LOOKING at the mountain of paperwork in front of her, mother of two Cat Keenan’s heart sank.
The dog walker, from Newport, Wales, was facing £20,000 in payday loans, bank loans and credit card debt, despite earning just £12,000 a year. His partner, Shaun Nyland, had an additional £37,000 in debt.
Things went from bad to worse when the lockdown hit and Cat’s job dried up overnight.
But the quick-thinking couple joined TikTok and now earn six-figure salaries, which has allowed them to pay off debt AND pay off the mortgage on their four-bedroom home.
Cat, now 31, tells Fabulous: “When the lockdown came, I literally had nothing. I was only making around £1,000 a month, and all of a sudden my job was gone.”
Shaun, 30, meanwhile, was working for Parcel Force in sales, with a base salary of £31,000 and a performance-based bonus, admitting he was “always chasing the sell-off, but it never materialized”.
The couple met in October 2014 at a bar in Chepstow, Monmouthshire, and moved in together in January 2015.
Shaun helped raise Cat’s son Tommy, now nine, and they later had Leo, four, together.
But they soon piled up spiraling debts. Shaun says: “We fell into a trap. I was quite young when I took out my first loan, maybe 24.
“I would get a loan to buy something, but then the company would offer me more and I would think ‘I’ll take it because it will pay my rent for six months’.
“Interest builds up and then you’re in a hole you can’t get out of, even though you’re digging and digging.”
Cat adds: “It started mainly with buying furniture online.
“We were young when we got together, I had a little boy and Shaun was just out of college so we had nothing and even buying a sofa was a big hit.
“So you’re paying for that couch, forgetting that you have to pay rent and bills on top of that. It all adds up, it’s crazy.”
“It was a pretty scary time, we felt like we would never get out of debt. You couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“At the worst time, I was pregnant with Leo and I was worried ‘how can we afford childcare?’ I ended up having to quit my part-time job at an insurance brokerage.
“This is how the dog walking business started, I needed a job where I could take Leo with me.
“I also worked as a cleaner and had a couple of clients who didn’t mind me bringing it in.”
It was a pretty scary time, we felt like we would never get out of debt. You couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel
Shaun adds: “Over the years we had four different rental properties and every time we moved I would take out a loan for the £2,000 deposit.
“Then we would lose that money when we moved, because the children had marked the walls or the dogs from Cat’s business had messed up the garden.
“When you’re paying interest, you don’t even know where your money is going.”
Then in September 2019, Shaun joined TikTok, and Cat followed suit a month later.
Shaun now has a total of 6 million followers across his two pages and 400,000 followers on YouTube, while Cat has 3.5 million across two pages and 600,000 followers on YouTube.
He says: “It started as a joke, we never expected anything to come out of it.
“We made jokes, there was a video where Cat was asking for a cup of tea and I came in with a cup of tea and a biscuit, then I put the biscuit right into the tea and laughed.
“It was stupid stuff like that, but people thought it was funny. During the lockdown, everyone was at home with their phones, so it started answering for us.”
“I stayed at my job to make sure it wasn’t quick fame, working from home until September 2020.
“Then I got a great deal with Bang Energy, which was a guaranteed income, so I did it.”
We fell into a trap. I was pretty young when I took out my first loan, maybe 24. The interest builds up and then you’re in a hole you can’t get out of, even though you’re digging and digging.
The couple, who bought their first home with the help of their family in December 2020, also post “real parody” pages, which is where Shaun makes most of his money.
He says: “I increased my income through affiliate marketing. In the middle of each video there is a five-second ad that says ‘by the way, download this app’.
“Every time someone downloaded that app, they got a small fee. When you get 3 million views a day, that adds up really fast.
“There was one week where I won over £15,000, I still can’t believe it.”
This was not the couple’s first foray into social media. Says Shaun: “We had tried so many things. We were so in debt and desperate to get out of it.
“You know when you scan barcodes at B&M and sometimes things are 10p?
“Cat and I were going all over the B&Ms looking for these 10p rugs and trying to sell them for £10 on Facebook Marketplace.
“We’ve always dabbled in social media. When we were scanning things at B&M, we’d take pictures of things that were on the shelves and post them on Instagram.
“I managed to get 50,000 followers on a starter account. I would post a picture of a B&M cup and get 6,000 likes.
“I didn’t make a lot of money on it, but I thought ‘there’s got to be a business here somewhere’.
“Then I started learning about social media, I saw that TikTok was getting big and I set up my account.
“If you want something, you should do it. I was working 12 hour days and still finding time to make silly videos, because that’s what I wanted to do.”
Although their online profiles were flying, the couple’s romantic relationship was headed in the opposite direction.
Cat says, “My feelings for Shaun were gone. It was lockdown and we were working together.
“We never did our thing, we spent a lot of time together and it became more like co-workers or a friendship than a relationship.
“You forget to appreciate and do nice things for each other.”
Shaun adds, “It was all about work, we didn’t have a conversation that wasn’t about making videos together.
“We were in a rough spot for a few months, when we weren’t really together and I was sleeping in my office.
“Then in April 2020, I moved and went to live with my parents. We spent four or five months apart, only seeing each other on weekends for two minutes while we left Leo.”
Now that Cat is a single mother raising two children during a pandemic, she has stopped shooting videos for social media. Once again, she was left struggling to pay her bills.
Shaun says, “Our TikToks were already going through a rough patch with falling followers. Then we broke up and Cat just stopped posting.
“Their business went to nothing, while I was doing pretty well in the background because of the app stuff.”
Adds Cat: “I bought a Range Rover with financing as an impulse buy at the beginning of my TikTok career. That was a huge expense.
“It was costing me £1,000 a month – financing was £380, insurance was £180, taxes were quite high and fuel cost me a bomb, I only drove to and from school.
“Eventually I got rid of that car and bought a cheaper one. It was wrecked but I had no choice.”
On a mission to win Cat back and basking in the success of his TikTok business, Shaun surprised Cat on her birthday by paying off her mortgage (a six-figure sum) last October.
The mom started filming with her ex again and saw her TikTok take off in the same way Shaun had.
He says, “Social media had been good for me for a while, but when I paid off Cat’s mortgage and we started filming together again, things got better.
“It’s been insane how many deals Cat has gotten in the last seven months.
“After we’d been working together for a while, we’d get all these comments saying ‘getting back together’ and asking what was going on.
“On New Year’s Eve, Cat sat me in front of the camera and said ‘OK, we’re going to explain everything that’s been going on for the last six months.
“Right at the end, she asked me to be her boyfriend. She tricked me into putting it on camera.
“She always joked ‘if we get back together you’ll have to ask me, why did you leave me, I won’t ask you again,’ and she did.”
Cat says, “I had seen a different side of Shaun. He was this fun person that I had fallen in love with all over again.
“I felt that a greater effort was being made, although we were not together, we were spending days with the family.
“I used to feel like I wasn’t loved. Even though he always said he loved me, I think it’s about being shown.”
People say ‘TikTok is not a job, you just make dumb videos’, but you can make a business out of it. I’m not saying everyone has to join TikTok, but if you have a dream, go for it.
Between them, the couple earned £350,000 in the last 18 months.
Cat’s income has skyrocketed in the past six months, thanks to brand deals with Nike, Smyths Toys and Universal Music, meaning the couple have managed to pay off their debts.
She says: “Each month I would make sure all my bills were paid, then I would keep the amount I needed to pay the interest on my debts.
“After six months of doing that, I was able to pay them off in lump sums. It feels amazing, now I’m saving money too.”
“I am taking legal action with some of the companies, because they gave loans that I had no means to pay. I won one dispute and another is in court right now.
“I know a lot of people are hurting with loan companies giving loans to people who can’t pay them back, so I want you to know that you can appeal.
“Fortunately, they gave us this career path and it worked out in our favor. It’s been life changing.”
“Debt is a lesson we learned to move forward and something to teach our children. We want to support others who are going through something similar, show them that they can turn it around.”
Shaun adds, “We also want to tell people to follow their dreams.
“People say ‘TikTok is not a job, you just make dumb videos,’ but you can make a business out of it.
“We are planning, researching and analyzing strategies, it is much more than grabbing a camera and being silly.
“We always say ‘I can’t believe how far we’ve come.’ I want to show people that you can do this too.”
“I’m not saying everyone has to join TikTok, but if you have a dream, go for it. This has been an amazing year for us.”