I quit my corporate job 30 years ago to start Patriot Software Inc.

In 30 years, I have hired a lot of employees, fired a few, watched as some head into retirement, and had a few quit and move on to start their own business. Since I’ve been both the “quit-er” and the “quit-ee,” I’d like to share some tips on how to correctly quit your job to start a business without leaving a smoking crater in your wake.

Here’s a checklist on how to do it right.

  • If you’re leaving your current job to start a business, it’s okay to be working on your new business in the evenings, but don’t work on it during the day while your employer is paying you. That’s stealing—at least that’s how HR will see it.

    As soon as your new business starts distracting you from your job with your employer, it’s time to resign. Why? Because you don’t want to head out the door as a time thief. New business fail for all kinds of reasons. If yours fails, you may want to get your old job back. That will be harder if the last line in your final evaluation reads, “stole company time for personal projects.”
  • Your resignation notice should be short and sweet. Give your employer a two-to-three-sentence letter that tells them how grateful you are for the opportunity to have worked for them, and how much you’ve learned. In this letter, simply tell them that this letter is your two-week notice that you’re resigning. Don’t blab on about how you’re going to start a business, or hike distant mountains, or sail around the world. Your letter of resignation is an important professional document that closes the professional relationship, the content within should reflect that.
  • Give your employer a full two-week notice. Depending on your situation, your current employer may need more time from you. If they ask for more time, and if it’s within your power to help them, help them.
  • Never take any clients with you when you leave. None, nada, zip. Start your own business fresh, with a clean slate and clean reputation. A big business can crush you, and it will if it feels like you’re threatening its ability to turn a profit. Legal issues can really put a hurting on you and big business have lots of lawyers at their disposal who can make up lots of money and time sucking issues to pull you off course. Even just the threat of something like that can destroy your reputation. It’s better to earn it naturally, from scratch.
  • Don’t recruit your friends and co-workers to come with you. Leave by yourself. If a fellow employee wants to leave your employer, that’s up to them. But, don’t help facilitate it. Just to put this in perspective for you, If you help recruit your fellow workers away from your employer, know that your employer will view this more negatively than if you outright stole their clients!
  • Never steal any “stuff” from your employer (e.g., office supplies, equipment, etc.) Walk out with clean hands.
  • Tell your employer that if they have questions for you after you leave, you’ll be more than willing to answer those questions for them. Chances are they won’t call you after you leave. But, if they do call, do your very best to help them. This is one way to move towards a positive relationship with your company, which may help your new business in the future. Your personal roots there may become professional assets.
  • Once you turn in your resignation letter to your employer, work your butt off. Don’t slack, don’t coast, and don’t make them wish you would just leave. Their memory of your work ethic will be largely formulated by your last two weeks of work effort. So try to impress them. You never know, you may someday need that memory to be a good one.
  • Document everything you’ve recently worked on for your employer. Put them in great shape before you go. Organize files, organize systems. Be the very best model employee they’ve ever seen.
  • Never talk badly about your employer (i.e., before, during, or after you leave). Make it a point to only speak positive things. New customers are sensitive to how you talk about past relationships, so this is a good practice to keep. If your old employer gives you an “exit interview,” don’t tell them what a jerk your boss was. Only speak good things. If you can’t think of any, don’t say anything at all.
  • If your employer begs you to stay and makes you a counteroffer (i.e., extra money to stay), tell them you’re flattered, but don’t accept their counter-offer. Once you’ve turned in your resignation notice, it’s over, and you need to move on. You’re not quitting your job to go make more money, you’re quitting it because of the lifestyle change, the need to be your own boss; to set your own schedule. A counter-offer probably won’t help with those things, and in a few months you’ll wish you would have quit.
  • On your last day, leave on a high note. Don’t just disappear. Make it a point to shake hands with your boss(es) and co-workers. Thank them. Wish them well. Tell them what a great experience it was working with them. And give them your forwarding contact information. Leave with your head held high.
  • Just as your parents probably told you, “never burn a bridge!” Although you may never want to work for this employer again under ANY circumstances, don’t burn that bridge. Instead, leave that bridge standing, because you can never predict the future. For example, in my case, my former employer surprisingly turned out to be one of my first customers during my first year in business. This was not planned. And without the money that their account/sale provided to my fledgling business, there’s a reasonably good chance that my business wouldn’t have made it through that first year!