Cancer survivor beats the odds to get shortlisted in Rural Business Awards

A Sussex woman who set up her business from scratch, while at the same time fighting breast cancer, is in the running for an award. She hopes to show others that with a good idea and determination to succeed anything is possible.

Sue Harbottle-Sear, from East Hoathly, has been shortlisted in two categories of the Rural Business Awards after impressing the judges with her story about Konzepts and her ethos of helping others and giving back to the local community. As a certified Social Enterprise, a percentage of Konzepts’ profit is distributed to projects supporting people in the rural communities such as East Hoathly and Halland Community Garden. Sue describes her business as ‘social media with a social conscience’.

Konzepts joins a handful of other businesses from across the South East region, stretching from Kent to Hampshire and from Surrey to Buckinghamshire, shortlisted in the categories for Best Rural Start Up and Best Rural Creative or Media-based Business. The category winners for the South East will be announced at the glamorous regional awards ceremony on Tuesday 23rd October 2018 at Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking. Should Konzepts be successful they will go on to the national final.

Now she has found her niche, Sue isn’t simply content with providing her service locally. Her business plan outlines her intention to launch the Konzepts’ franchise, firstly across the UK and then internationally.

Passionate about the countryside and rural businesses, Sue came up with the idea for her business while helping a friend whose rural drinks business’s Facebook page and website needed updating. She soon realised that, because of her varied career and experience, she had a real talent for generating interesting content that delivers results and building websites that work.

Sue explains: “Konzepts is based in a truly rural location and hence we are aware of the economic and personal challenges this environment can bring. For those living in these communities life is not as idyllic as many believe it to be.

“We set out to help small rural businesses access the benefits the digital world has to offer, by providing social media and web design services at affordable rates. The intention is to extend these services throughout the UK, allowing more rural businesses to connect with the digital world and enabling them to grow their brands and customer bases.

“Especially in smaller businesses, time is very valuable and the focus needs to be on carrying out the core business activities and, for many business owners, marketing may not be a strength. By helping rural businesses to grow, they are likely to employ further staff – helping to reduce the challenging employment issues in their communities.”

Originally from North West Germany, where she spent much of her childhood on her grandmother’s family farm, Sue’s career has included selling classified advertising, marketing and working in high-end international business development. Her life has been full of challenges but the past few years have been particularly tough. In January 2016, she was diagnosed with breast cancer following a mammogram, resulting in a mastectomy in March 2016. In mid-May 2016, she began a grueling course of chemotherapy. Despite a high risk of infection and debilitating side effects, Sue continued to work full time, for as long as she was physically capable.

With rent and bills to pay and an unsympathetic employer Sue struggled to keep going until she lost her job in October 2016 with just one month’s salary to compensate.

“It was a tough time with little help available, but I was determined to find a way to support myself and initially it was about sheer survival. This was going to be tough as I was over 55, had cancer, lived rurally and was not even able to work part time due to the effects of chemotherapy. My attitude was that if everything conspires against you, one has to find a way out – not everyone has that drive but I was able to draw on all my past experiences to help me,” Sue explained.

Sue went on to say that she is confident her business will grow further: “The timing is right and the business plan is sound. It may take a year or two to get the franchises up and running but I know it will happen. We’ve got to understand and help our rural communities to grow as our world changes. Because of that it is very important to be able to offer self-employment to other people through Konzepts and, in turn, the support we offer businesses will help them to grow and flourish.

“I’ve always been uncomfortable with companies exploiting others’ lack of knowledge and expertise, often making their services unaffordable for many very small businesses. This has always been a bone of contention for me. After exploring the business models and costs charged by many companies like mine, I set out to change this, creating a personal and affordable service offering for our rural businesses.

“During my treatment and recovery, I have become acutely aware a the lack of local support for our rural communities – whether it is the unemployed, people with mental health problems or simply insufficient income. Hence, it is part of Konzepts’ ethos to give back to the rural communities it works in by funding and/or donating to relevant local projects. Developing the business model and starting to work with it became a major factor in my eventual recovery. I am so fortunate to be building a business, working with my kind of people and helping their businesses and communities grow.”