Only a tiny percentage of businesses end up going on to become global market leaders. Which means not every recruitment agency espousing that line’s telling the truth. And not every one of them ends up hitting such heady heights.
It takes a huge amount of hard work, genuine skill, and the right idea to make a recruitment business work. And there’s no real ‘perfect’ time to start one either, as recent events have done nothing but highlight.
Belsberg are just over a year into being the only recruitment agency in the Benelux focused purely on Digital HR and HR Transformation.
Their clients are companies with HR systems that need bringing into the 21st century. As I’m sure you can imagine, there’s a fair few of those knocking about.
And their candidates are the Project Managers, Developers, and Consultants working on the kind of transformational change projects that keep HR at the cutting edge of business.
It’s a sector with a number of parallels to recruitment, including its rate of innovation. And it’s a brand of recruitment with almost infinite scaling potential.
So perhaps naturally, co-founders Thomas Sassi and Thomas van der Wal have world domination quite firmly in their sights. And they’re raising the capital to make it happen.
Belsberg got a lot right in their first year. So we wanted to find out the whats, whys, and hows of starting a recruitment business the right way.
“We saw companies that were doing their HR in quite an old school way, on outdated software. It was ripe for digital transformation, so we saw that as an opportunity.”
It takes a genuine interest in the space to spot that the tech your clients are using is lagging behind others. Especially when you compare it to digital transformation initiatives happening in other sectors.
And if there’s a recruitment answer to a technical question – in this case, Q: How do I level up my HR function? A: Hire this team to do it for you… – you could be onto a winner.
As technology advances, it will only continue exploiting shortcomings in businesses – particularly the well established ones. And when that happens, knowing your stuff and getting to market quickly is vital.
But selecting a niche to occupy is just the beginning.
“Maybe it’s the most romantic – or the most vague! – notion, but I think we both had a childhood dream that running a business was something we wanted to do. Building something yourself, feeling that sense of ownership, being behind the wheel for once.“
“I need energy around me. I like to bounce ideas off someone else. I like to challenge people and be challenged as well.”
Both co-founders worked together for years prior to launching Belsberg, having done their time in a broad mix of working environments. From hardcore UK recruitment firms to more laid back European counterparts.
So when it came to starting a business of their own, it was a case of keeping everything they’d learned along the way that worked, and tossing what didn’t.
For Belsberg, their vision was to become the go-to agents in their space. And that meant doubling down on the nitty gritty.
Not only understanding who in the market could be receptive to implementing grand, new change in their business. But applying that granular approach to the thinking around their systems and processes too.
“We felt we’d selected the right software to use, from our CRM to our phone system. We’d set up our website, set up our back office and compliance, selected the right accountancy firm to help us with it. Then once the infrastructure was there, we were done.”
Belsberg are a contract business. And contract recruitment moves quickly.
So much so, that if you pull a job and then go looking for candidates, you’re probably already behind.
Because of how fast the market moves, contract recruitment also has a reputation for being relatively transactional, particularly on the candidate side.
And at least some of it stands to reason: the periods of employment have fixed terms, contractors are by-and-large quite commercially minded, and they get used to taking on a new project every 3, 6, 12 months.
Now, taking a transactional approach to contract recruitment does work. In fact countless top billers have led extremely successful careers out of it.
But if you’re looking to lead a market, you need to bring something else to the table.
“You have to take a proactive approach to your market. And that comes from knowing what’s going on in every single area of it, at any given time.”
The nature of recruiting for transformational change projects means you can’t exactly pitch for business empty handed. You have to have the talent behind you already.
Which means checking in with prospective candidates regularly, even if you’ve nothing to say. You’ll soon get beyond understanding talent in terms of availability and day rate, and more into what drives them.
But also, if you’re picking up the phone more than other recruiters, and with more relevant opportunities, who do you think they’re more likely to come to? Or recommend their friends and colleagues to?
“We knew we were doing OK when we started getting freelancers calling in. I remember the first time someone told me they’d heard Belsburg were ‘the’ people to speak to about new opportunities.”
“It was trial and error in the beginning. Six months in, we had 10 or 15 contractors out and our first set of clients. By then you could already feel it getting off the ground.”
Since launching, Belsburg have worked with almost a hundred companies in the Netherlands. With around 60% of their placements coming off the back of repeat business.
Not only have they had the experience, and the drive, to launch a recruitment business in the first place. They’ve also leveraged technology to forge a new niche in an old market. And having that degree of focus has enabled them to provide a genuinely bespoke service to their clients. And an overall better standard of service for their candidates.
And thanks to both Thomases for their time and insight putting this piece together.
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