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My company, which deals with advertising, seems to be intent on passing on costs to field employees such as myself. I'm a photographer and I'm required to drive wherever I'm needed but most often to an assigned territory. The current territory is 65 kilometres away. That's twice as far as what I was originally hired for. Expenses such as the cost of gas have increased but expense relief has not changed from when I was originally hired.

Based on where I live, I think I could branch out on my own and travel much less. Many customers are starting to handle the advertising process themselves now. According to several current and former supervisors, they may even be interested in eliminating my department. Would it be a conflict of interest to leave and start a business doing what I do now? And what would be the best way to approach it?


Heather Faire

Human resources executive, Atlanta

My first suggestion is that you make sure you are considering all your options before you take a big decision on something such as starting a business.

First, ask yourself if this is about the money. If it is, ask your employer for a raise in salary or hourly rate to mitigate the increased expenses. The worst that can happen is they say no. If they say yes, your problem is solved, at least for now.

If this is about security, ask your employer directly if there are plans to reorganize or reduce staff and if your job could be at risk. While they may be letting people go, you may be one of the folks that they want to keep. Either way, you have more information to plan for your future.

If this is really about autonomy and controlling your destiny, then this will require more due diligence, research and soul searching. Research what it takes to start your own business, both formally and by talking to people who have been successful and unsuccessful. Find out what the benefits and risks are and what sacrifices you have to make.

Finally, if you feel it's time to go out on your own, don't burn any bridges. Be honest with your employer, let them know your intentions, talk about any obligations – legal or otherwise – that you would need to honour. Consult a lawyer about navigating potential conflicts of interest or proprietary materials. Then work with your current employer to develop a mutually beneficial timeline for transition and exit, as well as a set of agreements covering how to handle current and future customers.

You never know when your current employer might be a future employer, partner or customer. Leave your job on good terms, start your new venture on solid ground, give it everything you've got and enjoy the adventure.


Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

I get a sense that you have job-satisfaction issues, but you don't specifically address that. You do note your fear about potential job elimination, and downsizing is a constant threat when businesses are looking to save money.

You bemoan the fact that the company has not kept up with expense "relief," but that is a fact of life with most employers in tough economic times as they try to download the cost of doing business onto employees. Have you talked with your employer about reconsidering its compensation protocols?

As to problems regarding your territory and driving distance, if you do go out on your own, you can claim mileage and related expenses at tax time, which may be an advantage if it gives you more value than your current compensation. Have you considered offering your services as an independent contractor to your employer?

If you want to break away altogether (freelance, for example), you might still be able to work for some customers of the company, or even accept referrals from the company – this will go much more smoothly if you are up-front and honest about your intentions. If you have other expertise related to photography and advertising (such as digital production) you might be able to offer a menu of services for a more competitive rate, and thus build up your own customer base.

You need to take a very close look at your terms of employment, specifically any non-competition clauses or restrictions concerning setting up your own business in the same field. You might want to consult a business or corporate lawyer to ensure that you are not inviting a lawsuit; and an accountant to make sure your decision has true economic advantages for you.

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