How a 26-year-old quit his job to make more money as a TikTok creator

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Eric Sedeño didn’t get famous from dancing or cooking or any of the other popular TikTok content genres. As far as the 26-year-old can tell, his videos perform well because he’s nice.

They do so well, in fact, that he was able to leave his full-time job as an art director at an advertising agency last year. Since then, he’s relied on TikTok brand deals as his primary source of income. 

Watching Sedeño’s videos, posted under @ricotaquito, is a bit like FaceTiming with your really funny, really caring friend; Vogue called him TikTok’s favorite bestie. He’s usually talking straight to the camera, otherwise goofing around with his friends or tie-dying clothing. Rarely is a video posted in which he isn’t flashing an enormous smile.

@ricotaquito GO RIHANNA @nfl @tiktok #tiktoktailgate #superbowl ♬ original sound – ThickyRicky

That authenticity—highly coveted on TikTok—has been key to his success on the app.

“It’s so strange. Never in my life did I think I’d be doing this,” Sedeño, who has over 840,000 followers and more than 84 million video likes on TikTok, tells Fortune. “Before, I was putting art out, I was really trying to be an art director on Instagram, but I couldn’t get anyone to care about the thing I care about. Now it’s crazy there’s so much value placed on what I have to say about something.”

Switching careers

Not that there’s anything wrong with, ahem, working in business or finance, but Sedeño knew he had to leave his advertising job when he was tasked with coming up with campaigns for a bank. It just wasn’t the right fit for him.

He left the ad agency in February 2022. Until then, he had been on a fairly traditional career path. He studied graphic design and advertising in college, and got a job at an ad firm in New York after graduating. He moved from intern to junior art director to art director.

“I saw my path upward, but then in 2020 I got broken up with and I cut my hair into a mullet and grew a mustache and started making TikToks,” he says. At first, TikTok was just for fun. But then came the banking campaigns. A call with his management team gave him the push he needed to strike out on his own.

Though he declined to share exact numbers, he says he makes more money than he made at the ad firm. He also gets more freedom to pursue other interests—he and his brother launched a line of candles that donates meals to a food pantry with every purchase—and work on his own art.

While Sedeño says he would never call his job “hard,” it’s much more mentally taxing than he anticipated. If a video doesn’t get enough views, it feels like a personal failing—something he’s had to learn to deal with.

@ricotaquito

To be fair i dont think she wants a boyfriend right now

♬ original sound – ThickyRicky

In advertising, “I saw my trajectory as, ‘oh if I hit A, B, and C, I’ll get a promotion, I’ll get a raise, I knew exactly where I was heading,” he says. “Online, the only thing that propels you forward is how people are receiving it. Are you growing, are you doing well…There’s no validation outside of numbers.”

Sedeño loves his audience. He’s met followers who have become friends IRL, and he’s always amazed when someone can recall something about him he posted in a video months or years earlier. 

But when your self is your business—your personality, your sense of humor, and in Sedeño’s case, his queerness—constant feedback takes a toll.

“I have a really positive comment section, but I was only seeing the negative,” he says. “It switched my mentality about the internet in a way I should have been prepared for.”

Knowing your worth

So that’s the bad. The good is Sedeño’s newfound freedom, financially—and creatively—speaking.

The former has taken time. When you’re first approached by companies to make content, it’s difficult to know how to price yourself: How much are you worth? Are you sure?

“We’re all part of a new creator marketplace economy and the numbers are so hard to pin down,” he says. He learned after starting to work with his management company that he was undercharging, given his audience size. “I worked in advertising, I thought I had a handle on my numbers. [But] I don’t know how to tell anyone what I’m worth.”

@ricotaquito I DID A PHOTOSHOOT @calvinklein and @hypebeast featured me in their CK96 campaign #partner ♬ original sound – ThickyRicky

Now that his management team has taken over most of the communication and negotiations with brands, Sedeño only has to sign off on projects he wants to work on. They take a cut, but it’s well worth it to him.

Looking to the future

Sedeño doesn’t plan for TikTok to be his full-time work forever; his goal this year is to be “more than an internet personality.” In the future, he hopes to incorporate more of his art direction skills into what he’s doing. He’d also like to start a podcast.

For those interested in a similar career, Sedeño advises shopping around for a management team if you decide working with one makes sense. You want to find someone who believes in the content you’re producing and has ideas for what you can do in the future. If there are certain creators you admire, find out who manages them and reach out to see if they can take you on. 

@ricotaquito

I think we tore

♬ muerto gang – qubelly🗽

He also says it’s okay to say no to brand deals you don’t believe in and to quite literally value yourself more than other people do. Once, a company offered him $500 to make three videos; while he was excited about the opportunity to work with that specific company, he ultimately decided it wasn’t worth his time and effort. 

At that point, Sedeño still had a full-time job outside content creation, so the $500 wasn’t do or die. Slowly building up your brand deals while you have other work is probably a good strategy for most people who don’t have a huge financial cushion to fall back on.

“That’s a privileged thing to say, because a lot of people don’t have a ton of opportunities,” he says. “But say yes to things that excite you.”

And don’t get pigoen-holed. If you usually post about one topic but want to make a video about something else, go for it. 

There’s no reason to limit yourself; think of diversifying your content like diversifying your income streams or investments. It will help in the long run.

“It doesn’t have to be so much of a strategy,” he says. “It’s okay to just be your authentic self.”

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