Story by LISA ANDERSON
Tiny, but fierce, Esmirna Caraballo is the founder of Esmirna’s Notary, Accounting, & Tax Services, ENAT Pro Services, and ENAT Consumer Collection Agency, as well as a co-founder of the Hispanic Business Council of Ocala (HBC). Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she has fallen in love with the Ocala community and all of the opportunities it has afforded her and her family.
There is a sense of determination, gratefulness, and humility mixed together in this powerhouse of a business leader. Esmirna is here to make a difference for everyone in the Ocala community. “I knew God brought me down here for a reason, and the HBC is it. It’s the reason. It was needed and we did it at the right time.”
Launching a Dream
Born and raised in the Midwest, Esmirna first toured Ocala in 2008 when she came to visit her parents in their new home. Esmirna and her family stayed in the area for six months. However, it wasn’t meant to be at the time, and they moved back to Cleveland.
On a vacation to visit her parents in April 2016, she ran into her neighbor from her short stint in Ocala. This chance meeting sparked a series of events that brought Esmirna, her husband, and children back to Ocala in November 2016. They had purchased their former neighbor’s home and decided to give the city another chance. “We were outside. We’ve never had that in our life,” she exclaims, referring to their first Christmas in Florida.
Esmirna had built a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) firm in Ohio, and she retained a few of her clients when she moved. Even so, she needed additional income, so she headed back into the workforce. She decided to open a small business accounting service a couple of years later. “I launched Esmirna’s Notary, Accounting, & Tax Services in January 2018. I quit my job in March; that was a leap of faith.
“The first year, I was working from home. I literally had a desk that was a picnic table from outside. That was the desk in my house!” Esmirna’s face lights up with mirth, as she recalls those early days.
She noticed that her clients, especially new clients, were leery of coming to her home, and she knew it was time to find an office space. She found one in the unlikeliest of places. It was located in Mattress Warehouse. The space was tiny, but it had a private entrance and checked all the boxes for a budding business. Esmirna and her team eventually took over the storage area next to them to create additional space. “I give everything to him,” she says, praising the owner of Mattress Warehouse, “because he was so nice to help me grow my business.”
While the pandemic was shutting down hundreds of businesses in 2020, Esmirna’s business began to flourish. She quickly learned how to pivot and help those potential clients, whom other accountants were turning away. She also saw a desperate need in the Hispanic community and quickly raised her hand to help with taxes, translating loan forms, and offering her notary services. Most of the services she was able to transfer online, but for those that legally required in-person service, Esmirna still stepped up to the plate. “I said, ‘I’m available! Come to me. I’ll wear four masks!’” She bursts into laughter.
“Yes, the pandemic was bad, but it was a blessing for my business. I was able to help the community by having that flexibility of taxes and notary,” she explains.
Although she had just started the collection agency, Esmirna immediately shut it down. It was a decision she felt was necessary to help people who were losing their jobs. “We had to collaborate with the community,” she insists, despite the loss of a year’s income.
“Yes, the pandemic was bad, but it was a blessing for my business. I was able to help the community by having that flexibility.”-Esmirna Caraballo
Vision, Faith, & Community
As her business grew, so did her notoriety. She won third place in her business category for Ocala StarBanner’s Best of the Best 2019; in 2020, she won. When her business was called during the virtual ceremony, Esmirna celebrated with gusto. Her family thought she had won the lottery, as they came pouring out of their rooms to see what all the commotion was about. “I screamed like a kid,” she laughs heartily.
The growth of the business was a key factor in this victory, but Esmirna had begun networking in the spring of 2019. She had joined Strategic Allies, a local chapter of Business Network International (BNI), and had made many connections both in and out of the group. Those connections eventually led her to Julian Sinisterra.
Both Esmirna and Julian were looking for a way to connect with and help the Ocala Hispanic Community. Esmirna was disappointed to learn the HBC had closed down in 2012 and had never reopened. Bonded together by their desire to serve and provide a service they knew was badly needed, Esmirna and Julian began to discuss the possibility of forming another HBC together. With the level of determination she had shown in her own business, she told him, “Let’s do this. We have nothing to lose.”
The collaboration officially began in June 2020, and by September, they were networking with the Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) for once-a-month events. “Oh, my gawd! We had 40 people on our first day!” Her voice expresses complete awe and surprise.
The Hispanic community was thrilled to have an event geared specifically for them. It didn’t take long for the CEP to extend further support to this new and growing non-profit. The HBC recently had a ribbon-cutting at their new location, where they are able to offer such services as strategic business planning, marketing plan development, networking events, education sessions, translation services, and professional connections.
Esmirna also had a dream that was inspired by her first interview straight out of high school. Her sister-in-law had given her professional clothes to wear. “I got the job, because she gave me a good set of clothes.” Now, Esmirna is paying it forward with a community closet at the HBC, where anyone can come to choose an outfit for a job interview.
For Esmirna, the HBC isn’t just for the Hispanic community. The doors are open to everyone who needs help. Growing up in a big city had made her feel like nothing was possible, but here, in Ocala, at this time, she feels like everything is achievable.
She is helping to lead the way and support the community. Along with partners like Julian, the CEP, the Better Business Bureau, BNI, and the countless other connections she has formed, Esmirna is fulfilling her dream of growing with her city.
Learn more about the HBC at hispanicbusinesscouncil.com