A Day in a Small Business (Will Simpson)

Saturday, June 3, 2023

It started as a typical warm sunny day in Austin as Jane woke up with the sun to start the day. Jane is an entrepreneur CEO who started her consumer product goods company right here in this kitchen where she is brewing her coffee. She has fought hard over the past few years through all of the changes in the pandemic and is now on track to beat every sales forecast the company has set, and this is for the third quarter in a row.

"That coffee smells amazing," Jasmine says, entering the kitchen. "I am going to need some of that before I even think about opening this laptop." Jasmine is Jane's partner and has recently left MEGA CORP after a 13-year career in finance and operations and is on an entrepreneurial journey of her own as a Fractional CFO.

"Just pouring us both a cup," says Jane. "I know you like to start posting your content on socials early to get your name out there for your consulting stuff." 

"Well, not consulting. I am really focused on fractional engagements," Jasmine replies as she looks at her partner, seeing she is clearly not listening but instead is in deep thought.

"Ok, I know that look; what's up? I know it is a little late, but we will still beat the real heat and get in our run," Jasmine adds. 

"No, I'm all good with that; it's NEWCO. I am probably overthinking it, and it will all work itself out, but we are just way behind in delivery," says Jane with the stress evident in her voice. 

Jasmine replies, "I see. How can I help?" 

"Oh, it's nothing financial. We are hitting all our numbers and then some, but if we keep falling behind on our delivery, our reputation will suffer, and you know what happens in the B2C world when that happens," Jane replies with a tad of finality in her tone.

"Ok, I hear you, I am not gonna solve it, but I am just operational enough to help ask the right questions. You know I am always here to be your sounding board. Let's get in our run and whiteboard some things out when we get back."

"Thanks, sweetie; I know you are just trying to help. I am sure the run will clear some fog too. We do need to get moving before the real heat gets here."

As the pair head out of the apartment and onto the lake trails downtown, Jane continues to cycle in thought. Her team is amazing, but for most of them, this is their first role out of college. She is also aware that her lack of operational experience is quickly catching up with the business. Process and all that stuff is just so booooring, she thinks as she smiles a bit at her partner running next to her. She knows Jasmine loves the operational side of the business.

As the two wind down their run, they grab a bench close to the waters and just take a moment to relax and people-watch. 

Jasmine sees her partner still cycling in her head and decides not to wait for the formality of a whiteboard to kick off a conversation. "Jane, tell me what is bothering you; just blurt it out in one sentence, no thinking, just say it."

"Ugh, you know I like to"..... Jane starts to say, but Jasmine is insistent, "Nope, just say it—quick."

Jane sighs, than starts to brain dump all that had been pent up inside her. "Ok, we are outselling delivery, and not me or anyone on the team has the operations chops to guide us, really. I need someone to get our processes in place and documented, plus get some goals that don't seem to be moving all over the place. I guess what I really need is someone to be my right hand, focusing IN the business so I can stay focused ON the growth of the business.

"I have some operationally-minded people on the team, but they know what they know from me by working here. I need some new perspectives, and some real 'been there and done that' kind of experience would be really nice."

"Ok, well, as usual, you are great at spotting the issues; it sounds to me like you know you need a COO. I can hit my network, plus your advisory board should be able to help find some good candidates. With money tight right now, no need to spend on a headhunting firm; I am sure we can get some good prospects in," Jasmine replies. "So what am I missing? It can not be this easy, or you would already be in motion on it."

"Yes, well, you are spot on about money being tight, but it is tighter than you know. The board has made it pretty clear that until we can show receivables and not just sales since we get paid upon delivery, that they will not be aligned with bringing in what they call 'overhead' expense. They are so short-term sometimes it is infuriating," Jane says as her ears go slightly red with irritation.

"Ok, hey, this is not bad news; this is actually a great fit for Fractional. You get all the experience you need at a cost that even the tightest of number crunchers will be happy with. I mean, I AM those very number crunchers, so I am pretty sure I know what is what here," Jasmine adds with a broad grin now on her face.

Jane is not convinced. "Look, I see how consultants can help with finances and maybe sales or marketing, but I need someone who is committed to my business and my success. No offense to consultants, but I do not want a 'part-timer',"  Jane replies with a bit of snark.

Jasmine is now the one who sighs and takes a moment to reply with grace. She can see her partner feels stuck and wants to help, not just "win the argument" between what a consultant and a fractional executive is. "Ok, and hear me out; I am not suggesting a consultant. In this case, you do not need that. Consultants deliver output, and while that might solve some of the bandwidth issues, it will not really help with your big picture issues and certainly can not be your right hand.

"Think of this. With a consultant, you delegate tasks and maybe even projects to them. But with a Fractional Executive, you can abdicate accountability. That is very different.

"You interview a Fractional Executive the same way you interview any other exec. They need to be a good fit with you and the culture of the company. The real difference here is not in what or how they deliver as an executive, it is just in the amount of time they are with you. You said it yourself: what you are after is the experience they can bring you and the team."

Jane's shoulders drop slightly as she leans back on the bench. It is as if a weight is being lifted at the same time a light bulb has moved to the brightest setting. "How is it that I have missed this distinction all this time? I am playing back the conversations we have had over the past couple of months since you left MEGA SHIT HOLE," which is Jane's name for Jasmin's last company. "I have been replacing fractional with consultant all this time."

"It's all good, babe, what I heard was that you were happy, that I was happy, and that is what really matters.

"Look, we don't need the whiteboard," Jasmine continues. "Go type up one of your magic emails to the board and tell them to approve $10K a month for a Fractional COO. I am a member of a fantastic group called Fractionals United, and they have some very talented COOs there. I feel certain you can find a great fit in very short order."

Jasmine hops up from the bench and gives a little wink to her partner. "Race you home!"

With that, the two clear their heads with a sprint home and have an enjoyable weekend.

So what is the moral of the story?

Fractionals are a solution for many small businesses that are stuck and need real experience and guidance from committed team members at a rate that matches the budget.


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