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Why I give financial advice for free on TikTok

October 7, 2021, 9:30 AM UTC

Don’t get me wrong: Creators should be paid for creating content and for the rightful value they bring to the market. Some are noble in this pursuit whereas others are, in my opinion, overzealous. The worst-case scenario is when someone whose work carries little to zero value still expects a large amount of compensation for it—and it’s easy to fall into that line of thought, because you’ll see examples of that actually working in social media.

I started making TikToks and YouTube videos in 2019 to answer common questions about personal finance that my own friends were asking me. In that way, I used social media to share the same messages I was already communicating to people I knew, but with a much bigger audience.

It’s not that I don’t want to make money by creating a product; I just feel strongly that certain types of content should be free and accessible to the public. Otherwise, it goes against my mission of spreading financial literacy to the masses. 

When it comes to finance TikTok or financial education on YouTube, one creator may see a different creator charging x amount of money for their services, whether that service takes the form of a consultation, an ebook, or a financial course. If the quality of those services is excellent, then the creator’s fee may be worth their service. However, the majority of the educational content that creators are charging for falls on the low-value end of the spectrum and is overpriced. And for the inexperienced consumer, it can be hard to tell the difference between which content is worth paying for and which isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with charging for these services, but I’ve personally always wanted to avoid monetizing content that could easily be discovered on the Internet with a quick Google search. I feel that charging a lot for “free” content would constitute a business decision lacking integrity. An example of one such decision is the classic “Buy my course, you’ll get rich!” scheme. Whenever you see someone saying you can turn $1,000 into $10,000 by simply paying $500 for a course they’re offering, it’s unlikely that you’ll become rich. But the person behind the course certainly might. 

Creator 25-Humphrey Yang
Courtesy of Humphrey Yang

Early on in my TikTok career, I had around 300,000 to 400,000 followers, and someone suggested that I could “really make money with a budgeting course, ebook, or something similar.” And it’s true: I could’ve created a budgeting course in a few hours, promoted it on my TikTok, charged $29 or $39 for it, and I probably would’ve made a considerable amount of money given the size of my audience. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just don’t believe in charging money for knowledge that can be acquired for free if you know where and what to look up online.

That being said: Money doesn’t discriminate, and money doesn’t care whether the reason behind it is noble and righteous or not.  Money goes where the market dictates. Some people will sell a course or product of low value, and some of them will make a profit off it. 

So, what is the right way to monetize your content?

There isn’t one. But I maintain that if you’re a creator and you’re selling something, be it a course, product, etc.—that thing needs to deliver value that significantly exceeds the price you’re charging for it. If it doesn’t, you’ll lose integrity as a creator—and in the finance world, integrity is everything. Integrity is what will set you apart from the rest as someone who is a “good” creator with a lasting career versus someone who’s in it for short-term gains, who will likely burn out their audience because of constant self-promotion. 

Could I charge $300 an hour for my financial advice? Sure, and one could argue that my time is worth far more than that, therefore I should be charging for it. But with the power of social media and the leverage that comes with it, there are plenty of other opportunities to make money in a way that doesn’t hurt my credibility. I currently make money through a community Patreon model and through sponsored promotions of products that I ultimately believe will help my audience. When it comes to such partnerships, I screen every brand heavily and turn down 99% of opportunities that flow through my inbox. I want to ensure that the prospective brand and my brand are aligned, that they’re deserving of my audience’s trust, and that they won’t damage the credibility of my enterprise.

The enterprise being: helping everyone become financially literate. As a creator, that’s how I conduct my business and the way I’ll continue to do so. Others are free to do what they want, and charge what they feel they warrant—but if it comes at the steep cost of their audience, they may soon find themselves out of a position that afforded them a variety of opportunities in the first place.

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This story is part of Fortune‘s Creator Economy package.