From the November 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

It's pink-slip time in your boss's office. If you're lucky enough to get advance warning, you may have two weeks or more left at your job-and instead of seeking work, you're determined to use that time to lay the groundwork for your new business. You've dreamed about it for years, and now is your opportunity to make it happen.

First things first, says Dwayne Cox, business coach and founder of the Northern California Small Business Owners Association. "Get real with yourself about whether this is something you [are] really committed to and why," he says. "You [also] want to work through not only a business plan, but a marketing plan, a personal development plan and a professional development plan with timelines and numbers worked into them."

Though it may be a difficult time, you shouldn't stress out too much. "Focus on you. Many times, the demands on you increase after people know you are leaving," explains Melvin J. Gravely II, author of Making It Your Business: The Personal Transition From Employee to Entrepreneur (Impact Group Consultants). "People want you to finish things before you leave. Work hard, but do not do more than you have to. Spend your extra time and energy on you and your business."

Once you determine the specific business you wish to start, can you use your remaining time at your old job to start setting things in motion? "Know what you can and cannot do with your employer's resources [telephone, copy machine, printer and Internet]," cautions Gravely. "Use the high-end stuff if you can. If it is within the rules, use expensive equipment and software that could help you develop a professional brochure or a first-rate Web site." Depending on your relationship with your employer, this could be well within the rules-especially if he or she feels bad about having to lay you off. Your employer might be willing to help you in any way he or she can.

If you're planning to start a business in a similar field, ask your employer for contract work; he or she can be your first client. You can also talk to your co-workers about your business plans, says Gravely. "The people around you may be your biggest and best resource," he says. "Ask them questions about things you will need to know and don't-like technology or marketing. Run your plans by people you trust and respect."

Setting up a network of people is a key strategy during this lame-duck period. "Make sure you get contact information for the people in the company you want to stay in touch with," says Denise O'Berry, founder of the Small Business Edge Corp., a business management consulting firm in Tampa, Florida. "Remember that even if those people aren't the type to use your product or service, they may know someone who would."

Also expand your network to include small-business experts such as coaches, the SBA, your local Small Business Development Center and especially other business owners. These resources are generally free, and you can start to set up meetings as soon as you get the layoff news. "Leverage and collaboration are key," says Cox. "Build and use your support network."

Jay Steinfeld talked with every small-business expert he could find after he learned he was going to get laid off from his job as vice president of finance at a national auto repair franchise. He had inadvertently found out about the layoff four months before it happened. "I saw a due-diligence chart, and I wasn't in it," he recalls. "Once I saw I wasn't there, I thought 'This is not an oversight.'"

So Steinfeld, 49, began preparing-not only to start a business, but also to leave his company. He kept records of all the promises his employers made to ensure he would get his full severance package and compensation when it was finally time to leave.

Initially, Steinfeld began laying the groundwork to start a transmission shop. This idea failed-but his research and network of business advisors paid off, prompting Steinfeld to open an online blinds and shutters store in Houston instead. Today, his business, Blinds.com, is expected to hit 2003 sales of $10 million.

"Don't waste any time," Steinfeld says. "If you know you want to start a business, get to work and do it."