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Lifelong passion to help others realized in EC
Selflessness may seem like a hyperbole when describing someone, but it is not a far-fetched descriptor for Efficiency Counts (EC) owner, Connie Harvey.
Since the origin in 2004, Harvey and her Hastings, Nebraska, based company have helped businesses across the state. Its specialty: bookkeeping, database architecture and QuickBooks™ support and training.
Harvey understands that keeping the books, for most business owners, is not something that stays in the front of their minds. They have employees, day-to-day operations, customers and life to worry about. Their books, however, are one of the most important parts of business.
"It can be a sinkhole, working with QuickBooks," Harvey said. "If I can help the entrepreneur make the most of their time, free them from their data handling frustrations, then I've done my job."
Harvey says she's always been someone who wanted to help others. Using her problem-solving skills to assist others started when she was a child. She's always loved puzzles, math and brain games. She found herself helping other students with math throughout school.
At 39, she went to work for the post office in McCook, Nebraska. While there, she noticed the sorting system was inefficient and costing them money and precious time. So she designed a city scheme, or grid system, which significantly cut down delivery and sorting time. Over time, the post office purchased an automatic sorter and Harvey found herself looking for a new job.
She started working at a bank in McCook. Harvey said she noticed many business owners had overdrawn balances on their accounts.
"I was totally drawn to this," she said. "[Business owners] had these great entrepreneurial skills, but their desks were dusty. They were so passionate about their work, but they weren't tending to their books."
Noticing the problem, Harvey did what she knew best, and tried to solve the issue.
"I went to the one of the bank leaders and asked if we could host Saturday morning training sessions for entrepreneurs who were in trouble. He said, 'No, they made their bed, they can lay in it.'"
That answer exasperated Harvey.
At that point, she asked her husband, Larry, for advice.
He answered with a question, "What have you always wanted to do? Go to college."
Harvey quit her job and went to college at 41 years old.
She went to McCook Community College and obtained an Associate Degree in Business with an emphasis in Accounting.
"Here I am in my early 40s, and I was terrified of people, but I loved to help the students who were half my age," she remembers.
While in college, she created a business plan for Efficiency Counts. Harvey's professor told her the plan could work and that she should run with it.
She had her first client before she graduated—Lots to Love, Inc. This clothing store had over 23 locations in 14 states and 118 employees. The owner, J.T. Harris, called McCook Community College, looking for help after their bookkeeper passed away. The college directed him to Harvey.
"That was the best gift I could have ever received—to learn right in the midst of things," Harvey said.
Her first task was converting the clothing chain's hard copy books to electronic form in QuickBooks.
Lots to Love, Inc. was Harvey's first client and she says she learned a lot of her business practices from J.T. Harris. "This man was an amazing entrepreneur. He treated his employees so well. He will always be my hero," she said.
During the first year of her new business venture in McCook, Harvey earned her status as a “Microsoft Certified Professional.” The Harveys moved to Hastings in 2007 to be closer to their daughter. In 2010, she was named, “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Center for Rural Affairs.
Moving to Hastings meant EC had to start all over again, since no one in this community knew her.
She was working from home and quickly realized that wasn't going to be possible for very long. She needed to move into an office for space purposes. Now she can be found downtown in Hastings' historic Foote Building.
The Center for Rural Affairs (CRA), the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP), and the REAP Women’s Business Center approached Harvey after they completed their Small Business Needs Assessment in 2010.
Their findings concluded there was a lack of bookkeeping training.
"You say ‘bookkeeping’ and it scares most entrepreneurs," said REAP Program Director, Jeff Reynolds. "Connie is very gifted at teaching and she's gifted in her ability to work with numbers. She takes out some of that fear for entrepreneurs. We were lucky she was available, as were the entrepreneurs she's assisted."
REAP and the REAP Women's Business Center developed a relationship with EC many years ago, when the business was just starting.
“Connie had a heart to help other small businesses and could see the value in them. Her skills were those that businesses need but often lack. We felt it would be beneficial to facilitate the learning of good bookkeeping/recordkeeping skills with our small business owners,” said Monica Braun, Director of the Women’s Business Center.
REAP put together a plan for Harvey to work one-on-one with clients and also host trainings.
"Jeff Reynolds came to me and said, 'We heard about what you’re doing and we want to pay you to do it.' That gave me the boost to keep doing what I love," Harvey said.
"Today, we have four to five contractors just like Connie," Reynolds said. "We started with her, and it went over so well, we now have contractors around the state who do the same thing."
What EC does for businesses is distinctive. Harvey and her team provide a service that allows businesses to be as efficient as possible when it comes to bookkeeping, reporting, inventory tracking and database management.
When asked what feedback REAP clientele have about their services with EC, Braun said, “‘We need more Connies!’ is a response I have heard. Some have indicated a sense of relief that their books are in order. They are more confident they know how their business is doing from the reports they now know how to run.”
Giving business owners that confidence is key, but so is implementing it as efficiently as possible.
"People doing their own books don’t do the efficiency measures," Harvey said. "They spend all this extra time because they don't know how to do the measures—taking things step by step and breaking them into specific segments. My goal is to help them spend less time doing the bookkeeping stuff. Make that time more productive and get it done better."
REAP Members are able to use up to 15 hours of EC’s assistance for free. The extensive Quickbooks training Efficiency Counts provides takes time. Non-REAP members can also hire EC for training.
Jeanne Wagner, owner of Rejuvenation Salon in Grand Island, took advantage of EC’s services after learning about it at REAP’s Women in Business Conference.
As a small business owner and REAP member, Wagner said she jumped at the opportunity to utilize EC’s services for 15 free hours of QuickBooks training.
“Fifteen hours is a lot of time. You can get a lot of help,” Wagner said. “As a stylist, I’m on the creative spectrum. I’m not a numbers person. They scare me to death. Connie is extremely knowledgable and she didn’t make me feel like an idiot for not knowing what to do.”
Wagner said she’s changed her routine of spending 10 to 12 hours every Sunday muddling through her books, to quickly and efficiently spending 5 to 10 minutes at the end of each night entering the day’s log. Wagner is now able to have a life, she said.
"I will stick it out with you," Harvey said. "I understand it's an invasion of privacy to have someone look at your books so closely."
While there can sometimes be tension, the clients soon realize Harvey is there to do one thing: help their businesses.
"Sometimes, I find things that make me extremely angry," she said. Harvey recalls finding one of her client’s (now former) employees had been taking approximately $2,000 a month from the company.
Harvey realizes that doing one's own books can be time consuming, but as business owners, it's important to know what is happening.
"If you don't want to do your own books every month, require a reconciliation detail from whomever is," Harvey said.
"People that don't have the puzzling mind can't see that the pieces don't fit," she said. "My gift is being able see that. I've been using it for 35 years. It's very intuitive. My hope is to give people that gift."
EC has served numerous clients across Nebraska.
“Connie’s been helping me for years with QuickBooks,” said Pam Hidy, bookkeeper and office manager for Tri-City Glass in Kearney. “If I have questions about important entries, like employment taxes or sales tax filing, I call EC. If Connie is not sure on something, she’ll check it out. She helps you even when she’s super busy. She’ll stop everything to help her clients.”
Efficiency Counts is looking forward to the future of their company. Continuing assistance in a training sense, Jeff Struck has been with EC since 2010, and builds databases that have been used by organizations ranging from police departments to nursing homes to tracking extracurricular data in addition to QuickBooks.
Harvey sees this segment of EC growing in the future.
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