HR 2025

HR 2025 Series: Living the work/life dream is very possible as an independent worker in the digital world of work

Whether it was my original intention or not my career has been far from conventional. Following my studies on how to run small and medium-sized businesses, I rolled from one job to another. I worked, in the retail trade and the leisure industry and my last employed role was with the Dutch police.

Then, thirteen years ago, it was all change. I met my husband and started working with him at his home furnishing and do-it-yourself company.

When this company went bankrupt during the crisis in 2009, I decided I enjoyed the freedom to be able to choose my work and working hours and made the decision to remain an independent worker. The possibilities this brought far outweighed the challenges of a potentially unstable income.

I do not come from a family of entrepreneurs and this is perhaps why it took me so long to come to this way of working, a way that really suits how I live.

Yes, there are risks, but there are in any employment. Independent entrepreneurship gives room for the development of individual qualities. However, entrepreneurs are still often discouraged, as if a job offers security…

So many factors can impact success and happiness at work and so I made the decision to ignore any doubters and follow my heart and personal interests and set-up a business focused on lifestyle services including healthy food and massage.

Working collaboration is key to ongoing success

Building this business, I collaborated a lot with fellow entrepreneurs at gyms, hotels, campsites and a wellness center. There is certainly a network of like-minded people out there.

It is good to connect with others with a similar mindset and learn from each other. This keeps you focused on the customer and evolving your offerings to ensure you’re always offering the best options.

In the field of nutritional supplements, I opted for collaboration with a network marketing company. A perfect way of working together. The company, Beyuna has the specialist knowledge of the best raw materials and the ultimate composition of the supplements.

Beyuna also takes care of distribution. This way I can offer excellent products and build up a residual income. This is possible almost anywhere in the world, including in Italy.

Networking is also a great way to build a business. As an independent, there are fewer constraints. And you can make decisions that would be impossible as a contracted worker.

Taking considered risks for work

With my existing business interests working well, I decided to look in new directions. Having spent time in Southern Italy and enjoyed the culture I decided to fill a gap in the market for unique holiday accommodation in the beautiful region of Puglia and the rest, they say is history.

At the end of 2019, ‘Hartje Puglia (The Heart of Puglia) opened for business. More details on this unique holiday accommodation can be found here.

Not only did I expand my business interests into holiday lettings, I love the location so much my husband and I moved from the Netherlands to Italy to quite literally be at the heart of Puglia. The internet makes this so easy to do. I can continue my other business interests online. This is what makes running your own business so easy in the digital world.

It is only 2,000 km away from my old hometown, but it is a world of difference. The culture, the language, the laws and regulations, everything is different. We work together with entrepreneurs from London and with local people.

A good combination between our Dutch (work) experience, English courtesy and Italian knowledge of rules and customs. A nice fusion of qualities made possible by combining human traits with technology.

Cultural differences between Southern Italy and the Netherlands

Aside to understanding the rules, it is also vital to be observant of the people when you set up a business in a new country. My advice is to live how the locals live so you can understand what motivates and what demotivates. After all, certainly with my business, I will be employing local people.

The key difference that I noticed was the different motivations for money. In the Netherlands, in general, people are willing to sacrifice their personal life to earn money.

Status symbols, such as cars, are important. In Southern Italy (I can’t speak for the north of the country), people are not willing to sacrifice their leisure and family time. Yes, they still want to earn well, but taking time to eat and drink is just as important.

In southern Italy there is high unemployment on paper, although all the men around me here seem to work. A lot of work is done by the self-employed. There is a small company or specialist for everything.

This probably lends to the fact that in southern Italy they still have a trading culture: ‘I paint your bedroom and in return, you harvest my olive trees’. It would be great if more independent workers adopted this model, quite literally combining traditional values with 21st century innovation. Online collaboration tools make this very possible to share skills.

Women are less ambitious here when it comes to working outside the home. They take care of the household; help grow crops on the land and share in social security because they are married.

If you are open to change and possibilities, you do not have to be afraid.

A lot is changing worldwide, and there are strong influences we can’t control. America with Trump and in England with the Brexit, for example. These events could have a huge impact on the global economy, including how, where and what we can do for work.

Equally, the rise of digital technology is great for many people. It has enabled me to work from two countries, but to the contrary, it is starting to replace human interaction, and this will make it difficult for some people to find work. We all need to be mindful of this and be sure to employ local people where we can.

For us, the next step is to expand the number of accommodations and expand the services we offer in the field of wellness. All this through collaboration with other independent entrepreneurs who are all specialized and passionate in their own field.

I am thinking of Yoga and psychological coaching. But cleaning is also a profession that I like to leave to people with the right skill set.

Change, outside of large corporates, will go slowly though I think. People are afraid of change. Fear reigns and restrains people. Trusting your own strength and vision takes a lot of courage.

By 2025 we hope to have established a great company. A nice place to live and work, where guests, family and local people like to come. I’m not nervous. In fact, I am extremely positive about the future of work for me.

Make it your work objective to be happy. It is possible. Very possible.

Yolanda Leistra