Q: I work for a software engineering company and do freelance consulting on the side. I have built up my freelance practice to the point where I feel ready to do this full time, and in fact, my freelance workload has gotten so big that it's starting to interfere with my regular job. The problem is, I'm in the middle of a project at work that could take several months. If I quit now, it could leave the company in a real mess, and I want to stay on good terms with them because as a freelancer, my current employer could very well turn into a client. What should I do?
A: No matter what you do or what the nature of any given relationship might be, it's never a good idea to burn your bridges. You might not think a particular relationship or association will be worthwhile today, but at some point that person or company from your past may unexpectedly be just what you need to accomplish a certain task or get something important done.
What's more, it's important to carry forward not only the relationship with the company itself, but also any relationships you've developed with individuals within that company, and people from other companies you may have done business with over the years in your capacity as an employee. In some situations, it may be acceptable for salespeople and other professionals to send out announcements to their customers if they are planning to make a move to a new company, and if you can carry some of these relationships with you into your new entrepreneurial venture without stepping on your former employer's toes, by all means do so. Besides customers, you may carry forward relationships with trusted vendors and suppliers that may also be very valuable to you. Is there one person in particular in your company you've looked to as a mentor? There's no reason you can't still call on that individual from time to time for advice and guidance in your new career.
Don't let people just find out that you're leaving. Make a formal announcement. Tell your employer of your plans--don't just tell them that you're quitting; tell them about your new business. Assuming you're not going to compete directly with your soon-to-be-former employer, there may be a possibility of them becoming a client, associate or partner of some sort. Let them know you're interested. Even if you can't do business directly with your former employer, your boss and other colleagues may be able to give you some leads if they know what you're up to.
It's important that you treat your employer the way you will want to be treated as the employer of someone else. Whether that means you'll compromise on a departure date, or compromise on what kind of time you're going to be able to give your new business as an entrepreneur over the short term, you still need to be faithful to the employer you currently have. The Golden Rule applies to employers as well as employees and entrepreneurs. In the short term, what this means is that you may have to make some sacrifices and stay on longer than you may want to in order to tie up your loose ends gracefully. In the long run, making those sacrifices will earn you the reward of having an additional resource at your disposal as you enter into your entrepreneurial venture.
Make your departure a celebration, not a point of contention. You'll be surprised at where you'll want to network and where you may want to continue relationships you currently have.
Janice Bryant Howroyd is founder, chairman and CEO of Torrance, California-based ACT-1 Group, the largest woman minority-owned employment agency in the United States, with more than 70 offices, 300 full-time employees, 65,000 temporary "stars" and annual revenues exceeding $500 million. Founded in 1978 around Howroyd's personal philosophy of "Keeping the Humanity in Human Resources," ACT-1 is today a multidivision conglomerate serving such clients as Ford Motor Co., Gap Inc. and Sempra Energy and meeting demands for well-educated and well-trained temporary, full-time and contract employees. She has twice been honored by the Star Group as one of 50 Leading Woman Entrepreneurs of the World.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.