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Utah Business

Karlie Place, a Utah TikToker has monetized her social media presence so much so that she can travel full-time, and get paid to do it.

This Utah TikToker gets paid to travel

Karlie Place stays in fancy hotels, rides on cruise ships, and catches flights with her equally successful TikToker boyfriend, Colin Ringas, around the world—for free. How? Put it on TikTok’s tab, please.

But Place’s road to self-employed content creator took many twists and turns. She has a lot of AKAs to her name as a collegiate-pole-vaulter-turned-Minnestoa-Vikings-content-creator-turned internet-travel-guide.

For Place—and for every content creator—timing was everything.

“If I started on TikTok today, I think I’d struggle to stand out,” she says. “I’d be like everyone else.”

Place started on Instagram in 2010 and TikTok at the beginning of 2019. Being ahead of the curve, for her, was the game-changer.

“We were some of the first people to take a realistic approach to couple’s travel, and travel in general,” she says. “We only filmed content where we were being our genuine, goofy selves. Nothing was stiff or formal, and that’s what really struck a chord.”

But that doesn’t mean she was making money back then—or being taken seriously at all, really. Her first viral TikTok was her pole vaulting for the University of Minnesota. While the clip raked in over 10 million views and helped her hit 300,000 followers, Place says the responses from her friends and family were mixed.

“I knew that something was happening,” she says. “I could feel this shift, but for most people, it didn’t feel real or substantial. Of course, I get that—you have to think back to what TikTok was like in 2019. No one knew what it was…I think the consensus was that it was a dancing app for kids.”

But public opinion didn’t deter Place. Instead, she continued to pursue digital marketing, scoring a position as a content creator for the Minnesota Vikings right out of college.

“At the time, that was the highest goal I had for myself,” she laughs. “To work for a professional sports team in some creative capacity. And then it was my first job.”

Two years in the position helped her garner more marketing, social media, and design skills, which she, in turn, applied to her personal accounts. As the end of 2021 neared, Place’s TikTok following had more than tripled, and she knew she had a decision to make: pursue content creation on her own terms or stay in the office.

She chose the social internet on a gut feeling.

“Decisions are made with this question: ‘How do I live my life to the fullest?’” she says. “Money is always second to me.”

Laughing, she adds: “That can get problematic sometimes. But it just felt like the right time. I don’t have any kids, I don’t have a home payment. If I failed, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d just, like, get another job. You know what I mean?”

But when she really started putting her all into her Instagram and TikTok brands, backup plans proved unnecessary.

“Norwegian Cruise Line reached out to me for a paid collaboration right around the time I decided to go all-in,” she says. “It was really exciting and validating.”

The collabs have only ramped up—she’s worked with the Marriott hotel chain, the Four Seasons, and her latest favorite, a high-scale resort in Greece.

“I was dying to work with them,” she says. “I pitched the collaboration with a focus on improving their short-form video—I offered a one-on-one with their social media team for a fast-pass course on improving their online presence, and they jumped on it. It’s become one of the most successful and long-term partnerships I have.”

While it’s nice to have the plane tickets purchased and hotel rooms secured, Place needed to secure passive income—no small feat, she says.

“Influencer marketing and the internet, in general, is the complete wild west right now, but that means a lot of opportunities to turn content into income are missed.”

For her, affiliate links are the biggest cash cow.

“Promo codes, pay-per-clicks,” she says. “They’re all forms of affiliate links, and they’re underutilized by creators.”

In the first quarter of 2022, Place dove into the Amazon Associates Program, creating a blog post breaking down all the camera and filming gear she uses—complete with individual links to the products.

“I sold $19,000 worth of photography equipment,” she says. “From a blog post.”

Discount codes with Lululemon, Cozy Earth, Londre Bodywear, and Steve Madden also drum up dollars for Place. And bringing in that kind of money means that Place has more time for her long-term goal: education.

“Spreading knowledge is at the soul of everything I do,” she says. “That’s not to say that every piece of content that I put out is educational, because it’s definitely not—but it’s the motivation behind everything.”

Her first dive into the educational content creation was the Shadow Me series, one-hour demos where she teaches clients one-on-one on topics of their choice, from business strategy to photo editing. Her first course had 100 spots—and sold out before she could start marketing the second one.

Since then, she’s also launched the Do More network, a global Discord community where members share content, resources, and advice for growing their online brands. On top of that, she sells custom media kits and various presets. 

Place’s goal is to help other creators hit the same benchmarks she’s reached. A big part of that, she says, is heavily pushing resourcefulness—a skill she says new content creators lack.

“There’s so much beautiful content that is going to waste,” she says. “A creator will film this whole photoshoot video, post one part of it, and forget about it on a hard drive somewhere. Then they feel like they need to have all these new ideas to stay relevant, and I’m in the sidelines like ‘The hard drive! The hard drive!’”

Posting on social media is kind of like using every part of the buffalo for Place.

“If you’re smart about it, a trip to Greece isn’t just an Instagram post—it’s three years of content.”

It’s all in the algorithms, she says.

“Each platform boosts a specific kind of content,” she says. “So, that photoshoot sitting on your dusty hard drive, right? The final photos go on Instagram. The behind-the-scenes footage of you putting everything together, that’s for TikTok. And the individual set items, the outfits, the equipment? You break that down—with links—on Pinterest. That’s how this kind of work turns into a career.”

That’s what Place sees her social media presence as—a long-term career.

“I’m an artsy person,” she says. “I don’t do well with schedules. I learned discipline while I was a college athlete, but I felt like I was dragged through school. Now, I’m at an extremely healthy place in terms of work/life balance. If I get overworked, I just stop, and I don’t feel guilty about it! I’m on my own timeline with clients I love.”

And while Place has a lot of room to pivot—“I’m still getting emails and comments on my pole-vaulting video about becoming a coach,” she says—it doesn’t really matter to her where she ends up.

“Creating content will never not be fun for me,” she says. “And now that I can make money while doing it too? It’s the best deal ever.”

Jacqueline is a Master of Accounting graduate from the University of Utah. Specializing in tax, she's interested in business, government, and the intersection of the two. When she's not studying or writing, she loves to run, play Candy Crush, and read novels.