The Harpoon Blog

How to Respectfully Quit Your Day Job

by Sylvia Burleigh in Business Tips

It took many months of blood, sweat and tears, moonlighting into the wee hours of the morning. But you’re totally ready to take that leap into freelancing full-time. You’ve got a six-month nest egg saved just in case. You’ve gained a portfolio of steady clients. You’ve even been able to hire a few competent sub-contractors when flooded with demand. Even your family is on-board with the new schedule. The buck truly stops with you now—the new boss.

You can create your own work schedule, pick your own projects and manage the work at your own pace. You decide where you work, what you work on and what you wear. But there’s one little thing left to do, and it’s an important part of beginning your next step on the road to complete freelance freedom—saying good-bye to your boss and your old position. While breaking-up can be hard to do, resigning can be done in a respectful, graceful and grown-up way.

Be sure your supervisor is the first to know . You may be tempted to brag about the new and exciting challenge waiting for you, but it will be to your advantage to leave it under wraps until you’ve had that all-important chat with your boss. Break room chitchat can run the rounds of gossip in a blink of an eye. But when it comes time for the talk, be sure to accentuate the positive. Keep it polite. Now is not the time to rehash past disappointments or dredge up criticisms. Remember, even if you do have a business plan in place for the future, it’s important not to burn bridges. You never know what lies ahead, and you may want to come back should things take a dreaded downturn. On the other hand, they may want to hire you as a consultant based on your performance. When you come right down to it what better way to gain a new client. Don’t forget to thank them for the opportunities and explain how much you’ve enjoyed working with them. You may also want your resignation letter available if asked.

Timing is everything. There may never be a great time to leave. So suffice it to say, you should act as enthusiastic and dedicated as you were the first day you walked through their doors. Leaving a last good impression is better than leaving your former employer with the impression you have a continuous bout of five o’clock fever. One way to do this is not to leave in the middle of critical projects you’re overseeing. You still want to put your best foot forward by leaving extensive documents for the next person who takes your position. Also remaining as cooperative as possible if the hand-off is to a co-worker allows your continued reputation to shine. Down the line, you want them to remember how great you are, which will always work to your benefit as well as add to your professional reputation.

Reread the non-compete agreement . This is a pretty critical point. Always review your non-compete agreement you’ve signed. A non-compete agreement identifies the time restriction placed on you before you can legally become a competitor, and once you’ve officially left the company. If you should violate the non-compete agreement, the company can take legal action against you. Be sure you understand all the fine print; even what you can and cannot do. In some cases, you may not be able to tell current clients that you’re leaving or even solicit to them. It probably wouldn’t hurt to take a look at your employee handbook and agreement at the same time. These documents may contain other information about a non-compete clause, or a fee you may have to pay should you be taking clients with you. In fact, hiring an employment lawyer for a few hours may help you understand any legal obligations you might incur. In the long run, it’s worth it to begin your new venture with a clear conscience and peace of mind.

There’s always room for negotiation . So you signed a non-compete agreement, but don’t give up just yet. Since litigation is expensive for your former employer, negotiating may be an alternative. Geographic regions and shorter time frames can be renegotiated, and it just makes good business sense. If by chance your business is in a different vertical but doesn’t directly compete with their existing services, you might have an advantage for future referrals, partnerships or consultancies involving your expertise.

Sure, I know it sounds like a lot of trouble. But leaving a spotless performance record in every way with both your boss and colleagues can pay off in numerous ways. And by all accounts, your professional reputation is something that takes years to build, but takes only seconds to dismantle. So why take chances? In the end, that exquisite reputation you continue to build and preserve will reward you well into the future, and even more so as you begin your new adventure in freelancing. 

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