She was a great friend at the bank for small business owners who just couldn’t get the hang of accounting. She even went so far as to suggest her bank president boss sponsor a Saturday morning class where seasoned business owners could mentor less skilled entrepreneurs in bookkeeping.
Her boss was exasperated continually with her efforts, scolding her that the bank didn’t have the resources to guide every small business owner having trouble tracking where their dollars went.
So Connie Harvey set her jaw, quit her job at the bank, and turned to helping those frustrated business owners – and in the process, became a small business owner herself.
Reaching out to other small business owners
Harvey’s business, Efficiency Counts, has served for the past eight years as a trusted consultant in central Nebraska, offering QuickBooks Training and support, regular bookkeeping and database design and consultation.
And, she says with a smile, she’s now reaching out to area bankers to host those Saturday morning classes to help teach small businesses essential skills to track their cash flow.
“There are all these really beautiful business owners who are really talented with lots of skills in what they do. When they sit down with me I think I'm able to give them a grasp of what they're doing. But sometimes, they find it’s cheaper to pay somebody like my company to tend their books rather than struggling to do it themselves.”
“And without these small businesses our community doesn’t exist,” she said. And quoting Aristotle: “Cities are a partnership for living well together. We need everybody. What I can do to help a small business succeed will help the bank and will help everybody.”
The idea to start her own company germinated from her associate’s degree studies at McCook Community College.
“I was in my last class, on entrepreneurship, and the teacher asked us to pick a business, write a business plan and present it to the class,” Harvey said. “And that’s what came out of my head!”
The name of her company, which she started in McCook in April 2004, came from her knack for attention to detail and pursuit of efficient ways to get things done. Before her bank job, she worked at the local post office; she spied a messy stack of mail route sheets and decided to consolidate and color-code them into a simple, five-sheet tool. The post office management was so pleased that they use her system to this day.
While she was building her small business, she linked up with Nebraska Workforce Development, teaching recently laid off workers Microsoft Office products to help them get a job. She also began building databases for her clients from horse shows to trucking companies and local sheriff’s departments, helping them reduce redundant data input and produce helpful reports.
Leveraging the help from the Women's Business Center
In early 2007, Harvey moved with her husband from McCook to Hastings, and business started to pick up, especially after meeting Monica Braun of the Women’s Business Center.
The Women's Business Center, through the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) and funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the Small Business Administration, specializes in outreach and training for rural women entrepreneurs across the state.
Braun worked with Harvey, connecting her with businesses which really needed her expertise on how to properly market and price her services. Turns out Harvey really needed help with the latter.
She has a watchful staff of three people these days to help her with that.
Harvey admitted to a steep learning curve as an employer.
“I work myself hard, and I really can’t let go of something until it’s resolved, like untangling someone’s books” she said. “It’s really hard for me to expect anyone else to do that.”
In 2009, Harvey received a $3,000 grant from the Women's Business Center to purchase equipment; the next year, she snagged a $12,500 contract to work with REAP’s clients. By 2011, she took home the "Entrepreneur of the Year" award from the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA). Thanks to Braun’s prodding, her booth is a regular one at REAP’s MarketPlace, a trade show for small businesses to learn skills and demonstrate their wares and services.
With Braun’s further encouragement, Harvey developed a training brochure-- "Bookkeeping Basics For Business Success"--sponsored jointly by the SBA, Department of Agriculture, REAP and the USDA, now in its third printing. The brochure encourages small business owners to plan daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tasks. The theme is simple: if a small business owner tends to the financial books as if tending to a garden, the books will produce a beautiful crop of reports.
“Working with REAP and the Women’s Business Center really broadened my horizons,” she explained.
Still growing and still chasing her dreams
Harvey has grown her business from her home to occupying a fairly expansive office with nine desks in use, and to 16 regular clients and around 130 occasional clients.
She’s also giving back to the business community as a part of the growing Hastings Entrepreneurship Group.
Did Harvey ever think she’d be where she is now?
“Honestly, I felt most of my life I was paralyzed with fear when dealing with people,” she said. “Before I was 40, nobody knew me, I was super shy and becoming increasingly depressed. But my husband asked me one day, ‘what have you always wanted to do?’ Well, actually, I wanted to play the drums. So he got me a drum set. ‘What else?’ he asked me. I wanted to go to college. So I went.
“Even if you’re 40 or 50 or older, you can still do wonderful things, grow as a person and even create a new business,” she said with a smile.