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Innovation calendar    Jan 31, 2023

Do You Need a Fractional Advisor?

Are you a business owner struggling to fill a critical job opening for very niche expertise? Try out the fractional advisor, a more innovative cousin of a consultant!

It’s not unheard of for business units to wait months–even years–after posting a critical job opening seeking someone with niche expertise to realize that they’ll never be able to fill the position. Especially in the technology and innovation spheres, the candidate you’re looking for might not be interested in what you have to offer full-time. Although not a one-size-fits-all solution, engaging a fractional advisor may be the right move to get fast results and expert advice and leadership without making a full-time hire (yet). 

Consider a couple of scenarios we’ve seen in the real world:

  1. Your company’s a tried and true workhorse: you’ve delivered the same product with excellence for decades, but for various reasons, revenue is decreasing despite a steadily growing customer base. Your board just approved a strategic plan that underscores a necessity to innovate, and they set a goal to rapidly expand product offerings and revenue lines over the next two years. You post a job opportunity looking for an innovation executive. The ideal candidate has 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience, familiarity with your industry, and a talent for thinking far into the future while delivering short-term value. The role remains open for 18 months.
  2. You’re the CEO of a growth-stage startup looking to adapt your already-successful product to expand into a new market. You’ve thought about hiring a consulting firm but are wary of the price tag, and regardless, you need a more tailored, personal approach than what you’d get from a Big 4 firm. You’d love to hire someone full-time, but you’re not quite sure if expanding your C-suite is a viable option now, even if you could find someone with the right expertise in a reasonable time frame. You end up tasking your Chief Marketing Officer with delving deep into understanding this new-to-the-company potential market opportunity on top of her other responsibilities–not ideal.

For both of our beleaguered business leaders above, there’s an option they may not have considered: fractional advisors. Fractional advisors are part-time leaders, usually at a startup or medium-sized business, although we’ve seen some business units within larger companies take advantage of this kind of arrangement as well. These advisors can fill critical CxO leadership roles and are an especially good option if the business is exploring something new: a new market, a new level of scale, a new product line. Hiring managers also find comfort in the “try before you buy” aspect of the fractional executive. If the executive is a good fit and their expertise will be needed for a substantial part of the company’s journey, the fractional engagement helps de-risk a full-time job offer–for both parties. 

Isn’t this just another way to describe a consulting relationship? There is an important distinction. Consulting engagements tend to be time-bound and focused on a particular challenge. You’re also more likely to engage with your consulting firm to make recommendations, validate assumptions, communicate market insights and similar deliverables, but you’re unlikely to leverage them to lead. Instead of giving advice, handing over the plan, and leaving, a fractional executive’s engagement extends into the implementation phase and all the challenges that are encountered there. 

Startups and other enterprises have recognized a growing desire for fractional advisors and are building platforms to broker these types of engagements. Bolster, for example, offers a platform for fractional executive leadership, and Toptal and Emmerscale have similar services available. Render leans on our network of startups and technical experts to fill roles on a part-time basis for our clients, an option that is growing in popularity as quickly growing companies need deep expertise to achieve their next milestone.

Next time you’re considering an executive search, consider going fractional–it might just open up a tier of talent inaccessible through more traditional headhunting.

Render is an innovation studio that partners with organizations to unlock new ideas to solve their most challenging problems.

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