If you’re working a 9-to-5 and are seriously planning your departure, you should be very proud of yourself. Many freelancers find themselves at the step that comes right before where you’re currently at, and they’re questioning their ability to find success out on their own. So, pat yourself on the back for the work it took you to get to this point!
Of course, once you’ve finally made this decision, you need to take the next important step—quitting your job. Ideally, this situation will go down without burning any bridges. With that in mind, follow these steps for quitting your job to freelance full time, in the most professional way possible.
Go Over Your Non-Compete Agreement
There’s a good chance you signed one as part of your HR on-boarding to your current company. If you read it and realize that your new freelance role represents a conflict, don’t sweat it. The fact of the matter is that most non-competes are difficult to enforce. In most cases your company will either not have a case, or will decide not to pursue legal action. That said, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so take a look at the fine print.
Non-competes are hard to enforce, but you should always know the terms before saying 'Sayonara.' Click To Tweet
Moreover, proceed with caution when it comes to talking to current clients about your new freelance venture. If you’re still employed, this seemingly harmless act can get you in trouble. But if a client gets in touch and wants to move with you after you’ve stopped working at your current company, this situation is a little more grey area and actionable. In any case, and for the best advice relative to your non-compete agreement, consult a lawyer.
Besides determining how to handle future client conversations, the existence (or not) of a non-compete might affect how you position your work departure. If your new role directly competes with your current company, you might want to keep the details of your next adventure vague.
Tell Your Boss First
There may be a company-wide announcement about your departure, but this shouldn’t be how your boss finds out you’re leaving. Schedule a meeting with him or her, and present a printed document with your intent to quit. This will help demonstrate that you’re serious, have thought a lot about it, and most importantly—can’t be talked out of it. Your boss will likely inquire as to why you’re quitting and what you’re doing next, and the nature of your non-compete agreement may dictate how you respond.
Understand that you don’t owe anyone any explanation, but as part of quitting your job without burning bridges, if you have a good relationship with your boss, it can be bonding to talk about your next venture. Who knows? They may end up as your next client, or refer relevant business your way. Either way, if you’re connected on LinkedIn or Facebook, they’ll probably find out on their own, anyways.
Make sure that you’re also using this time to solidify connections with other employees by expressing your gratitude for the ability to work with them, and giving them credit for their role in your journey. Small gifts or thoughtful cards can be appropriate here.
Give Two Weeks Notice
If you’re in a burn-and-churn role like sales, your company may not take you up on your offer to put in two weeks before your last day, and you should be prepared to be let go on that same day—this means saving any files you might need and clearing out any emails or communications you don’t want laying around. (Author’s note: I worked at a place that didn’t let sales representatives stick around for more than a day after announcing notice.)
According to Daniel Gulati, the coauthor of Passion & Purpose: “The moment you tell people you’re leaving, you’re perceived as an outsider. You likely won’t be invited to certain meetings, and team-bonding events will take on a different dynamic. You don’t want to be hanging around too long.”
Of course, the opposite may also be true, and your company may be completely unprepared to replace you. In this situation, you’ll have to weigh the benefits of sticking around and continuing to collect a steady paycheck a bit longer, versus finally having the time to build your freelance business.
If it looks like the search for your replacement (and the resulting need for their training) might take longer than two weeks, this might be the perfect opportunity to suggest working with them on a freelance basis as one of your first clients. It’s a win-win way to keep the relationship strong while forging ahead with your freelance dreams.
Use Your Remaining Time to Be Helpful
First off, if you know a replacement—suggest them. Your boss will feel a big sense of relief knowing that they have someone with which they begin the search.
If you’re not swamped by training your replacement, use your remaining two weeks to do everything you can to provide value to your company. This is not a time to sit complacently while collecting your last paycheck. Instead, work to make it easy for your replacement to get up to speed by organizing documents, access, and instructions they’ll need to hit the ground running when they get started.
While you’re doing this, it’s also a great time to reflect on all the great things you’ve done for the company, which can be useful when updating your resume, LinkedIn, and even your portfolio website.
Quitting your job? Use your wind-down time to reflect on wins. Click To Tweet
Don’t Talk Trash During Your Exit Interview
An exit interview is a great opportunity to provide thoughtful feedback, and again, to reflect on all the great things you did while at the company. It is not, however, an opportunity to air any and all grievances. If you’re interested in quitting your job without burning bridges, demonstrate discretion with what you choose to talk about.
Another way to look at it: Avoiding being quotable. HR teams might ask some tough questions. Honesty is a great policy and very helpful to talent staff, but keep in mind that specific references to individuals, especially if it’s minor gossip or airing of grievances, could come back to haunt you. Be transparent, but tactful.
During an exit interview, balance transparency with tact. Click To Tweet
Quitting Your Job Without Burning Bridges
It’s hard to leave the comfort and security of a 9-to-5 job, and sometimes the actual act of separating can feel even harder than the decision to do it. By showing your employer and colleagues respect, and spending your last few weeks being as helpful as possible, you may find that maintaining the relationship down the line is easier than you thought.
What is your best advice for quitting your job without burning bridges? Tweet your thoughts at @andco, and we’ll share our favorites!