Skip to main content

Know When to Walk Away: A Guide for Fractional Leaders

I've caught myself saying the following more times than I can count: "Fractional work allows me to have all the fun associated with working at a startup without the bullsh*t associated with a startup." For most of my career, that has been true. But based on a recent experience, I have started thinking about the times when the bullsh*t of a startup does rear its ugly head and how I could advise new fractionals on how I've approached it. Here’s my list for how to know when to walk away. Reasons to Walk One of the most powerful concepts that I learned in that time is the concept of "firing a customer." There are many reasons why you might need to let a customer go: Nonpayment or chronic late payment; Violation of terms and conditions—for example, work outside scope; Unreasonable demands or expectations—3 AM replies; Abusive behavior; Lack of engagement—they forget they hired you; Misalignment of a target market; Merger and acquisitions; Legal reasons; Strategic

Is Going Fractional Right for You?

If you've read any of my previous posts either here or on LinkedIn, you know that I believe fractional is a win-win:

  • employers get leaders who can help them scale and optimize, despite not being able to afford that level of talent full-time
  • and leaders can get more flexibility and control over their time and careers, as well as diversify and keep themselves challenged and growing

But does that mean that every leader should quit their full-time job and go fractional? No.

Like everything in life, there are downsides to going fractional, and I thought it only fair to spell out the three main challenges so that anyone considering going fractional understands both the pros and cons before making that decision.


As someone who was a fractional COO for years before "fractional" was a thing, and is newly back to this world, the biggest challenge of being fractional is finding the work. This is a challenge I face and that 98% of the fractionals I speak with—both inside and outside of our community—face. Most of us are not Fractional Sales people and therefore hate business development...or even if we're good at it, it's challenging juggling the work while finding time to nurture a pipeline you will need at some point in the future.

And unlike for full-time employment, no one has solved this problem yet. There are few recruiters who focus on fractional employment and no job boards. There are a growing number of platforms that claim to find leads, but my members and I have joined many (if not all) and have yet to find any effective.

Personally, as both a fractional myself and as the founder of Fractionals United, I've been having lots of conversations on how to solve this. We've partnered with someone to do lead generation specific to fractionals and several members have their own solutions they are offering the community. 

I strongly believe this won't be a problem in five or so years, but until then, be aware that you may not have enough work—or any work—for a while, so have at least 6 months of savings you can live off of before making the transition.

Business Administration

Most fractionals work 1099, so if you've never worked for yourself in the past, you'll need to deal with things you never had to before. For instance, you probably want to register yourself as an LLC and get an accountant and lawyer. You'll have to submit your own taxes, get benefits, and maybe even liability insurance. 

And taking time off will no longer be paid for, so you will need to plan ahead and budget to take it unpaid.

Time Management

The last major disadvantage I'll mention is the logistics of juggling more than one client. For those used to being full-time, you learned to juggle your to-do's and conflicting priorities on the job, but now you have to do that for each of your clients and overall for yourself.

Depending on the type of fractional you are (ie COO, CMO, CFO, etc), you may be able to work with each client on a given day or two per week, but some of us need to be available daily, which is more challenging. You then have to clearly set expectations and boundaries with your client, figure out how to organize and share calendars and availability, and then be disciplined enough to stick to it yourself (when not an emergency). All of this is doable and there are tools to help (some of which we discuss in the community), but be aware that it is a challenge.

And it's important to have this figured out and established when you start working with a new client so that there are no misunderstandings. And for clients who have never worked with fractionals before, there is an element of education needed to get to that alignment.

I personally prefer fractional to full-time employment despite these challenges, and ironically found that in this climate, fractional employment can be more "stable" than full-time employment.

And this is why Fractionals United is open to both existing and wannabe fractionals: there is so much we can learn from each other in relation to these and other fractional "business" challenges. So if you're a leader considering going fractional, join us to learn more.


Popular posts from this blog

Fractional vs Consultant

Now that "fractional" is more popular and in the news, it is important to understand what the difference between that and consulting is. I was recently part of an Operator's Guild panel on just this topic, and as part of our presentation deck, created the below table to highlight the differences between all the types of non-traditional leadership roles: To put it simply, there is no difference between a fractional CXO and their full-time counterpart except that the fractional will be part-time and therefore have other work, whether other fractional or consulting work. I personally do a combination of fractional COO work and workflow consulting. And fractional is always a leadership role, although not necessarily executive level, and needs to be synonymous with that.  Another way to look at the difference between fractionals and consultants is through two more lenses: what are they hired for and what their focus has to be. Consultants are hired for their skills; they may

A Cost Comparison: Fractional Leaders vs. Full-Time Execs

Most organizations understand the value of having a leader in an executive role to guide their business, but it's not always financially feasible, there may not always be a full time need, or some struggle to find the right person. As a result, fractional leadership has become increasingly popular as an alternative means to leveraging executive level talent.  As a reminder from our last  post , the benefits of hiring a fractional are the flexibility it offers in terms of time commitment and the ability to access talented leaders at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, working with fractionals does not require businesses to make significant investments in infrastructure or resources—the professional provides all necessary tools and resources themselves. Since this is an emerging and growing concept, I was eager to explore the cost of a FTE (full-time employee) compensation plan, in comparisons to fractional monthly retainers. The data is eye opening to say the least!  Accor