Nate Bowman is the owner of Bowman Productions, a video production company in South Portland, Maine. Nate and his team are creative visual storytellers who specialize in high-quality corporate videos, web videos, and TV ads. They offer all aspects of video production including initial concept, script writing, storyboarding, planning, shooting, editing, animation, motion graphics, and more.
Nate is also the creator and executive producer of Local Brew, Maine's first TV show about Maine craft beer.
Joyce Brown: What made you decide to start your company?
Nate Bowman: I'd been working at another company for about four years. While there, I started doing some freelance work on the side for weddings and small projects where people had approached me for help. I decided to build a website to market myself a little more. My boss found my site, and instead of having a conversation with me about it, he decided to have his lawyer write up a five-page non-compete agreement. He handed it to me on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and asked me to sign it once I got back from the holiday break.
That was a tough weekend for my family and me. I had a two-year-old son and a one-month-old baby at home, and my wife was on maternity leave. We had to decide if I was going to sign the paperwork or not. If I signed the non-compete, it would have meant that I couldn’t work with any client my boss had worked with in the past five years for two years from the time I left the company. I was worried that if I signed the agreement, it would have inhibited my future in the industry. I decided to leave that position even though I had no real prospect of work. I believed that I could do it on my own, and I was confident in my abilities. My wife believed in me too, which helped me make the decision. I knew it would be a matter of time before I had clients.
Starting my own business was something I'd thought about from time to time, but I was forced into doing it sooner that I was expecting. It was scary at first, but it ended up being one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Joyce: Now that you've been running your own business, what's been the biggest reward?
Nate: Autonomy, for sure. I love being able to set my own schedule and I don't answer to anyone except my clients. I think people who work for themselves have a strong desire not to be told what to do. I know that's true about myself, anyway. I love working with people and collaborating but, ultimately, I like to take control of the situation and do things my way. Working for yourself allows you to do that.
Also, I recently had one of the best days of my professional career. I submitted a proposal for a project to an ad agency, and I also heard through the grapevine that my old boss, also submitted a proposal, but I won the project. In under three years, I've gone from working for somebody else to, now, competing and winning projects on my own. For me, that's a huge personal success and a great reward.
Joyce: How are you able to produce such high-quality videos, but still keep your prices affordable?
Nate: In previous jobs, I'd become familiar with what clients were charged for various projects, and I felt that it was more than necessary at times. When I came into the market, I set my prices too low, so I've been adjusting them as I go. I've hit the sweet spot now, I think, where the prices are what they need to be. They're competitive, yet affordable.
I seek talented people within the price range that I'm looking for, and I hire those people. I also do a lot of the work myself, where some of the bigger companies in the area hire full-time staff instead. I have low overhead since it's just me most of the time.
I own all of my equipment which helps, too. When I first started out, I had to rent everything. I had a computer and a camera, and that was it. Over the past three years, I've been able to purchase what I need for most shoots. I do have to rent things from time to time, but I made an effort last year to buy what I needed when I had the cash available. I also operate a cash business. I don't have any credit card debt. I've been growing my company debt-free from the get-go.
Joyce: How would you measure the success of your videos?
Nate: Two things. The first would be a happy client. If they tell me they're happy and excited about the video, that's success. The second measure is if I'm satisfied with the way the project turned out. I always ask myself if I’m producing the best work that I possibly can. If I don't feel like I am, then I will try to make it better. It's fun to earn money doing what I do, but at the end of the day when a client tells me they love how their video turned out, that's the best feeling and makes me happy and excited about my work.
Joyce: What are your essential pieces of production gear for any project?
Nate: For every project, my computer, for sure. I need it for doing the editing and graphics, as well as invoicing and emailing and scheduling. It's the nerve center of what I do. After that would be my camera, but I don't have a specific one that I use for every project. I also use a lot of gear like sound and lighting equipment; it's hard to say what's most important. My computer and my editing software are probably the essentials.
Joyce: What’s the story behind your TV series, Local Brew?
Nate: I'd started Local Brew before I quit my old job. I wanted to create something that was my own that I could look at and feel proud of. I also wanted to test myself to see if I could produce something like a TV show. At the time there was no one doing anything in video about the Maine beer scene. There were some people doing blogs and websites, but no one was making any videos, and I saw an opportunity to help tell stories about Maine craft beer. I came up with this idea for a thirty-minute TV show that would highlight a local brewery where we'd talk with the owners and brewers and learn the story behind the brew. I wanted people that aren't into craft beer to watch the show and come away with a better understanding of it and, hopefully, venture out and try some Maine beer.
I also wanted the host of the show to be learning about the beer at the same time as our viewers. I met our host, Matt Delamater, through a mutual friend of ours. I chose him to host the show because he didn’t know a lot about craft beer, but had some acting experience, so I knew he’d be able to take direction on camera. I wanted the host to be authentic, but comfortable on camera, and Matt was a perfect match. When you see him tasting hops in our first episode or learning how to brew, there is no acting, and his reactions are genuine.
The first episode we filmed was at Baxter Brewing. From there, we were able to get some sponsors and pay the crew a little bit of money. Some of the crew have been with us since the first show. We shot a recent episode in June, and one of the guys said it was the best production gig in Maine! They aren't getting paid much, but they're happy. The whole crew loves beer, and they love being a part of the show.
Joyce: What’s the best piece of advice you can offer to someone who’s thinking about starting their own company?
Nate: The best advice I can offer about starting your own business is to be confident in your abilities and take the risk. Whether you're a graphic designer, an accountant, or you're in marketing, if you have talent, and you're confident, there's no reason you can't start your own company.
One thing, I think, that stops a lot of people is that we're taught in society not to go against the grain, and to not take the risk. We're supposed to go college, get a good job, and work for somebody else for a salary and benefits. I think that's fine for a lot of people, but if you have the itch to do your own thing, then take the risk and go for it. I believe if you have the confidence and the desire, you can make it work.