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What does a COO do

Did you know that it wasn’t until Larry Ellison brought on a COO (Ray Lane) that Oracle properly unlocked the massive growth it became known for? By making significant tweaks in strategy and operations, in just his first five years as COO, Oracle’s revenues grew by 216% and profits by a massive 1,235%. 


If you’re thinking that profit growth of over 1,200% looks pretty decent (and in real terms, it does - the average small UK company makes just £12,000 in profit ; 1,200% growth would take that to £144,000 in profit per year), it may be time to consider bringing on a COO.


But COOs are expensive. A recent survey by my favourite operations network found that the average seed-stage salary for a COO is around £100,000 a year, rising to around £180,000 a year at Series B. Average turnover of UK small businesses is only about £290,000, so unless you want to spend over 60% of turnover on one single hire, a full-time COO is pretty inaccessible for most. 


What does a COO do

But a part-time one isn’t. As a Fractional or Freelance COO, I’m available to early stage companies for a fraction of the full-time cost and I can help generate significant improvements in operational efficiency pretty quickly. 


But how? What do I actually do all day? I spent a week taking note of all the different things I do so that I can show you how Pay As You Go COO has helped almost 150 small businesses get more shit done in the last year. 


Let’s dive in. 


What does a COO do on a Monday?


6.30am

Since people who exercise regularly are 15% more productive and my whole business model is about helping companies get more shit done, I try to either start or end each day with some form of exercise. I never 100% achieve this goal because it’s something to point myself towards, not something to beat myself up about. 


Today, I’d planned to take a spin class, but the Apex app isn’t working so, instead, I do my second favourite form of at-home cardio - a speed walk on the treadmill whilst watching Netflix. At the moment, I’m watching New Amsterdam and hating the toxic management style of the main character - just set ONE goal and stick with it!


8.30am

I aim to be dressed and ready for work by 8.30 each week day. Since what you wear can significantly impact your productivity I like to wear an actual outfit, tempting as it is when I work from home alone to just stay in gym clothes and feel slightly gross but comfortable all day. 


Weekday mornings start with a quick check of emails, LinkedIn messages, Slack networks, Asana inbox, and Whatsapp messages. I hate being disrupted by notifications (they’re, let’s be honest, just there to increase a SaaS’s DAU metrics, not my own capacity to get shit done), so I have every kind turned off and I check in only a couple of times a day. 


I also check my finances every single morning - both personal and business accounts. That’s either, for the former, paying my credit card (I pay it daily so I can both claim those sweet sweet Amex points AND never be in deficit to my actual cash balance - yes, I’m obsessed with financial planning), or, for the latter, reconciling my Free Agent so I always know exactly how much I need to set aside for VAT and Corporation Tax. 


Once I’m done with emails and finances, I’ll dive into my to-do list and get a few things ticked off - usually a balance of client work and work for my own business with client work always coming first. This morning, I'm preparing for a kick-off call with a new client later in the week. I prefer to let clients tell me about their business because what they speak about first tells me a lot about what their priorities are (versus, often, what they should be), but I do like to do a little market research to understand the operating context. 


What does a COO do

11.00am

Each Monday at 11am, I meet with a MedTech I advise and we look at the current plans and long-term priorities and make sure that everything lines up. We’re prepping for a raise at the moment, so there’s a huge amount of customer research going on and the team is nailing it. 


12.00pm

I rarely eat breakfast (I’m just never hungry in the morning) so I tend to take an early lunch instead. I love that working from home has allowed me to get more time to properly prepare and enjoy food and I now make almost all my meals versus almost none of them when I was full-time in an office. 


Today we’ve got leftover lentil shepherd’s pie with a champ topping and it’s so very good. 


1.00pm

I’ve got some client priorities to get ticked-off in the afternoon; I’m preparing invoices for a bi-monthly payment run for one client which means that I’ll spend a few hours sorting through the ones that have come into my inbox over the last few weeks and pushing them through to the accounting software so they can be sent for payment. 


In a few days, I’ll also make the payments myself. It’s a real honour that my clients trust me to be inside their bank accounts and spending their money for them so that they can free themselves up to focus on other priorities. I spend some time allocating invoices to the right project codes and accounting categories - this means that the client can spend less time trying to remember the details at the end of the financial year. 


4.00pm

I have my bi-weekly Marketing call with the amazing Caroline who helps me with my own content marketing. We spend time thinking about my newsletter (more on that tomorrow!) and discussing the interesting free resources I’ve come across in the last few weeks that I can compile to share with my LinkedIn followers. 


5.00pm

I’m knackered by this point in the day and I’m firmly on Team Rest so I do a final check of my Asana task list and get my priorities sorted for tomorrow. I keep my to-do list in Asana in four sections - ‘do today’, ‘do tomorrow’, ‘do this week’, and ‘do later’. I check each section every day to make sure I always have an eye on both long and short term priorities for both my business and my clients’. 


10.00pm

For me, a productive day starts with a good night of rest the day before so I’m an early night gal through and through. I like to head to bed by 10pm and I listen to a podcast to try to be asleep by 11pm at the latest - it takes my brain a hot minute to wind down after a day of context-switching and focus. I’m currently OBSESSED with Nothing Much Happens - just lovely standalone bedtime stories for grownups in which nothing much happens - so good for switching my over-active brain off. 


What does a COO do on a Tuesday?


6.00am

I’m up and about but I’ve got spin in the evening, so I can skip the morning workout and I sit with a coffee and a book instead. I’ve just started Dan Roam’s Show and Tell. I love giving presentations and talks, but I know a lot of the Founders I work with struggle with it, so I’m interested to see what new tips I can pick up to help them grow. 


8.30am

At my desk and ticking off my notifications, then diving into some more client work. A company I’m supporting is rethinking their Objectives for the next year and I’ve been helping them ideate some quantitative measures of success for their Mission Statement. 


How you define whether or not you’ve achieved a very subjective goal (like ‘improve outcomes for xyz group’) is an important consideration when you’re thinking about motivating your team. People need a quantitative to hook onto in order to completely understand what’s expected of them and how they’re doing against those expectations.


One of my specialities is helping Leadership teams put quantitative metrics on ostensibly qualitative goals - that way, there’s no ambiguity about whether or not it’s been achieved and everyone knows where they stand. 


09.00am

My bi-weekly newsletter goes out this morning! It’s all scheduled a week in advance, so I don’t need to do anything other than anxiously check the open rate. I average about 60-70% open rate for the email version and the LinkedIn version gained 250 subscribers in its first week alone, so I feel like people are enjoying what I’m putting out.


If you’re not already subscribed, get it on LinkedIn here and by email here


09.30am

One of my absolute favourite things to do is to work with the incredible Operations Nation on their COO Course. It’s an 11 week course designed to help operations leaders build up their skills and confidence to land the difficult-to-define role of a startup COO role and to succeed in it. 


This is the 5th cohort of the course and my session today is all about the COO’s role in designing and implementing Strategy in a startup. The participants have already watched a video that I pre-recorded about my Strategy framework and read my book How To Write Your Strategy and today we’re doing a Q&A, which I love. Anyone on the course can ask me any question and I can show real-life applications of my frameworks. The questions are awesome and keep me on my mental toes which is such a gift. 


11.30am

Back to client work - this time it’s the kick-off call I prepared for yesterday and the follow-up that will come out of that. This is a brand new client who found me via LinkedIn and booked a free Discovery Call (anyone can do that, just head here). We’ll start as I start all client relationships - by asking what’s keeping them up at night. 


What I work on as a Freelance or Fractional COO varies wildly from client to client, but the core aim is to take some of the friction away so that the company can run more efficiently and effectively - I sometimes refer to myself as being like organisational WD40. 


We’re doing a day of work per week, but spread over four days, so about 2 hours per day. I find this works really well for my clients because they feel like they’re getting a full-time, consistent COO presence, but for only a fifth of the cost. 


What does a COO do

6.00pm

I come up for air in time for a spin class from a trainer, who, based on the instructions today, seems to hate me on some fundamental level. But exercise is so important to my mental health and my mental health is so important to my ability to run my business and support my clients so I suck it up (and silently swear a lot). 


Pints of squash and some dinner later, I do a final tidy of my email and Asana inboxes and make sure I’m ready for the next day before I head to bed.


10.00pm

I think I make it about three minutes into tonight’s podcast before I fall asleep. Voice-controlled lights and Spotify’s sleep timer are the MVPs of tonight’s wind-down routine. I have a neurological disability that sometimes makes it a real struggle to move, so, a few years ago, I set all my lights up to be voice-activated so I can, when I need to, lie down and just ask Google Home for darkness. It’s the dream. 


What does a COO do on a Wednesday?


7.00am

I thoroughly sleep through my alarm; yesterday’s spin class clearly did a number on me. But I’m working from home this morning (usually on a Wednesday I’ll take myself to a co-working space to get some human interaction - and free coffee - but I’m out this evening at an event and I have a long list of work to get through) so I give myself a break and get ready. 

9.00am


Wednesdays are the days I work on my own business - usually on content marketing and sales and this morning is no different. 


I write an article each week for my website’s blog - The Operating Table - as well as a bi-weekly newsletter full of tips and tricks to help growing companies. I post every other day on LinkedIn from either my personal page or the Pay As You Go COO one. It’s a decent amount of content to get through, but Caroline and I have a good system in place at this point. 


My favourite place to write is on my treadmill desk. I wrote all four of my business eBooks on the treadmill and I usually write my articles on it too. It somehow helps my brain get into a really zen flow state - though I do have to pause it every so often if I’m stuck on a sentence!


5.00pm

After a long day of writing (and, let’s be honest, snacking) it’s time to wrap up to head to an event. I send Caroline the article for next week’s content and she’ll help to cut it down to share it on LinkedIn. I’ve also approved all the graphics for upcoming posts, sourced some interesting free resources for the next newsletter, and planned some upcoming webinars. 


6.00pm

Tonight is the Operations Nation 4th birthday party at Techspace in Shoreditch. I live in Walthamstow, so it’s a quick 15 min train for me. Lots of great chats with fellow operators!


What does a COO do on a Thursday?


06.30am

Back on that spin bike, baby. Again, I think the instructor might hate me - why are the hill climbs so hilly?!


08.30am

A quick check of emails, messages, and priorities before I dive into the day. 


10.30am

As a part of my commitment to improving five year survival rates for innovative early stage companies, I give some of my time each month as an Expert-in-Residence at Imperial’s Enterprise Lab. I did my MBA at Imperial and it was a life-changing experience for me. It’s a real privilege to stay connected to the college through the Enterprise Lab and to help cutting-edge research projects come to market. Last year, startups that came through the Enterprise Lab raised £267m in funding; it’s an incredible platform for future company growth. 


Today, I’m heading down to South Ken where the campus is to meet up with one of the team and catch up on interesting developments. 


1.00pm 

I get back from a great morning in South London and it’s time for more client work.


Today, I’m paying the client’s bills that I prepared yesterday - including paying my own invoice to them. It never stops feeling weird to pay myself from someone else’s bank account but I’ve been doing it since my first startup in 2018 and it’s more often than not the case that I take on the responsibility for tracking all cash in and out when the company doesn’t have an FD. I’m a pretty finance-forward COO (two of my parents were mathematicians and I learned financial planning before I learned to ride a bike - still not entirely sure I can do the latter when it isn’t stationary) so it makes sense for me to take it on. 


2.00pm

I have a regular call with a Business Coaching client. We’ve been working together for a few months now, doing a call every other week. Today, we’re reflecting on some difficult feedback and learning how to use it for growth. We finish the call with a clear list of actions for the two weeks between now and the next call. I’ll check in with them via our dedicated Slack channel in a few days to help maintain motivation. 


3.00pm

I have a quick 30 minute chat with a fellow Fractional who is thinking about expanding and adjusting their service offering. A get a decent amount of messages from other Fractional or Freelance C-Suite people who are looking for advice on how to position their offering to the market. It’s a relatively new approach to work, in the UK at least, and we’re all working hard to showcase the benefits to potential customers who might not know they can get great advice and support for less. 


What does a COO do

4.00pm

Next-up is another Business Coaching call. This one is with a person who is thinking about their next step on the career ladder and we’re looking at what options are available as paths for Operations people. My Coaching clients are split quite nicely between business owners and other Ops leaders - for the former, we tend to look at the overall plans for the business and the practical realities of being an entrepreneur. For the latter, we tend to focus more on personal development and the variety of career paths that are available to Ops leaders.


5.00pm

My final call in a long day of calls is a potential new client Discovery Call. This client was referred to me by another client and is keen to understand how a Fractional COO service could work for their business as it’s quite different to the one their friend who referred them runs. 


We discuss their specific goals for their business and the idiosyncrasies of the market context and personal hopes and dreams. I’ll spend some time over the next few days putting together a more personalised version of my standard 1-pager. I’m really transparent about my pricing because I think it helps set expectations and save everyone time, so the only edits I’ll need to make will be about the practical things we’ll work on and some key measures of success. 


What does a COO do on a Friday?


06.30am

I’ll do a spin class this evening to burn up some of the energy from the week, so I have a slightly slower start to the morning and pick my book back up.


08.30am

Usual check of emails, messages, and priorities. 


10.00am

This morning, I have a call with a client who is fundraising with my help. In my 6.5 years as a startup COO, I’ve helped to raise something in the region of £100m in funding from various sources (debt, equity, crowdfunding, grants) and I’ve developed a pretty robust process. 


Key to good fundraising is a compelling offer - how are these investors going to make money from their money by giving it to you, rather than any of the thousands and thousands of other options? I help the companies I work with develop an investment value prop (without destroying their customer value prop) and we build a really slick process to help them move investors along the funnel, without compromising the day-to-day operations of the business. 


For this particular client, we’re working with Angels for an early round and I’m helping to create some efficiencies in outreach flows and to allocate accountability for follow-ups across the team so that every effort is as rewarding as possible to the round. 


1.00pm

Definitely time for a break and some lunch - I’m so excited that it’s much warmer this week and I can take a break on my balcony. Despite my enthusiasm, I do still have the classic northern constitution of someone who can eat a lot of potatoes but can’t spend any time in the sun without wilting, so it’s huddled under the patio umbrella I go. 


2.00pm

I try to have a call-free afternoon on a Friday so that I can finish up any leftover projects for the week and make sure I’m having a good start to the next week, so i get my head down for a few hours, responding to messages and emails, tidying up my various inboxes and doing a rough organisation of the to-do list for next week. 


5.00pm

With everything neat and tidy, it’s time to mostly wrap up for the week. I have one call on Saturday morning with a client who can’t make the weekday slots work - I often work with people who travel a lot or who are building a side hustle but still working fulltime in a main hustle and I’m happy to use evenings and weekends to chat with them where needed. Building a business is hard and I want to make sure as many entrepreneurs as possible have a decent support network to get them through the early stages. 


 

What did you think of the week in the life of a Fractional or Freelance COO? Is the split of responsibilities and priorities what you expected?


If you’re wondering if a Fractional or Freelance COO could be a suitable option for your growing company, why not book a free Discovery Call - it’s a no-strings-attached 45 minute chat about your business, its immediate needs, and its immediate priorities.



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