I am still amazed at how quickly 15 years have gone by.
When I left my previous employer I had also worked there for 15 years. And now 15 years at Link2Europe. The last 5 years have been very hectic, and sometimes stressful for our company, but, at the same time, they have been extremely instructive and challenging.
I look back with particular gratitude to my employees who, at the beginning of 2017, gave their 200% to keep the company running smoothly, while I myself was less present due to my illness and had to follow things from a distance for a while. At the same time, we had our best year ever. The market was growing, and more and more companies found their way to Link2Europe. The economy was flourishing and the team’s marketing and sales efforts were paying off.
Link2Europe was preparing itself for another growth spurt. For myself, it was also a period of reflection and thinking about the future. How could I continue to grow the company in a healthy way for my employees and for myself, and where did we want to be within 5 years?
During a networking meeting, I was inspired by a speaker from a consulting firm, who I later invited to come and explain more. The theory of “Crossing the chasm” had many similarities to the phase we were in, and became the lever to think about our future strategy.
The premise was simple: to double our turnover in 5 years. A comprehensive plan was drawn up together with the entire team, in which all the facets that are important within our company were highlighted and all kinds of actions spread over several years were described and discussed. From sales to marketing, personnel, customer approach, financial organization, HR, logistics and housing, recruitment partners, new business, etc.: everything was discussed and around 100 promotion and action points emerged that will certainly keep us busy for at least two years.
In order to reinforce our image and the new way of working and challenges, it was decided to move to a new office. The old office had become too small for 10 employees and was very impractical. The building would soon be swallowed up by Pfizer anyway, so moving was a must.
After visiting many properties in the wider region, we decided to settle on the Rijksweg in Bornem, and to set up this office in a way that best suited our organisation.
I didn’t make it easy for the staff, because, just like a young family usually starts having children and working full time when they move or buy a new home, we were also doing everything at once at Link2Europe. The market grew in 2018 and 2019, and we tried to keep our service optimal. We were forced to completely separate our service cheque company Hulp aan Huis (Help at Home) from Link2Europe from an accounting point of view, and to implement the necessary new software. The software to manage the temporary work was also renewed by our IT partner, so new working procedures had to be learned.
Our accounting system was also organised differently, and different software had to be installed here as well. In addition, thought was also given to the practical and technical relocation with suppliers and a new IT partner who would be responsible for the server, cloud applications, new hard-ware, VOIP, etc. I certainly have to thank Inge and Christel here, who mainly managed the back office during that time and certainly made sure that everything kept running behind the scenes.
But I’m convinced that our customers must have noticed this. We were very busy internally getting everything ready for the future, but we didn’t really grow strongly in the years between 2017 and 2019. We received support from Peter, an external JDI consultant, in taking the operational steps forward as well, for which we are grateful. But this was not enough …
So it was time to really get to work on that business plan, and the last link that was missing was the recruitment of a General Manager who could really look after Link2Europe and the further operational development of the organisation. Natascha Nagels was recruited in late 2019. She perfectly fitted the profile we were looking for and, partly due to the advice of my loyal staff, it was decided to take the plunge and effectively hire someone who could monitor and realise the pre- determined lines in a much better way, and who was complementary to myself, so that everyone stayed happy.
Natascha and the team started 2020 … full of dedication, plans and good spirits …
And then there was suddenly CORONA. For many companies, 2020 was seen as the year to gamble on growth, digitisation, going full steam ahead, and making big plans … and then the world fell silent.
Everyone realised quite quickly that this would have an impact on our economy and our way of working, but no-one dared to predict that it would be so drastic and take so long.
This was also very difficult for Link2Europe as an organisation. Both our temporary employment business and the service cheque office quickly experienced a major impact. But how long would it last?
Natascha and her team were immediately presented with challenges that were very different from those we expected. Communication to customers, temporary workers, cleaning ladies, private clients … many questions arose from all sides, without any real answers. There were different changes and rules every week or every month. In the meantime, we all tried to save what could be saved, to find new customers where there was still work, to support people who were “stranded” in Belgium, etc.
But not much came of our very ambitious business plan and the exponential growth. There was no panic, but there was a certain anxiety. Our Link2Europe financial year runs from April to March. An accounting year heavily marked by Corona pushed down our annual revenue by about 40%. How long could we keep this up? And how could we keep all our employees on board? Those were our main concerns.
Finally, in the course of August 2021, the sky cleared. But Link2Europe did not sit still during the Corona period. We maintained a presence on social media, ran communication and marketing campaigns, continued to prospect and maintained a market presence. And, suddenly, we started receiving one request after another. Between August 2021 and December 2021, no less than 120 new temporary workers started up, and it was all hands on deck to match the sudden high demand in the labour market and the search for international talent. 5 new recruiters and 2 additional consultants were recruited at record speed so as not to miss the train that was racing by.
Everyone gave their very best, and long and very long days were worked. Once again, I want to thank ALL my staff for making this possible. The entire Link2Europe and Hulp aan Huis team can be justifiably proud of what we have achieved in the last 6 to 9 months.
Stay tuned for the next part – Next time: Our future
Where does Link2Europe stand now, and where are we headed? You can read about that in an upcoming piece about the next 5 years …