What is a Fractional CMO?

Imagine Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson working on a small indie production. Imagine Lionel Messi playing for your local football club. Imagine getting Elon Musk to raise funds for your school’s PTA. A fractional CMO is something similar. Maybe not the same, but similar. By using a fractional CMO, small and medium-sized businesses and startups can get heavy-hitter CMO experience for a fraction of the price, and this might make the difference between the success or failure of the business.

In boring words, a fractional CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) is a highly experienced marketing executive who works on a part-time basis to provide executive marketing leadership for a growing business. The fractional CMO works for a fixed amount of time in a given month, often just a few hours a week.

Because the fractional CMO dedicates only a fraction of their time, he or she receives only a fraction of the pay. Companies get high-level executive experience without the high costs of a full-time executive. In this way, fractional CMOs bring incredible value to companies. Their experience, insights, and connections are often game-changing, especially for startups and young businesses.

A good fractional CMO will work with you and your team to develop strategic insights, formulate branding strategies, build your marketing team, and oversee your marketing operations. A fractional CMO will become a part of your leadership team, understand your business objectives, and develop the powerful and impactful marketing strategies needed to drive growth. With their experience running marketing functions and developing marketing talent, fractional CMOs can build and transform your marketing team and drive sustainable growth.

What is the difference between a CMO and a Fractional CMO?

Essentially the only difference between a fractional CMO and a full-time Chief Marketing Officer is money. A fractional CMO invests only a few hours per week into your business. Even with high rates, the fee is manageable, and your business gets the benefits of your CMO’s extremely valuable services and experience. Often businesses make the mistake of hiring marketing agencies or freelancers before investing in an in-house resource like a CMO, which results in wasted time, squandered capital, and lost revenue.

When do you need a fractional CMO?

A business needs a CMO as soon as they require marketing leadership. You need a fractional CMO if you can’t afford the cost of a full-time CMO. Hiring a fractional CMO can be a great way to quickly get the benefits of having an experienced marketing expert working on your business, in your business, without paying the high cost of hiring a full-time CMO.

Another reason to hire a fractional CMO is to ramp up marketing activities to the point where the business is ready to hire a full-time CMO. If your business is ready to grow and is missing a member of your leadership team who provides expert marketing strategy, experience, and skills, but the current marketing activities don’t warrant a full-time position, a fractional CMO is an excellent opportunity to build out the businesses marketing activities and marketing team to the point that the business may consider taking on a full-time CMO.

If we go back to the Brad Pitt analogy from the beginning of the article, you need a fractional CMO as soon as you want to get a significant share of your market. Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, Lionel Messi, and Elon Musk drive eyeballs to theaters, stadiums, and smartphone screens. A good fractional CMO can do the same for your business.

How much does a fractional CMO cost?

While most CMOs are not Brad Pitt, an experienced CMO can cost a business upward of $160K a year, and that’s on the light end. A heavy hitter is going to cost upward of $200K, which is a big ticket for a small, or even medium-sized business. And here is where the fractional CMO becomes so valuable.

A fractional CMO offers all of the benefits of a full-time CMO, but at a tiny fraction of the cost. The benefits are further accentuated by the fact that most SMBs don’t need a full-time CMO, because the majority of the functions of the CMO can be accomplished in around 10 hours a week.

So digging down into the numbers, a good fractional CMO is going to charge around $200 per hour. For argument’s sake, we can assume the CMO will work a five-hour week, minimum. That’s a twenty-hour month, which comes in at $4000 per month. That’s a huge saving, especially when you consider that you benefit from your fractional CMO’s many years of professional marketing experience, even if it is just for a few hours of dedicated time.

A good fractional CMO is someone who has seen it and done it all before. He or she has experience with differing levels of growth and diverse teams and can guide and nurture your team and your company through these challenging and rocky growing pains.

Startups and fledgling businesses can afford to work with freelance contractors and marketing agencies up to a point, but when you’re really ready to grow, to take flight, to cast off into the ocean with the big players, you need an experienced hand at the helm. Your fractional CMO becomes the owner of your company’s marketing campaigns so your other C-suite executives can focus on their unique roles secure in the knowledge that everything from branding to ads to analytics is in safe hands.

So, how do you hire a fractional CMO?

First, you’ve got to find a CMO who has both the experience your business needs and is open to working on a fractional basis. Most fractional CMOs enjoy the challenge that comes from being involved in more than one project, but you also want to make sure that the professional you choose has the required time and energy to dedicate to your project.

Speaking from the perspective of a professional fractional CMO, the most important considerations from my side are, first, whether I am a good match for the business and, second, whether the business is ready to take full advantage of my role as fractional CMO. If these two considerations are met, there is a good chance that we will have a long and prosperous relationship and that both the business and I will grow.

So in the absence of Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, Lionel Messi, or Elon Musk as potential candidates for your fractional CMO, please feel free to reach out to me and set up a conversation about I can help you to structure and scale your business.


  • Alastair Thompson

    I’ve led teams on 5 continents and worked with large companies and individual entrepreneurs to launch their products, their businesses, and their dreams. I have twenty years of deep, practical experience in data-based digital marketing. I have an undergraduate degree in process engineering, a master's degree in education, and a project management certification from HarvardX. I am a mentor to other leaders and an advisor for technology startups. I have founded two successful businesses. I coach groups and individuals.

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