: Almost two-thirds of workers say they’d take a pay cut to be able to work from home.) Or, perhaps, if you’re an entrepreneur like Williams who feels it’s a strategic long-term move.

At this stage of her brand’s growth—Williams published her first video in April 2022—it’s wiser to take a pay cut if it means investing elsewhere, she says. But, she adds, “Everyone else should make more money.”

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