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Fractional COO

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To deliver successful growth in your business you need more than just your passion for the products or services you’re building. It takes exceptional leadership and careful, strategic decision-making to efficiently grow a company.


The skills and appetites needed to start a business or build an amazing product are wildly different to those needed to run that business properly. When you’re busy ploughing all of your efforts into developing products and closing deals, the strategic expertise you’re missing often needs to come in the form of your first senior hire. And that’s where you quickly learn that exceptional leadership is exceptionally expensive.


To bridge the gap between what the company needs and what the company can afford, more and more entrepreneurs are turning to Fractional COOs.


A tried and tested way to access expert guidance for less, a Fractional Chief Operating Officer (COO) is an experienced professional who provides part-time, strategic leadership to help businesses navigate the complexities of scaling in a modern market. Unlike a full-time COO, a Fractional COO offers a flexible and cost-effective way for small and medium-sized businesses to access market-leading knowledge.


Fractional COO

From streamlining operations to implementing growth strategies to motivating your team, a Fractional COO can bring the fresh perspective and specialised expertise that your organisation needs, exactly when it’s needed. In this article, we’ll explore how to determine if your business needs a Fractional COO, where to find one if it does, and what to consider during the process of bringing them onboard.


If you're ready to take your business to the next level, it's time to consider the invaluable contribution a Fractional COO can make. Let's dive in and explore why this role could be essential for your growing business.


I offer Fractional COO services from a single half day. To see if I might be a good fit for your company, book a free, no-commitment Discovery Call here:




The benefits of hiring a Fractional COO


Hiring a Fractional COO can be a game-changing decision for your growing business.


Skills

A Fractional COO offers access to a broad, tactical skill set for less. A good Fractional COO will come with extensive experience across various industries and company sizes. They can provide impactful insights and expertise that may be lacking within your current team, without weighing down your P&L with another full-time hire.


Lower costs

With a Fractional COO, you only pay for the hours and services you need. This cost-effective solution allows you to access top-tier talent without breaking the bank, making it ideal for small and medium-sized businesses with big dreams but smaller pockets.


Equity preservation

As an external, contracted resource, Fractional COOs often don’t take an equity stake in your business. When you’re growing an innovative company, particularly one that needs external investment to build core business assets, it can feel like your cap table is growing at a faster rate than your revenue.


Decisions on where to spend your precious equity can have long-lasting consequences, particularly impacting your future investment rounds. With a full-time hire, you’d be expected to hand over at least a few percentage points from your option pool alongside the comprehensive cash remuneration that an operational and strategic expert can command. A Fractional COO works on a short-term contract and thus won’t be incentivised by an option grant’s long vesting period.


Focus

Operating a business is a skill. Just as you’d expect your CMO, CTO, and CFO to have spent years mastering their trade, the role of a COO, done properly, is delivered by unique skills that can’t just be picked up by anyone with a colour-coded calendar.


By outsourcing Strategic leadership to a Fractional COO, you and your team can concentrate on what you do best – delighting customers and growing your business - instead of learning an entirely new discipline to deliver a comprehensive Strategy that ties all of your day-to-day actions into a neat bow of success.


To learn more about what goes into a real business Strategy, check out my ebook How To Write Your Strategy.



Signs that your business needs a Fractional COO


Every business is unique, but there are several classic signs that indicate you may benefit from hiring a Fractional COO. One clear indication is how you’re splitting your time between tactical and strategic work - between the things that do take up your time and the things that should take up your time.


Take a moment to think honestly about what a working week looks like for you.


  • Are you so bogged-down by your to-do list that you can never spare a moment to think about what’s coming next?

  • Are you stuck in an endless loop of meetings, leaving you little time for deep work?

  • Are you seeing deadlines slip, with no clear path to fixing them?

  • Do you frequently cancel or reschedule 1-2-1s with your direct reports?

  • Can you, if pushed, clearly and comprehensively articulate what the next 12, 18, 24 months will look like for your company?

  • Can every single person in your business clearly state their number one priority and how it contributes to your Mission Statement?

  • Is the only time when you can think about your long-term plans late at night when you’re exhausted and not giving it your best?

  • Is your mind constantly so full of ideas that you’re unable to choose what to work on next?


If any of these questions feel familiar to you, you're heading into a danger zone, spending too much time putting out fires and not enough time future-proofing against the flames.


Tomorrow comes around very quickly in a growing business. Unless properly addressed, one day soon you’ll find yourself looking up from your screen with no idea what to do next.


The idea that a startup leadership team needs to always be frantically working away into the darkness is a myth perpetuated by people loudly cosplaying at success.


A Fractional COO can create space by organising the chaos around a clearly articulated Strategy, allowing you to streamline operations and free up your time to build a clear course from today to your future success.


A Fractional COO is an incredible resource not just for the day-to-day of your company - they can also be hugely impactful in specific periods of change or turmoil. And, because they’re not a full time, long-term hire, you don’t need to worry what to do with the resource after the choppy waters of transition have calmed.


If your business is experiencing rapid growth or facing a major transition, like an expansion into new markets or a restructuring, a Fractional COO can offer the expertise needed to navigate these challenges successfully. They’ve been through tough situations and can use those hard-won battle scars to quickly help you make the right choices when you’re scaling operations, developing growth strategies, and managing change effectively.


A Fractional COO can also help you navigate a leadership gap. Fractional COOs can take oversight of most business functions and a good one will be focussed on bringing out the best in the people you’ve already hired. If you need to do more with less and are trying to grow without making expensive senior hires in areas like finance, operations, people, or marketing, a Fractional COO can fill that gap by focussing the existing team. They can help you make informed decisions, implement best practices, and optimise processes for maximum efficiency across a range of functions.


I offer Fractional COO services from a single half day. To see if I might be a good fit for your company, book a free, no-commitment Discovery Call here:



How a Fractional COO can help with business growth


Data

A Fractional COO can play a vital role in driving business growth. A good Fractional COO is inherently quantitative in their approach - they revel in the chance to dig into the data of an issue, to map trends and spot opportunities. Whether it's entering new markets, launching new products, or exploring strategic partnerships, a Fractional COO can help you chart a path to sustainable growth by looking inside and outside the business for the objective signals that will underpin your most important decisions.


Efficiency

It’s important to understand the distinction between ‘operations’ and ‘operating’ when considering the benefit of a Fractional COO. Your ‘operations’ are your processes, systems, and tools - they’re the cogs of your company machine. ‘Operating’ on the other hand, describes the discipline of running a business. It’s not just the processes that you’re using, it’s why and how and when you’re using them, it’s the inside and outside of your business and everything in between.


A Fractional COO is a Chief Operating Officer, they’re focussed on every aspect of how a business is run, from people, to processes, to priorities. That said, a good Fractional COO is also an expert in operations. They can assess your current processes, identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies, and implement solutions to improve productivity and reduce costs. By optimising your operations, a Fractional COO can help you scale your business while maintaining your financial metrics.


People & HR

A Fractional COO can provide valuable guidance on talent management. They know that successful businesses work hard to get the most out of their teams. A Fractional COO can assist with hiring key personnel, developing Performance Management systems, and creating a positive work culture that attracts and retains top talent. With their expertise in organisational design and development, they can help you build a strong team and teach you how to incentivise and motivate them towards your growth objectives.


I offer Fractional COO services from a single half day. To see if I might be a good fit for your company, book a free, no-commitment Discovery Call here:



Finding the right Fractional COO for your business


When it comes to finding the right Fractional COO for your business, there are a few key things to consider.


Firstly, always consider the specific needs of your business. There are universal truths to business growth, but there are also an awful lot of idiosyncrasies. Beware any advice that tells you you ‘must’ hire this or that person because that advice comes with situational bias. In short, take advice, but take it through the lens of your specific business - you know it best.


With that in mind, here’s a rough framework for getting to know what you need from your Fractional COO.


✔️ Does your Fractional COO need specific industry expertise? Good skills are transferable but industry experience can be vital if you’re navigating things like licensing or regulatory issues or if you’re looking for small blue oceans in a crowded market.


✔️ What stage is your business at? It’s not always about what you do in a scaling business, so much as when you do it. Look for a Fractional COO with recent experience of your stage of growth and you’ll find their recommendations much more relevant and digestible to your ‘now’.


The Pay As You Go COO Success Timeline
What To Do When: The Pay As You Go COO Success Timeline

✔️ What kind of leadership style suits you? A good Fractional COO will be comfortable telling you difficult truths about what you should and shouldn’t be changing about your company to get to the next stage of growth. What’s important here is how those truths are delivered. You’ve put in a lot of hard work building your business and even the least ego-centric founder will struggle to learn that some of the hard work was a waste of time. Think about how you want to hear difficult news and look for a complementary communication style.


✔️ What does the rest of the organisation need? A good Fractional COO flexes to the demands of the organisation and understands how difficult it can be for other team members when someone new is brought onboard - particularly in a part-time, short-term role. We live in a predominantly Capitalist world and the scarcity mindset that comes along with that can quickly make people feel threatened. A Fractional COO should align with your values and be able to work effectively with your existing team.


✔️ Where do you want to look for your Fractional COO? Do you trust recommendations over good SEO? If so, look to your network for direct recommendations. Otherwise, search for terms related to your specific problems like ‘how to find my customers’ or ‘how to find Product-Market Fit’ and see who’s been writing on those topics. If either of those areas is of interest to you, I have a book on each - available at the links below.


How to find your customers





n.b. Beware of ‘platforms’ that promise to find you multiple Fractional hires for only a ‘low’ annual fee. I’ve undertaken a lot of research into these platforms and have yet to find one that sufficiently meets the needs of either side of the marketplace. When a company is in possession of your subscription fee, they’re less incentivised to find you the right person for your specific needs.


At Pay As You Go COO, my Fractional COO services are billed-out by the half day, with no subscription fee needed.


To see if I might be a good fit for your company, book a free, no-commitment Discovery Call here:


Case studies: Success stories of businesses that hired a Fractional COO


To truly understand the impact a Fractional COO can have on a growing business, let's explore some success stories of businesses that have hired Fractional COOs. Data security is an important consideration for me and I often sign NDAs with my customers. To preserve anonymity, I’ve removed any identifying information from these two case studies.


Case Study 1:

Company 1, a fast-growing SaaS startup, was struggling to scale their operations after closing a much-needed Series A. A lot of time and effort had gone into securing the investment; the company was then struggling to pivot back to the growth of the business now that the hard work of raising had paid off and the funds were in the bank.


The business was founder-led and, together with the finance team and the board, she wanted to preserve as much cash for product development as possible. To address the immediate need for a new comprehensive Strategy and to turn the organisation from a scrappy seed-stage company into a more polished organisation, they brought me in as a Fractional COO for 2 days per week (split over 4 actual days).


The first thing I did was implement my 6-Point Strategy Framework to illustrate the link from every single task in the organisation to the overarching Mission Statement, thus engaging the team on a collective vision. I then emphasised the use of my Relative Prioritisation Matrix to visually demonstrate to the leadership team which projects would most quickly and effectively increase revenue, which me helped navigate and resolve internal conflicts around prioritisation.


To complement the Strategy and prioritisation, I then guided the company through the implementation of a Project Management System (anyone who has ever spoken to me knows that this was obviously Asana) which allowed the leadership team to quickly allocate tasks and to monitor and improve performance as the new Strategy was rolled-out.


By focussing efforts towards the Tasks and Projects that would most quickly improve revenue, I was able to efficiently navigate the company through increased demand for new products and set the company up for their next stage of investment negotiations.


Case Study 2:

Company 2, a boot-strapped physical product business, was facing a major transition as they prepared to pivot to a remote-first organisation whilst retaining consistent oversight of in-person manufacturing. They chose to work with me full time (for me, that's a max of 4 days per week) for three months to navigate the initial wave of friction from this significant change.


I temporarily took the reins of the remote side of the organisation, leaving the CEO able to utilise their decades of experience in physical manufacturing on the parts of the business that needed to remain in-person. Using my expertise in leading communications in remote organisations, I implemented new cadences for meetings and emphasised the benefits of asynchronous communications in a remote workforce.


By implementing a clear Strategy and building a framework for transparent, objective communications, I preserved the culture of the organisation, expanded the leadership team’s capacity, and enabled the company to successfully navigate the transition and position themselves for continued growth whilst reducing spend on real estate.


Frequently asked questions about hiring a Fractional COO


1. What is the difference between a Fractional COO and a full-time COO?


A Fractional COO provides part-time, strategic leadership to businesses. In contrast, a full-time COO is a dedicated executive responsible for overseeing all operational aspects of a single company. By hiring a Fractional COO, a business can often access more senior and experienced support for the price of a more junior hire. A good Fractional COO can achieve more in a part-time role than a less experienced hire can achieve in a full-time role.


2. How can a Fractional COO help my business grow?


A Fractional COO can help your business grow by developing and implementing new Strategies, streamlining operations, and providing guidance on talent management. They bring specialised expertise and an external perspective to drive sustainable growth. A good Fractional COO will help you see both the bigger picture of your company’s macroeconomic context and your competitive landscape, as well as areas of inefficiency inside your operation. When you’re engaging a Fractional COO on a part-time, short-term basis, you can hire exactly the expertise that you need, for only as long as you need it, allowing you to save cash and protect your cap table whilst growing.


3. How do I find the right Fractional COO for my business?


To find the right Fractional COO consider their industry experience, track record, leadership style, and compatibility with your organisational culture. Conduct thorough interviews and assessments to ensure they have the necessary skills and expertise for your specific challenges.


I bring a breadth of expertise across a variety of industries from pre-seed to post-IPO. To see if I might be a good fit for your company, book a free, no-commitment Discovery Call here:



4. What are the costs associated with hiring a Fractional COO?


While a Fractional COO offers cost savings compared to a full-time COO, there are still financial considerations. You can either think about cost in terms of a project you want to complete or the hours you need a Fractional COO to commit to. I offer my time by the hour (a minimum of a half day per week is necessary to drive real progress, unless you're looking for more for guidance than action - in which case, my Business Coaching packages will be best).


To see if I might be a good fit for your company, book a free, no-commitment Discovery Call here:



Conclusion: The value of a Fractional COO for your growing business


In conclusion, a Fractional COO can be an invaluable asset to your growing business. From their broad skill set and cost savings to their ability to drive business growth and provide strategic guidance, a Fractional COO brings specialised expertise and a fresh perspective to your organisation.


If you're ready to take your business to the next level, it's time to consider the invaluable contribution a Fractional COO can make. By hiring a Fractional COO, you can streamline operations, implement growth strategies, and focus on what you do best – running and growing your business. Embrace the opportunity to partner with a Fractional COO and watch your business thrive in the competitive market, achieving sustainable growth.


To book a free, no-commitment Discovery Call and determine if I could be the right fit for your business, head here:





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