How to Turn Your Soon-to-Be Ex-Employer Into Your Startup’s Biggest Customer

rsz_computerwithphone by Tim Parker on December 20, 2012

Does your small business meet a need of your soon-to-be ex-employer? Don’t ignore this obvious opportunity. Most people want to do business with people they already know, which makes your almost-former boss (assuming you leave on good terms) a perfect potential customer.

Here are four steps to selling yourself to the powers that be:

1. If you’re quitting, tie up loose ends. You’re supposed to give two weeks’ notice before you quit. Give more warning if it will take you longer to complete current projects or tasks. Be complimentary and thankful for the time you’ve spent at the company. Highlight the lessons you learned — and how they inspired you to start your own company. Finally, if your new small business is in a competing field, assure your employer that you will not go after current customers. The idea is to leave on the best terms possible, so that the company is open to hiring you as a contractor.

2. If your departure is due to a layoff, negotiate as you leave. Maybe you didn’t expect to leave, and small-business ownership wasn’t in your immediate plans. Your current employer may consider hiring you as an independent contractor. If your contract does not include a severance package, and your layoff is because of company downsizing rather than performance, pitch your ability and willingness to serve as a consultant or contractor. If necessary, your negotiation tactics may include becoming a freelancer in place of receiving certain severance benefits.

3. Sell the “contractor” angle. There are obvious benefits to hiring an independent contractor. First, the hiring company does not have to provide health insurance or other benefits. Nor does it have to supply office space. In addition, hiring you as a contractor could eliminate the expense of training a new employee. Point out these and other advantages to your former employer.

4. Don’t just concentrate on your boss. To land business from your soon-to-be ex-employer, you’ll probably have to approach your boss or another high-level executive. Don’t overlook the opportunity to pitch co-workers in the process. If your business appeals to the people you’ve worked with, they could make great customers as well.

By the way, if you’re thinking about moonlighting vs. going solo full-time: Don’t try to double dip unless you have permission. If your side business might appeal to your current (and not former) employer, proceed with caution. Make your pitch only if you’re certain that your company has no policies against the practice and would be open to such an arrangement.