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September 26, 2023

Episode 111: What Is a Fractional CMO & How Can Hiring One Help Your Small Business Grow?

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As a small business owner, you already know that having strong marketing leadership, an effective marketing strategy, and someone dedicated to overseeing your marketing efforts can give small businesses like yours big results.

However, many owners and leaders don’t know where to go for strategic marketing advice and are often missing out on the opportunity to effectively take their business to the next level. That’s where a fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) comes into play.

In this week’s episode of Priority Pursuit, we chat with Kelly Rice—one of our show’s co-hosts and Treefrog Marketing’s founder & chief marketing strategist—as she shares her advice on how quality marketing leadership can impact your business and dives into the question, “What is a fractional CMO?”


What are the different types of marketing leadership?

There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to marketing for your small business. As such, it is important to understand the options available to you and which one best fits your and your business’s needs.


Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

A fractional CMO functions as a chief marketing officer and is essentially someone who provides executive-level marketing services on a part-time basis. This is ideal for businesses that need high-level marketing strategy and leadership but don't really need a full-time executive.

Fractional CMOs come with a wealth of experience—typically from various industries—and focus on building a long-term vision and establishing marketing strategies and systems. They also usually oversee in-house marketing staff.


Marketing Consultant

Marketing consultants are usually more project-focused because they often help businesses tackle specific challenges or projects—like launching a new product, improving their online presence, or developing digital marketing systems. They basically come in, assess the situation, and provide advice. In some cases, a marketing consultant may also assist with the execution of the project.


Marketing Coach

A marketing coach is a little bit different from the other marketing leadership roles. While consultants and fractional CMOs often provide solutions or strategies, a marketing coach's role is to guide and empower the business owner—or their team—to implement marketing solutions themselves.

You can think of them more as mentors because they help clients develop skills and understand and implement marketing concepts effectively. It's more about teaching and guidance than direct implementation.

But, one of the best things about a marketing coach is that they should hold you accountable—which is key to getting busy business owners and teams moving in the right direction.


Choosing the Leadership Your Business Needs

When it comes to deciding which form of marketing leadership would benefit your small business, it boils down to your specific needs.

For strategic and executive-level leadership and ongoing high-level insights, a fractional CMO is probably ideal. If a business faces a particular marketing challenge or project, a consultant would be a great fit. And, for those looking to enhance their marketing skills and wanting more of a guided learning experience, a marketing coach is the way to go.


Does marketing work without skilled leadership? 

It’s evident that every small business could benefit from some kind of marketing leadership. However, a problem we see regularly as a marketing agency for small businesses is that many small business leaders don’t seek out marketing guidance and instead continue trying one tactic after another—hoping they get the results they need.

This is because there is so much marketing information out there these days that investing in outside marketing leadership seems like a crazy idea. But, here’s the thing. Small business leaders work really hard to take their companies to the next level, but more often than not, their businesses plateau simply because they don’t have effective marketing leadership, strategies, and systems.

And, just like we’ve talked about in past episodes, we firmly believe that successful small businesses are a result of three things:

  1. Selling a great product or service
  2. Offering an incredible client experience
  3. Having effective marketing strategies and systems 

This is because—for most small businesses—passion and dedication lead to great offers and customer service. But hard work alone will only take a business so far. So, without experienced marketing leadership, companies are at a competitive disadvantage because they usually struggle to define a clear vision, build and implement effective marketing strategies, and even use their resources wisely.

And, this is an issue for small businesses, because getting to the “next level” requires expert marketing leadership, a clear vision, and having proven marketing systems in place.


What is a fractional CMO and how can they help your business?

Choosing to work with a fractional CMO is very similar to working with a fractional CFO—which most small businesses are more familiar with.

Basically, most small businesses don’t necessarily need a full-time chief financial officer. So, they hire a fractional CFO to oversee their finances on a more or less part-time basis. This way, businesses get the financial guidance they need even if they can’t afford or simply don’t need to hire another full-time, C-level executive.

As a fractional CMO, Kelly becomes part of a company’s leadership team so that she can understand, refine, and manage their marketing initiatives, spending, resources, and staff in order to meet company goals and improve overall sales. Essentially, she is contracted as a part-time marketing executive who helps create a path to next-level success.


Benefits of a Fractional CMO

A fractional CMO plays a critical role in shaping a business’s marketing strategy and execution—just like a full-time CMO would. They enter a company with a fresh perspective, which allows them to provide new insights about a company’s current marketing initiatives, systems, strategies, and goals.

All fractional CMOs should have a wealth of experience so that they can create clarity out of chaos, develop structure, continuously analyze marketing performance and data, identify areas of improvement, and fine-tune strategies to maximize ROI.

Basically, by partnering with a fractional CMO, you’re adding the marketing know-how and experience needed to finally take your small business to the next level.

And, you’re doing it for a fraction of the cost.

Adding a full-time CMO to your staff will likely cost somewhere between $260,000 to half a million dollars per year with salary, insurance, and bonuses. However, adding a fractional CMO to your team is likely going to cost somewhere between $90,000 to $150,000 per year—which sounds like a lot but is less than a third of the total cost of a full-time CMO.


Fractional CMO Duties and Responsibilities

More often than not, small businesses are hesitant to invest in consulting or similar services because past “consultants'' have charged a lot of money and only added to the small business’s to-do lists—but that is NOT what a fractional CMO does.


Understanding Your Business

The first thing an experienced fractional CMO should do is to come in, get to know your business, meet with key stakeholders and team members, become familiar with your marketing challenges, and understand your business goals.

From there, they should work with your leadership team to establish a clear vision for your business. Then, the fractional CMO takes on the responsibility of assessing current marketing strategies, uncovering obstacles and challenges, learning about customer journeys and experiences, meeting with staff to gain insights, researching competitors, completing an analysis of sales and marketing data, and more.

And, all of that should be done prior to the fractional CMO creating a marketing strategy based on your company’s goals and resources.


Overseeing Your Marketing Plan

After getting to know your business and goals, a CMO is going to oversee the development of your marketing systems to make sure that your strategy is actually being implemented and tracked correctly. By “marketing systems,” we mean processes for your marketing efforts.

For example, if running Google Ads is part of your marketing strategy, a fractional CMO is responsible for making sure that the tactic has a system, sequence, and protocols established—and that the content and assets being used have a purpose.


Working With Your Team

Now, just to be clear, a fractional CMO is responsible for overseeing your marketing strategy and processes. They are not responsible for literally running your Google Ads, developing your social media content, writing your blog posts, or personally producing elements of your marketing strategy.

They are responsible for ensuring your marketing strategy is being implemented and producing results, and for overseeing your marketing team. For example, if you have an in-house social media manager or copywriter, that individual will work with your CMO to implement your strategy and processes, and your CMO will make sure this individual has everything they need to do their job well.

If you don’t have internal staff, a fractional CMO will oversee freelancers and agency partners. If you don’t have a network of marketing freelancers, don’t panic. Chances are, your fractional CMO will have a list of experts to pull from.

As a fractional CMO, Kelly often pulls from our team at Treefrog. Treefrog Marketing is a marketing agency for small businesses. We have an entire team of strategists, copywriters, designers, and marketing experts.

As a result, when she serves as a fractional CMO, Kelly oversees a business’s internal team, and if other marketing skills are needed, we pull from the Treefrog team. For example—our team can create clear messaging and build a business’s new website if that’s what the strategy calls for.

Basically, no matter the size of your marketing team—even if it’s just a single marketing manager—a fractional CMO is responsible for overseeing these individuals and the projects they are working on so that you can focus on your other team members and other important aspects of running your business.


Who should work with a fractional CMO and what are your other options?

The best time to partner with a fractional CMO is when (1) you aren’t satisfied with your current marketing results and want to grow your business and (2) you’ve reached a sustainable revenue in which you can afford to invest in a fractional CMO. For most small businesses, that’s usually when they have an annual revenue of $2 million or more.

It’s important to remember that a fractional CMO isn’t a full-time employee. It is typically a great partnership for businesses that bring in between $2 million and $30 million per year. However, for businesses that make more, it’s likely time to hire a full-time C-level executive team, including a full-time chief marketing officer.

For those who aren’t ready to invest in a fractional CMO yet, single-project strategy development combined with marketing consulting or coaching is a great way to gain some big wins and prepare your company for the next level. Because some small business owners may not want to grow their companies to that level—or it’s simply not in the cards to do so.

And, if that’s the case, you have two options: a short-term partnership or the flywheel marketing method.


Short-Term Partnership

First, know that you can hire a fractional CMO on a short-term, strategy-only basis. For example, while most of our fractional CMO clients at Treefrog work with us on an annual basis, we also offer a three-month package where we just focus on strategy—not implementation or staff oversight.

Essentially, we work with your leadership team for three months to get to know your business, goals, and resources. Then, we create a strategy and review it with you so that you and/or your team can implement the strategy yourselves.

A short-term partnership like this can still bring a lot of clarity and direction to your marketing. You’ll just be responsible for making sure every piece gets implemented.


Flywheel Marketing Method

If working with a fractional CMO isn’t an option, that’s perfectly fine—but know that you still need to clarify your messaging and create a strategic plan of action.

First of all, if you’ve yet to identify your target audience and create clear messaging—which is the first step in our flywheel marketing method—you’re going to want to do this by writing your Marketing Guiding Statements. After all, knowing who you’re talking to and what to say is the key to effective marketing.


Want a step-by-step guide on creating your Marketing Guiding Statements? Take our FREE mini course!


Next, we suggest implementing the flywheel marketing method, which is the strategy we use for many of our agency clients that has helped some grow by more than 800%. You can learn more about this marketing strategy by listening to Episode 103: The Best Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses: The Flywheel Marketing Method" or by checking out our free guide—"The Most Effective Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses: The Flywheel Marketing Method."


How do you find a qualified fractional CMO?

Research suggests that 36% of those presenting as fractional CMOs actually lack the skills and experience needed to perform their duties. But, you can quickly weed out less-than-qualified candidates by simply focusing on the types of questions your fractional CMO candidates ask.

If they ask questions about your overall business, structure, products, current challenges, and competition, you’re off to a great start.

However, if they immediately want to discuss implementation, execution, and the latest marketing tactics, that candidate likely isn’t a great fit. Your fractional CMO is part of your executive leadership team, and while they need to be up-to-date about all things marketing, they should be more concerned about the big picture first.

Another thing you can do is to ask the candidate about what you should expect within the first 90 days of your partnership. If they do not have set protocols that offer basic timelines and deliverables—they might not be right for your company.

This is because experienced fractional CMOs understand that although the industries may differ, the trends, problems, and systems are very similar—and they have created protocols to more easily bring these areas to the forefront of the conversation.


Ready to start working with a fractional CMO?

Over the last two decades of working with small businesses, Kelly has had the pleasure of witnessing the fierce passion that drives small business leaders to achieve success. And, time and time again, she’s watched ineffective marketing strategies and systems stand in the way of small businesses reaching their goals.

Yes, at Treefrog we build websites, manage SEO, and offer stand-alone and a la carte marketing services. But, a big part of what Kelly does personally is serve as a fractional CMO because she knows strategic marketing is key to small business success. Basically, she feels called to serve small businesses in this capacity, because she knows having a clear vision, an effective marketing strategy, and consistent marketing systems can help small business owners, leaders, and their teams have thriving businesses and lives outside the office.

If you’re ready to work with a fractional CMO and think Kelly might be the right fit for you, visit our website to learn more about this service and to schedule a discovery call.

During this 30-minute call, she’ll personally break down what our fractional CMO process looks like and answer any questions you may have. Then, together, you can determine if we’re a good fit.

And, again, whether you choose to work with us or another experienced fractional CMO, please know that you deserve a marketing strategy and partner that works as hard as you do. Delivering exceptional products and services and offering great customer service will only get you so far. Don’t let a lack of strategic marketing be the thing that prevents your business from getting to the next level.


Links & Resources Mentioned in This Episode


Learn the EXACT marketing strategy we use to help small businesses grow: The Flywheel Marketing Method.



The Priority Pursuit Podcast is a podcast dedicated to helping small business owners define, maintain, and pursue both their personal and business priorities so they can build lives and businesses they love.

You can find The Priority Pursuit Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Podcasts, Stitcher, and wherever you listen to podcasts.



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This week on “Priority Pursuit,” we chat with Kelly Rice as she dives into the question, “What is a fractional CMO?”



Leverage Kelly’s marketing experience, insights, and leadership to grow your business.

As the founder and chief marketing strategist at Treefrog Marketing, a co-host of the Priority Pursuit Podcast, a StoryBrand Certified Guide, and fractional chief marketing officer, Kelly Rice has spent more than two decades helping small businesses take their companies to the next level by providing trustworthy leadership and building effective marketing strategies and systems.

She has dedicated her career to helping small businesses succeed because she knows, firsthand, how hard they work to make their communities a better place. 

Still, many people undervalue the strength and ingenuity of small businesses, but not Kelly. She believes they deserve to have a marketing partner and strategy that works as hard as they do.

Is outsourcing a marketing director something new?

What do fractional CMOs do?

Who needs a fractional CMO?

What are the benefits of hiring a part-time marketing director??

When should you partner with a fractional CMO?

Are there limitations to a fractional CMO?

How do I find a qualified fractional CMO?

How much does it cost to partner with a fractional CMO?

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