Do more by doing less

(5 min read) Zahra Hussain on balancing brand work and creative growth. Featuring Squarespace, Notion, Artlist, American Express, Whalar, Sony, and ChatGPT

Zahra Hussain

I'm not a business person at all. At the end of the day, I'm an artist.

Zahra Hussain spends far more time thinking about special effects and visual impact than customer funnels and conversion rates.

Her content is mesmerizing and undeniable - but it takes a long time to make. Her struggle is how to do more.

Let’s get into it!


The Business



You’ve probably noticed from the Breakdown that >99% of Zahra’s revenue is from brand deals.

She wants to change that.

I want to start doing long-form tutorials, especially ones that last longer than a minute that I could post on YouTube long form, and then also start using the Creativity fund - because I know that the beta program pays out really, really well and a lot of my friends who hopped on have been making their rent every single month, which is really high in Manhattan.

The blocker to moving forward on long-form?

Her own success.

She gets so many brand deals that she doesn’t have time to expand her content production into long-form.

When I take on brand deals, it often inhibits me from doing anything else but that brand deal for that amount of time.

If I'm wrapping up a brand deal, I usually get another brand deal within the next week, and so then I'm ideating and starting the process for that one.

This is a common challenge for Creators. It’s one I’ve faced myself.

When I first started writing on LinkedIn, I found myself overwhelmed by trying to sign all the clients and do all the work while still maintaining a consistent posting schedule.

Zahra’s come to the same solution I did:

I think I'm gonna talk to my manager about making my rate way higher, and then that'll bring me the money that I want and also give me more time to just like work on my own stuff.

I've been taking on like two brand deals a month so far, and two is enough for me to be like “Oh my schedule is kind of crazy” because it usually takes me two weeks to film, edit, and stuff.

First off, Zahra’s managers must be epic if they can bring her so many deals (more on that below).

What I discovered, and Zahra is also discovering, is that there’s a tradeoff between time and opportunity (a concept known as “opportunity cost”). Every day she spends working on a brand deal comes at the cost of not spending that day working on some other opportunity - like long-form video.

I get a really good variety, brands that are like, wow, this brand is cool. I want to work with them. So I have a lot of trouble saying “No”, or that I don't want to work with these brands….And that's why I've been taking on way too many brand deals.

But, ultimately, I'm trying to step away from that.

The solution to this tradeoff is to try to make the same amount of money in less time, so you can free up that time to do other the other things that you want to do - whether creative, business, or personal.

For me, it was about finding space to write this newsletter and spend time with my growing family.

For Zahra, it’s about expanding her creative horizons and breaking into a new space (long-form).

My schedule becomes so saturated with the brand ideation and creation stuff that I don't really have time to work on the creative stuff that I do want to work on, which is the ultimate dilemma for a creator:

How do you make organic content and then also make money?

One way to make more from less is to simply raise your prices.

This technique doesn’t work for everyone.

Sometimes the market doesn’t bear the price increase you want - maybe you’re already charging at the top end of your range, or maybe your customers are just price-sensitive. That’s the discussion Zahra will have to have with her manager.

However, if you know your customer and you think it will work, this tactic might be worth a shot.

You can always drop your prices again.

You can never get your time back.

The last thing I want is to get burnt out by my own passion.

The Stack

Website / Bio Link - Squarespace + GoDaddy

It was the one that my friend used, so it was just from word of mouth and when I tried it, I really liked it.

My dad is a software guy, he's a tech nerd, so he helped me set up my domain through GoDaddy and then did all the crazy stuff in the backend.

I'm actually not using Squarespace to buy my domain, I still have my domain bought from GoDaddy.

Affiliates - Amazon + Artlist

I have an Amazon affiliate link set up and then also an Artlist affiliate link that I have set up from my one Artlist brand deal that I did like two months, three months back now. The Amazon one I did by choice, because I saw a lot of my other friends were doing that. And the Artlist one was just in correlation with my brand deal. They asked me to do it.

And neither bring in any amount of income.

Project Management - Notion

I honestly just started using Notion last week or like two weeks ago, and it's been a big help because normally I would literally just write down notes on Google Docs. That was how I’d keep track of everything, but now Notion's let me keep track of how I'm getting paid for my brand deals and who's paid me and who hasn't paid me, and then I have a to-do list section on Notion too.

Finances - American Express + Chase Business Banking + Parents do taxes

I applied for the Karat card, I think, 17 times or something like that, because I didn't know that if they rejected me, it looks bad…And then when I got my AmEx card, my credit score was actually normal and fine.

That's when Karat was like, “Hey we want you, we want you, we want you, we want you” and then I was like, “No, now I don't want you.”

So I only have one credit card, and that's my AmEx card, and it's attached to my Chase Business Banking.

Representation - Whalar

I was honestly expecting to not work with my manager past three months, because within the first month, I don't think I got any brand deals or any incoming or outgoing or anything…then by the third month, she had already brought me in four at a time. I was like, “Whoa.”

So she brings me in a lot of work, which is really great…I've been getting consistent work ever since I signed with her. And she takes 20%, which is standard. And she's really awesome.

I was curious how much business her manager brings her vs fields as inbound:

Inbound, I want to say 40%, and maybe outbound is 60%…it seems like she put me in this big pitch like “We have this girly who likes to do this” and then brands find me like that.

That’s excellent - more than 50% outbound is quite rare!

AI - ChatGPT + Photoshop’s Generative Fill

I use AI to sometimes write scripts for me, which is really lame, but it works.

I'm like “I need ideas for this brand. They want to they want it to be goofy or they want to be loopy.” That was one of the key words I had for my last campaign. I was like, “Okay, like let's figure out some ideas” and so often I use AI to just get the get the brain rolling.

Operations - Google Drive + Dropbox + WeTransfer

Video Distribution - Direct to Platform

Video Production - Sony A7C + Custom PC with NVIDIA 3080 + Blender + Adobe + Rode mics + RGB lights from Amazon + whatever softbox she got in 8th grade

I use the Sony A7C to record, and that's like the standard vlogging camera that a lot of influencers use.

For green-screening purposes, soft boxes are great. It's like a big light, but then there's a little white sheer thing that goes on top, and it blends the shadows a little bit and it's not as harsh as a spotlight would be, so your shadows are nicer.

It's very soft. That's why it's called a soft box.

Did you like this article?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Thanks for reading!

My mission is to enable a million people to find freedom in the Creator Economy.

Follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, and/or Instagram for actionable insights.

Reach out anytime - [email protected].

If you’re not already subscribed, please do - it’s free:

See you next week!

Join the conversation

or to participate.