Anna Sullivan, co-founder of The Creative Exchange talks about her career shift from fashion buyer to strategist and owner of her own social media agency.
When Anna Sullivan began her professional career, she never imagined she’d be where she is today but she’s made quite career out of her somewhat unpredictable journey. Anna is now the co-founder of the North Carolina-based social media agency, The Creative Exchange and we had the chance to sit down with Anna to talk about her life, her style, and her surprising career shift from fashion buyer to social media maven at one of North Carolina quickly emerging social media agencies.
Q&A with Anna Sullivan
What’s up Anna?! So glad you could chat with us and let us pry into your life a little bit.
Yesssss! Such a pleasure! I am constantly reading interviews on dope people, and it’s still crazy to think some people think of me that way…not to mention getting interviewed by a dope site 😉
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from Anna and where are you living right now?
I come from a small town in Eastern NC and I moved to Greensboro, NC for school. After school, I tested out Raleigh, NC for a bit and then eventually moved to Durham. I’m still kind of surprised I haven’t moved out of the state yet, but I feel like maybe it’s just not the right time for that yet.
Growing up I was always into entrepreneurship, so it seems that my path was somewhat predictable, even if I didn’t realize it until later in college. I literally work allllll the time! However, I seem to make plenty of time for eating out. 😀
How does one make the switch from a fashion buyer to a social media consultant, Anna?
Well, I was working as a buyer for a small boutique in 2011. This was during a time where smaller businesses and brands were wanting to actually give social media a try. Being the go-getter that I am, I volunteered to take a stab at it all. Since no one really knew what worked and what didn’t, it was a great opportunity to test different things, learn, and really just do what I wanted. I love a good challenge and I think this was the perfect one for me. Social media moves so quickly and I get tired of things pretty fast. So this was something that was ever-evolving—moving just as fast as my desire for new challenges.
Tell me a little bit about what your early days in fashion were like. What was an average work day like back then?
It was kind of all over the place. A lot of days it would include ordering merchandise, working on creating content for the blog and social media accounts, creating graphics for in-store promotional signage, and researching the latest trends to see how we could implement them with our selection in the store.
Do you sometimes miss that life? The fashion world…
Oh my gosh, yes! I probably think this at least once a week (normally when shopping). It was definitely a fun space to be in, but I have to tell you, it has the boring or more “dirty” work that every other industry has. It’s not all “glamorous”. In my ideal world in fashion, I would have designed jewelry and clothing, and just spent the rest of my time at MAGIC. But, social media pulled on my heart strings just a bit more. Anyways, don’t get me wrong, I definitely see myself getting back into that space (even if it takes me 10 years).
I imagine your fashion background still plays a role in your work today. What would you say is the most useful bit of knowledge from that world?
Well, I really got into the marketing and merchandising side of things. Understanding why people buy what they buy, what persuades them to buy something (whether it’s the placement of the product in the store or the color of the item), etc. I think this knowledge can transfer to the digital world, and how you market things on social media. When it comes to clothing and accessories specifically, I know that I just have much more insight to the entire business process for those types of stores and that of course helps me pitch and market to those types of clients.
I can’t leave the topic of fashion without pointing out your swaggy style. Your instagram is so crispy. What are your go-to items when you get dressed most days?
I’m a little over a year into having a capsule wardrobe, so I have minimal items and everything is mix and match. That also means you will only find items that are white, cream, black, and denim (no joke). Almost everything in my closet (and not to mention all my jewelry I wear) are from designers/stores like Ceri Hoover, Jenny Bird, Adina Mills, Nisolo, BRYR, Aritzia, Frank and Oak, The Art of Style, and REDEEM.
Your septum piercing is a very distinguishing accessory on you. It’s something you notice right away. Would you say it and things like your trendy haircuts are an important part of your personal brand?
Oh yea, definitely. I couldn’t imagine myself without all these things. I struggled for awhile on whether to take out my jewelry and such when going into interviews and business events. I finally convinced myself that if the people couldn’t handle the jewelry then I didn’t need those people in my life. I greatly feel like my piercings and hair somewhat define me and I just wouldn’t feel myself without them. I think the red hair helps me stand out, but the rest really helps.
When did you get the nose piercing and what made you decide to do it?
I was working my first agency job after college. First of all, college was my start of getting a little crazy with my piercings. With my septum, I just needed something new ya know? By this time, every girl had a nose ring, so I had to take it up a notch. Now I feel like a notice a ton of people with septum rings. I would say my next notch is a tattoo but I am too afraid of needles and commitment for that one.
Let’s talk more about your consultative work. Where did the idea to start your own agency come from and what does a normal day at The Creative Exchange look like for Anna the social media consultant?
In college I realize I wanted to own my own business. After getting more into marketing and social media, I started doing freelance social media work for several local businesses. Then, before I graduated I had bought a domain and come up with a name. It wasn’t until a year after graduation that I actually got the business up and running.
Like every other entrepreneur will say, there is never a normal day, however if it is a day with no meetings or travelling it may go a little like this:
- 8:00am: Check client accounts, catch up on emails, and check all my notifications.
- 10:00am: Meet with my co-founder (Chad Etoroma) and interns to get some work done together
- 11:00am: Work with my Chad on a social media strategy for a new client
- 1:00pm: Run to Whole Foods to grab some lunch and a Kombucha
- 2:30pm: Schedule content for the next few weeks for a client and read a few articles
- 4:00pm: Have an impromptu photoshoot
- 5:30pm: Run to the gym for a quick workout
- 7:00pm: Optimize all client Facebook ads that are running
- 9:00pm: Work on researching new social tools, and other small projects the rest of the night. This can mean I fall into a black hole and work until 2am.
Was leaving the confines of a cubicle and venturing out on your own a really tough decision?
Tough decision as far as knowing I have to do my own thing (and I hate sitting at a desk)? No. Super simple. Easiest decision of my life–to not do the “normal” thing. As far as that also meaning losing a full time paycheck? It wasn’t difficult per say, it was really just a challenge determining the right time.
What’s your favorite part of what you do now?
I think about this all the time, I literally wake up and know I can do what I want, when I want (other than meeting and teaching workshops and such). Sometimes I don’t feel well and I can just go back to bed for an hour or two. That’s probably one of the best perks. Other than things like that, I genuinely love creating content and working with new brands/people. Oh, but really my absolute favorite part is working everyday with my best friend, aka the co-founder of The Creative Exchange.
Yes! The legendary @HipsterChad. Tell us about him and how you guys met and ultimately decided to to work together.
Yessss, seriously he is the best! We actually met at an entrepreneurship event in Raleigh then ended up meeting for coffee to talk about marketing. Next thing I know we aren’t talking about marketing anymore and made plans to work together the next day. Now, here we are a little over 2 years later and we have a company together and are best friends. I seriously don’t know what life would be like without the guy. He is literally the most amazing person that I know.
Who are some of your favorite clients (if you don’t mind disclosing)?
Just to name a few of our awesome clients:
What advice would you give to folks who have a passion for something outside of their regular occupation?
Go for it! Take more time to explore, more time to learn…and make mistakes. Figure out how you can go at it little by little until you eventually make sense of it all and make it sustainable…if that’s what you’re looking to do of course. 😉
You seem like the type that loves to travel, where is/was your favorite place to travel?
You got it, I do love to travel (even though I don’t get to as often as I would like). I haven’t been out of the country and feel like I would have said somewhere outside of the US. I don’t want to be too basic but I do love San Francisco and New York. Always just soooo many opportunities and new things happening in those places, and not to mention great places for business. 🙂
What is the thing you like most about yourself?
This is always such a hard question to answer. I would say my perseverance. I literally never give up, and that has always been my thing since I was little. I know how to work hard, make goals, accomplish them, and move on to the next.
What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
You know I see myself as somewhat of an adventurous person, however a major adventurous endeavour of mine isn’t something I can’t think of (and that really sucks). I guess I would just have to say quitting my full time job to run my business.
Just so you know, I am now making it my mission to actually do something much more daring since being asked this question. 😉
What does your desk have on it right now?
It’s hilarious to hear the word desk. LOL. Even though I have a physical desk, my workspace moves and shifts multiple times per day (No, I can’t sit still and get bored with the same environment very easily). So let’s just say wherever I decide my “desk” to be in that moment (most likely a coffee shop table, my couch, the car) here is what’s normally around me:
- Macbook Air
- iPhone 6s Plus with Mophie Charging Case
- Standard Issue Notebook
- Olympus OMD10 Camera
- The E Myth
- Snapchat Spectacles
- Soma Water Bottle
What item do you HAVE to have when you walk out the door? You can’t say your phone, I’m sure that’s a given.
Haha yes that phone is a given. I guess I would have to say my jewelry. If I don’t have my jewelry on I just don’t feel like myself.
What is one thing you would like our readers to know about Anna Sullivan that they wouldn’t necessarily already?
Haha, let me give you a bullet list…
- I have been vegetarian for 6 years
- I have NEVER been out of the country
- Most people think I am from NYC, but as soon as I spit something out of my mouth you can hear my small town, country accent
- I am actually pretty introverted and can be SERIOUSLY socially awkward
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
First initial thought was I am going to be old, with wrinkles….and I kind of assume I will have children and a house by this time? With running a business, you of course are always thinking about the future in terms of the next 10 years..5 years…1 year…next month…and even just the next day. My mind however tends to focus on within the next year, especially as we are very much a startup. Anyways, I do just see myself running this biz and having a larger team…and def the dopest office!
Where can folks reach out to you for consultative work or to just hit you up?
Thanks fo much for letting us bore you with an million questions!
Def not a million haha….but seriously this was great! Thank you so much.
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