I could subtitle this post: Leave with a lifeline.

One of the more important questions about your new consulting business is whether you have a choice. These are tough times. Are you consulting because you want that as a business, because you want to be on your own? Or are we talking about something that happened to you, not something you chose?

In my post on this yesterday I cited Risks Yes, Structure No from The New York Times, a good piece for the classic consulting business that you plan carefully and start on purpose.

If you’re that other kind of consulting startup, if you’re even worried about having that happen to you, then focus first on building the retainer relationship with the company that is letting you go.

Think about this before it happens: Often you get just a very quick conversation about it with the boss who’s letting you go. In that moment, at all costs maintain an attitude that makes it seem like you’d be easy to work with as a consultant, after you’re no longer an employee.

Maybe you can even offer, then and there, to continue working on the projects you’re now doing, but as a consultant, for a fair rate.

Think of the possibility: The boss doesn’t want to let you go, but has to. If you do your exit right, you make that very difficult talk much easier for both of you, you solve some problems your employer will have in getting on without you, and you get a consulting client you can work with to get your consulting business started.

Even if you just want consulting as a catch-loss strategy until you get another job, think of how good it will sound during the interview for the next job when they ask you how you left your last job: “I started my consulting business, and they were my first client.”

Do you not have a project you can cling to on a consulting basis? That’s a bad sign. Think fast, come up with that project your boss has been wanting to do, or one he or she will approve of, one that solves a problem he or she hasn’t been able to get to.

Get the lifeline to hold onto while you leave.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.