It’s always fun for me to interview successful entrepreneurs. And particularly ones who have figured out creative ways to streamline their income during a tough economy. When that person is a family member, it’s all the more exciting for me to share his story.

I’m happy to introduce Rick Neely, my brother-in-law. Rick lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and works as a digital media artist. After running around in high school with a camera in his hands filming classmates, Rick started his career in broadcast television.  Read more about how broadcast TV led to a thriving little business called Reel Transfers.

Rick Neely

How would you describe your professional self?

I describe myself as a digital media artist, but what that means, practically speaking, is that I work as video editor doing graphics and animation.

After earning two degrees in Telecom Broadcast & Business Marketing at the University of Florida, I went to work for a television station in Savannah, Georgia. I was mostly a Production guru, shooting & editing local spots and doing live newscasts as a broadcast switcher.  I knew Hollywood would be a long shot, so I stayed closer to home.

After two years there, I moved to Atlanta, freelancing a bit and still looking for full-time work options. Ultimately, the independent work paid better and I liked the independence, so I decided to go out and freelance permanently–eventually landing consistent gigs with CNN, Primerica, Coca-Cola, GTE, UPS, among other production camps. I’ve also found work doing non-broadcast pieces like LCD screens, highlight reels for conventions and archival work.

Why did you elect to pursue the life an entrepreneur versus working at a corporation?

I learned a long time ago there is no such thing as job security. Moreover, most of us won’t be retiring at 55 like we used to think as kids. If we stay healthy and keep focused, we’ll be working well into our 70s. If this is the case, I would rather do work I enjoy in an environment that better suits my style. I can work from my home office, or wherever the client happens to be.

Also, I’ll admit I was born with a healthy dose of cynicism. To me, working for a company can be like a marriage. They own you and lay out terms you have to meet. However, that company doesn’t always meet their end of the bargain. People want to grow and feel valued by an employer but that’s not always how it plays out. Life is too short to deal with cut throat employees and politics – I’d much rather an employer see my value at face value, without those distractions.

What do you think are the greatest rewards/biggest challenges of entrepreneurial life?

As an entrepreneur, you have lots of control. You can pretty much call the shots and even walk away if you want to do so. But you also have to be alert at all times, too.

In a corporate environment, there is a lot of consistency. For example, every day is pretty similar. You have the same parking space, the same desk, and a schedule that alters very little. Before you know it, life passes you by! For an entrepreneur, every day is a different day. The works schedule varies on an hourly basis and the workflow changes, too. There are fast times and slow ones – for better or for worse. As a result, there is more variety in life. This requires a person to think and grow and take care of himself.

But you can’t take things for granted, either. All jobs will end, and many times, based on circumstance beyond your control. This adds stress but it also keeps you on your toes.

It’s difficult to find work in a bad economy, especially during the past few years. Here in the Atlanta market, I am competing for work against f/t staff persons who might be less expensive. Not to mention, after the hard times are over, staffers have priority over contractors when re-hiring.

To overcome this challenge, you have to take advantage of the situation. For me personally, I do my best to use my marketing skills to sell ideas that might appeal to a potential client. I also highlight the fact that my contract status means the company doesn’t have to provide benefits or 401k matching – which is a cost savings to them.

So what led you to start Reel Transfers? Tell us about this business.

Because of my age (just turned 40!) and familiarity with the medium, I was aware that everyone has old movies and recordings in older formats that are no longer usable with today’s hardware. I can accommodate these people by transferring their old files (e.g., 8mm film, Video camcorder tapes, audio  cassettes, 35mm slides; etc) into digital files that can be played on DVD/CD players or even converted for ipods, e-tablets, even ‘cloud’ use. This has been a great way for me to use my skills/expertise to provide a service that other people might need and want. And because I’m a small shop, customers can interact directly with me with any questions they might have. I don’t have any minimum volume requirement, either, which is meaningful to a family who has a smaller collection of files.

Though I never meant for Reel Transfers to be my full source of income, the business has proven to be a great alternate income stream to supplement my video work during this economic downturn. And ironically, Reel Transfers has been more recession proof, too.

Recently, I expanded the business to corporations who are trying to archive videos or embed videos into PowerPoint presentations. My eBay store and website have been great ways to market this service to consumers and businesses.

But I’ll always enjoy my work as a graphic artist!

So how does your entrepreneurial lifestyle accommodate your personal one?

Though I do like to spend some time cheering on the Florida Gators, my entrepreneurial lifestyle also accommodates my exercise routine. Because of my flexible schedule, I run, go the gym or do P90X at home – whenever an opening pops up in my schedule. One of my newest interests is doing spin classes and yoga with my girlfriend. Admittedly, though, the gym helps with my discipline! Sometimes working from you home can have its distractions.

I’m no marathoner, but I have run the Peachtree 10K for the last 10 years. I hope to keep up the sprint triathlons and 5Ks as the years continue.

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