Working From Home on Your Own Terms

Hendrik Varju is a man who’s spent most of his working life doing two things most people just dream of. First, he works largely from home, more-or-less free from the increasing cost and emotional burden of commuting. And second, Hendrik’s work is a creative extension of himself. Two extensions, actually. For years he’s been one of Canada’s finest custom woodworkers and woodworking instructors, providing lessons and outstanding furniture from his shop in rural Ontario. But more recently, Hendrik’s turned his love of food into regular work as a cooking instructor. One of the biggest benefits of living in the free world is the chance to pursue work you love, and Hendrik is a prime example of this. What’s puzzling to me is how few people actually exercise this freedom.

hendrik_varju-300x400[1]“I specialize in Hungarian and Mexican cuisine,” explains Hendrik. “With a Hungarian father and a Mexican mother, the two food traditions come naturally to me. In addition to woodworking, I do private one-on-one cooking instruction. I also put on cooking events in people’s homes. I still spend 85% of my time in the wood shop, but cooking’s a nice change.”

I’ve been watching the world of home-based “micropreneurs” like Hendrik ever since I cashed my last paycheck as an employee in 1988 and took the plunge myself, and I’ve been waiting for this lifestyle to catch on and  change the world with a big bang. But instead of seeing a revolution, I find myself puzzled. Why do so few people pursue independent work from home? Urban traffic’s getting more congested, travel expenses are high, and job security as an employee isn’t what it used to be. Corporations are friendlier than ever about hiring independent contractors, the internet allows more work to happen remotely, and the world has many more digital business niches than ever. So why no mass movement away from a life tied to someone else’s desk, schedule and agenda?

Fear is probably the biggest reason. I was reminded of this fact talking to a graphic designer I know. Mary’s been an employee for decades, she’s got great skills, and though she finds her 90 minute commute emotionally and financially draining, pension and job security kept her at it. She wouldn’t even consider heading out on her own, at least not until she got a pink slip a month ago. Now I’m talking to her again about how to build the kind of independent working life that people like Hendrik have made for themselves, and that’s what she’s doing now.

So, exactly how does the home-based micropreneurial lifestyle play out with a guy like Hendrik? The same way it does for anyone. First, Hendrik has worked to become a master at his craft. There’s no substitute for the skills that come from thousand of hour of successful practice. While it might be possible to hide a lack of skill or low productivity within a corporation, there’s no such thing on your own. If you’re an employee now, use your time away from work to get good at the home-based micro-business you have in mind.

Second, Hendrik takes the time to reach out with sales efforts. Every job in the world ultimately rests on successful sales. Even non-sales jobs as employees depend on someone else in the corporation making connections with customers and sealing deals. Why not handle this most important of tasks yourself? Visit to see how Hendrik does it.

And third, Hendrik knows that each home-based, self-directed business is unique and evolves. “ I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who feel the urge to do this sort of thing. Maybe they’ll be encourage to see my dual career business as an example. It’s a great life.”