Interview: Natalie Zfat

by Ceylan Kumbarji

Natalie Zfat is incredible. You speak to her and feel like you can take over the world. It’s instantly clear how she has become so successful, grown her personal company Natalie Zfat, Inc. and amassed a total of 300,000 followers across her platforms. She’s inspirational and proves that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

“I like having a boutique business where I know everyone that works for me and I choose the clients that I work with. I don’t necessarily want to have a 200 person agency or anything like that.”

Taylor Magazine: Have you been driven from a young age and have you always known you wanted to work for yourself?

Natalie Zfat: Yeah, I have always wanted to be a writer. I don’t even know if I’ve always wanted to be a writer as much as I always have been a writer. If I would get into an argument with my parents at the age of six or seven, I would go in my room and write them a long long letter about how I felt and I would leave it for them on the kitchen table. To a lot of people, writing is a burden and to me it’s always been such a wonderful release. I would say I’ve always felt like that was probably going to be a part of my job if I was lucky enough to be able to write for a living.

Taylor Magazine: Tell me a little bit about your company!

Natalie Zfat: I have a business where essentially I write for a variety of different brands. We work with the Food Network, we work with Dell, we work with fashion brands like Ted Baker. Essentially those brands hire me to create content for them and some of those brands actually hire me to create content for them on my own properties, like on my blog or make a video for my followers. The business is sort of two fold. Some of those brands hire me to write for them and others hire me to write about them.

A lot of the things I do on social media or talk about: it’s not just a photo of me in a lovely dress, it’s a photo of me in a lovely dress talking about how you should dress for a job interview and what you should do in that interview and what you should say to seal the deal or what you should do when you follow up on a job interview. It’s very much career and business related and certainly from my own experience as a small business owner.

Taylor Magazine: How long have you been doing that?

Natalie Zfat: I’ve always been doing it since I graduated college eight or nine years ago. My first job was at Rolling Stone writing for them and after that I knew I really loved working for a magazine. It almost felt short sighted to not pursue other interests and other brands I cared about and other types of magazines that weren’t music or politics focused, so when I left Rolling Stone I started to work with all kinds of different brands across all spectrums. I was writing for other publications, I was creating content for brands and I worked with brands like American Express and Showtime.

I really was able to take advantage of all of my interests and that I think speaks to this idea that society tends to want to put people in a box and in a bracket. If someone asks you what you do and you tell them that you’re a writer but also a entrepreneur in many cases they might think you’re flaky or you can’t pick one thing, or you’re unsure. What’s so beautiful about being a professional in 2016 is that you really can do multiple things. Frankly as soon as I realised that I could do those things simultaneously that’s really when I noticed my career started to take off.

Taylor Magazine: What would you say is the main reason your business is so successful and has grown so much since you first started it?

Natalie Zfat: I want to remain humble, we still are growing. I think that certainly year to year we’ve been lucky enough to grow in a way that we can hire people. We have 5 employees and I intend to keep it a small business. I like having a boutique business where I know everyone that works for me and I choose the clients that I work with. I don’t aspire to have a 200 person agency or anything like that but I come at it from a writing perspective, not necessarily a marketing perspective. I came from Rolling Stone and the magazine world where I cut my teeth with some of the most established and celebrated writers of our time.

It really taught me how to craft stories and be articulate and write in a compelling way. I have to attribute the success to this idea that hopefully my writing is captivating and compelling because of that experience. Brands notice that and other magazines have noticed that hopefully. It’s a unique voice that I bring to any of my clients that I work with.

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Taylor Magazine: So when you first started, what was your biggest fear or challenge that you faced initially?

Natalie Zfat: When I started my company, I was definitely unsure if I’d be able to build a client list. I wouldn’t say it was a debilitating fear of mine but I definitely wondered, “How am I going to scale my business to the point where I can earn as much as I made when I was salaried?” The way that I sort of overcame that is it was actually very organic. As soon as I started my company, I was lucky enough to work with Adidas and Levi’s, I had really great clients the first year. It was a word of mouth thing and I think to some degree it still is. A lot of brands who come to me are like, “Wow, we saw what a great job you did with so and so and we’d love to work with you,” so organically I was like, “Just keep doing a really good job, that’s how you’ll grow your business. Don’t worry about necessarily proactively looking for clients, they’ll come to you.” It’s not a unique thing to my industry, I think in any industry if you really blow it out of the park they will recommend you to someone else.

Taylor Magazine: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?

Natalie Zfat: One of the most rewarding and also one of the biggest responsibilities of owning your own business is that so many people rely on you for both income and their career. I think one of the most rewarding parts of my job is being able to have employees that come to me and say, “Thank you so much for hiring me. Not only are you my boss, you’re really my mentor and you’re really someone I look up to.” Being able to mentor people and being able to help people grow within their professional space is easily the most rewarding part of my day to day job.

Taylor Magazine: Can you think of one occasion where you’ve been blown away and it’s been a bit of a shock to you that you’ve inspired somebody so much?

Natalie Zfat: Yes! This is funny… You know the Instagram feature where you can get a private message from someone if you don’t follow them? The messages get pushed to this weird folder that you never see? I went through it a week or two ago and there was this long, long note from a woman who had been following me on Instagram for a long time. She wrote me months ago which is embarrassing because I didn’t even know and I wish I could have replied sooner. She said she was struggling to get a job in the media world and she wanted to write for a magazine. She said by following along with my blog and my social media channels she felt inspired that she could maybe start her own business herself. It was such a lovely sentiment. I replied to her and gave her my email.

Sometimes, people can be afraid to be gutsy and show up and say what’s on their mind. We often don’t. I love that this woman wrote me because it showed me that she was willing to raise her hand and say, “Hey. I respect what you’re doing, I’m paying attention.”

Taylor Magazine: I guess no day for you is typical but run me through what it might be like for you when you wake up in the morning.

Natalie Zfat: You’re right that no two days are alike. Let me look at my calendar and see what today looks like. I would say that at least half the day is me in meetings with my existing clients and with one or two potential clients. Our clients are across every vertical so I might be in a meeting with a restaurant and then a high fashion brand and then I might be doing a meeting with a Broadway show company. It’s a little bit of a mixed bag in terms of who I’m meeting with.

Then I would say usually the day ends with me hosting some type of event. I probably host maybe three or four events a week and it’s usually a talk that I will give for a tech company or a fashion event that I’ll host for a retail brand. What’s interesting is that I certainly feel like I’m working always… which is okay. I love what I do but I think certainly when you start at 8.00am and you end at 9.00pm or 10.00pm after the events are finished it’s certainly a full day.

Taylor Magazine: So what do you like to do in your very rare spare time?

Natalie Zfat: I love travelling. I just actually went to London for the first time believe it or not.

Taylor Magazine: Oh! Did you like it?

Natalie Zfat: I loved it! I was there in August and I had such a good time. I stayed in Covent Garden and then we were in Angel and it was just so beautiful. I went to Harrods and I did all the things that you should do on your first trip to London. I also had some friends there who showed me the local culture. I love travelling and to be totally honest that was a work trip too but I gave myself a couple days to just enjoy. I’ve been to some really neat places. I’ve had the privilege of travelling to Morocco and China and the Middle East and certainly through-out Europe and I would say travelling has become a really nice escape from some of the grind. If I’m going to a foreign place I’m obviously going to be taking pictures and Instagramming. There’s no real day off but it’s still nice to explore.

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Taylor Magazine: You mentioned you’re a small company. What do you look for in potential employees?

Natalie Zfat: That’s such a good question. At Rolling Stone, I ran their internship programme and now I’ve hired many people for my own company. What’s consistent from back then to now is that I always looked for the hungriest and most ambitious candidates. It didn’t matter to me that much where they went to school, or if they had prior relevant experience as much. To me, it’s always been, “Who is the hardest working and most passionate person in the room?” And that has always been my mantra for life. I wanna be friends with those people, I wanna date those people, I wanna hire those people. Not all together, but to me it’s very attractive and it makes for a great employee when they are so excited and hungry to really do a great job for you.

Taylor Magazine: What advice would you give to other young people who are determined and hungry but aren’t really too sure where to start or how to get into the field they want to get into?

Natalie Zfat: I would say going back to what we talked about, it’s about being ambitious and gutsy and not being afraid to stand up and say to your potential employer, “Listen, I’m gonna outwork and out-perform any of the other candidates you’re interviewing.” Let them see your excitement and your ambition for the project or the job and as an employer, that would be the most exciting and most reassuring part of hiring someone.

Taylor Magazine: What do you like most about social media?

Natalie Zfat: You’re asking some good ones! I like that I’ve been lucky to grow an audience of 300,000 people from all over the world. I love that I can not only talk to them but learn from them. You can ask questions to 300,000 people all over the planet and get real time answers, so to me social media is such a simple but effective communication tool.

Taylor Magazine: Tips for managing a hectic workload or stress?

Natalie Zfat: When I first started my company, I was a perfectionist. When your name is on the door, everything is on the line for you and I was a little afraid to delegate responsibilities to my team. I would ultimately just decide that I would do it myself just the way I liked it. Maybe I didn’t have the time in the beginning to invest time in teaching everyone how to do things to the degree that I would. Part of how I’ve figured out how to manage my workload is by teaching myself how to delegate and to trust that your team is going to be able to take stuff off your plate and do it effectively. It’s all about teamwork, whether you are the intern or the internship co-ordinator, you have to figure out what you can put on your plate and what you can put on others.

Taylor Magazine: What’s it like to know that what you’re doing is making a positive difference?

Natalie Zfat: While we work with really big brands we also work with startups. Personally speaking, it’s not always the most financially rewarding project but in my opinion, it’s certainly some of the most fun and exciting. There’s so much potential when we work with those startups. To think about what positive impact I’ve been able to make and what has driven me to want to continue is probably that work we’ve done with small businesses and this idea of supporting fellow small business owners, and helping with startups. In many cases we work with non-profit startups as well and those are some of my passion projects. It’s interesting because they’re not necessarily the ones that get covered in the media but they’re certainly ones that I think are what fuel my motivation every day.

Taylor Magazine: Tell us something that we don’t know about you… something random.

Natalie Zfat: If I weren’t a writer and a social media entrepreneur, I might have been a piano player. I do play piano, I studied it in college and I’ve been playing since I was 7. I have a piano in my living room which is pretty unusual for a New York apartment and I played competitively when I was a teenager. I write my own music and play Lady Gaga and David Bowie and The Beatles and Coldplay for my friends when they come over.

Taylor Magazine: Do you have a day where you don’t check your emails and you switch off completely?

Natalie Zfat: I absolutely have zero days where I turn off my computer or my phone, that’s never happened. I’m not even sure I’ve ever boarded a plane that didn’t have wi-fi, unless it wasn’t working. Usually I try to book ahead and get on that flight! I’m very much a millennial in the sense that I can’t and won’t disconnect. For many people, work is something that they have to disconnect from or they want to disconnect from. I feel very lucky that I really (and I could change my mind one day but not yet) enjoy checking my email and seeing what exciting projects are coming through. I love being on my phone and seeing what wonderful messages got caught in my Instagram private messages. I don’t necessarily feel like I need or want to disconnect from my job but I reserve the right to change my mind. One day I could be like, “I definitely need a break!” That hasn’t happened yet though.

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