Donna Maria Coles Johnson
Donna Maria Coles Johnson

This week, I’m continuing my 12 Steps to Transitioning From Employee to Entrepreneur series. Our steps so far:

Step 1: Decide what you want your life to look like
Step 2: Research your industry options
Step 3: Consult your family

(Did you do your homework?)

Step 4 is all about paving the way for a smooth departure from your job.

Now that you know you’ll be taking your exit when the time comes, you must pave the way for a smooth departure. It’s never too early to make sure you set yourself up for a successful transition that does not burn any bridges and helps turn your co-workers into advocates for your new brand.

Here are 5 steps to ensure a smooth transition from employee to entrepreneur:

1. Be better than the best you can be.

During the months or years before you take your leave, be the best employee you’ve ever been.

Remember that, with the benefit of hindsight, most of your colleagues will view your last bit of time at the company through the lens of the fact that you started your new business before you left your job. If, in hindsight, it looks like you were shirking your job responsibilities so you could work on your business, it will not leave a good taste in their mouths.

Do not work on your business during company time. Do not use company supplies (copy machines, faxes, etc.) for your personal benefit. Be impeccable with your word and your work. Be 5 minutes early (on time) for everything. Be the best team player you can possibly be. Not only will this lay the groundwork for a smooth departure, but it could also help you land some future business opportunities.

2. Don’t violate company policies or practices.

Check your human resources file to ensure you have not signed any legal documents in which your employer reserved rights in any intellectual property you create while you are in their employ, even if you created it during off hours. (Yes, I have seen employment agreements like this before.) Likewise, make sure that your new business will not violate any promise you may have made not to compete with your employer after your employment terminates.

Check the employee manual (if there is one) to make sure you are not violating any employee policies or practices by managing a business while you are also working for the company.

If you find anything questionable, consult an attorney to clarify your rights.

3. Be on the lookout for future business.

As you prepare to leave, look carefully for people who could become your customers in the future. For example, if your new business is as a public relations specialist, perhaps your employer could use your expertise once you hang out your own shingle.

There may also be others at your office who are also transitioning from employee to entrepreneur, and perhaps getting to know them better while you still work together could pave the way for some profitable collaborations once you leave.

Even though you might have to wait a while to fully capitalize on new business, it’s never too early to start laying the groundwork for future collaborative ventures.

4. Curb your social media use.

If you’re like most entrepreneurs, social media will play a big role in your success. The sooner you begin using social media to help your brand gain traction, the better.

In doing so, be careful that your use of social media does not become so prolific that your work colleagues and superiors begin to think that you may be spending too much time on your business and not enough time doing your work. Remember that many social media posts are accompanied by a time stamp. Even if you schedule a post during off hours, if it goes live during work hours, you may be calling unnecessary attention to yourself.

Consider using social media in ways that do not call attention to the fact that you are engaged in activities that may compete with your attention during work hours. At least until you sever ties with your employer, capitalize on opportunities to use social media as your brand and not as yourself personally.

5. Plan how you’ll announce your departure.

Look back over the course of your employ and consider how other employees have left your company to either take new jobs or start new businesses. Does the department have a “going away” party? Did your predecessors make any mistakes you want to avoid?

The bottom line here is to exit while you are at the top of your game at the company, and to maintain solid professional friendships that can help you be successful in your business down the road.

Follow this space for the next 8 weeks to continue your journey from employee to entrepreneur!

Next Installment: Step 5: Get Your Finances in Order

I’ll be back with step 5 on February 29, as we continue your quest to transition from employee to entrepreneur. Meanwhile, post your comments, questions and feedback below. I promise to come back and answer you!

Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a nationwide trade organization offering classes, training resources, and product liability insurance to small business owners. Click...