We recently sat down with Charlotte guru Alicia Thomas! She shared with us how her creative process works, and we ended with her thoughts on self-care. Read on to be inspired and to know who to ask about next weekend’s plans.

Tell us what you do:
By night, I am the co-founder of Work For Your Beer (WFYB) with Melanie Fox (who we recently interviewed too, here) and by day I am the Sponsored Content Editor for the Charlotte Observer and its subsidiaries – CharlotteFive, Carolina Bride, and South Park Magazine. As the Sponsored Content Editor, I take a company’s business objectives and turn them into original and engaging content that get their message across without looking like a traditional ads, and still providing value to the reader.

Sounds very creative! How do you tap into those ideas?
At Penn State I studied journalism, and since I graduated I’ve primarily worked in marketing roles — and my day job with The Observer is a perfect blend of the two. I get to write, but I also get to be creative about marketing other businesses to our readers.

The same is true of my side hustle. I’m responsible for all of our content on social media, in our Brewsletter, on our blog and on our website — but beyond that I’m also heading up our partnership efforts so we can work with other cool businesses and get our company in front of an audience that likes what we do and wants to know more.

Luckily, in both my roles, I am surrounded by supportive teams that are very collaborative. When I am stuck or searching for new ideas, they are always willing to help me work through it.

I think it is essential to surround yourself with people who have different skill sets than you, and not to worry about being the smartest person in the room. On both of my teams, we are about collaboration over competition and believe you can learn so much from others’ perspectives, talents and experiences. Learning from others has helped me grow immensely in my career.

When you are working with so many different companies and outlets, how do you collaborate?
We have learned we don’t need to recreate the wheel. Early on, right after Mel and I launched WFYB, we were hosting our own classes — but we soon realized that there were already so many great organizations out there teaching these classes that we didn’t need to add to that. We just needed to be a resource to educate people on their options, so they could get out to all the awesome events that already exist.

And then at CharlotteFive, we’ve occasionally worked with Offline who provides excellent content about events happening in Charlotte. We didn’t feel the need to duplicate their calendar, so a partnership was formed instead.

That’s awesome! What recommendations do you have for companies who want to use sponsored content?
I think one important thing people often forget about is high-quality photography. People are so visual these days, and we are sharing a lot of what we do on Instagram where a great picture can make or break it.

But my biggest recommendation is not to be spammy. The point of using sponsored content over an ad is to engage the customer in an engaging story that they’re going to want to read regardless of whether it is sponsored or not. For example, you’d be much more likely to open an article titled “10 Items Under $50 to Spruce Up Your Home at Target” than something that just says “Spend All Your Money at Target,” right?

When I meet with companies to develop their content, I challenge us to figure out what our readers actually care about, rather than focusing on getting their company’s name in the article a certain amount of times. The goal of the sponsored content pieces I write is to sound like you’re having a conversation with a friend, not like you’re listening to a TV commercial.  A lot of times, I think about what I would care about if I were engaging with that company, and I start there.

With two full-time jobs and working around 90 hours a week, what keeps you going and how do you make time for yourself?
At WFYB, one major thing that keeps me going is the feedback we get from our audience. When I get an email saying that someone started working out again because we made it accessible for them or that they were new to the city and found their friend group through the classes, that is really inspiring and heartwarming. It makes us want to keep going knowing we are positively impacting people’s lives.

In general, I always recommend finding an organization system that works for you and sticking to it. I live and breathe by my color-coded calendars (both my Google Calendar and my paper planner). Not only do I keep all my meetings and work reminders on there, but I also schedule time with my fiancé, my friends and for myself to recharge. And most importantly, I honor my personal appointments the same way I would a work meeting. (And here comes her quote to remember…) Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities.

And lastly, (most of us) aren’t brain surgeons. So, if a meeting falls through or something gets done later, the world is not going to end, and people are going to understand; don’t get overwhelmed. Take it one task at a time.

From your experience of starting WFYB to growing in your career, what is your advice to others?
If you have an idea in your head, just go for it. Try it and figure out what you need to fix as you go. With WFYB, we didn’t realize that we were a directory until a year and a half in! If we had known that at the beginning, some things might have been easier, but we wouldn’t have learned as much as we did have gone through that process.

And just talk to people! When creating anything, you want feedback from your audience to understand what they truly want and what you can do better. Also, don’t limit it to just your industry. What has been wildly helpful to me and our business is talking to people in all sectors and learning what their goals are and figuring out how we can work together in a mutually beneficial way. As I said earlier, it’s not always the best to be the smartest person in the room — keep learning from those around you.