💵 How much money do you make?

Salary Transparent Street: Asking about people's business is great business

We're launching a podcast! I spend about an hour interviewing every creator we feature in this newsletter, and these conversations are full of behind-the-scenes stories and invaluable advice.

Less than a third of each conversation makes it into this newsletter's interview section — any more would just be too much. But now you can listen in to the rest.

I've never been a podcaster before. Testing out a new platform is exciting (and a little nerve-wracking). We’re already making fine-tuning the approach — as soon as I listened back to the first episode, I invested in a microphone.

— Francis Zierer, Editor

P.S. When I took on editorial duties here, we redesigned the newsletter to enhance your reading experience. Creating a new section structure was key to that goal.

Now, with the launch of our podcast, we're likely to tweak the newsletter structure again. Use the poll below to let us know how you feel about the current structure.

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Only nine American states require employers to include some kind of pay transparency disclosure in their hiring process, like on a job posting. Nine — and Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, California, and Hawaii only joined that list in the last two years.

Pay transparency, in practice, often means listing an exact salary range on a job posting. For example, see job listings on the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) website. There has, of course, been plenty of cynical rule-bending, with companies presumably trying to save on payroll and otherwise serve their bottom line, following the letter of the law but not the spirit.

Hannah Williams, a 27-year-old former data analyst, began posting videos to her TikTok page (then called @stocksandsquats) in January 2022. This was the first time she'd ever made content for an online audience in earnest. "Being a YouTuber or influencer was never something I wanted or thought I could do," she told Creator Spotlight.

Past disinterest aside, she would post multiple times almost every day for the next three months, transparently sharing her career journey and answering followers' questions about navigating career decisions. She was inspired by her experience with underpayment when she used that knowledge to her advantage and successfully negotiated a job hop with a $25k raise.

After three months, Hannah's following sat around 40k, respectable but hardly eyebrow-raising in TikTok terms. In one of her most popular videos, she listed her exact compensation breakdown. Four weeks later, she made another video listing her exact salary at each of the five jobs she'd had in her 2.5 years as a data analyst.

The idea struck a chord with her audience (995.7k and 23.3k views, respectively), and she decided to spin off an entirely new channel: Salary Transparent Street. She commissioned a logo for $30 on Fiverr, printed T-shirts, bought a mic, and hit the streets of D.C. with her now-husband behind the camera to ask people how much money they make.

On April 16, 2022, Hannah uploaded the first Salary Transparent Street video and went to bed. When she woke up, the account already had 50k followers. Just two weeks later, when Hannah started tracking weekly follower growth, they were already at 400k.

As of March 2024.

Today, Salary Transparent Street has 2.8 million followers across all social channels. Beyond video, there's a weekly newsletter on beehiiv, a salary database, and (in beta) a job board. Their goals for this year include organizing events, taking on speaking engagements, and influencing pay transparency and other government policies around equitable work practices as much as possible.

The company has seven parties on payroll, including Hannah, her husband James, agencies, and contractors. Revenue last year was $1 million, and they're on track to double it this year.

The basic org chart for Salary Transparent Street as of March 2024.

Her rapid rise and respectable mission have attracted frequent media coverage, including a Forbes 30 Under 30 listing (Social Media, 2024) and a recent write-up in CNBC’s Make It newsletter.

Is it rude to walk up to a stranger and ask them how much money they make? Not the way Hannah does it. Her story is a rarity in the creator economy: a combination of rapid growth, profitability, and truly prosocial values.

We recently spent an hour speaking with Hannah about:

  • 🫂 Building a values-driven brand

  • 💵 The “Three C’s” at the core of her pay transparency mission

  • 🎤 The art of the street interview

  • 📈 Turning viral content into a sustainable business

  • 🤝 Navigating brand deals with integrity

Read an excerpt of our interview below or listen to the full podcast here.

No time to read or listen to the rest? Before you go, here are a few quick lessons from Hannah’s work on Salary Transparent Street, applicable across niches and platforms.

  1. Define your brand values and stick to them — your audience’s trust hangs in the balance if you don’t. Salary Transparent Street primarily makes money through brand partnerships, but they don't work with brands that would ultimately undermine their worker-first values. Hannah admits that saying no to five-figure deals is a luxury, but remember: if you sell out your audience, they might not return.

  2. Disrupting your typical approach to content creation can lead to unexpectedly positive results. You’d think the best place to do street interviews would be New York City, the most population-dense place in America. It’s actually the worst — Hannah had her easiest day of interviewing in Eugene, OR, the 155th most-dense American city. Question your assumptions. They’re probably holding you back.

  3. Validate your ideas, then invest time and money. Want to start a newsletter? A podcast? A TikTok channel? Just do it. Test your ideas and see how people like them before buying a fancy software subscription, microphone, or camera. This is common sense, yes — the real lesson is to actually invest your time and money to push the project to the next level once you get a positive signal.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview as a podcast on any major podcast platform. Just search for “The Creator Spotlight Podcast.”

Street interviews aren't easy. How do you ensure that when you approach somebody and ask to talk, you have a productive conversation?

It can go so many different directions. We largely interview in the D.C. metro area, but we travel nationwide. When we're in new areas, it's incredibly hard to figure out where to stand, where to go, where the foot traffic is.

Two things really help — my pitch and our visible branding. We wear shirts with our logo, which helps people take us seriously. There are so many people doing street interviews, and you don't want to be the one who looks unprepared, wastes people's time, or weirds them out. You have to be professional about it.

My pitch is basically, "Sorry to bother you. We're doing interviews for Salary Transparent Street. We ask people what they do for a living and how much they make to promote pay transparency. Can I interview you really quickly?"

Hannah's first and most recent videos (at the time of writing). One key change: the microphone now has Indeed branding.

I wish I could get it shorter than that because, honestly, you have two seconds before a person decides whether or not to talk to you. And if they say yes, I've got two minutes; we get right to it. You have to be prepared: camera rolling, mic on.

Telling people what our mission is, why we're doing it, and the impact it has elicits a positive response. People can relate, or the mission resonates with them. We can't just ask, "What do you do for a living?" Then people are like, what's the point? You won't get the right response.

What has the development of this project looked like since your TikTok launch? What are all the arms of your business?

We’re on six social platforms: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The first step was to nail down those platforms and get into a groove, posting consistently and feeling more comfortable with each.

As soon as everything took off, we got a lot of people reaching out and saying, "Hey, I can't be interviewed by you because I'm not in the same state, but can I share my salary in some way?"

So we started a salary Google Sheet. Anyone could view it, but only we could edit it. It was very bare bones, no frills about it. When I was in business school for my undergrad, I was involved in entrepreneurship. The number one thing I took from that was that you have to validate your idea first before you put money or time into it. That happened very quickly because we got thousands of responses in that ugly Google Sheet.

There was enough demand to turn that sheet into an actual, valuable product. With that, we're not just a media company. We are a tech startup of sorts. I don't want to be the one-hit wonder making content on the internet; I'm thinking long-term.

Revenue for the last two years and the goal for this year.

The salary database was also our way of creating something that was off the platforms. So if we ever lost access to our TikTok, if TikTok were ever banned, or what have you, we have this place for people to still connect with us and have access to our product and our values. We also have a negotiation and pay transparency resource hub on our website.

Our values come back to what I call the three C’s: community, corporate, and congress. These are the three groups with the most impact on pay transparency.

  1. Community is people; our content delivers that transparency from and to them.

  2. Congress is legislation, which we’ve started getting more involved with, actually helping states pass pay transparency bills.

  3. Corporate is the hardest nut to crack. Companies need to buy into pay transparency for this to be successful. The Transparent Job Board is our solution.

Your charisma and specific way of interacting with people are at the brand's core. How do you plan to scale the operation without losing that appeal?

That is a huge concern. When we first started, we were inundated with messages from people: "I can do this for you in Miami; I'll do this for you in New York." We considered it because it does make sense; we can't be everywhere at once. But the more we thought about it, the more I wasn't ready to trust strangers to represent the brand when we were still figuring it out ourselves.

Almost two years later, we've got a strong brand identity. That will help us cast interviewers who, above all, need to have the social activism piece down.

We are not doing this for clout or views. We're doing this for impact and social change. It's incredibly hard to find people aligned with that and capable of producing good interviews. It's a complex action to coordinate, to get them the mic and make sure they have a good cameraman.

Monetizing the social content makes everything else possible.

People don't know this, but my husband films all the videos, and he doesn't use a tripod — he holds the camera. There's a dynamic between us — he directs me where to stand, and we're in sync. You can't just be a good interviewer to pull this off; you need a good cameraman.

Salary Transparent Street is an especially values-driven brand. Is that a double-edged sword?

Of course, it limits who we can partner with. I have been trying to work with Amazon for months because they have an amazing certificates program. But just the other day, it was in the news that Amazon is trying to remove the National Labor Relations Act as a protection for workers to talk about their pay.

I told the person that I had working on the deal to stop conversation. I posted on our Instagram story that Amazon is a bad actor and put up a link that said "Amazon sucks." That is what being accountable to your audience looks like. If I hadn't acknowledged that, if I'd turned around and partnered with Amazon so close to that announcement, I would've been torn to shreds and lost all the trust I've built with my audience.

Hannah testifying in support of Maryland Senate Bill 525.

Our partnerships with Indeed and Capital One have been wonderful, and the reason the deals are so significant is that we have long-term buy-in.

Before you sign partnerships, it’s important to make sure your audience isn’t going to react negatively. Ask yourself, does the brand live the values that you are living by?

For example, we partnered with SoFi recently, and some people were upset about it because of the lawsuit regarding the student loan pause. We shared with our audience that the lawsuit had been dropped and that we'd talked to SoFi about it — we had avoided working with them previously because of that.

Having the support of our audience gives us the confidence to make tough decisions because we know we can fall back on that. Those tough decisions have been right every time; any time we've gone against our values, we've felt the heat, and rightfully so.

Salary Transparent Street has brought in well over $1 million in brand deals in under two years. We asked Hannah what it takes to find and close lucrative partnerships.

Finding brand deals

"You don't need an agent or brand manager to get brand deals. Some of my best brand deals have been inbound inquiries directly from the brand or me sending a brand I love a DM with my partnership idea.

There are many different ways to find partnerships. With Indeed, we had a connection through a connection — networking is everything. Just ask around and tell people who you want to partner with. That can be scary, because you think, what if they steal your idea or don’t want to work with me?

It's always better to take the risk than not. Most people are willing to help you, but be careful who you talk to. It can be as simple as getting an email at that brand, especially somebody who works in the marketing department — an influencer marketing, collaborations, or partnerships person."

Hannah Williams, creator of Salary Transparent Street

Pricing brand deals

If you need help pricing your brand deals, reach out to other creators on similar platforms, within the same niche, and within the same general following range as you to ask what they’re charging and determine if you’re pricing yourself competitively.

If you work with an agent, the standard split rate is 10–15%; the higher the split, the more work they should be doing for you. A lot of agencies try to take advantage of creators with high split rates. Don’t fall for it.

Hannah Williams, creator of Salary Transparent Street

Content we've been thinking about while working on this issue.

  • When Hannah brought up competitors, the first thing that came to mind was the TikToker who asks people in fancy cars what they do for a living. His concept and underlying ideology could not be more different from Hannah’s. So many ways to execute and spin an idea!

  • Influencer Marketing Hub released a creator earnings benchmark report last year, surveying 2,000 creators. It's worth a look. Finding success as quickly as Hannah did with Salary Transparent Street is not the norm.

  • Salary Transparent Street brought in over $1 million from partnerships and only $30k from platform payouts (and a few other revenue streams) last year. At the end of last year, Digiday published a quick guide to how social media platforms pay top creators.

Thank you for taking the time to read today's issue — and credit to Hannah for an excellent conversation.

Please check out our podcast's pilot episode and let me know what you think. Might I suggest listening to it on your work commute? There is arguably no better setting to listen to a podcast about a business built on salary transparency.

On to next week's issue, featuring a small finance-media company with three newsletters and a podcast. What drew me to their story is that, on the surface, they like the kind of media company Salary Transparent Street is today, but the path they took to this model is the path Hannah is looking to take from this model.

Maybe that’s a bit confusing, but don’t worry. It’ll make sense next week.

Talk soon,
Francis Zierer, Editor

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