Hire a part time CMO? Really?! In this economy?

Eliza Jaskolski
Talent Manager at HireCMO

I'm kidding, now (2024) is a great time to bring one in. Okay so, picture this: Your startup is kinda growing, but you're not fully sure how you can grow faster. Or, there's certain things your marketing team wants you to try but you're not 100% sure if it'll be worth the investment. And at the same time, you're not 100% sold on whether you need a full-time chief marketing officer come in for $200K a year. Sounds familiar? Enter the part-time CMO!

I've spent hours researching and writing this article for you, so we (HireCMO) can become your one stop shop for anything related to CMOs! And so I'm always open to feedback if you feel anything on this page is inaccurate, needs further clarification/depth, etc. Let's do this!

P.S. - this article uses the words part-time CMO and fractional CMO interchangeably.

Key Takeaways from this article (if you're in a rush)

  • If you've been having growth headaches, confused about what marketing initiatives will yield more results than others, and feel like there's "way too much to do at any given time" you are likely to benefit from bringing in a part time CMO. Being honest.
  • Whether you use HireCMO or not, make sure to diligently evaluate candidates & set clear expectations from the get go. Starts from Day 1. Relying on platforms like ours, helps you manage the risk if the CMO isn't a fit and you need to swap her out for someone else in 24 hours.
  • Your CMO must help you focus your marketing efforts to bring in more customers. Additionally, they can train your in house marketing team, vet new hires, organize your marketing technology and of course own your KPIs.
  • Don't rush the hiring process, but also, don't sleep on it as it takes time for the whole hiring process to complete and for the CMO to be brought up to speed. And lastly, I provide some tips on what NOT to do when hiring a CMO and how you can set the stage, so that things go smoothly once she's ready to run her show - remember, it takes two to tango.

What is a part time CMO and why hire one?

There's been more and more companies who want to hire a part-time CMO - it's been gaining a lot of traction/hype recently. And so we decided to look deeper.

The truth is that your marketing team is unlikely to know how to initiate, optimize and scale every kind of inbound marketing channel. And so think of hiring a part time CMO has a way of bringing someone in who's been doing that one thing for ages, and can shorten your team's learning curve. Plus, actually spend less money/time than you would, if you worked with someone less experienced or tried doing it all yourself.

Besides, a full-time chief marketing officer can cost you around $200,000 annually, whereas bringing someone on for 2-3 days a week still lets you borrow their skillset without giving out fat bonuses, compensation packages, vacation days and oh, startup equity! We've interviewed a few fractional CMOs: Brad, Nancy, etc. Towards the bottom of both, you'll see how much they're seeing full-time CMOs charge annually.

And since we're talking about salaries, the cost to hire a part time/fractional chief marketing officer starts from $5K/month. But if you need someone to help you finish up a specific project, we're happy to adapt (case-dependent).

The recommended roles of your next part time CMO.

Every company's needs and budgets are unique, so this is just me telling you what I've seen in the market. If you want to go in-depth, feel free to have a look at some of our other articles on this topic in the blog section.

Ideally, this person should be working closely with your existing marketing team as their marketing leader, while also interfacing with other revenue-driven departments in your company i.e., sales and product teams. A lot of your marketing efforts will rely on cross-functional activities between these teams, as they feed into your marketing strategy so this shouldn't come off as a surprise.

If you'd like to get into the details of what your next fractional Chief Marketing Officer should do, have a look at the article that I myself literally wrote yesterday here. You can tell it was me because I'm just as witty here, as I am on that article haha. Anyways.

But if you hate switching between your browser tabs (I respect that btw) here's the high-level roles in one shot:

1. Building, refining and executing your comprehensive marketing strategy

2. Hiring and training your current marketing team

3. Creating, optimizing and implementing your marketing campaigns

4. Setting up and fixing your marketing technology

Please note again, that these are some of the high-level bullet points that I've gathered after speaking with numerous CXOs and marketers in the US and CAN. The circumstances for your company will be unique, along with its challenges and the cash you're able to spend. So mileage may vary!

What companies often get wrong about part time CMOs.

Here's a couple of points for you to consider that most recruiters, founders and CEOs don't:

1. Don’t delay the hiring process. Pull the trigger. Adjust later.

No matter how intelligent or capable they may be, it takes time for a new person to learn your organization. Generally a chief marketing officer will tell me that they'll need 3-4 weeks to come into the new company and learn the ins and outs completely to be able to be effective from the 4th and 5th week. This is universal. And if someone says they can do it in half the time, hold them to it :)

And remember, working with platforms like HireCMO who offer fractional CMO services, gives you the benefit of swapping out your person for another one just in case the fit isn't 100% perfect. We're all human, it happens, but doesn't mean the problem must persist. We got your back.

2. You must be ready to provide adequate time and resources. Important.

I've seen many founders who'll be very excited to hire a fractional Chief Marketing Officer but in their mind, this person is a silver bullet to everything that's not working in their company. Which is... not how it works. A marketing leader can help dig in and build a resilient marketing strategy but her planning along will not get all the work done - you need foot solders (junior/mid-level marketers) to execute on it e.g., writing SEO-focused blogs (like this one haha) or building out the creatives for your Facebook ad campaigns, etc.

I'm sorry but this is the reality. A talented fractional CMO should not be doing tactical work, because then you'd be paying her a marked up premium of 400% for her time, when a cheaper marketer could be doing that work with 80% efficacy. The CMO will and should oversee the quality and outcome of their work though!

3. Misalignment costs everyone time, money and headaches. Avoid it.

I've heard of a few stories of how some CXOs/founding team members are not sold at all on this role, and are heavily biased towards the full time CMO role (which HireCMO always provides btw). What happens then is if you bring on that glowing fractional CMO candidate into the team, and your executives/leaders aren't sold on this person's efficacy and capabilities, it just adds a wall between her and everyone else in the company.

This is terrible because now projects will move slower, high priority initiatives will get stone-walled, and whatever marketing strategy she'll create won't be taken seriously by your marketing department. And might I add, you just wasted $5000 for nothing (starting monthly fee).

So I highly recommend you align your hiring team/executives from the moment you decide to bring on a CMO, and communicate any potential drama/difficulty ahead of time to your candidate so they can make an informed decision to join or not join your team.

Top tip: And btw, hiring part-time people for work isn't a new concept.. but if that's still irking others in your organization, you can bring on an experienced marketing professional (same thing) for completing one specific project OR hire them as a coach to the founding/marketing team. It's the same concept, but can be priced at a cheaper level to not upset your colleagues. Let's talk ;)

And btw, the bottom half of my other article explains these 3 points in more detail. Feel free to have a look. Reading time is around 10-15 minutes.

How to not select the wrong candidate as your CMO.

I tried to make the title funny because there's 20+ guides on Google that talk about this, but when you open the article, it's the most vague language I've ever read in 28 years and they honestly provide no value whatsoever. Anyways.

My colleagues goes into detail about this in his article here, towards the bottom of that article, talking about the process of hiring for this role. I recommend you glance over it for 2-3 minutes since it'll have gems in it you didn't consider. But here's my tips on making sure you have the right person.

  1. Always check references, regardless of how rushed you are.
  2. Trust but verify. Especially their competency for the critical marketing elements that your team needs!
  3. Culture misfit is real. Think deeply if this person's values/context matches how your team thinks and operates. Underrated point.
  4. Don't be shy to ask for a trial run/probationary period. This is a high stakes hire, why would you want to risk it?
  5. Call up a marketer friend to help interview/vet your hire, especially for areas where you don't have the expertise. Another underrated point.

Okay good, these should keep you up at night haha. Let's keep moving.

The difficulties of hiring a part time CMO.

I love talking openly about this. Just because we sell something, doesn't mean we can't be open about its potential drawbacks. But every point below has a solution.

  • Not in office 40 hours a week: This results in drawbacks such as limited availability, "not-always-on" leadership presence through the company and communication issues because they're not always at their virtual desk for your team. But again, with experience, any hire (part-time or full-time) is able to guide their attention and time onto topics/challenges that matter the most to your hockey stick growth.
  • Depth vs. velocity: Naturally since they're in the office 2-3 days a week, it's difficult to be present in every growth discussion or go very deep into every analytical chat. Often times, your marketing department and the CMO have to decide on which angles/parts of your business their attention must be spent on - a great CMO will lead this discussion for you :)
  • The "attention" myth: My personal background is consulting at a Big 4. Never have I had the chance to not give a client my full attention, even when I knew I had 2 other urgent deadlines to handle for other clients. Some people say that having a "fractional CMO" means you're getting their "fractional attention". That's simply not true for seasoned CMOs. But yes, if the hire is in his early days as a part-time CMO then there may be some adjusting to do.
  • Pre-determined tenure: The average tenure of a full time CMO is 40 months. Sooner or later, most leave or get fired for not being able to grow at the expected pace. Remember, the reason you decided to bring one as a part-time is because you either don't want to hand out expensive compensation packages in this economy or give up startup equity or provide a $250,000 salary. That's why you're renting their expertise for a shorter period of time (generally 6-8 months) to get to your revenue growth target on a budget. And so the pre-determined tenure of X months shouldn't discourage you from working hand in hand with them!

Steps to integrate them into your team (without the politics).

This one's fairly obvious, but I figured some language might help.

  1. Prepare: To ensure a seamless transition and prevent any disputes, before you even bring in your CMO, you should brief your business leaders/stakeholders about the person's expertise and exactly what areas of your marketing/growth will she be in charge of. It's incredibly important to get the reporting hierarchy inked/made extremely obvious prior to the CMO's entry into your company, to avoid political pushback. Please do us all this favor.
  2. Introduce formally: I recommend formally introducing the CMO on a 30-min call after they join you company, with all the business leaders, stakeholders, CXOs and founding team (as necessary) so no one is confused around the roles, responsibilities and expectations from the CMO. You must encourage people to ask you questions over email/offline, if they need further clarity about this person's ongoing function in the business. All this also sets the stage for the CMO, so she knows which buttons not to press, who holds what reign and how exactly the reporting will go.
  3. Communicate, provide resources and get out of the way: Considering a 4 month engagement, you should do daily 30-min check-ins with the CMO in the first week. In the second week, I recommend having a 20-min touchpoint every 2-3 days. And finally, from the third week onward, I suggest you keep a standing 60-min meeting once a week to align. If deemed appropriate, provide guidance, warm bodies/resources and the necessary funding for the CMO to action what they need to do. And lastly, make sure there's no political pushback on them/what they want to accomplish, as needed. Remember, you're the one who hired her, so she and everyone else will look at you if things go south or great - so keep this in mind as you're enabling her to do her best work in your company. In for the long haul baby!

Great, you're hired one, but how do you measure their success? Key Performance Indicators.

I'm sure it's not your first time hearing this lol.

Some KPIs that may be useful for this include metrics such as traffic, leads, sales qualified leads, new deals, and customer churn for your products or services on your website. I wrote a short (like 5 mins to read) article on this a while back which can add some color to this - hope it helps.

CMOs make their own dashboards to keep themselves accountable (the good ones anyway) and here are some metrics they track:

  • Acquisitions (i.e., from which channels - paid ones like TikTok ads, and organic ones like SEO.)
  • Conversions (i.e., at what rate are prospects converting into customers and from what channels?)
  • Presence (i.e., how omnipresent is your brand across places where your customers spend most of their time on?)
  • Reputation (i.e., are customers providing decent reviews across the board? Is the product serving customers as it should?)
  • Your website (i.e., how fast does your website load? Is it readable and 100% usable on phones? etc.)
  • SEO (i.e., how authoritative is your website, are the backlinks high-quality, are you ranking for the right keywords that drive revenue, etc.)

A great dashboard and its KPIs tells a simplified story, provides comparisons to understand the data, keeps your marketing department/marketing leadership updated on the efficacy of your marketing strategies and draws your attention to alarming data!

Wrapping up

I sincerely hope this article helped you see things more clearly for when you want to hire a part time CMO. A Chief Marketing Officer can make or break your company's growth. And to be honest, it's often less about the marketing strategy and the 100 marketing initiatives that you have in play - what matters most is understanding how you can build out an effective marketing leadership team, and make your in house marketing team excited to do new things creatively.

I know it sounds corny but it's true. Worry less about how fancy your marketing strategies look, and focus more on how many champion customers your marketing efforts are actually bringing in. Be data focused, and obsess over your customers and I promise you, you'll be fine regardless of which marketing channels you end up using haha. I wish you the best and just send me an email if you want to jazz about CMOs: [email protected]. Ciao!

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