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).