Susie Warran-Smith, formerly Sue Nelson, grew up in inner city London to a very working class family. For the first year of her life her parents lived in a flat with no running water. Before her brother came along, they moved to a rented three room downstairs flat with running water (yay) but no bathroom and an outside toilet. She lived there with no inside bath, shower or toilet until she was eight. She went to a mixed race school in Clapham before moving to Kent where she later attended Ashford Girls Grammar School.
Susie worked in corporates and charities after gaining a degree in graphic design, and while pregnant with her second child and with a 3 year old in tow, she studied in the evenings to get an MBA in corporate strategy. In all that time she has constantly been a trustee, volunteer or non-executive for a range of charities in particular those that help disadvantaged people to set up their own businesses and make them a success.
Finally, after working for 35 years she decided to set up her own business with her best friend's daughter, Brady Last. They started in Susie's small conservatory on two laptops and with a large stash of Yorkshire tea bags. Her children left home and at 54 years old, she thought she should do something risky for once in her life. She put her entire savings into starting a business even though there were no clients in sight. She convinced Brady to join her in this one last hurrah.
They were both working at an R&D tax relief consultancy but knew if they went on their own, they could reach so many more small businesses and help them gain the funding they needed to thrive and ‘breakthrough’. That is why they named it Breakthrough Funding.
They begun trading in April 2015. Susie developed the brand so that it would look and feel like no other tax service in the UK. Orange, green, ducks, eggs and mad professors dominated. She wrote the content for the website herself, doing away with jargon and developing the process systems in detail so that, despite the complexities, it would be easy for clients to understand and be guided through it. She developed the specification for the IT infrastructure, commissioned the client contracts and even agreed with Brady on what colour bins they fancied in a 'proper' office when they got that far. In the first month they had zero income, but that was probably to be expected, although they did win the Best Website in the Kent Digital Awards.
They started to get a lot of attention and a proper office was acquired just three months later along with their first staff appointments - Daisy, an incredibly bright admin assistant who had never been given a chance to shine at school or work and Dan, a window specialist (don't ask). Since then the team have been helping small companies grow into great big ones by accessing the valuable government incentive imaginatively called 'R&D tax relief'. Cash for innovation is Susie's description of it.
The brand was
deliberately designed to champion the SME business owner and to make the
complex R&D tax relief scheme accessible. The use of jargon and confusing
terms were banished. The brand was clearly differentiated from its accountancy
background competitors and Susie begun to use innovative marketing techniques such as their
radio show and magazine, as routes to market.
The FoodTalk Radio Show was launched with the aim of allowing established food heroes or emerging innovators to shout about their work. The podcasts were instantly popular and were available on the FoodTalk website as well as Audible, Spotify, Stitcher, PlayerFM, TuneIn and on the Podcast app.
In 2019 there were 77,000 podcast downloads. They had a combined 104,800 Twitter followers and 218,000 Facebook fans via FoodTalk, Speciality Food and Great British Chefs. These channels created a great business network for them, giving not only credibility and recognition in the food and agri sectors, but access to a steady stream of valuable new business for R&D tax relief via the business owners that were being given airtime. The team also begun to broadcast the TechTalk Show, with the same format but for tech companies.
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