Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in graphics and arts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Sharon Manhart, owner of Arbor Street Studios, located in Omaha, NE, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

I own Arbor Street Studios in Omaha, Nebraska. I grew up always being attracted to graphics on skateboards, t-shirts, products at the store, etc. I didn't know then, but branding and marketing were working on me! As I got older and had a wide variety of jobs in areas from greenhouses, coffee shops, book stores, and tattoo shops, I always ended up making signs where I worked. When I was finally able to devote all my time and attention to sign making, I started with chalkboards and smaller signs, while now we do more large-scale signage and murals than anything else!

I'm so grateful that a significant amount of our clients are small local business owners, and many of those are women. It's so empowering to be a part of new businesses establishing themselves and their growth going forward. Although small business is my priority, we've been fortunate to work with large national brands such as Starbucks, Facebook, PayPal, Hilton Hotels, Louisville Slugger as well as many others. One of our favorite opportunities over the past few years has been traveling all over the country for work, we would love to do more of that, but Omaha will always be our home base.

Tell us about yourself

I started out about 25 years ago while still in high school doing signs for local coffee shops, tattoo and piercing studios, as well as other local small businesses in Pennsylvania where I lived. After high school, I ran a grocery store sign shop (think Trader Joe's style) doing hand-painted signage and chalkboards. After five years of this, I got into tattooing and continued on the path of a working artist. When I moved to Omaha at 23, I tattooed, worked in grocery again, multiple coffee shops of, which was my last job with a "boss" at Hardy Coffee, then Aromas Coffeehouse. The owner Autumn Pruitt lit the fire in me to build my own business after I started doing signage for her local shops. As requests started coming in here and there, I was able to transition into self-employment slowly, which was a huge blessing; I have been self-employed as a working artist for nearly a decade now.

My biggest passion that has grown to be a mantra over the past few years is "Collaboration over Competition." I have shifted a lot more focus to hiring other local artists to paint with us and paying them well, talking while working about how pricing works, bidding jobs, deposits/contracts, and the dreaded TAXES! I strongly believe that if you know something, you should share it with others, and when you teach someone a skill, you learn it even better yourself. Teaching others about sign painting and mural work doesn't seem like a good business model, but it has only resulted in building an amazing community of friends in the trades that can support each other with all of our pursuits!

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

Hands down, my biggest accomplishment is being able to sustain myself and my family with my business by creating art. Above and beyond that, as projects allow, being in a position to hire friends and fellow artists to join us on larger jobs or those that require extra hands is a great feeling as well. We have a wide variety of women mostly (sorry guys!) that assist us throughout the year; even when temps are up in the high 90s and down in the low 30s, they still seem to like painting with us! We must be doing something right! The chance to create with friends and fellow artists while talking about our personal projects, home reno, relationships, food, kids, pets, taxes, etc. They've truly become family, "Sisters of the Brush."

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Everything that isn't painting, haha! As with many artists, my creative side is much more developed. The "office work" side of running a business is not prioritized as much as it should be. Thankfully I have a very organized husband that helps keep things running smoothly along those lines, reminding me to set aside time to at least send invoices for completed work. I wouldn't be where I'm at without Edward and his physical and moral support.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

I think number one would be to pay attention to what you gravitate towards in life. If you say, you want to open a coffee shop because you think it's a fun environment, talk to some coffee shop owners first! Work at them, spend time there, watch how things work, speak to your friends and family about their experiences, and do your RESEARCH. It's the same for my work as a painter. I reached out to other people doing things like I wanted to do and genuinely became friends; from that, I was able to be very open, and they could be very honest. There is not much new under the sun, but if you can find/develop your own special niche while supporting others in your community, it's a recipe for success!

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I'd just really like to express gratitude for the other women business owners in Omaha. I've only lived in one other town, but from what I heard from others and discovered in my travels, we truly have something special here. The small business community in Omaha and the surrounding areas is one of the most inspiring and supportive forces I've ever experienced!

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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