The Start-up Starter Kit

From Freelancer to Founder 


Jana Ferreira
Content Writer | Sugatan
December 13, 2021


It’s no secret that Kris Sugatan is the powerhouse Founder and CEO of Sugatan.io. But did you know that she started as a freelance virtual assistant before starting her own business? 

It goes to show that with the right mindset, tools, and team, there’s nothing holding you back from starting your own brand – and putting it on the map!

We’re going to share some of Kris’s tips that are based on her own experiences in going from freelancer to CEO.


Make a name for yourself


So you’ve got the funds, but have you got the followers? 

You need to get the word out about your start-up on social media, specifically on TikTok.

Kris’s advice is to hire a young person (Gen Z) who can create entertaining TikTok content. They need to be clued up about TikTok trends and all the platform’s ins and outs. Hire locally and work very closely with your TikTok marketer for at least three months to focus on getting your presence up. 

The good news is that TikTok influencers aren’t as costly as Instagram influencers… yet. 

Target TikTok influencers who can relate to your brand. For example, if you’re selling a household item, target influencers who post household hacks, DIY projects, or interior design content.

Tip: With influencers booming, many of them aren’t sure how to price their services. Seek out undervalued ones that will work for your brand (especially micro and nano influencers).

Invest in high-quality images and graphics when marketing on Facebook. Graphics have become just as effective as video. 

Listen to our podcast with Maryna Taiberman, Sugatan’s Graphics Director, to dive deeper into the power of good graphics.

If you have received positive feedback on your product or service, use that in images or collages. Whatever you do, focus on creating striking visuals that grab attention. 

“Attention is your highest form of currency on social media.” – Kris Sugatan

For example, we know that “food porn” is a massive attention grabber on Facebook, Instagram, and even TikTok. Don’t be afraid to tap into viral trends and known scroll stoppers.

Take advantage of the rising popularity of Stories and Reels on all platforms. Many social media users will only watch Stories or Reels and don’t spend much time scrolling through their feeds anymore. Go where the eyeballs are!


Diversify your ad platforms


Diversification is vital in 2022. You need to expand your reach to multiple platforms as soon as possible. From TikTik, Instagram, and Facebook to Taboola, Pinterest, LinkedIn and yes, even email marketing – get your brand out there, everywhere! 

Post native, paid, and organic content to test the waters and stay dedicated to TikTok even if the ads don’t make much at first. It will pay off eventually.


Have all hands on deck


Don’t outsource media buyers and TikTok content creators if you’re just starting out. Give them autonomy over the creatives, but be there to help cement a solid relationship between the two roles.

Ad buyers have to be in the trenches on Facebook Ads Manager all day long – figuring out what works and what doesn’t, testing, and getting to know the algorithm. 

The same volatility applies to TikTok because it’s still buggy and relatively new. Ads often get rejected for no good reason, so you need someone who is dedicated to ironing out all the kinks.

Your ad buyer and TikTok producer need to have a good relationship and they need to communicate constantly. That’s why Kris recommends having them on-site with you during this critical time for your new business. They’ll get more done and you’ll get to where you want to be faster.


Choose the right clients


Getting a new client on board is always exciting, but it can become a nightmare if you don’t vet the client beforehand. 

Ensure your potential client is a culture fit for your brand and that you’re on the same page about what you want to get out of the partnership. 

Look for traits that are compatible with yours and ask all your questions before taking them on. Find out how the client approaches business, who they hire, and how they see their exit strategy playing out. 

“Only say no when you can afford to say no.” – Kris Sugatan

That being said, only say no to a new client if you can afford to say no. Otherwise, always say yes.


Brand ads vs. direct response marketing


Find the balance between advertising your brand and direct response/performance marketing through continuous campaign development.

For example, you can blend DRM with an element like scarcity when you’re running low on stock. Create a campaign that hypes up the fact that there’s a limited amount left. By doing that you’ll stay top of mind and create that “I need it now” mentality with your customers. 

At Sugatan, we have split our team structure between brand ads and DRM in the past. We’ve focused solely on DRM for certain brands, and for others, we’ve learned that brand ads can result in a minimum total ROI on spend of 5 to 9 x. 

It’s all about leveraging both strategies at the right times and adapting your campaigns throughout the year. 


Bootstrapped vs. funded strategies


If you’re in a bootstrapped position, your ad campaigns will require more upfront investment. Focus on direct response marketing more so than brand ads for the time being. 

Funded companies have the liberty to be more diverse in their spending strategies and can afford to take a balanced approach. 

Tip: Take advantage of cheaper production services to drive brand equity at lower costs.


Invest in UGC


User-generated content is king!

Listen to this podcast episode with Paul Benigeri to discover the incredible value nano influencers and UGC bring to the table. 

There are two types of UGC:

  1. Influencer content
  2. Customer content

In our experience, client/customer-generated content works extremely well because it’s the most relatable, authentic, and trustworthy testimony of your product/service. 

Customers want to hear other customers (ordinary people) talk about your brand rather than listen to an influencer who “obviously” got paid to talk about it. 

Tip: Don’t give your influencers or users scripts. 

Instead, let them be authentic and only give them basic guidelines where you advise on things like lighting and framing.


There are three ways to source influencers (or customers who act as influencers).

1. Auto emails

Send out a “Leave us a review” email after a customer has made a purchase. Contact those who share their positive stories with the community and capitalize on the fact that your brand changed their lives. Make them “ambassadors” by tapping into the emotional side of their customer experience. You won’t even need incentives! At Sugatan, we use Klaviyo for review automation.

2. Contests

Run a campaign every quarter that says, “We are looking for people who want to share their story with the community. We’ll give you three months’ worth of products for free!”

Take all the feedback you receive and put it together in a cohesive story. Now you have solid testimonials to use in ad campaigns! 

3. Seek out great content creators

Actively seek out true content creators, even if they’re not your customers yet. Ask them to create content using your product in their usual, authentic way. You’d be surprised how affordable they can be! Remember not to give them a script, but do provide messaging parameters so they stay on brand, and then let them do their thing.


A typical $100K start-up cost breakdown


In a recent Q&A session that followed the BF/CM webinar, Kris summarized what a $100K start-up cost breakdown looks like for Sugatan.

$100K start-up cost breakdown

Inventory is the biggest expense and ad spend (marketing) is the smallest. Don’t skimp on good employees and invest in testing your products or services. Your customers, and the bank, will thank you later.


Are you a freelancer helping brands with paid traffic?


Here’s a golden nugget just for you: invest in TikTok! 

If you’re not comfortable with TikTok content, hire a young content creator to help you out.

Kris predicts that Facebook’s CPMs are going to increase by the end of 2021. Move to Stories and Reels because their CPMs are manageable. However, if you’re working with skincare brands, your CPMs will always be higher. It’s just the nature of the beast.


Want to go from freelancer to founder?


Use Upwork to get leads. Kris started her freelancing career on Upwork, and as soon as she had more leads than she could handle, she increased her rate. She was able to go from a rate of $18 per hour to $150 an hour in just 6 months and started Sugatan shortly thereafter. 

Remember, Upwork has an algorithm too. See what’s working to become a top freelancer on Upwork and leverage every single success to get where you want to go. Plus, hire people to help you as soon as you’re able to. Teamwork really makes the dream work!


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