Client Roster Getting Crowded? 4 Time-Management Hacks for the Busy Fractional
It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Monday. Claire has just sat down at her desk, ready to ease into her work week. A mug of hot coffee on one side of her workspace, photos of her dogs on the other, she stretches, mentally reviewing some of her priorities for the day and the week. She jiggles her mouse to wake up her laptop and widescreen monitor, logs in, and fires up her Outlook.
Claire’s inbox doesn’t look like most people’s, because she is a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) with different email accounts for each of her nine clients in professional services industries from architecture to cybersecurity. Perusing her inboxes one at a time, she notices two messages threatening to derail the order of her day.
Client 1 is requesting an impromptu meeting at noon, right in the middle of one of Claire’s weekly standing meetings with Client 2. Client 1 just received an RFP, due on Friday, and wants to have a strategy discussion before beginning to compile the response.
In the meantime, Client 3 is asking whether Claire can be available this afternoon to discuss a few points from a recent draft of a go-to-market strategy. The suggested time is during the first hour of a 2-hour branding strategy session with five internal participants from Client 4, the scheduling of which was nothing short of a miracle.
In addition to responding to the usual pile of Monday morning emails from Clients 1-9, Claire’s main priorities for the day had been preparing for and leading the branding session for Client 4, and reviewing/finalizing a major award submission due at 6pm for Client 5.
Claire values all her clients. She is committed to service and responsiveness. She wants each of her nine clients to feel like they are a priority.
But Claire can’t be in two places at once, nor jeopardize hard deadlines. How should Claire manage her Manic Monday?
Hacking Time Management
Claire is a fictional name, but her Monday is pretty true to life. I am the founder of TÆNKE Marketing, a marketing agency catering to professional services and B2B industries. I am a Fractional CMO. And my days can look a lot like Claire’s sometimes.
If you’re a Fractional CxO, I bet yours do too.
With 8-10 clients on my roster at any given time, having good time management skills is the only way I can keep all the balls in the air. I strongly believe that you can be the most talented executive, strategist, or creative in your industry – but if you are running a business without effective practices in place to tightly manage your time, the wheels will come off pretty quickly.
Over 25 years of experience has taught me useful lessons in staying disciplined, yet flexible, with time management. It’s not always easy, but there are some proven strategies that a Fractional CxO can use to manage multiple clients, stay relatively sane, and keep everyone happy.
Hack #1: Bundle Your Time
Maintaining some sense of order in your daily schedule starts with the fundamentals: how you schedule meetings, document calls, and organize tasks.
Let’s start with scheduling meetings: with multiple clients on your roster, stacking your days with back-to-back meetings – jumping from one client to the next – will be the default. If you fall into this trap, however, kiss productivity goodbye. You may attend a lot of meetings, but you won’t get anything done.
If you really intend to execute on what you’ve just discussed with your client, you need to bundle your time. For example, I often schedule catch-ups with clients for 30 minutes, immediately followed by a minimum of 30 minutes of heads-down planning or work time for the same client. I block this time on my calendar and always adhere to it. It allows me to keep my focus after a client call, not have to switch gears, and prevents procrastination.
Conversations with clients can go all over the place. On your client call, organize your notes into two buckets: bigger-picture strategy items, and near-term action items. In this way, long-lead items are clearly documented and won’t get lost in the shuffle of more urgent initiatives. Once time-sensitive needs are addressed, you can easily return to that isolated big-picture list and get things moving forward incrementally.
Finally, with multiple clients, spending half an hour here and half an hour there with each client ultimately amounts to getting very little done. To stay productive, try whenever possible to schedule uninterrupted blocks of time on your calendar, say 1 to 3 hours, for a single client in your week. It allows you focused time to see a task or project all the way through, or at least deliver measurable progress.
Hack #2: Schedule a Morning Triage
Too many people get easily overwhelmed or distracted by email. It’s an occupational hazard if you’re a Fractional CxO with multiple clients. Setting aside time every single morning to triage your inbox(es) and calendars is a must.
My morning triage is as habitual as getting dressed, making coffee, and walking my dogs. It will happen no matter what. It’s just a part of the daily routine, and it helps keep a lot of balls in the air all at once.
Every morning, I block time to scroll through my inboxes, flag action items, file away emails I’m simply copied on, review progress on deadlines, and make sure all calendars are in sync. I also use this time to check-in on or give feedback on tasks assigned to my “Network of Creative Resources” (NCR) – the partners and freelancers I have under master contracts to provide as-needed support on any one of (or, in some cases, all of) my client accounts.
I have clients and resources across multiple time zones. To be efficient, I typically focus on my own time zone or those ahead of me first, and set reminders to check in on time zones behind me later in the day. On the other hand, I also use time zones to my advantage, as I can often get ahead of deadlines in later time zones by leveraging a 2-3 hour time difference.
As long as I keep up with the daily triage, my inbox and calendar stays organized/up-to-date and projects can keep moving forward.
Hack #3: Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
If you’re a successful Fractional, it’s probably for a good reason! You have built up years or decades of experience; a lot of respect from your associates, colleagues, and clients; and therefore you are primed to be in an executive role and calling the shots.
You don’t need to – nor can you afford to – do every little thing. Assemble a strong team of subcontracted resources and delegate.
My go-to team is made up of people I’ve worked with over the years and trust. They bring individual specialties such as project management, social media marketing, graphic design, and copywriting to the table. Through these resources, I am able to dramatically expand what I can accomplish for my clients – especially those who don’t have internal creative teams that I’m managing as part of my CMO engagement.
Delegating tasks to my team also allows me to address time conflicts and competing priorities. For example, if one client has an urgent meeting request that conflicts with a standing commitment to another client, I can assign a proxy to participate in my place, take notes, and fill me in later.
Hack #4: Build Flexibility Into Your Contracts – and Your Client Relationships
As a CxO contracted through retainer-based agreements, it can be difficult to deliver the amount of time you’re contracted for. What clients ask you to do in a week or month may not quite match the hours you’ve agreed to on paper. One client may be getting more time than they are contracted for, putting others at risk for getting less.
To deliver what you’ve promised without having to tack on an additional service fee to a client’s bill, try to stay away from overly rigid scheduling.
For example, while many of my engagements are based on a weekly or monthly allotment of hours, there is still wiggle room. If I’ve put in more hours than contracted for a client in one month, I will balance it out by taking off time or otherwise reducing hours the following month.
Having a good rapport with your client to begin with helps you negotiate this. Communicate with your clients and be transparent about how you’re spending your time. They will appreciate the honesty (and the savings on added services), and it will help you make sure every client is getting the time they are due.
As a Fractional, you can be so integrated within your client’s organization that they may forget you’re not a full-time member of the team. It’s fair to remind your clients every now and again, if necessary, that as important as they are, you do have other commitments and you’re trying to be fair to everyone.
Managing Claire’s Manic Monday
How would I resolve Claire’s Manic Monday clash of priorities?
The answer: Client 1 has a genuine emergency with a hard deadline. The standing meeting with Client 2 happens weekly and probably has no urgency this week. I would ask Client 2 to reschedule or wait until next week.
Client 3 is requesting a chat about an item that has no hard deadlines attached as of yet, and it conflicts with a laboriously scheduled multi-participant work session with Client 4. The session with Client 4 is non-negotiable; I would simply offer Client 3 other times to talk.
And Client 5’s award submission due by 6 p.m.? If Claire is anything like me (she is), she has a subcontractor finishing the last details on it. I would simply check in during my morning triage to confirm we’re set to submit that evening.
Having good time management skills is critical for any Fractional CxO. Like many things, it requires consistency and discipline to see results. Set up some good practices now, and it will help you expand your capacity as a Fractional and grow your business well into the future.