Leanne Arnold of Custom Vinyl Graphics: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

by Christina Gvaliant
Leanne Arnold of Custom Vinyl Graphics: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur  we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Leanne Arnold.

Leanne Arnold has worked in the marketing departments of national chains as well as small business startups. She and her husband Dale founded Custom Vinyl Graphics more than 15 years ago. The business was based in Long Island until the couple relocated with their family to Indian Trail, NC, in July of 2019.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Leanne Arnold: I am a mom of two… one boy and one girl. I’m a self-taught graphic artist and web designer.

I founded Forecast Marketing & Design, Inc. when I was 28 years old. I loved helping small businesses get started with their branding — — creating their logos and business cards, as well as business flyers and print ads. I would interview the owners to get a feel for who they were. Then I would create a few sample logos and write and design their brochures. Hours would go by without my even noticing. Being creative put me in a zone like nothing else.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Leanne Arnold: I started dating my future husband right as he had just purchased his first vinyl plotter. He had become interested in vinyl graphics because he was racing stock cars and always needed numbers and sponsorship decals. Our two companies complemented each other very well. Our first Christmas together he told me he didn’t like wasteful presents and really preferred useful gifts. That’s when I decided to make him a website where he could sell decals and racecar packages.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Leanne Arnold: I was definitely a natural-born entrepreneur. My younger sister always jokes about how I sold her my left-overs and charged her and her friends a dollar each for a ride home from school.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

Leanne Arnold: My father would encourage me to put money in the bank by giving me 20% on top of the interest the bank would give me (that was in the days when the banks actually gave interest worth mentioning!) It made me want to save and also sparked an interest in me to make money. I started my business while I was working a full-time job because being creative and making money was something I loved to do.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Leanne Arnold: We are a true “mom and pop” company — which are hard to find now. But working with your significant other is not easy. I won’t share any stories but let’s just say there were PLENTY of arguments. In fact, there is a wall decal over our headboard that reads “Marriage was made in heaven — but then again, so are thunder and lightning.”

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Leanne Arnold: Loving what you do, wanting the American Dream and maybe a little ADHD (laughing).

When you love what you do, it’s never work. I can spend hours designing custom truck window decals, or running reports to analyze our advertising spend. Unfortunately, when you are a small business, you never get quite have enough time to do the parts you love to do.

For me, the American Dream is working for yourself and making your own hours. I probably make much less than I could have if I’d stayed in the corporate world, but I would have never had the time at home with my children and the flexibility that I love.

I was diagnosed with a slight case of ADHD as an adult. And it makes complete sense. I just move from one thing to the next. One day, I am on a roll creatively. The next day, I may be knee-deep in reports. Having your own business allows you the freedom to work on the thing you want everyday, rather than the thing your boss wants you to work on.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Leanne Arnold: I’ve been blessed to have had great role models in my life. I cannot think of any bad advice I was given. I know I’ve given myself some bad advice along the way though.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Leanne Arnold: Working from home is a blessing and a curse. It’s easy to postpone work and it’s easy to overwork. You need to find a balance. For me, it was developing a schedule and that schedule had to be modified and revised at different stages of my life. When my firstborn was young, I worked while he napped. When my kids got older, I started working after dinner. And now with COVID and my kids learning virtually, I do a bit during the day and a little during the evening. If I’m working on a project that needs my complete concentration, I almost always work while everyone is asleep.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Leanne Arnold: I wish I would have done more networking. This may sound funny, since I’m in the marketing field, but I have never been good at self-promotion. I am always able to see the strengths of other businesses, but I’m not always comfortable touting my own strengths. I shied away from advertising as a career choice because I am not cutthroat or competitive. I like marketing because it is like sales but behind the scenes.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

Leanne Arnold: It’s simple. Referrals are everything. Not only do they cost nothing but they are usually the easiest sale to close because someone else already did that for you. The more you get the word out there, the more your marketing efforts can be secondary.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Leanne Arnold: The most common mistakes I’ve seen are spending tons of money to build something that they haven’t tested or may not need. I worked for a small business owner who was trying to build the greatest website as far as functionality. The problem was, I didn’t think any of his customers would use it. He spent tens of thousands of dollars doing it before he was even profitable. In the end, he sold the company which I don’t believe is even in business any longer.

I always try to do the opposite in my business. I test things with a small amount of money. Every decision I make is based on whether or not it will increase sales or save me time. I hire people sparingly. In fact, I laugh so many times when people tell me to tell my tech department to make this small change. Then I tell them, “I am the tech department.”

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

Leanne Arnold: A paycheck isn’t a given. No matter how hard I worked or how many long days I put it at a regular job, I never had the worry that I have had owning my own business. Even if I were to lose my job, I could always get another one. But your own business is like your baby. You don’t want to do anything that would jeopardize it.

In addition, being a small business owner means you wear A LOT of hats. I keep the books and work with our accountant. I design decals, answer customer emails, handle technical issues with our website and do all of our digital advertising. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and have your day hijacked by so many little “fires.”

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Leanne Arnold: Nothing can compare to the high you feel after getting those first few sales. For all I know it cost me 200 dollars for a 50 dollars sale but it was the best feeling ever. It validated my work and gave me hope that I was on my way to becoming my own boss.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Leanne Arnold: After Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, I was ready to throw in the towel. We had lost more than 35,000 dollars in equipment and inventory. Our basement office was uninhabitable, the foundation was cracked; our town had no power for weeks.

Now during COVID, I’m feeling the same low. So many small businesses are closing. We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in sales. It brings up so many worries.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

Leanne Arnold: My husband was the one who got us back up and running. He found the exact vinyl machines we had just lost in the flood and he drove to another state to get it. I remember thinking he was crazy, or moving too fast. Many times, I even asked him if we should call it quits. But he was confident and never doubted we would get back to where we were.

I applied for grants and was awarded one that helped pay for the losses we had. It took months to fill out the grueling paperwork. I kept waiting for them to ask for my first born! I spent hours and hours on it… never knowing if we would even see a dime. Providing all the paperwork and supporting documents they needed was even more difficult since they had been lost due to the flooding.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Leanne Arnold:

1-Learn to love data.

Keep reports on everything. Sales. Expenses. Advertising. Customer service issues. The data you have will help you spot problems and assure you when things change.

2-Have people on your team that are not like-minded.

You never want to surround yourself with “yes” people. You need to hear other opinions and perspectives. Embrace them.

3-Stay current.

A while back I spent weeks setting up my Google Adwords account so that it was fully optimized. It was really profitable. But as if I thought nothing would change, I left it alone. That was a bad move. I started noticing that profits were down, a few keywords were costing me more than the profit I would make on them. New competitors had come onto the scene changing what I needed to bid. Adwords offered new features for their listings that I wasn’t taking advantage of. It took a lot of time and effort to get the account where it needed to be. In the digital world, what was considered good practice six months ago, is likely not good, or not the best practice today. It’s so important to try to stay on top of search engine changes — and to continually monitor your account.

4-Don’t trust companies who stand to benefit from you.

Be careful if advertising with Google Adwords. Their recommendations are always in their best interest. For example, they promote a feature to “maximize your clicks.” Initially, you may think that sounds like a great idea… but think about it. Who wants to maximize clicks? You want to maximize sales. There is a big difference in those two goals. One makes them money. One makes you money.

5-Know your shortfalls and work with them.

I’m very easily distracted. Knowing that made me seek ways to stay focused. I made a few changes that really helped. For example:

  • I turned off notifications on social media.
  • I stopped auto send/receive of my emails because as I was working, I would see that bubble appear and think to myself, “Let me just answer this quickly to get it off my plate.” But every time you do that you are distracted from what you were in the middle of doing. You aren’t getting ahead.
  • If I were working on a project like launching a new shopping cart platform, I would literally block out time to do it and nothing else.
  • I always end my day with a neat desk and with a list of what I needed to do the next day. This way, I am off and running the minute I sit down to work next. It helps me focus.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Leanne Arnold: I think resilience means continually trying while keeping a realistic head about you.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

Leanne Arnold: I remember my parents telling me the story of how they had just purchased their home and not one month later, my father, who worked for NY Telephone, went on strike for over a year. They had used all of their money on the house. He worked on cars at my uncle’s auto station, he taught himself how to pinstripe cars and made money doing that. And he found customers who paid him to meticulously detail their cars. He used his strengths and did whatever he had to do. Resilience helps you in every stage of your life.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Leanne Arnold: I am a worrier by nature so staying positive is something I’ve had to teach myself and something I have to constantly remind myself to do. I remember panicking every February and then finally getting to a point where I had enough data to see that February was our slowest month every year. It assured me and prepared me.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Leanne Arnold: It’s impossible to be creative or solution-minded when you are allowing yourself to feel down. The only way to find solutions and solve problems is to attack them with a positive mental attitude. I’ve learned not to even attempt to find solutions when I’m not in the best frame of mind.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

Leanne Arnold: “Be like a tree. Stay grounded. Connect with your roots. Turn over a new leaf. Bend before you break. Enjoy your unique natural beauty. Keep growing.” (by Joanne Raptis)

My entire life is that story… and I’m still growing.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Leanne Arnold: To find out more about our business, you can reach us online at https://CustomVinylGraphics.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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