Iowa State grad’s hand-made planner business goes viral


Madi Bierl

Linda Tong at the Beautiful Land Market in September

Linda Tong, Iowa State 2020 alum, is the founder and CEO of Linda Tong Planners. Her TikTok account has reached 240,000 followers since 2020.

Tong specializes in designing and selling custom bullet journal planners. They are a mix of hand-made planners, sketchbooks and personalized diaries. Her most popular planners run for $45 or $60. She also sells other stationery, including notepads and sticky notes. She made her first bullet journal for herself in 2017, and her friends started asking for their own customized planners.

Bre Ruiz, from Waukee, Iowa, is one of the first customers Tong had when they were in the music program together at Iowa State.

“I noticed one day she was writing in this really cool planner that I had never seen before. And I was like, what is that? She goes, ‘I made it.’ And I was like, ‘OK, that’s hilarious. Where do you get it, like I want one,’” Ruiz said. “Then I saw that she was getting super popular on TikTok, and I was like, ‘Linda, you’re incredible like this is amazing.’ And now she has a whole business from it.”

Tong made her bullet journals by hand for three years, selling to friends and people who had heard of her. In 2020, she started getting her designs mass produced and went viral online, specifically on Tik Tok.

Her first few TikToks would get about 5,000 views, with 600 people interacting with the video. At the time, Tong thought that was crazy. Her tenth or eleventh video posted is when the numbers started going up, and her business started gaining momentum across the world.

“It was just so much of a dopamine rush because it was so satisfying watching the numbers go up,” Tong said. “It was a lot of playing catch up and also learning how to be a business owner without ever being a business owner before.”

Tong’s second year of business was the hardest on her because her business relied heavily on the virality of her videos.

“There was a loss of passion I had in the beginning, and I was just kind of focused on selling. And then it was just not healthy to think like that,” Tong said.

Now, Tong posts about once a week and does TikTok live videos every night around 11 p.m. or midnight. In her live videos, she packs up orders and interacts with her online customers.

“Showing them the behind-the-scenes process in this day and age makes a huge difference,” Tong said.

Tong releases new planner designs every year, releasing them for every academic year. The whole process takes between four and six months to design and mass produce. She still hand-draws all of her designs, using art supplies like Crayola markers and gel pens, the same products she used when she started.

Diana Delafuente is one of Tong’s customers from Austin, Texas. She discovered Linda Tong Planners on TikTok, and the products would always be sold out. She was successful in purchasing an academic planner during Tong’s last launch.

“Her products are amazing; they’re really good quality,” Delafuente said. “I think the time and the effort she puts in every time she comes out with them is very valuable. Her customer service is really good as well; she is quick to respond and help us out with whatever we need.”

Along with all of her online orders, Tong attends pop-ups and markets to sell her products.

“Being able to interact with my customers and seeing how much they love the product and how much it helps them has honestly been what keeps me going,” Tong said. “Seeing people’s faces during in-person events when they open up the planner and realize it’s all hand-drawn, seeing their minds pretty much get blown in front of me has been worth it.”