Guide To Fractional CMO Services

A Guide to Fractional CMO Services

In today’s digital marketing ecosystem, there are many ways for companies to bring marketing talent to their organization.   However, it can be more difficult to find the marketing leadership you need, particularly for many small, growing brands where the founder initially did marketing.  

To make it even more challenging, the function of marketing is often handed off by someone who may not be trained or experienced in branding, design, and advanced marketing principles.  All hope is not lost, though, as one emerging concept is a fractional CMO that helps brands hire marketing leadership at the executive level on a part-time basis.   

This arrangement allows an experienced and knowledgeable individual to establish clear direction on strategy, systems, and goals to bring on the right marketing talent and partners to grow the brand and increase revenue.  Compared to a full-time CMO, a  fractional CMO is a great solution for organizations that need experienced, strategic marketing leadership.   

The concept of fractional leadership isn’t new and has been around for over 20 years, first emerging with part-time financial executives added to the c-suite. As companies realized the value of fractional CFOs, the model expanded into other fractional executives, including HR, IT, and marketing efforts.

What is a Fractional CMO?

A fractional Chief Marketing Officer (FCMO for short)  is a marketing executive who contracts their expertise and applies it to the company’s marketing.   Typically, the FCMO is a very capable marketing expert who could work with a single brand’s marketing function but instead develops and executes a comprehensive marketing strategy for various businesses for a fixed amount of time in a given month. 

In other words, they dedicate a fraction of the time that a regular CMO would spend on the company and receive a fraction of the compensation.  This allows small businesses to have an experienced and qualified marketing leader on their executive team without adding an expensive full-time employee to their payroll, as growing businesses need organizational agility and low overhead. 

An outsourced CMO bridges the gap between a traditional CMO and an under-experienced marketing implementer. By spending five to ten hours a week on your business marketing function, a fractional CMO can:

  • Translate the CEO & Board’s direction and vision into marketing strategy, campaigns, and short-term objectives.
  • Define the key talent (team members and freelancers) that the business needs to hit key metrics and reach its marketing goals 
  • Assist HR in finding, interviewing, and managing qualified talent to implement the marketing plan.
  • Report monthly to the CEO, CFO, and Board on all KPIs mutually defined as important metrics
  • Continually innovate ways to reach marketing and revenue growth through process and automation optimization despite roadblocks that might present themselves.

Why hire a fractional CMO?

The biggest advantage to a fractional CMO compared to a full-time Chief Marketing Officer is the cost savings.  In addition, hiring an external marketing strategist gives you the advantage of an objective observer from outside the organization that has been exposed to many different concepts and methodologies.

Compared to many freelance marketing professionals who specialize in a discipline like SEO or a channel like social media, a good fractional CMO often has broader experience across many different disciplines and channels.  This perspective and market acumen can help identify branding and messaging disconnects between your design and deliverables. 

Compared to a marketing agency, a fractional CMO is going to get much more innovative with your go-to-market strategy as agencies often use the same methodology and follow the same processes for a large number of clients.   Also, agencies often hand your account off to new hires brought on board to service clients as the agency grows.

When to Hire a Fractional CMO

As your business transitions from start-up growth to scaling up, you’ll know if you are in a situation where it makes sense to have a fractional CMO work with your leadership team.   Suppose the company has started to grow its team and is close to profitability. In that case, an outsourced CMO will help the company establish and execute marketing campaigns and establish marketing operations that will free up executive-level bandwidth to can focus on the mission of the company.

The true benefit of a good fractional CMO is their ability to expertly assess the current situation and quickly strategize a plan that highlights the brand’s strengths while improving the tone and messaging of marketing campaigns. .   A fractional CMO doesn’t have to be the long-term answer to lead your company’s marketing team, but it’s often the best choice in the short term until you are ready to bring on a full-time marketing director.

How Much Does A Fractional CMO Cost?

Fractional CMO cost of services will vary depending on the experience level of who you reach out to and whether are not you are working directly with a freelancer or through an agency/staffing firm.  In this scenario, contracting with an agency or staffing firm will increase the cost of hiring a fractional CMO as there is a middleman to pay.

The investment level can also vary greatly among freelancers depending on the overall experience.  Individual rates can also be higher with specialty knowledge in a particular discipline like e-commerce or an in-demand discipline like content marketing.

Monthly hours-based retainers often provide the most affordable options compared to return on investment. Still, shorter-term projects or even a one-week or one-day engagement can deliver a bottom-line impact to your company.  While not always detrimental, it’s probably a good idea to avoid hourly billing arrangements as the bill can add up quickly in this type of engagement without proper scoping and oversight.

Let’s do some math and speculate that a brand hires a Fractional Chief Marketing Officer for $200 per hour. If they work 15 hours a month, that works out to $3,000 a month or $36,000 yearly in compensation.  Compared to a traditional CMO salary, which says starts around $160,000 on the low end, you’ll appreciate the term “fractional CMO” when it comes to your marketing budget. 

Fractional CMO pay rates, experience levels, and engagement types may vary, but rather than worrying about the cost, it’s equally important to weigh the value you’ll receive and what type of impact you’l get from a new direction in your marketing team.  In my experience, you can get many benefits from just a few hours of dedicated time from an experienced marketing professional.

How Do I Find a Fractional CMO?

As you identify your needs and your next level’s goals begin to shape, the type of help you need in the CMO role will reveal itself.   Be sure to find an individual who will actively listen to your vision and can quickly understand your business model and the industry niche in which you compete.  This type of person can turn your vision into actionable strategies and campaigns and push the leadership team to incorporate new thoughts and methodologies.

Of course, there are many freelance aggregators like, or you could browse your network on LinkedIn to see what type of marketing leadership is in your network.   Some companies will reach out to an agency that provides fractional CMO services, or you can also call specialists in the field like for a referral.

My Plug for Fractional CMO Services

As a marketing agency owner of 15+ years and having been in the business of marketing for even longer, I have my thumb on the pulse of the industry and what true marketing leadership looks like in today’s age of social media, account-based marketing, email campaigns, paid ads, and content marketing.

I recommend that we set up a time to talk shop for 30-45 minutes, and afterward, I can give you my honest assessment of the best ‘next step’ related to the CMO role and your marketing team.   Whether you should hire an intern, replace a freelancer, or conduct an agency search, I can help you think through what your go-forward marketing efforts might look like.  

And that might mean that we don’t work together right now, which is 100% okay with me as the goal of connecting with people is to help them when the situation is right.  This could mean that the time is now, or it could be right at a future date.  No matter, reach out with a short note, and I will send you a link to my online calendar so we can set up a time to talk more about Fractional CMO Services for your company.


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