Evolving: Cecilia Thirlway

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This month, we quiz Creative Enterprise Evolve Mentor, business expert and creative Cecilia Thirlway about creative industry trends and the top-tips start-ups should never forget…


What big changes have you seen impact the creative industries in recent years?


The relationship between content creators and their audience has changed enormously over the last couple of decades. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon but I do think it’s still provoking a lot of rapid change. Being a content creator has become much more democratised; anybody with a mobile phone can make a film and anyone with a computer can create a game. If you look at how much the boundaries have blurred between the worlds of gaming and filmmaking, it’s become so much more fluid. The games that people play now, in terms of narrative and quality of production, are much more like films but with an active participant. It’s really fascinating to see the ways in which the boundaries are blurring between all the different types of screen-based narratives.


How do these changes impact those outside of the creative industries?


When I look at my sons for example – and the way they engage with content online – it’s a much less passive experience. They are actively involved; they’re watching gamers live-stream on Twitch and not just commenting and interacting with other commentators, they’re also shaping what happens next. For me, that has been an interesting shift – from the passive consumption of content, to being much more actively involved. I’m keen to watch where it might go next.


What’s the most exciting creative industry innovation that you’ve seen recently?


I think virtual reality, immersive storytelling and the metaverse. They haven’t gone mainstream yet but they will. There’s lots of people doing really exciting stuff but if you look at it from outside the industry, it’s still quite niche. It’s going to be incredible when it does reach its tipping point because there’s so much potential there, not just for incredibly immersive storytelling but also for being able to interact with people online in a completely different way. It’s going to be fascinating when it goes mass market.


Where do you see the creative industries going – what’s exciting you about the future?


Predicting the future is really hard. The creative industries as a whole are incredibly valuable to this country. They’re a massive part of what we do – and we do them really well – so I really hope we increase the levels of support for them. In terms of where they go, one of the most interesting things I’ve seen recently is people talking about the idea of universal basic income and what would happen to creativity if you no longer had to work to live. Would we see an explosion of creators? How would that change the economy and the value of creativity? We are experiencing some huge economic and social challenges at the moment and I think these outside factors are probably likely to shape the creative industries in the future just as much as changes within the industry.


What do creative industry innovators need to know when starting their business?


First of all, really know what you want your business to do for you. One of the most sensible questions I got asked years ago was whether I wanted my consulting business to be a lifestyle business or an investment business. I hadn’t really thought about it. A lifestyle business is one that will basically pay your salary for as long as you want to work. The other way of approaching it is to build a business that’s going to be an investment and then to sell it. I think it’s really important for people to know what they want. You don’t have to build a multi-million dollar business to be successful, so you have to be very clear about what your definition of success is.


The other piece of advice is that you can’t possibly be good at everything. A common pitfall is people starting a business they love doing and before they know it, they’re spending all their time running the business and no longer doing the things they love doing. It’s important to be clear about what help you need along the way. If you’re rubbish at financials, hire somebody to help you with the finances. You don’t have to do it all yourself and as you grow, you absolutely shouldn’t do it all yourself. Surround yourself with the right advice, support and complementary roles to make it work. If you try to take it all on yourself, you’ll explode.


Words & Interview by Simon Bland

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