Many of us dream of becoming freelancers, solopreneures, or agency founders. This often means quitting our jobs to start our own businesses. There is an art and science behind quitting a job. If you do it wrong you can burn your bridges and ruin your chances of success. If you do it right you can set yourself up for success. The key is quitting gracefully.

Quitting a job to start a business is not easy. Companies invest in you. They invest in your training and development. Leaving them can cause anxiety, frustration, and hard feelings. They’ve given you opportunities that could have been given to someone else. They planned for you to stay. Quitting is a big change for the company and they will have to deal with that change.

Of course, you’re not the first person to leave and you won’t be the last. You’re moving on because it’s the best choice for you. The key isn’t to stay when you know you need to quit. The key is to quit your job gracefully and have a solid plan for the next step. Treat the process of quitting just like you would any other project. You must use tact and careful planning.

Have a solid plan for your business.

Before quitting your job to start your own business, make sure you have a solid plan for your business and plenty of money to live on while you’re building your business. It can easily take a year or more to turn a profit. If you don’t fully believe in your business then it will be difficult to quit your job with grace. It’s also smart to have a backup plan.

Tell your boss first.

Never let your boss find out from someone else. Hearing the news through office gossip can make your boss feel disrespected and can weaken recommendations for future references.

Quit in person.

It’s best to have a private meeting to resign in person. Don’t send the notice in an email, by a phone call, by leaving a note on your boss’s desk, in even in the HR office unless you have no other choice. This can make you seem ungrateful and look as if you have something to hide.

Schedule the meeting to discuss your future so your manager won’t be taken by surprise and have a more positive reaction. If you can’t reach your boss, then go to the next level of management – your boss’s boss.

Give a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice.

Giving a 2-week notice is considered the standard practice. Anything less than 2 weeks is unprofessional and can burn the bridge. A 3-4 week notice is even better. If you’re in management it’s best to provide 4-6 weeks’ notice. At the very least, you should follow your company’s policy.

This gives them more time to choose a better replacement without feeling rushed. If they’re rushed and choose someone that isn’t ideal, they might have this in mind when asked for a reference.

Provide your notice in writing.

Once you’ve given your notice, provide your manager and the HR department with a written notice so there are no questions of when your last day will be. This also shows that you chose to leave on your own.

Don’t mention anything about where you’re going or why. Just stick to the facts: that you’re resigning, when your last day will be, and mention that you appreciate your time at the company.

Don’t discuss negative reasons for leaving.

It’s okay to tell that you plan to start your own business, but don’t get into negative reasons why you want to leave the company. This will create even more negativity and could lead to discouraging references. Instead, discuss that you have an opportunity that you can’t pass up.

Don’t provide too much information.

It’s okay to tell your plans to start a business, but don’t tell your financial projections, work stability, if you need to improve your skills, etc. You want them to think of your business as something positive for you and natural progression. Only share detailed information with those you are closest to or those you fully trust.

Tell your co-workers.

Once you’ve told your management you should tell your co-workers. This can be done face-to-face or in an email. It’s okay to tell your overall plan of starting a business, but just like with your management team, don’t go into too much detail. There will be naysayers and people will give you advice based on their own fears or even from jealousy. They will discourage you if you let them.

Help them find a replacement or train your replacement.

If it’s an option, it’s a good idea to help them find a replacement or train your replacement. At the very least, write a list of the most important points, processes, tips, and contacts. This shows your gratitude to the company, shows your colleagues that you care, and will leave a lasting impression.

Don’t leave work unfinished.

If you have ongoing projects that you can’t finish before leaving, make sure that the projects have been assigned and you’ve handed them off to the right person.

Quit with the idea that the company or your colleagues can become your client.

Many companies have hired past employees as freelancers. Your colleagues can become your client by moving to another company or by starting their own company. You already have a good rapport with them, which removes some of the barriers in business.

Finish strong.

Continue to do amazing work up to the last minute. Don’t slack or leave work unfinished. Don’t put the workload on someone else. You’ll be seen as uncaring and selfish. You want them to remember you as dedicated, motivated, and a team player. You’ll be remembered for the last work you did and they’ll recommend you based on that memory.

Show your chain of command and mentors that you appreciate them.

Your management and mentors have had the most impact on your career. Even those you are not close with have invested time and effort into your career. They deserve a personal thank you. It’s best to do this in person, but if that’s not an option then a personal note is acceptable.

Ask for a letter of recommendation.

Ask your manager for a letter of recommendation. A LinkedIn recommendation also works. This is great to show clients and future potential employers.

Don’t discuss the company’s problems with others.

Everyone in the company has had their own experiences- some good, some bad. If you talk against the company and blame others this can ruin any future reference or possible work. Focus on the good and positive aspects and avoid any discussing any negative experiences.

This is true for general conversations, conversations with management, and an exit interview. During the exit interview it is okay to provide honest feedback with constructive criticism, but be careful to keep it positive and constructive.

Check on any salary you could receive.

Every company is different, but it’s possible to receive payment for unused paid time off or other paid benefits. Also, check on 401k or similar payouts, rolling, etc.

Confirm that you’ve returned any company property.

Be sure to return all company property including computers, electronic equipment, keys, books, documents, etc., and make sure that you’ve informed your manager that you’ve done this. This will help ensure that you don’t get a call asking you to return something that you don’t have. You don’t want to be the first person they think of when something can’t be found.

Send a Goodbye Email

You’re leaving friends and colleagues you have drawn close to. Many of them are people who have helped you through good days and bad; who have worked with you, and who have trained you and been trained by you. Many of them have grown close to you too and they want to hear from you.

Telling them goodbye will show them that they meant something to you. Tell them a little about your plans and thank them for the good times you’ve had. Focus on the good and avoid mentioning anything bad. Provide them with a way to contact you such as email, social media links, or a phone number.

Ending Thoughts

Quitting a job and starting your own business as a freelancer, solopreneure, or an agency founder requires courage. It’s not easy to quit a stable job to start a business that’s not so stable. Quitting a job where a company has invested in you and leaving your friends often brings a feeling of guilt. This is easier if you quit your job gracefully.

It isn’t easy to quit with grace, but if it’s handled delicately the process can go smoothly and you won’t make enemies or hurt others in the process. Quitting gracefully is a sign of professionalism and it’s an indication of how you will run your business. Don’t forget planning- with special attention to financial planning to run your business.

Show your management and co-workers how you’ve appreciated them and they will continue to appreciate you with great references. They may even become clients themselves.

We want to hear from you. Have you ever gracefully quit your job to start your own business? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

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