Firestarter supporting growth for an expanding workplace pensions provider

Compulsory workplace pension schemes are among the most onerous legal obligations for UK SMEs. IFS Employee Benefits LLP (t/a FSB Workplace Pensions) was contracted to give workplace pension support to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which represents more UK SMEs than any other UK-wide business support organisation. Approximately half the FSB’s c. 200,000 members must comply with this law, so this exclusive contract offered huge potential, but needed a complete build. A robust, scalable mechanism was needed to promote the service, communicate with prospects, and cope with the volume demands of an accelerating staging schedule.

The Firestarter Group had the answer…

Director Sam Baker explains: ‘We knew pressure would rise as staging dates for FSB members approached. While taking the pain out of SMEs’ compulsory workplace pension schemes is our strength, marketing isn’t. Yet we had to deliver effective marketing communications and knew we’d require help during the customer journey.

With thousands of SMEs seeking help, whatever we did had to be systems driven, robust and scalable for a demanding future. For a start, we had to refine our strategy and proposition, build a website, set up CRM and database management, do email marketing, and create publications. Plus ongoing client management and administration…’

We wanted a hands-on partner
Mark Stallard, one of IFS’s trusted IFA contacts, knew Firestarter and suggested meeting. Sam Baker: ‘Firestarter didn’t get the project on a plate; they worked hard for it.

‘We wanted a hands-on partner who’d handle strategy and implementation; and we wanted the right long-term cultural fit.’

We were impressed with Matt and his team. They presented well and demonstrated that, as well as being skilled strategists, they’re good implementers – exactly what we wanted. We appointed them and quickly developed a close relationship. From the start, Matt spent lots of time on site and rapidly gained in-depth understanding of us, the FSB, the product and the FSB members.’

At the work’s heart, Firestarter designed and implemented a sophisticated communications and customer-data management package. Pre 2013, IFS was a traditional financial services business with 40 consultants, each managing their own clients. With responsibility for the FSB’s workplace pension scheme, everything changed. Sam Baker explains: ‘We were out of our depth marketing directly to FSB members. Fortunately, Firestarter’s “kick-starting business” promise was ideal.’

What differentiates Firestarter?
Since 2013, Firestarter has fulfilled its promise and freed IFS to focus on what they do best for clients. ‘Results just fell into place,’ explains Baker, ‘whether for the new website, collateral, our new CRM or doing email marketing. If they couldn’t do something in-house, they always had web developers, designers and other resources.’

IFS has had many ‘Wow!’ moments with Firestarter; not least when the new website went live and when the FSB sprang a rebrand on them at short notice: ‘One of Matt’s biggest tests came when we’d just finished the collateral and FSB announced a major rebrand. Amazingly, Firestarter weren’t fazed. Not only was everything reworked, but we included some incremental improvements in the revised version. It was a blessing in disguise.’

It wasn’t just IFS who Firestarter impressed. The FSB commended their interpretation and incorporation of strict brand guidelines. ‘If I recall,’ interjects IFS chairman, Paul Baker, ‘the FSB said something to the effect that IFS – Firestarter – followed the guidelines to the letter and were best of all the FSB’s partners at implementing the rebrand and conveying its intended messages.’ Paul Baker also recalls how, while networking, another designer praised Firestarter’s work: ‘That independent affirmation was very reassuring.’

Streamlining and going online
Within months, and on schedule, IFS’s systems were streamlined and put online where possible. Firestarter also created a new online employer portal to guide FSB members through scheme set up. It’s another powerful tool to handle growing demand for the IFS-FSB service. As expected, this has grown with the marketing activity and the inexorable approach of FSB members’ staging dates. Sam Baker again: ‘The portal reduces incoming helpline calls, takes pressure off us and gives customers fast, easy access to information.’

IFS knows hiccups happen in the real world, but that good suppliers take responsibility for fixes. ‘There were minor issues with customer letter formatting from the CRM, and configuration of the appointment booking system,’ says Sam Baker, ‘but Firestarter sorted everything without fuss. As usual, Matt knew exactly where to get the required specialist advice.’

The benefits
The main outcome is that everything Firestarter set out to do has happened, and works. Sam Baker: ‘We’ve got the robust scalable systems we need as FSB members’ staging dates approach. The communication activities have also worked well and our systems handle the increased demand. Average weekly call totals have grown from single figures (2013) to 130-plus (2016). Of course it’s a team effort, but it wouldn’t have happened without Matt and Firestarter.

‘Everything Firestarter set out to do has happened, and works’

‘IFS doesn’t sell widgets off a shelf: theirs are sophisticated services for clients stressed by the demands of compulsory pensions. They rely on us to solve their problem while they focus on their business, whether it’s a garage, hairdressing or design. Firestarter does the same for us, delivering usable processes, systems and collateral, help when needed and priceless peace of mind.

‘Matt’s marketing skills and experience deserve mention, as do other services he’s sourced. Not least, specialist recruitment support from Firestarter’s Liza Bewick as IFS built its new call-centre team.’

Into the future together
Soon after the project began, Matt Wheeler was virtually embedded in IFS and the companies still work closely on a retainer contract. Hardly a week passes without Matt and Sam liaising on progress and improvements as IFS confidently handles increasing demand. By 2018, all UK businesses must have schemes in place. To give future revenue stream and support clients, Firestarter helped develop and implement a valuable fee-based administration service.

It’s a big ‘yes’ to recommending Firestarter
‘We love Matt’s resourcefulness as he brings ideas to reality and turns them into value-adding outcomes,’ says Sam Baker. ‘As well as valuing his ability to get things done, we trust him implicitly and respect his integrity. He’s one of the few people we let talk directly to the FSB, a relationship we’re very protective of.’ Then, recalling getting a special font for the rebrand, Sam adds: ‘Matt saved us £1200 by sourcing an existing font set. He could have legitimately charged us, but he didn’t. That’s Matt for you.’
Asked about recommending Matt Wheeler and Firestarter, the answer’s a resounding yes; in fact, they’ve already done so – several times.

‘Working with Matt and Firestarter,’ says Sam Baker ‘is always professional, fun and delivers results. We’ve learned lots and changed beyond recognition into a powerful force that helps SMEs meet their Auto Enrolment and Workplace Pension obligations. There aren’t many suppliers I’d play golf with either! It says everything that Matt Wheeler is among them!’

For more information about FSB Workplace Pensions, please visit


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