June 21, 2024

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How to Quit Your Job and Escape the Cubicle

Create an Exit Strategy

An exit strategy is a plan to gracefully and professionally leave your job. It is a multi-step process. Mine will take six months to complete. It shows respect to your boss, coworkers, and affiliates. Nobody expects you to work at a job until the day you die. They do, however, expect you will leave in a professional manner if and when you make that decision.

You need to remain on good terms. This is a very small world, and a former boss may end up self-employed (or worse, unemployed) and become a very valuable customer, partner, or resource. I am consistently amazed how people change when they leave unsatisfying jobs. I know a woman who became immensely happier after she left a hostile architect’s office. I never would have suspected she could be happy if I had not seen her away from that unsatisfying workplace and engaged in her own new business.

When you formally notify your employer that you’re leaving, you will be an instant celebrity. Coworkers will ask where you are going, why you chose to make the change, and who will take your place. Coworkers will also watch you closely. They will make sure you show up on time and work a full eight hours. They will make sure you really are working. They will observe when you leave. Coworkers will look at you differently, giving glances ranging from “The slob is finally leaving” to “I wish I had the courage to do that.”

You also need a written resignation letter. This should be professional, as you do not know who else besides your boss will read this. After telling your boss, you can write something vague and appreciative, like, “As we discussed, I will be concluding my employment here on June 30. I want to thank you for bringing me onboard, teaching me valuable skills, and providing a friendly atmosphere. Thank you.”

This resignation letter may be the most significant document you create at work. It is also a golden opportunity to thank your employer for giving you a wonderful job, even if the opposite may be true. Regardless, the resignation letter is not the vehicle for showing your dissatisfaction. If you have issues with any coworkers or anything at your job, write your issues on a notepad and then burn it.

Your boss or her boss may call you into the office, close the door, and say, “What can we do to keep you here?” This would be the counteroffer and I recommend you reject any counteroffers as invalid. You’re not leaving for more money-you’re leaving for something better.

Back when I was a cubicle dweller, a coworker named Kevin, whom I highly respected, resigned and gave our employer a two-week notice. Two weeks went by. The following Monday, our boss called a staff meeting and in walked Kevin. Our boss started the meeting with, “I’m sure you have heard that Kevin here resigned. OK, let’s start the meeting.”

My impression of Kevin never recovered from that. What did the firm do to keep him onboard? Did they offer more money, more vacation time, a signing bonus? Nobody knew. One thing was for sure: Kevin’s loyalty was suspect. Everyone knew that if the firm ever wanted to fire Kevin and replace him with somebody cheaper, they could justify it by citing his disloyalty. Do not put yourself in the position Kevin did. When you announce you are leaving the company, you really are leaving and not entertaining any offers to stay.

Your final two weeks of employment are not the time for anything casual or untoward. That includes going to the bar with your coworkers and discussing how everybody hates their jobs. News of people quitting or getting fired travels quickly. You have to leave on a positive note and give your coworkers a professional final impression of you.

Create Your Exit Strategy Timeline

I am proposing you create a six-month exit strategy timeline. This will give you time to determine what you want to do, prepare for the transition, and be good to go when you wake up one day and find yourself self-employed. I have created a sample timeline starting with January 1 and ending with June 30. When Independence Day arrives, you can celebrate your career’s Independence Day.

You can have a party. You can have a ribbon-cutting at your place of business. You can have cake and behave as if your new baby were coming home that day. Invite friends, neighbors, and professional contacts. Start your new career with a bang.

You can follow this timeline.

January: Review your relationship with your employer

Review your personnel file. Verify the vacation and sick time you’ve accrued and at what rate you are accruing them. Look for any derogatory items in your file. Seek out the author and ask for either an explanation or retraction. Write a memo that contests everything the author said. For example, suppose someone complained she saw you drinking alcohol on company property. Write your memo contesting her claims, saying either you have never consumed alcohol on company property or it was at a social event (holiday party, new customer celebration, etc.) and your boss granted permission. Be honest. You may need your employer as a reference. Make sure your file paints you in a positive light. Anything derogatory must be outweighed by something favorable.

Look for any noncompeting contracts. They may be in the personnel file or they may be somewhere else in the boss’s or HR office. Someone will probably ask, “Why do you want to know?” Say you may be starting a business someday.

Get the insurance details. Find out how much you and your employer (combined) are paying for your insurance. Make sure this amount includes what you (combined) are paying for your family.

Get your own books on self-employment. If you’ve been borrowing them from a friend, thank that friend for letting you borrow them. You should have your own copies so that you can make notes in the margins and dog-ear pages. You’ll have access to your books 24 hours a day. Most are available in paperback at modest pricing. Make a small investment here and get your own copies.

February: Sharpen your saw

Write your Definite Mission.

Decide where you want to do business. Yes, this includes checking the cell phone service, Internet coverage, and tax structure at the place you want to open up shop.

Do your SWOT Analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can Google “SWOT Analysis” and find some valuable information at no cost.

Create your elevator pitch and remember you are currently employed but looking at changing careers. You can start yours with, “I am researching creating my business, which will…” Remember, you’re still in the cubicle. You have to honestly share that info whenever sharing the elevator pitch or explaining why you bought these books. Be accurate and honest.

Become cheap. Start stockpiling cash for your business. Cancel any vacations or large personal purchases. You have better uses for that money. Frugality is a habit. You need 21 days to embrace a habit. Make personal frugality your first.

Make gift requests count. My family publishes Christmas lists, so I asked for a Sprint gift card. I received one and used it to buy a new phone that I use for my business.

Create an entity. This includes registering your Internet domain name(s) and official business name. Establish an e-mail address at one of your domains.

March: Establish your social media presence

Create accounts at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. If you’re too busy or uncomfortable, hire a professional to do this for you.

Get a professional picture in electronic format. Upload this to your profile at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and any other sites you choose.

Create a blog. Establish links between the blog and the services I describe (above). If you’re too busy or uncomfortable, hire a professional to do this for you.

Establish some mechanism for storing your passwords. There are several available, but I recommend using an online free password manager called LastPass. Finding yourself handicapped because you cannot log in to a web site is downright silly. Do not let this happen to you. I made more money in 2009 helping people recover lost and forgotten passwords than I did killing viruses and malware.

April: Get business-class tools

Purchase a smartphone that lets you send/receive e-mail, take pictures, surf the web, and back up data to a computer. You won’t always be at a desk, but customers will assume you are usually available.

Buy an accounting package. I recommend QuickBooks. You can run your business on this. Spend time learning it, or, if you’re too busy or uncomfortable, hire someone to do this for you.

Get a business-class computer. The primary factor here is price. The business-class computers I resell cost $900 and last 5+ years. You should expect this from a tool that you will use to run your business. I’m not talking about a $300 big-box netbook special here. I’m talking about a business-class computer that you will use exclusively for the business. Buy a $300 special for the kids. That will help keep them away from your business-class tool.

Use an offsite backup mechanism. I discuss offsite backups and the cloud at length in this book. Review both strategies and decide which one you will embrace. Remember, something is better than nothing.

May: Become legitimate

Create a web site or hire someone to create the web site for you. Since you’re starting out, you do not need a fancy one. You do need one that works, features correct spelling and grammar, and presents your company in a positive light.

Get professional business cards. You may be surprised at how cheap they become when you order 1,000 or more.

Catch up. I gave you a lot of work in February, March, and April. Use free time this month to catch up.

June: Wrap up loose ends

Find a small-business-owner support group in your area.

Find small business advocates online. In addition to my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter connections, I have found Wall Street Journal Small Biz at Twitter. Subscribe to this list. You can also connect with me at these three sites.

Filter the negatives. You’re starting a business here-it is no easy task. Filter negative news from your life. This includes the nightly network news, political talk shows, and useless sitcoms. You can find intelligent and positive sources of information both online and on TV. This will be a tough habit. Be strong.

With at least two-week’s notice, tell your boss you will be leaving the company. Be strong. Do not accept any counteroffers.

Do not go to the bar with your coworkers.