This week I’m talking to Ryan Fitzsimmons from MonkeyBird Media about Northern Ireland lockdown life, loneliness, missing the ‘old normal’ and much more.
“We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.”
Jimmy Neil Smith, Director of the International Storytelling Center.
Ryan knocks off his alarm at 8:00 am.
But when his second alarm sounds at 8:30 am, he gets up out of bed.
And he scrolls through his iPhone and clicks on the Apple Podcasts app.
He has only recently started listening to audiobooks and podcasts.
But he’s hooked now.
At the minute he’s listening to The GaryVee Audio Experience podcast.
He listens to it as he gets ready and grabs a bite to eat.
Ryan is a freelance videographer based in Belfast – but who travels all around Ireland and sometimes Europe – to create high-quality video content.
After his breakfast, it’s down to business.
Ryan switches on his desktop computer.
Impressively, he built the computer himself, and he says it’s now “perfect for editing video content”.
Like most business owners, his first port of call is to check his emails.
Despite the pandemic, Ryan is receiving more enquiries each day from Northern Ireland business owners.
His creativity and engaging end product is beginning to pay off, with more businesses spotting his work online and keen to get something similar created for their business.
Ryan has already worked with some of the most respected and well-known brands in Northern Ireland.
Clients include Q Radio, We Are Vertigo, Impact NI, Doorsteps, Mervyn Stewart Skoda and Dynamite Lifestyle.
After replying to current and prospective clients, Ryan immerses himself in the editing process for the next couple of hours.
Editing videos, graphics, text, voiceovers and sounds might seem straightforward to the untrained.
But it’s a long, methodical process that requires patience, skill and a knack for knowing what works.
Contrary to popular belief, the challenging part isn’t filming scene after scene on location.
It’s putting together all the significant parts and getting rid of all the elements that don’t work.
Then adding sound.
And then packaging it all together into one engaging, watchable 30, 60, or 90-second video.
His clients will share the video on various social media platforms and promote it through ‘boosted’ Facebook posts.
His video will be seen by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of eyes.
Each day is different, though, and Ryan wouldn’t have it any other way.
Today it’s editing, but tomorrow he might be out filming with clients.
Ryan’s freelance business – MonkeyBird Media – started in 2017 in unfamiliar surroundings; Australia.
“I started MonkeyBird Media after I came home from my short three months stay in Australia four years ago,” he explains.
And his quirky business name – MonkeyBird Media – originated from his early days of studying filmmaking.
“There was a derelict location named MonkeyBird, where people practised graffiti and used it as a skate park,” he recalls.
“I shot some of my first-ever short films there, so it was fitting to name my business after the location.”
Ryan says initially he started his freelance business as a ‘trial run’.
“I had no understanding of how to control a start-up business,” he remembers.
Thankfully for Ryan, though, entrepreneurship runs in his blood.
“I had great guidance from my parents – especially my dad – who already has owned multiple long-term businesses throughout his life,” he continues.
Ryan says an obvious career path for him might have been a “generic filmmaker role”.
But, he continues, “I wanted to build something for myself; I wanted my very own business.”
In the last four years, Ryan has created a variety of content in a range of styles.
That owes much to the modern digital era.
“From short Instagram stories to full-length documentaries, I pretty much cover it all,” he explains.
Personally, Ryan says he’s had his ups and downs this past twelve months with lockdown restrictions.
“At the beginning, it was confusing although I think we are all used to it by this stage.
“It has been a rollercoaster of not knowing what happens next, which can affect a person mentally and professionally.
“Thankfully, I have retained a level head throughout these lockdowns, despite the impact it has had on my business,” he insists.
Professionally, Ryan says lockdown has been challenging.
“I have had to change my workflow a little to adjust to the inconsistencies of work coming in.
“But I am still focused throughout these lockdown periods as I know they are only temporary.”
And although it has been a tough year, Ryan is passionate about being a business owner.
“I enjoy the freedom most of all,” he says.
“When I say freedom, I don’t mean being able to take time off whenever I want to,” he caveats.
“I mean being able to direct my business in the way that I see fit.
“And being able to create content that I love,” he smiles.
Ryan continues, “Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of challenges with being your own boss, and at times it can be a lonely experience.
“But the pros outweigh the cons by a long shot.”
Elaborating on the loneliness aspect of being a freelance videographer, Ryan explains, “Being your own boss can be a lonely experience at times.
“Especially being a videographer; I create the majority of my work behind a computer screen in my home.
“It’s kind of a love/hate experience working from home for us all I suppose,” he reasons.
Another challenge Ryan faces is wearing many hats as an entrepreneur; producing, editing, emails, invoicing, phone calls and marketing his service.
“If you don’t balance these things correctly, it can be overwhelming,” he admits.
Ryan says he tries to keep a consistency with his work hours and some routine.
He says he does this to ensure a clear separation between work and home life.
“It can be inconsistent sometimes, but I find it easy for the most part,” he reveals.
“I control my work life; it doesn’t control me.
“And the quicker you start to put that into action, the better.
“I treat my work life the same as most people have to; I work certain hours out of the day and certain days out of the week.
“Nothing is set in stone, of course, some days are longer and some weeks are long, but that’s just a part of the game,” he adds.
And Ryan’s passion for his work shines through not only in the complete project but in how he talks about the whole process.
“I enjoy the new experiences that I get from starting with a new client.
“It keeps the work fresh and keeps you learning as time goes on.
“I rarely have a boring time while working,” he insists.
And if there’s anything over the last twelve months that he has missed most of all, it’s social interaction.
“I miss going to meetings, going for lunch, going to events,” Ryan says.
“The actual filming side of things is very limited for me at the moment, and I’ve spent most of my time behind the computer.”
“I miss packing my gear up and going for a film shoot every week,” he adds.
And Ryan thinks that if he can survive a global pandemic, Brexit and everything in between, he can survive anything.
“I’m proud that I’ve been able to keep my business going and to stay focused on what I want.
“I’ve had a few periods of doubt in my head over the past twelve months, but I overcame those doubts and pushed through.
He adds, “It’s reassuring to know that I and my business can survive through a worldwide pandemic.”
Ryan thinks the Northern Ireland Government could have handled the pandemic – and subsequent lockdown restrictions – a lot better.
“Being allowed to work and then not allowed to work, back and forth, has been a struggle for a lot of businesses,” he insists.
“I understand we are trying to save lives here.
“I get that, but I believe there are better ways for the government to handle the situation.”
With the Covid-19 vaccination programme gathering pace in Northern Ireland, Ryan is optimistic about the future.
Looking ahead to next year, he says, “I think my business is going to be bigger and better.
“Of course we don’t know what twelve months from now will look like in regards to the pandemic.
“But I imagine businesses will at least start to thrive again.
“It’s not what we wanted, but all local businesses are going to have a re-launch, and that’s where my business comes into play,” he continues.
And Ryan has this bit of advice for budding NI entrepreneurs who might want to launch their own business in these challenging times.
“Put your total energy into it and most importantly enjoy it.
“Launching a business and creating a name for yourself is an incredible feeling.”
He adds, “Give value to your customer and love what you are doing.”
“No matter what you do, my job is to tell your story,” Ryan adds.
And as Jimmy Neil Smith said at the beginning of this article, there isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.
What story would you like Ryan and the MonkeyBird team to tell for your business?
Follow Ryan’s entrepreneurial journey on Instagram by clicking here.