Fractional Leadership and the Fractional CMO

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This blog series will outline some high-level considerations and offer some insight into the five major types of Fractional Leadership: marketing, sales, operations, finance, and technology.

The information is a consolidation of my personal experience as a Fractional Leader (FL), retaining other FLs in businesses I managed or manage, interviews with FLs on my podcast, Win-Win—An Entrepreneurial Community, and my network and relationships with other FLs.

My experience in operations and being a Fractional Leader in companies running on EOS certainly contribute to my knowledge of operations. I am not, however, a subject matter expert in marketing, sales, finance, or technology. These topics are written in reliance on business owners and FLs in those fields — from a 30,000-foot perspective.

For this blog, we’ll focus on the Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (FCMO).

Know When Your Marketing Strategy Needs Help

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re not fully satisfied with the results of your business’s marketing strategy. You know there’s room for improvement, and chances are you’ve come to one or more of the below realizations:

  • Your marketing efforts are scattershot without a clearly defined story and message geared toward a clearly defined target market that runs through every single thing you do.
  • You’re frustrated with the declining results you’re seeing from your sales and marketing and know you need to step up your game, or things will fall apart.
  • You’re also frustrated with and know marketing agencies are no longer the answer for your particular problem because they require so much of your or your team’s time to direct and supervise, or perhaps they don’t get what you need.
  • Your company has a gross revenue of $5–$50 million. Most of your growth was based on your strength in sales, but you’ve probably never had a marketing leader who has “been there and done that” as a partner with a sales organization and cannot afford one full-time.

So, what is next? You have or can get more tactical, in-the-trenches marketing help internally or through a marketing agency or consultant. But you recognize that you might be throwing away money on this without an FCMO to take over the strategic leadership of these resources.

Do You Need a Marketing Agency, Consultant or an FCMO?

How do you know whether you should engage with a marketing agency or consultant or a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer?

The short answer is that marketing agencies and consultants are generally suitable for short-term, discrete projects like setting up your target market, brand messaging, creatives, a new website, or a rebrand. If you have the capacity and internal leadership to supervise the consultant and then carry out all the follow-through that naturally comes after their project, this may be a good option.

If, however, you lack that internal bandwidth, you may be throwing away a lot of money by hiring a consultant because you’ll lack the focused attention to oversee the engagement while it’s going on, as well as for the follow-up execution afterward. You won’t get the full advantage of what you retained them to do.

Marketing agencies can oversee ongoing pay-per-click, print, email, blog, content marketing, videos, or other kinds of marketing campaigns on an ongoing basis. But who’s leading them? Who’s ensuring that their efforts are part of a cohesive strategy? Do you or does someone on your team know what to look for so that the money you’re spending with them isn’t going to waste? Are they continually iterating and improving? Are the messages they’re putting into the world on your behalf consistent with what your salespeople are saying and communicating? Do they reflect a message that demonstrably gets your clients or customers the way you do?

If you or someone on your team has the experience and capacity to oversee a marketing consultant or agency’s work and can continually ensure its effectiveness and consistency with your business and its clients, then that’s great! Those are likely the best resources for you, especially in your earlier stages of growth.

But if you don’t have the bandwidth to oversee their efforts in a robust way, an FCMO is an excellent and cost-effective resource. They can give you a fast, low-risk way to bring that experience, expertise, and bandwidth in-house to ensure you’re getting the biggest bang for your precious marketing buck.

Be Sure to Ask These 3 Questions When Hiring an FCMO

If you’ve decided that hiring a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer is the best course of action for growing your business, there are specific questions you should be sure to ask when vetting for an FCMO.

  1. Ask them to tell you about the marketing teams (including external vendors and internal teams) they’ve built or led. You want to find someone who hasn’t just been a solo consultant where they did all the heavy lifting themselves. Even if they did a great job as a solo practitioner, this does not mean they can do it at the CMO level for you if they haven’t successfully done that before.
  2. Ask if they have been a CMO fractionally before and inquire about that experience. Fractional C-level leadership requires different skills than full-time leadership. Even those FCMOs who have successfully been full-time C-level executives before may not succeed in a fractional engagement.If they seem very tactics-focused, this may be a bit of a red flag. It may indicate that they don’t understand strategic marketing leadership. Most of the great CMOs I’ve met and heard from almost always emphasize the target market, story, and message before they get into specific tactics.
  3. Probe whether they are on the same page with you regarding the purpose of marketing in your business. Is it purely and only a lead generation tool — performance marketing? Or are you looking to build brand and reputation for the longer-term — brand marketing?This type of distinction will make a huge difference in their focus. If you’re out of sync on what kind of outcomes you’re looking for, then the whole experience will be very frustrating for both of you. Clearly explain what’s important to you without any embarrassment and ask them to explain their point of view or plan on that.

These considerations are just some of what goes into understanding what a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer can do to bring your company to the next level. If your current marketing is in good (or good enough) shape, is your sales team properly capitalizing on the demand created by the marketing team? In our next blog in this series, I’ll discuss how engaging a Fractional Chief Sales Officer (FCSO) can ensure they do just that.

What Is Fractional Leadership and Can It Help Your Business?

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As a small business owner, have you reached the point in your journey where you’ve hit a “ceiling,” or what I call the Entrepreneurial Catch-22, in your business growth? A point where you can’t scale without bringing on an experienced C-level leader, but you also can’t afford someone like that until after your business has scaled.

Most entrepreneurs who survive the startup phase experience some variation of this. Don’t worry — there’s a solution: It’s called Fractional Leadership (FL). Working with a fractional leader can help your business break through that ceiling and escape the Entrepreneurial Catch-22.

Fractional Leadership means engaging with an experienced C-level executive who’s already scaled an organization like yours. By hiring a fractional leader and making them a part of your leadership team, you will fast-track your ability to break through the ceilings holding you back for a fraction of what it costs to hire someone like that full-time.

Why do so many founder-led businesses hit the ceiling again and again after passing through the startup phase? I believe it is usually because the people on the founding leadership team have never run a business that size before. And they certainly haven’t led a company as big as they want theirs to become.

The data backs this up. Contrary to the stereotype of entrepreneurs as experienced, savvy serial business starters, about 90 percent of startups are founded by people who never started a business before. If you’re feeling alone, like there’s something wrong with you because you don’t know how to solve the problems your business is facing now, you’re not. You’re just like 90 percent of the other small and midsize business owners out there.

Fractional Leadership Can Work for Any Small Business

My first FL client was a media company that creates ad placements on popular websites. In doing so, the media company gives their clients more revenue than they could get on their own. They grew 25 percent revenue in the first quarter I worked with them.

This was not because I have magical or mystical powers or am an ad tech guru. It was because I’d built a business from smaller than theirs to much bigger before. I knew where the pitfalls were and what challenges they were facing, and I’d already learned what to do through trial and error. I helped them skip past the learning curve.

Because they had me on board, there was no need for them to reinvent the wheel. I helped them gain the focus and discipline they needed to immediately attack some of the low-hanging fruit — the little things that were holding them back. They simply didn’t know how to do it.

Another of my clients was a cybersecurity firm that contracts with federal agencies. Their sales team had been hitting the ceiling for a while, and no matter what they tried, they couldn’t breakthrough. When I suggested they consider a fractional chief security officer (FCSO), the CEO was initially hesitant even though he had already retained me as a Fractional Leader!

I assured him he would get a lot further by trying it out than continuing to bang his head against the wall. So he bit the bullet and interviewed three FCSOs I introduced him to, each with relevant federal contracting experience.

Fast forward three months later. Kristen McGarr of Adroit Insights, the FCSO he chose, had embedded herself with the team on the days she spent there. She cost much less than the salary, bonus, benefits, and taxes they would have paid hiring someone full-time, and as a vendor, she started and ramped up in weeks, not months, as a major executive hire would have.

Kristen hit the ground running, learning how things worked and using her past success and knowledge to restructure the sales process. She knew what was important to track, coached the existing team to dramatically increase their closed sales, and hired and trained new team members to position them to grow. They grew more in the first year after retaining her than they had in the previous four.

Outsourcing Customer Service — Fine. But C-Level Leadership?

People know about outsourcing and utilizing freelancers for less-skilled activities like answering phones, data entry, and virtual assistance. In fact, the global outsourcing market for IT alone was $333.7 billion in 2019. But it sounds crazy to think of outsourcing C-level executive Leadership. Right?

But the truth is that Fractional Leadership isn’t as foreign a concept as it initially appears. There are elements of it in the way we have been using attorneys and accountants for decades, if not centuries. We consult with someone about the most sensitive parts of our business and accept their guidance and leadership in our financial, compliance, and legal decision-making even though they aren’t full-time employees and only bill us by the hour.

If your business is hitting the ceiling and you and your leadership team aren’t sure what to do about it but aren’t scaled big enough to bring the experience and expertise you need in-house, full-time, you aren’t the only one.

In the United States alone, the latest data available (2017) from the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy shows 5.3 million businesses with 1-19 employees and nearly 6 million with up to 499 employees, with total small firms making up 99 percent of U.S. businesses.

Let me remind you, the vast majority of those business owners have never done this before either. But the fact that you’re reading this blog right now means you’re ready to explore how your business can break through that ceiling and grow!

Visit fractionalleadership.io or contact us today to learn more about how to take your business to the next level.

Do You Need a Fractional Leader® or Another Set of Hands?

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The main value of Fractional Leadership® is bringing experienced, been-there-done-that direction into your leadership team to collaboratively lead and drive execution by creating discipline and accountability around a certain core function of your business.
If what you need is primarily someone to personally get things done, then Fractional Leadership may not be right for you.

Instead, you might need to hire a manager-level person, elevate someone to a greater level of responsibility, or you may have the wrong person in a key role. If that person happens to be a family member, it creates a thorny issue. You may be tempted to retain an FL to escape having to make a difficult change with one or more of your people, in the hopes that the FL will “whip them into shape.” Unfortunately, the only solution to people issues is either helping them level up or replacing them with someone more suited to the role. Retaining an FL does immunize you from the need to make a change when you have wrong-person or wrong-seat issues. It simply costs more and delays the inevitable.

That being said, particularly with respect to operations, I have found that some smaller companies (usually those with five to twenty employees) match up well with FLs with experience at similar-sized businesses. In these engagements, the FL has a dual role of acting as a member of the leadership team as well as just getting stuff done. I call these “Doer Leaders”. Particularly for operations, there is sometimes a place for a dual head of operations and FCOO role, but it’s a tricky balance and you must ensure that your expectations are aligned with those of your potential FL. I’ll explain more about this in Chapters 8 and 9.

For example, Rachel Beider, founder and CEO of Press Modern Massage and author of Massage MBA, worked to scale a massage practice in Brooklyn, New York. She fought tooth and nail over about seven years to expand into seventeen treatment rooms in two locations.
But she was stressed out, overwhelmed, and anxious all the time. Everything was on her head. She had to supervise her staff, drive expansion to new locations, furnish the treatment rooms, lead marketing, and oversee everything else that went into running a business. She felt like it was actually running her into the ground. Rachel could not afford a full-time COO, so she finally connected with another woman who could act as her FCOO to take over supervision of the staff and execute on the various physical expansions. That way, Rachel could focus more on building the business, marketing, and clinical supervision and culture, things she loved doing and was great at. She credits her FCOO with restoring her sanity and her ability to expand her practice to five locations in less than a third of the time it took her to open just her second location.

  • For those who need more of a Doer Leader, there are two main approaches they can take:
    Hire a manager or head of operations full-time. They don’t have to be super -experienced in larger companies or be leadership team material. Business owners considering this route should understand that such a manager-level or head of operations will still cost more than the people they already have on board. Once they have a manager-level person on the team, they can then reconsider Fractional Leadership because the FL will then have someone they can rely on to drive day-to-day tactical execution while the FL brings greater strategic and accountability leadership.
  • Find a Fractional Integrator an FI or FCOO who’s looking for a more tactical, Doer Leader role in addition to the leadership element. I know many such people available and I usually introduce those business owners to two or three of them whom I can vouch for.
    In my experience, Doer Leaders are a relatively small part of the Fractional Leadership community because they work more hours for a smaller number of clients. Whenever I speak with potential clients, I always probe for a clear understanding of their expectations so I know if they’re looking for a Fractional Integrator more focused on leading, managing, and creating accountability (a “Manager Leader”), or if they’re looking more for a tactical, get’ ‘er done, head of operations (a “Doer Leader”). For those business owners who are looking for a Doer Leader, I let them know that I am more of the leadership, management, and accountability type of FL, and that I’m probably not a good fit for what they’re looking for.

For most business owners, the right time for Fractional Leadership is when they desperately need the experience, leadership, and ability to drive execution and accountability—that is, i.e., a Manager Leader. Fractional Leadership is usually not right for people who just need an extra set of hands.

Why Fractional Leadership Exploded: Crossing the Remote Work Event Horizon

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Before COVID, I worked on business development, trying to find Fractional Integrator (outsourced COO) clients regardless of whether they lived in my local area (New York City area) or anywhere else in the world.
The problem I faced was that people couldn’t imagine someone working at the leadership level with someone they couldn’t sit with eyeball-to-eyeball. Many just could not get their heads around that even if they understood and believed that Fractional Leadership would have propelled their businesses far further than they could have taken them on their own.
Everything changed in March 2020. People were literally forced to work with all of their employees, including their leadership teams, remotely. Most discovered that the sky did not fall down and productivity did not plummet when people worked from home.
After months – or longer – of remote work, I saw a dramatic shift in attitude. When people began to get their bearings, they realized that they were not limited by geography when putting together their best team.
Starting around May and June 2020, I and many other Fractional Leaders I know began getting far more inquiries and filled up our client rosters much more quickly than before.
Personally, I refer to this phenomena, combined with the increasing effectiveness of remote work and collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, Asana, and the like around that time, as crossing the “remote work event horizon.”
The term event horizon refers to the demarcation line around a black hole beyond which an object can pass by without being sucked in. But if something crosses within a black hole’s event horizon, even light, there’s no turning back.
As Zoom’s chief product officer Odel Gal said about the lockdown, “All the people that were resistant to using the technology were forced to use it.” Now my former colleagues are in no rush to bring their teams back to the office.
Even my own former company, which resisted my efforts to perform remote work experiments, decided not to return to in-person work even after it became permitted safety-wise.
Because remote work is now so prevalent, even at the executive level, bringing in experienced Fractional Leadership to solve the Entrepreneurial Catch-22 is much easier for business owners to wrap their heads around. Forbes now claims that its own prediction that over 50% of the workforce would be remote by 2027 was too conservative.
When leaders were forced to acclimate to people working remotely, they even realized that without time around the water cooler, so to speak, their people were about 13% more productive than they were in the office.
I think we have crossed the remote work event horizon. Once everyone was forced to try out remote work at least for several months, it let the genie out of the bottle. There will always be some people who are hard-wired to hate not working in person. And that’s fine. Very often people can find a Fractional Leader in their own city. If, before the pandemic, 15% of business owners would have considered a C-level, Fractional Leader, I estimate that perhaps 30-50% are now open to it.