Double success for digital entrepreneur with social conscience

29th August

A Sussex woman who set up her business from scratch, while at the same time fighting breast cancer, is in the running for two Rural Business Awards.

Sue Harbottle-Sear

Sue Harbottle-Sear, founder of Konzepts Ltd, has been shortlisted in the Best Rural Start-Up category and Best Rural Digital, Communications or Media Business category. She hopes to show others that with a good idea and determination to succeed anything is possible.

Last year East Hoathly based Sue was shortlisted in two categories of the Rural Business Awards, in partnership with Amazon, and is hoping for a win this year.

One of the things that impressed the judges was Sue’s ethos of providing an affordable and effective service for rural businesses while at the same time giving back to the local community. As a certified Social Enterprise, a percentage of Konzepts’ profits support 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, including Catsfield Christmas Tree Farm, to be shortlisted in the regional awards which are sponsored by Openreach. The category winners for the South East will be announced at the regional awards ceremony on Friday 18th October 2019 at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge in Kent. Should Konzepts be successful, the company will go through to the national final. The South East covers rural businesses in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Greater London, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex.

Since last year’s awards Sue has launched a Konzepts franchise so affordable digital services are not just available locally, but across the UK and 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, so 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 is confident her business will grow further: “The timing is right and the business plan is sound. 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.”

During her treatment and recovery, Sue became acutely aware of the lack of local support for 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 Sue’s eventual recovery.

Director and Co-Founder of The Rural Business Awards, Anna Price, said: “The 2019/20 Awards have seen record numbers of entries and it’s encouraging to see so many rural businesses express a desire to celebrate their successes on a regional and national scale. We are passionate about creating a nurturing environment where rural businesses can develop, and this starts by showcasing the great work they do. On behalf of everyone at the Rural Business Awards, we want to say well done to Konzepts, and all the shortlisted businesses, and wish them luck ahead of the regional finals.”

The Rural Business Awards is the brainchild of Leicestershire businesswomen Anna Price and Jemma Clifford, who wanted to showcase the wealth of entrepreneurial talent in rural areas of Britain.

The Awards are organised by rural business for rural business, with winners in the 12 categories – ranging from Best Rural Start-up and Best Rural Diversification Project; through to Best Rural Professional Services Business and Rural Digital, Communications or Media Business – decided by an independent panel of judges drawn from the rural business sector, rural public sector agencies, and rural charitable organisations.

The Rural Business Awards is hosting a series of regional finals in the North, East, Midlands, South East, South West, Wales and Northern Ireland, throughout October and November 2019, ahead of the National Final next February.

The Rural Business Awards 2019/20, in partnership with Amazon, will mark the Awards’ fifth year of celebrating the success of businesses across the UK’s rural economy – a segment which employs in excess of 3.4 million people in over 750,000 businesses in England alone. The Awards are organised by rural business for rural business with the aim of celebrating the achievements of rural businesses and developing a strong network for rural business owners.