It's time to celebrate! PNE beneficiaries Pen-gage have recently turned 4 and to mark the occasion Director Laura Bowler sat down with PNE Business Support Coordinator Melissa Middleton to reflect on her entrepreneurial journey and to look forward to what the future holds for the birthday business!
Laura, thanks for joining me. First of all, what made you decide to set-up Pen-gage?
"Honestly, I was a bit dissatisfied in my job. It was a pensions role and, in some ways, similar to what I do now. I have worked in pensions for a long time and the same issues continually come through – people do not want to or not able to engage with it. Yet it is the first or second biggest asset that people have, it is that fundamental and important. It feels too far away and too complicated for people and we need to change that perception.
I worked so hard and just didn’t feel that big business really got what they needed to do to really support and engage people. I decided the best thing for my own sanity would be to take a big leap of faith and start up on my own. So I did"
"I worked so hard and I just didn’t feel that big business really got what they needed to do to really support and engage people. I decided the best thing for my own sanity would be to take a big leap of faith and start-up on my own"
So what do you think makes Pen-gage stand out?
"We are different. We are not financial advisers and not seeking to make money through referrals or selling products. Our primary – and arguable only – motivation is to be able to connect with people in a way over their finances, especially pensions, in a way they have not been able to before. To remove the jargon, break it down and explain what things mean. This gives the power back to people to be able to make informed decisions.
We think it works, the growth of the business has really shown that and much of our new work is from referrals – which is fab. We are only as good as our last session. We obtain feedback from all sessions to ensure we are providing the support that we set out to"
PNE has had the pleasure of being involved in the Pen-gage story from the early days. How has the support helped you and your business?
"I cannot believe that Mel has stuck by my side for 4 years!! I am lucky in that I know pensions and I know generally what I need to or should do, but when you set up on your own it is hard not having someone else to soundboard off or point you in the right direction in some of the key ‘running a business’ areas. That is where Mel has been invaluable. We meet once a month and I just basically throw loads of updates and information at her for us to pick through together and help define or refine my decision making. Talking things through with someone who understands business – and so some of the emotional decisions you have to make – is so important. She is also exceptional if I am having a ‘flap’ which does happen – especially in the early days.
If you want to know about grants or other financial support, she knows what is coming up before the people who are implementing it do!"
And finally, what's next for Pen-gage?
"Keep doing what we are doing. Pensions are always changing and we need to help people to keep on top of that. We have grown in areas we hadn’t really planned to and have had business plans in for 3 months and basically had to rip them up and start again because of changes! We would like to get to a team of 5 or 6. That feels manageable without having to create additional levels of hierarchy – everyone is on the same level in terms of input and decision making and that is really important. However, as a business we have business risk to manage, growing the team and ultimately the client base enables us to do that and factor in a degree of succession planning.
Getting back out onsite to see people is also important. Webinars really came into their own during Covid and we have a great range and the skill set to continue to do that, but sometimes, the people in a room thing really works. We have also recently added support in wider financial wellbeing – which is really important given the current climate so we are putting a bit more focus on wider issues going forward!"