Back when I was still employed with my old employer, I itched for the day when I could finally say, “I quit!” I dreamed up scenarios of how I’d type up my resignation letter, hand it in, and leave the salt mines for good. I even wondered if I’d end up like one of my coworkers, who went to lunch one day and just…never returned.
However, when it finally came time for me to say goodbye, I played by the rules. I told my supervisor about my end date not two weeks ahead of time but four. I filled out all the necessary paperwork and went through my exit interview. I even returned some old office equipment that had been lying around my house for months and that everyone had pretty much forgotten about.
It’s too bad that, while I followed all the rules of what a good employee should do while quitting, I didn’t think about what a good freelancer could take advantage of. As a result, I wasted a golden opportunity to snag a major potential client.
Who was this client? Why, my former employer of course.
How to turn your old employer into a client
Many aspiring freelancers are in such a hurry to leave their current employer that they don’t stop to consider that employer as a potential client. And yet, who better than your former employer to become your next and maybe even best client? You know your employer’s needs and pain points better than anyone else. You also know which person controls what aspect of the company business, from accounts receivable to tech support to social events.
How can you turn your former employer into a client just before you take off? Take these four essential steps:
1. Make your current work shine. Polish up your old work projects and pay special attention to any new tasks that come your way. Put in some extra effort now so you can reap the rewards later. Don’t become lazy just because you’re weeks or months away from being a FREE lancer…your current boss will notice that you’re slacking off on your duties and take these actions into consideration when the thought of contracting with you comes up.
In essence, think of your current work as a kind of “leave behind resume” of samples. Make these samples the best they can possibly be so your old boss will be itching to bring you back.
2. Network within your current job. If there is anyone at your current company or business that you have meant to introduce yourself to or work with, do it now. Find some way to get involved with that colleague’s project or work flow. If all else fails, hang out with him/her at lunch or after work, such as during a work-related outing.
These network connections will become invaluable to you when you attempt to win a contract with your old employer; for example, barring any corporate disclosure conflicts, they may provide you with contact names or even ideas on what you should pitch. They may also help your fledgling business get started by performing freelance services such as website or logo design. Your former coworkers may even become your future clients.
3. Do your homework. Take stock of what new markets your current employer is exploring, what kind of customer research is being conducted, and where new investments are being made. Most companies designate such efforts to specialized business development departments. You can later take advantage of this information when pitching your services.
To begin with, if your former employer is heading into a new business direction, he or she won’t have a sufficient labor force to accomplish all the tasks required. That’s where you can come in and mention how your services best fit into this new effort. Don’t be shy about throwing out terminology or customer info that only a company insider would be privy to- after all, that’s exactly why your services are superior to those of some “outside” contractor who doesn’t know the business.
4. Ask now. Don’t be bashful about asking your current supervisor if there is the possibility of performing freelance work with him/her after you leave. You might choose to highlight specific department needs that are currently not being addressed by the company. You don’t have to secure a definitive yes or no answer right now; the point of this exercise is simply to plant the idea in the mind of your current employer that you are available for hire.
It goes without saying that the steps outlined above should be performed as soon as you start thinking about quitting your current job. Hustling to network or clean up your projects with only days left until you bust out is not the best way to leave a good impression. However, if you can start coordinating your efforts with at least six months to spare, you’ll have built a very solid foundation of ex-coworker contacts and projects to refer to once you’re out on your own. This foundation will serve you well once you are ready to contract with your ex-employer.
A note about conflict-of-interest
If you have plans to contract with your ex-employer, be very wary of working with other clients who might place you into a conflict of interest position. Such clients (obviously) include competitors, but they may even include investors, activists and publications with whom your employer has had an antagonistic relationship. In short, don’t get too involved with your former employer’s industry before making a concerted marketing effort to turn that entity into a client.