If you’re like most business owners, you’re probably wearing a lot of hats. You’re responsible for marketing, sales, operations, and maybe even finance. It can be tough to manage it all yourself, especially when trying to grow your business. That’s where a fractional COO can help. I interviewed Rachel Beider, CEO of Press Modern Massage, a consultant, and an author of Press Here: Massage for Beginners, to learn more about how a fractional COO can help business owners and whether or not you need one for your business.
What is a Fractional COO?
A Fractional COO is a Chief Operating Officer that works for your company on a part-time or interim basis. They’re there to offer you guidance, expertise, and executive-level leadership to assist you in avoiding roadblocks in your business model and ensure that you’re on the right strategic and operational path for maximum development.
Fractional COOs provide various services at a fraction of the cost of a full-time COO, making them an appealing success tool for small and medium-sized businesses and organizations just getting started without the cash for a full-time COO.
The Fractional COO model is becoming increasingly popular as businesses look for ways to do more with less.
What does a Fractional COO do?
The fractional COO’s duties vary based on the company’s demands, the CEO’s skillset, and the fractional COO’s skill set. There are a lot of tasks that a fractional COO can handle in numerous areas. The sole responsibility of a fractional COO is to run the firm better than it did when they joined it and to handle all operational issues to relieve you of duties and allow you to concentrate on your long-term business goals.
In general, though, these are some of the focus areas most COOs come to handle;
- Strategic Planning: Assists the CEO in long-term strategic planning by focusing on the company’s mission, vision, values, and goals. Long-term and short-term planning are two different things. They also have the knowledge and connections to see their initiatives through.
- Operational development and management: This might be anything from enhancing and reshaping the company’s operational core to identifying opportunities and risks. Creating long-term viable systems and processes, such as standard operating procedures, organizational restructuring of back end and front end systems, policy and procedure creation, and introducing new technology when necessary are all a part of operational development.
- Organizational development and management: Assists in developing and leading a sustainable culture and environment that enables the company’s growth. Consider hiring, communication, team management, and leadership areas to address.
- Project management and planning: Overseeing company projects that have been determined through strategic planning. They ensure that the project is proceeding as planned, that stakeholders are all on the same page, and that the project is progressing as it should. The fractional COO may completely manage or simply oversee projects with project managers depending on the business’s size and the project.
- KPIs and metric reporting: Reports on and improves key indicators to ensure and evaluate efficiency within the company. Consider sales forecasting, website, and social media traffic, data, client retention, and other vital metrics.
When should a Business Hire a Fractional COO?
Most business owners or CEOs wear many hats. They are responsible for the growth and profitability of the company, managing people and teams, developing new products or services, and ensuring smooth operations. But there comes a time when a business reaches a certain level of success that it becomes difficult for one person to manage everything effectively. This is when a fractional COO can be extremely valuable.
This is precisely why fractional COOs exist – to provide an extra set of experienced hands-on-deck without the full-time commitment or cost. Fractional COOs can be brought in for as little as a few hours a week or month, and they can help with anything from developing growth strategies to streamlining processes to hiring and firing employees.
This is true with Rachel. Her business had grown from having one room to nine rooms and more massage therapists, followed by exponential growth to open another branch in a different location with eight rooms. She was excited to take on new challenges; however, she quickly realized that managing two spaces was more than she could handle. She was handling everything herself, from hiring staff to training staff to managing the books. She quickly realized she needed help and brought on a fractional COO to take on some of the operational tasks, freeing her up to focus on what she does best – expanding the business.
The following are some signs that a small business might require a fractional COO. If you can relate to any of these, it might be time to start looking for a Fractional COO for your business:
You’re spending more time managing than improving
When you’re spending all of your time ensuring everything is running efficiently, you’ll have less time to develop new methods for pushing your company forward. If you’re so busy keeping your company afloat that you don’t have time to think about where it’s going or how you can help it get there, consider hiring a COO. A Fractional COO can take charge of the day-to-day operations of your business, giving you more time to focus on the big picture.
You’re expanding rapidly
If your business is growing quickly, it can be challenging to keep up with the demand. A Fractional COO can help you manage this growth by developing systems and processes that can scale with your business. They can also help you manage your finances and human resources, so you can focus on other aspects of running your business.
You don’t have time to plan for the future
When you’re too busy putting out fires, it’s hard to find time to think about where you want your business to be in five years. A Fractional COO can help you develop a long-term plan for your business, so you can focus on the present without sacrificing your future.
Your CEO is overwhelmed
If your CEO is trying to do too many things, it can be difficult for them to focus on the most critical aspects of running your business. A Fractional COO can help take some of the pressure off by handling day-to-day operations, so your CEO can focus on more strategic tasks.
You want to strengthen your company’s leadership
If you want to build a strong leadership team, a Fractional COO can help you identify the most qualified candidates and develop a succession plan. They can also help you implement training and development programs to prepare your leaders for the future. For instance, how Rachel was assisted by her COO in implementing Homebase, a small business tool for managing employee scheduling, time tracking, and communication.
You need someone to execute ideas
If you have a lot of great ideas but don’t have the time or resources to execute them, a Fractional COO can help. They can develop and implement systems and processes to help you get the most out of your ideas.
The Good News
So what’s the good news? Fractional COOs can be an incredible asset to a business. They can provide much-needed structure and support, freeing the CEO to focus on strategic initiatives and long-term growth.
In addition, a Fractional COO can bring a fresh perspective to the table, providing outside insights and ideas that can help take your business to the next level.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the day-to-day operations of your business, or if you’re simply looking for ways to take your company to the next level, a Fractional COO may be just what you need.
As a small business owner, are you at the stage in your company’s growth where you’re experiencing poor cash flow, stagnant business growth, increasing overhead, or low or dipping conversion rates? Perhaps your operations can’t keep pace with your sales revenue or are slow or mistake-ridden. You’ve tried several solutions, but nothing has worked, and you’re not sure what to do about it.
At this stage in your entrepreneurial journey, your company has likely grown big enough that you can no longer afford to continue without senior executive leadership of your operations, and you don’t have the time to fill in. The challenge is that you’re not yet big enough to afford a chief operating officer (COO) with the kind of experience you desperately need on a full-time basis.
Or, in some instances, people are ready to hire (or replace) a COO full-time but know that the selection of the right person is so critical that they don’t want to rush it and are willing to spend the six to 18 months it might take to find the right person. They engage with a fractional chief operating officer (FCOO) on an interim basis because they cannot afford to leave that seat unfilled and lose precious momentum during the search process.
How Does an FCOO Engagement Work?
If you’ve decided that hiring a Fractional COO is the next step for your business, begin with the end in mind. This is the typical mantra of FCOOs. At the beginning of an engagement, they will work with you to learn about your business and determine where you are now and where you want to go.
Once you’ve determined that, they will work with you to map out a plan for getting you from point A to point Z. Depending on the critical issues weighing you down or causing you the most pain, they may tackle people issues, process issues or data issues first.
If successful, your Fractional Leader (FL) will help you grow and scale in a way you could never do on your own. They will ultimately help you interview full-time COO candidates, collaborate with you in the hiring process, and then transition a new COO into the position. Alternatively, using your new structure and processes, you may be able to transition the head of operations role to someone internally. The FCOO can help you train and mentor that person to level them up into the role.
The next step is to decide what type of FCOO is best suited for your business.
What Type of Leader Do You Need?
In terms of size and scale, I’ve seen two major types of businesses engaging the help of a Fractional Chief Operating Officer — small and midsize businesses. There are Doer Leader and Manager Leader FCOOs custom-made for each.
The Doer Leader
If you’re a small business, you probably have five to 20 employees and one person, or maybe no one besides yourself, on your leadership team. You need help with organizational structure, processes, and better data, but you also need someone to get higher-level stuff done. I call the kind of FCOO you need a Doer Leader.
FCOOs of this type typically come at a lower price point relative to Manager Leaders. Business owners often engage them for one day per week or more. Because, in addition to their leadership role, they’re also doing more tactical operations leadership or getting multiple cross-functional projects done, they may work two or two and a half days per week.
The Manager Leader
If you’re a mid-sized business, you probably have 20 to 250 employees and have a leadership team of two or more people. Your primary need is the leadership of someone who’s already built a business as big or bigger than yours and can put into place the structure, data, management systems, and processes your business needs to get to the next level. I call this kind of person a Manager Leader.
This type of Fractional COO typically has experience with larger organizations and engages with their clients at a higher level to determine the proper structure for an organization, define its goals, establish the right metrics to ensure it achieves those goals, and then drive implementation of those goals at the leadership team level.
These FCOOs typically, though not always, work for about one day per week or less. They frequently come at a higher price point relative to Manager Leader FCOOs for the same time commitment because of the more strategic nature of their leadership and their experience running larger organizations.
What to Ask When Hiring an FCOO
As with any FL, it’s critical that you communicate your desired outcomes and deliverables. By doing so, you can ensure that you’re on the same page with your potential FCOO. Consider the following when interviewing candidates:
- If industry experience is essential and you believe the learning curve is too great and would take too long, ensure that the FCOO candidate has the industry experience you need.
- If you need help on a specific kind of activity or transaction, whether that’s an M&A transaction, a due diligence process, a new product rollout, or a new system rollout, make sure you’re satisfied the FCOO candidate has experience with these types of operations.
- Be clear about whether you need or expect them to physically work in your office, whether the engagement will be fully remote, or some combination.
Although each Fractional COO engagement looks different depending on the industry, your style and values, and the organization’s size, they result in improved team health, standardized better processes, real traction toward goals, and less stress. It also means that as a business owner, you can finally regain the feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment from the businesses you founded.
This blog is part of a series that outlines some high-level considerations and offers 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. I’ve written these topics with reliance on business owners and FLs in those fields — from a 30,000-foot perspective.
If your company’s marketing or sales efforts aren’t generating the level of performance you need, check out my blogs discussing the Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (FCMO) and Fractional Chief Sales Officer (CSO).
“I dream things that never were, and I say ‘Why not?'” — George Bernard Shaw
As an entrepreneur, you leapt headlong into your venture without all the answers, confident you’d figure out what you need to know along the way. Wearing many hats and spinning lots of plates, you inspired others to join you, and, together, you grew. Now your business has hit an impasse or plateau. You know what got you here isn’t going to get you where you want to go. But you’ve maxed out your capacity and don’t have the in-house knowledge, skills, experience, or perspective to do what’s necessary to take things to the next level.
If this sounds like you, congratulations! You’ve already built a viable small business. What’s more, you may be just one key hire away from jumpstarting your next phase of breakthrough growth.
Why a Fractional Leader?
With the fractional model, you gain access to a higher level of executive leadership whose talent and experience would otherwise be unavailable to you. Fractional leaders aren’t cheap, but they can be affordable to a small business or cash-strapped startup because they work only part-time for each client and typically don’t require benefits or equity.
In essence, you’re “renting” a fractional executive for a period of time to help your business grow to the next level. Once your fractional executive has accomplished that goal for you, they’re usually happy to help you find, hire, and groom their full-time replacement, if necessary. Then they move on to their next growth challenge — generally what excites them most.
You may be wondering: With so much to do, how can a fractional executive possibly transform my business if they’re not working full time? The short answer is it depends on how you use them. If you’re looking for someone to take mundane tasks off your plate, you’re unlikely to achieve the level of growth you’re seeking.
But if you let them focus primarily on growing the business, an experienced fractional exec can get the job done much faster, more effectively, and with far less risk than a first-timer. One way to think of it: hiring a fractional executive is like plugging your business into a higher voltage battery. While you may not need to use all the battery’s power to run your company just yet, the engine that will drive your business’s growth won’t even start without it.
Why Start With a Fractional COO?
Today, you can hire all kinds of fractional executives — CMOs, CFOs, CHROs, etc. Many founders/CEOs build whole teams of fractional executives to grow their businesses. However, if you’re considering your first fractional hire, and you need help growing your business more or less across the board, you may be best off starting with a fractional chief operating officer (COO).
Why? While the function of a COO varies from business to business, the scope of a true COO’s responsibility is the entire organization, not just a single business function. They must take a holistic view of the business and understand how it all works together as a dynamic system — made up of interconnected functions, processes, inputs and outputs — itself part of an even larger system, for example, the marketplace.
In addition, a fractional COO often has deep hands-on experience in most, if not all, aspects of a business — sales, marketing, product development, finance, technology, HR, customer service. They not only understand the system as a whole but also have at least working knowledge of the different subsystems and how they all relate to each other and the whole.
To use a medical analogy, one of the functions of a good COO is to serve as a sort of trusted primary care physician who can evaluate the health of your entire business, make accurate diagnoses, prescribe the right treatments or cures, and refer you to specialists as necessary.
To carry the analogy further, they must also have an excellent bedside manner, knowing how to communicate effectively with all different types of employees, across all functions and contexts, 360 degrees, as well as customers, vendors, partners, investors, and so on.
Executing for Business Growth
However, the “doctor” analogy stops there. A fractional COO isn’t a mere consultant who spends the metaphorical equivalent of 15 minutes examining your business, writes you a prescription, and then beats a hasty retreat. No, a fractional COO works in your business as well as on your business, moving fluidly from analysis, strategy, and planning to execution; driving progress each week; holding people accountable for results; testing, measuring, learning, and — if they’re doing their job — continuously improving performance and growing your top and bottom lines.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.”
A great fractional COO will take your vision and run with it, in the process making your long-sought business dream a present-day reality. You can learn more about the benefits of fractional leadership here.
About the Author
Mark Scrimenti is a Fractional COO and Fractional Integrator for businesses running on EOS. He has 15-plus years of leadership experience in e-commerce, digital product development, sales, marketing, and customer experience. Connect with Mark on LinkedIn or visit his website at vividpathconsulting.com if you’re ready to jumpstart your own business’s growth.
As founder and fractional chief operations officer (COO) of Meta Viable Solutions, I have realized the Power of Process and how it can benefit businesses regardless of size. Process is integral in building a strong business from the ground up. It allows you to provide efficient business models that will help your business produce, grow, scale and profit.
Process also allows you to pivot and tweak your business, when necessary, as all systems don’t work all the time. As a leader and visionary in your company, process allows you to execute your great ideas into tactical, approachable steps to reach high-level goals.
A Business Path to Better Precision and Perspective
The 4P Model for a Business Path to better Precision and Perspective allows business objectives to be realistic and manageable. This model helps with effectiveness and efficiency when managing your team and avoiding employee burnout. It infuses your company with productivity, motivation, ingenuity and progress.
The 4P Model consists of Planning, People, Process and Projects. These four elements are all interrelated and must work together for you to be successful. You can’t have new systems and technologies without people.
There needs to be planning, process integration, training and special initiatives or projects to get ideas and plans off the ground. One can’t exist without the other.
- Planning is key before embarking on a new initiative. We often refer to this stage as strategic planning. It allows you to put the required people, budgeted finances, and time in place
- People are one of your most valuable resources. You will need people both internal and external to your company to achieve your goals. What roles and expertise do you need to accomplish your business goal or project?
- Process is needed to integrate different business functions, experts, systems and operations in your company, so they are working well together. How will you get to where you are going? You will need to ensure everyone is working together and the right communication processes and workflows are implemented.
- Projects are a means to the end goal if they are planned, managed and executed well. Your company may have several business initiatives occurring simultaneously. How do you prioritize, track and manage them? Projects allow a way to assign responsibility to team members, evaluate goals and identify special projects to focus on initiatives that drive you toward professional growth and business goals.
Delegating people internally or hiring a team, consultant or Project Management Professional (PMP) can help create manageable and practical projects to reach your business goals.
Successful Businesses Realize What Process Can Do for Them
Let’s take a minute to focus on number three, PROCESS.
The EOS Traction method recommends that all you need is 80 percent of your six core processes documented at 20 percent. It suggests that every company has at least six core processes: Human Resources, Marketing, Sales, Operations, Accounting and Customer Retention.
Well-documented and communicated processes are invaluable and beneficial to your company. Whether you are a one-person business or a 250-employee company, you have processes within your company. You have a method and technique you have developed to work internally and externally with others. These “processes” may be documented, or they may be in your head.
The question is, are they effective, and is everyone working off your built-in processes?
Effective processes save you time, money, and resources in the short and long term.
Four Benefits of Establishing Processes
- Clear processes create a clear direction for your employees, customers and strategic partners. It develops transparency and sets expectations of how policies, procedures and tasks are to be performed. Everyone involved understands how matters will be handled before proceeding with a task. Process mapping, documentation and training are best practice tools to communicate your processes to all those involved internally and externally.
- Process ensures better quality assurance. Having clear processes allows for more consistency and less variance in errors. It allows for productivity and efficiency. Process helps your employees understand their role in the larger context of the company and better meet company standards. Additionally, customers can expect a certain positive level of customer experience when it comes to customer care. Process allows similar quality standards, so your team is accountable, responsive, and meeting a certain standard with your product, service and professionalism.
- Process allows you to build systems and capacity. It is a foundational element (a part of the 4 P model) to integrate different functions and people within the company. It allows for consistency across multi-sites and helps you expand your business once you develop a successful, efficient process model (one that works for you and your customers).
- Process saves you time and money. Everyone is on the same page and understands how things are done, avoiding the loss in time and “figuring things out.” You will experience higher employee and customer satisfaction and better external strategic partnerships with established processes. Process allows you to be resourceful and less prone to liabilities.
Oftentimes, business owners and leadership feel lost and overwhelmed when starting or pivoting a business. Consider Fractional Leadership. Hiring a Fractional Leader can help bring your team and business forward.
If you found these concepts helpful and would like a deeper dive into strategic, practical tips and an easy-to-follow guide on building a stronger foundation for your business, pick up a copy of my book, Striking Business Gold: Build, Scale, Profit for Success.
About the Author
Sasha Lalite, MPA, PMP, is the owner and Fractional Chief Operations Officer of Meta Viable Solutions LLC. As a Fractional COO & Strategic Operations Advisor, Sasha provides expertise to businesses on an outsourced, part-time, or project basis. Connect with Sasha here. She can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 347-470-7901.