Stephanie McLaren-Neckles on Creative Entrepreneurship...

This year will mark the 10th year anniversary since my husband (then partner) and I took the leap into the unknown and set-up our first community project. After a successful and a deeply rewarding experience working with a group of excitable and tenacious young people, we set up twenty%extra, a community engagement consultancy.

Both with several years experience working in the creative industries behind us, we wanted to try something new. Not just setting up a business as such, but starting an ad[venture] that we felt aligned with who we were at that point of our lives, as early thirtysomethings. Our passions, interests and most importantly, how we wanted to shape the future for ourselves and others.

These were—and still are—pretty lofty ideals. Some of those ideals have had to give way to the pragmatism of paying the bills. Our values however, have been the heartbeat of our work.  But there lies the difference in starting a venture solely for profit, which is a very sensible measure by all accounts, and one that is driven by a belief system to create social change. Definitely a more precarious route to success of the two. Businesses in this category are often called ‘social enterprises’ — a business guided by a social mission. And they come in all shapes and sizes, from the Co-op, Divine Chocolate to TOMS shoes.

Roll on ten years, and our little business has led to some of the most amazing, strange and challenging experiences of our careers. It has taken us to Number 10, running a market for creatives, interviewing cultural icons such as George Clinton, teaching at the UK’s biggest art institutions to working with Prince Harry.

In amongst this myriad of experiences, the common denominator has been our ideas. Our ‘ideas’ got us in the room. And that’s what I call creative entrepreneurship. Ideas that create value.

I find it useful to remind myself of this key lesson from time to time. Hopefully it will prove useful to you too.

Know your space - know your niche

As creatives and / or social entrepreneurs, we have a billion ideas. That’s what we’re good at. Generating ideas, solutions and solving the world’s problems, all before lunch… This can be both a wonderful but distracting quality that makes it difficult to focus, and therefore create any real momentum - the driving force for any idea.

The challenge is to understand your specific point of view, what can you bring to the party and make that your thing - e.g your niche, aka your space, or better still, your market. Knowing and defining your proposition in the marketplace will help differentiate you from competitors, build your expertise and help others (your customers) clearly buy into what you do. Ultimately bringing clarity to the ‘why and how’ to your business and purpose.  

Stay beta - keep learning

As a creative practitioner and educator, it’s necessary for me to keep abreast of culture and the world-at-large. Staying in ‘learner’ mode helps to maintain a sense of adaptability, in thinking and application; become more resilient to (and embracing of) change. These are important traits to hone in both life and business

The value ‘of’ your idea and ‘in’ your idea

One of the most recent lessons I’ve learned is to segment the commercial value in a creative idea: i.e intellectual property / making ideas assets.  

Ok, stay with me. As we generate ideas for a given project that idea may be used once, for a specific event, campaign etc. It then gets packed neatly away in your digital storage cupboard. Or in our case, our portfolio. But we’ve since learnt that, that same idea maybe of use to something or someone else. This idea is now an asset. It can be repurposed, and deployed on another occasion.

So before creating something new, carry out an audit on your past portfolio of work. What have you produced that may be of value to a new customer / audience? Moving forward, how can you create models that can be replicated?

This simple reframing of your work can result in time saving, cost saving and other money making opportunities — helping you stay in the game and continue to do what you love to do.  


Stephanie Mclaren-Neckles is a Director at community engagement agency - twenty%extra and co-founder of Let’s Be Brief: a learning platform for curious and creative minds.

A pioneer in co-creation design, Stephanie works at the intersection of culture, communications and education, and has built up a diverse portfolio of client projects for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Royal Foundation, Channel 4, British Council, Virgin, Peabody and Time’s UP UK.   

Deeply passionate about the value of education and the relevance of continuous learning, Stephanie is an Associate Lecturer at Ravensbourne University and London College of Communication (UAL).

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Let’s Be Brief Designs - Mode of Thought

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