Pottenger formed Coastline Studios as a side business in 2003 while still employed full-time at a local university. Word of his talent spread like wildfire. By 2006, he realized he couldn’t maintain both jobs, so he began to cut back Coastline Studios. In an untimely turn of events, the university soon laid him off. “I immediately shifted back to Coastline and didn’t even look for another job,” he recalled.
The transition was a faith-stretching season. As the economy began its avalanche, his wife Amy also lost her job. Within one year they went from a side business and two full-time incomes with health insurance — to just Pottenger figuring out how to be self-employed, and the birth of their first child.
He recalls many nights rocking his infant daughter to sleep while praying and asking God, “How is this going to work?”
In 2009, God provided an answer. The Pottengers asked a close couple to mentor them as they hit a deep valley. “We were scared and didn’t know what to do. It was challenging to be that honest with someone else, yet it was so helpful,” he recalled. The couple urged them to start tithing, which Pottenger says didn’t make any sense as they barely had enough money to survive. The mentors also encouraged them to put together a budget for their needs and pray for God’s provision.
In an act of faith, they followed the mentors’ advice. Soon after, Pottenger gained clarity for the business. The photography market had grown increasingly competitive as digital cameras became affordable. He made the decision to restructure and focus exclusively on videography. The business quickly grew.
Today Coastline works out of a studio in downtown Grand Rapids that is home to a team of nine, and has hosted over ten interns. In a typical year, they film up to 50 weddings and plan to double that number in coming years. The Coastline team seeks to help their clients celebrate the art of life — from the everyday, simple things to unique, once-in-a-lifetime events.
Coastline recently received recognition from popular wedding magazine “The Knot” in a best-of-weddings issue as an editor’s choice for “one of the top wedding vendors in the country.” That’s pretty impressive, considering the company’s early struggle.
Pottenger will always remember those lean times. At a yearly celebration dinner, he tells his employees, “I believe that the work we have is provided by God, and that it ultimately comes from Him, not just because of our marketing and promotion efforts.”
The Pottenger family has also expanded. Their daughter is now five, and they also have a two-year-old son. Pottenger has grown in confidence as a business owner and that this work is God’s calling for him. “I think we often believe that if we’re not in official ministry of some kind, then something’s wrong. Today I know that I am worshipping and ministering through the work I do — creatively capturing people’s lives,” he said. “As a Christian in business, I believe I have the opportunity to be a light in the community as I live and work with integrity."
Last year, Coastline gave back to the community by donating a video production for a new nonprofit called Rise Above. To raise awareness for domestic abuse and honor the memory of a friend, two area women hosted a zumba event. The ladies raised over $5,000 and donated the money to Safe Haven Ministries in Grand Rapids.
Now that Coastline Studios is a well-oiled machine, Pottenger is forming a second company with a partner, Jay Irwin, to focus on corporate and non-profit video production. The new firm is “Match Frame Creative,” named after an editing term that means to “point to the source, or the original.” Pottenger and Irwin desire to help organizations uncover the heart of their message and visually communicate it.
Pottenger urges those who may be struggling to get their business off the ground to stick with it. “If you love what you do and can work towards being the best you can be at it, the money will follow. Put your trust in God, and He will provide.”
At a Glance:
Name: John Pottenger
Family: Wife, Amy; daughter (5); son (2)
Church Home: Ada Bible Church
Company: Coastline Studios
Location: 560 5th St NW, Grand Rapids