I first heard the term fractional in front of the title CFO when I was introduced to a client. The year was 2008 or 2009. I looked at Jim with a quizzical look. I didn’t ask him, “Jim, what’s a fractional CFO?” There’s nothing fractional about me.
I suppose that’s good marketing because the term fractional CFO is sticky and requires little explanation for the person hearing that title for the first time. I call it gimmicky, but at least I can admit I’m a bit of a curmudgeon.
For CFOs who love this term, such service providers no longer have a monopoly on the term. Now we have fractional CMOs, COOs, and CTOs.
I’m still unsure why we don’t call our electrician a fractional electrician. Should our dentists also be fractional dentists? Isn’t every CPA a fractional CPA to their client? I rest my case for now. Let’s move to my main point.
The Three Primary Roles in a Solo Professional Services Practice
I’m old school when it comes to terminology for what we do as professional service providers. I’ve been in this business since 2001. Since that time, I’ve only worked in just three capacities:
I can think of about four CEOs who would also call me the firm’s counselor, but that’s a bit too heavy for me.
Most of us start our practices as contractors. That is, we’re doing the heavy lifting that our clients cannot perform. We’re doing ‘exactly’ what we were doing when we worked in the W-2 world, but for more than one business.
A few years later, I started developing frameworks that my clients liked These frameworks were plug-and-play and adaptable from client to client. That was a turning point to becoming more of a consultant than a contractor. In those cases, my clients were doing the work, but I was the one with the playbook.
Today, I still do consulting work, but the majority of my work is now coaching, and I love it. When I accept clients, I never use the term ‘coaching’, but that’s essentially what I’m doing. I’m like the greybeard in the organization that doesn’t exist on the team.
What does this have to do with fractional CFO work? I’m not the policeman in the CFO services industry. If you use that term, just don’t marginalize what you do for your clients. You’re either a consultant, coach, or contractor.
Food for Thought
This is supposed to be my periodic rant against the term fractional CFO. If you haven’t guessed by now, I hate that term. I know, mom, I’m not supposed to use the word ‘hate’ in my language.
Let’s wrap up by revisiting the three roles of any CFO provider.
- What’s your primary role today with the majority of your clients? Is it a consultant, coach, or contractor?
- Is this what you want the answer to be? For instance, if 80% of your work is consulting, would you prefer to be coaching instead?
- If there is a gap in your responses, what are you going to do about it? What’s holding you back?
Need help? I won’t have answers, but I’m a really good sounding board.