How to tell your boss you’re going freelance

You’ve decided to go freelance. Congratulations! You’ve told all your nearest and dearest: your significant other, your parents, kids, friends, maybe you’re so excited you even mentioned it to your grocer. Now there’s just one more person to tell, and in many ways, it’s the most important person – your boss. ‘What’s the big deal?’ you ask. Don’t you just slide a letter of resignation onto their desk one day, and have done with it? Sure, you could. But you could also remember that industries are small, people talk, and there’s no reason to burn bridges. If anything, leaving your boss with a good impression upon your exit could help you build new bridges for your freelance career. So, here’s how to tell your boss you’re leaving like a true gentleperson.

1) Put as much effort into your exit strategy as you did with your entry strategy

There are lots of ways to exit.  You need to make sure it's the right one.
There are lots of ways to exit. You need to make sure it’s the right one.

When you were applying for your job, you put your best foot forward. You made sure to spell check all your correspondence; show up to interviews on time; dress, act, and speak professionally; and generally convince everyone that you’re a great, competent person. That’s the impression you should leave your colleagues, and especially your boss, with too.

Don’t lower your standards in the weeks leading up to your departure by coming to work late, leaving early, or dressing inappropriately. Definitely don’t get sucked into office politics (remember that all those little internal squabbles will seem petty and silly soon). And if you are handing in a formal letter of resignation, make sure it’s slick and polished. You could even consider giving your boss a small gift along with your letter, if they were a particularly good mentor.

2) Chat face-to-face

You have to be able to look them in the eye.
You have to be able to look them in the eye.

It’s been scientifically proven that people remember the first and last things. If you apply this to relationships, this means that people will probably remember the first time they met you, and the last time they ever saw you. So, make your last face-to-face interaction with your boss count. Ask to have a sit-down with them, chat through the reasons you’re leaving, thank them for their guidance, and for giving you opportunities, and assure them that you’ll honour any non-disclosure or restraint of trade agreements. Since you’re on your way out, they won’t be an authority figure for much longer, so you can afford to be a bit warmer and more personal (within reason, of course).

Because industries are small, it’s not inconceivable that you’ll run into this person again down the road. People move companies and change roles. Your boss might end up at one of your freelance clients, or they might set up their own business and want to hire you. Or they might want to partner with you at some point. Leave them with a good impression of you so that any of these options are a possibility.

3) Let them know your reasons for leaving

They will want to know why you want to go it alone.
They will want to know why you want to go it alone.

You probably thought long and hard before deciding to go freelance. Some of your reasons may have had to do with family – starting one, or just being able to spend more time with yours. Perhaps you’re an entrepreneur and you want to run your own business. Maybe you want the freedom to travel. Maybe you want more flexibility during your work day to pursue more hobbies. Maybe you’re even planning on emigrating. Whatever your reasons, there’s no reason to be secretive about them. If your boss knows the factors that influenced your decision, they’ll be more understanding, and may even suggest ways to help you accomplish your goals. By sharing your thoughts with your boss, they’ll see you as a multifaceted person, and not just as an ex-employee.

4) Let them know it’s not about the money

Money can't buy how this feels.
Money can’t buy how this feels.

And it really shouldn’t be about the money. Sure, you can make a very lucrative living from freelancing, often much more than a salaried employee. But freelance gigs can also be uncertain, so you may experience lean times. You may even experience several months where no income is coming in because you’re between projects or in the middle of a big project. Either way, money may be a factor, but it shouldn’t be the decisive factor. The most successful freelancers are people who really love what they do. They’ve found their calling, whether it’s in a creative, technical, teaching, consulting, or any other field. They enjoy the work, and don’t chase the money. Instead, they realise that if they do the work well, the money will come.

This is an important point to emphasise to your boss. Firstly, because they might assume that your decision to go freelance is actually just a ploy to get a raise. And secondly, because they might actually offer you a raise. However, if you make it clear that it’s not about the money, they’ll see your decision in its genuine light.

5) Offer to finish off projects

Be noble.
Be noble.

Your employment contract should specify how much notice period you’re required to give. If not, check the employment laws in your country. National legislation differ slightly from country to country, but it’s generally a week to a month. However, you might want to give a longer notice period than legally necessary to finish off projects. If you’ve been integrally involved in a project, it won’t be easy to replace you, so you could offer to stay until its completion. This also gives you the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of your labour.

If giving a long notice period isn’t practical, you can offer to complete the project as a consultant, or a freelancer. Offer to work 2 days a week, for example. This also gives you a good transition period to build up your own client base. Essentially, you should try to ensure that your leaving causes as little disruption as possible, and help the company to plan the work flow.

6) Offer to train your successor

Leave things as you found them.
Leave things as you found them.

Since you’re leaving, there’s no reason to keep all the tricks of the trade to yourself. If the company has managed to find a replacement for you already, offer to train the new person. Introduce your successor to the team, to your clients, to the sweet spot to kick on the disobedient vending machine. As we mentioned above, you’re basically trying to make your departure as least disruptive as possible for the company. Your ego might want a bit of disruption (‘Now they’ll see how important I am’), but if things fall apart after you leave, that becomes your legacy too. Wouldn’t you want the projects that you worked so hard on to succeed?

If it’s not possible to finish up all your own work and train the new person, offer to stay later with them (that overtime pay will come in handy). Or again, you can come in as a consultant, or on a freelance basis.

7) Keep in touch

Your network is your most valuable commodity.  So don't forget to write.
Your network is your most valuable commodity. So don’t forget to write.

We cannot emphasise this enough: industries are small. And you’re likely to end up working with people over and over during the course of your career. Ex-colleagues, ex-clients, ex-bosses can all open opportunities for you in the future, so don’t burn bridges.

If your company has a system for keeping in touch with past and present staff, for example a company network on Kalido, you should consider joining it. Networks help you stay up to date with what your contacts are doing, and are a great source for making new contacts. If your company doesn’t already have a network, you can create one yourself. Make a public network that anyone associated with the company can join, or a private one just to keep in touch with your team. Your team members (and boss) are valuable resources. You may need their advice, skills, referrals, or contacts when you’re on your own, so stay in touch.

An ex-boss (and ex-colleagues in general) can be extraordinarily helpful to you as a freelancer. The right (or wrong) word to the right person could open up a world of opportunities for you, or shut every door in your way. So, stay on their good side. Even if you think your boss is an awful human being and you can’t wait to see the back of them, there’s no reason you can’t be the bigger person and end the relationship cordially. And if your boss is actually a very decent person, they certainly deserve that much. So, now that you know how to break the news to your boss in the most cordial way possible – go forth and conquer, freelancer!