Not every business has the need, budget, time or bandwidth to hire a marketing leader or even a specialist "cmo for startups". Early-stage startups in particular, often de-prioritise their marketing efforts until just before the launch of their product. This devalues the role that marketing should play - even as an advisor to your marketing team - in helping determine the best target audience, users and how to reach them.
All that being said, there are a variety of considerations you’ll need to make and questions you’ll need to ask yourself when thinking about making a senior marketing hire, whether you decide to hire a Part-Time CMO or not.
Should you hire a Part-Time CMO for your startup?
Let's begin by stating the fact that c-suite positions and job titles - even a generic 'cmo for startups' - are kind of irrelevant at this stage. Everyone is a Chief Executive Officer when they start a business and don’t have any employees. The same can be said of any of the other first hires: every startup that is now a unicorn was once a room filled only with a Chief Technical Officer (CTO), a Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), a Chief Product Officer (CPO), a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and of course… a Startup Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).
So when we’re using the term CMO, you can feel free to interchange that with Marketing Director, Head of Marketing… whatever you want to call the marketing leader for your team*.
But it isn’t just early-stage businesses who need help with their marketing efforts, and for whom working with a part-time CMO can be a game-changer for their marketing team. There is actually more than one scenario where hiring a part-time CMO makes great sense to reach the next level.
Let’s start with the obvious. Startups are often on a tight budget and may not have the resources to hire a full-time Chief Marketing Officer. However, a marketing leader is critical to the success of any business, and neglecting this function at the early-stage could be fatal. Hiring a part-time specialist CMO for startups can be a cost-effective solution when you're looking to develop and deploy a marketing strategy… without breaking the bank.
Scaleups Who Need an Interim Solution
Scaleups are businesses which have grown past the ‘startup’ phase and are looking to expand rapidly. They may require the expertise of the right CMO to lead their marketing efforts, but may not be ready for a full-time cmo. In this case, hiring a part-time CMO provides an interim solution to bridge the gap until a full-time hire becomes necessary.
Before hiring Full-Time to Help Define the Marketing Plan
Hiring a full-time CMO is a significant investment and it's crucial to get the scope of the role right to reach the next level. A part-time CMO can help define the scope of the role and a marketing strategy, ensuring that the responsibilities and expectations are clear before committing to a full-time executive. In this way, when the time comes to bring in the full-time chief marketing officer, the business will already be organized and aligned around marketing – setting you up for long-term business growth.
When You Have Only Junior Staff
A part-time CMO can be an excellent solution for startups and scaleups who need marketing expertise but only have junior team members in your marketing department, who often need immediate guidance.
Junior staff may not have the experience or knowledge to develop and execute a comprehensive marketing strategy. A part-time CMO provides the marketing leadership necessary to ensure that all your efforts and marketing campaigns are effective and align with long-term business goals.
When to hire a Part-Time CMO?
Timing is crucial when it comes to hiring a part-time or fractional CMO and there are several scenarios when it can be highly beneficial, depending on timing.
Before product launch, a part-time CMO can help develop a marketing strategy that aligns with your product, target audience, customer base and budget. Part-Time CMOs - by definition - work with multiple businesses at once within limited time-frames. With the expertise gained from that experience, you can benefit from their optimization of your marketing strategy which can help ensure a successful product launch.
Then after launching a new product, it's essential to keep the momentum going and continue to attract new customers. In this instance, a part-time or fractional CMO helps fine-tune and execute your marketing strategy based on the initial feedback from customers.
On other occasions, a product launch may work but growth and usage from an initial spurt can also decrease over time. In this scenario, it may be necessary to pivot. A pivot may be needed to stay alive as a business, so it isn’t an insignificant decision and has a huge impact on your marketing strategy: you may need to completely blow up your plans and previous assumptions. Hiring a Part-Time Chief Marketing Officer when you believe you need to pivot gives you the chance to have fresh eyes and an objective voice to assess the market, develop a new marketing strategy and move you in this new direction.
The final possible scenario is when expanding into a new country. This can be a challenge for a variety of reasons: distance, time zone, language and currency may all be part of your issues, depending on your industry. Take the example of a successful European business that wants to start selling their products or services in the US. Many on the continent are afraid of this step and may not have anyone on their team - including a senior marketer - who has experience with it themselves. Bringing in a Part-Time CMO who knows the local market can help you develop a marketing strategy that navigates cultural differences and make less missteps along the way.
By bringing in a part-time or fractional CMO at the right time, you can benefit from their expertise and guidance to help you succeed in your startup marketing efforts.
Benefits of hiring a Part-Time CMO
Although in detailing why to hire a Part-Time CMO and when, we’ve demonstrated some of the benefits for startups in need of expert marketing guidance, there are other specific advantages such as:
Saving time: Running a startup requires a bunch of time and effort from everyone involved, and developing a marketing strategy if you’re not experienced in this area can take up a significant portion of that time that may be better spent elsewhere. By hiring a Part-Time or Fractional CMO, you’re able to delegate the responsibility of marketing to an expert, giving you more time to focus on other aspects of your business.
Access to experience you wouldn’t have otherwise: A Part-Time CMO provides valuable experience that may not be available in-house. They probably bring years of experience working with startups, marketing agencies and large corporations and are able to provide insights and strategies that you may not have had access to otherwise.
Saving money: Hiring a full-time CMO can be expensive, especially for startups that are still in the early stages. By hiring a Part-Time CMO, you get the expert guidance you need without the added expense of a full-time salary, taxes and benefits package.
Efficiency: A Fractional or Part-Time CMO helps optimize your marketing efforts and make them more efficient. An experienced CMO can understand the most valuable insights and data that can help you improve your marketing and get better results.
Additionally, working with a CMO in this way allows you to immediately fill the need you have, rather than wait. In certain parts of the world, you may need to wait up to three months after you’ve made the job offer for your new hire to work their notice period (30 days is more common in the UK and Australia, while the concept may or may not exist in other countries). Working with a Part-Time CMO solves this problem so you can keep working towards your business goals.
Part-Time vs Full-time
If you're in a position to start looking for a senior marketer, you’re not necessarily looking for a C-level board member. Going back to our point about the job title, it doesn’t really matter what you call them: most businesses in this position just need a doer, someone able to hit the ground running.
The questions you need to ask yourself is how urgent is the need, and how much can you afford to get it wrong? The answers to these questions will help decide whether to make a full time hire or work with a Part-Time CMO. If you’re going for the hire, you’ll need to get your job spec right, start looking through applications, do interviews and then decide who is the best, most likely fit for your business at your particular stage of growth. Do you need a specialist cmo for startups? Skills in brand awareness? public relations? growth? Or the right cmo at the right time, a marketing leader who can manage your team members and deliver a marketing strategy and properly manage the success of your marketing campaigns? Working with a Part-Time CMO means speaking to an individual or business who fits your team and skills, perhaps asking around your network and then… making a decision. Simple, right?
The next consideration is cost. You may be able to find a Full-Time CMO on the up, looking for their next step... but that may also be a risk. The costs don’t end with salary either: there are taxes, overheads, business costs etc. None of these apply with a Part-Time or Fractional CMO.
The final consideration is flexibility. If you hire a full time marketer and it doesn’t work out, it isn’t a matter of saying your goodbyes and that’s that. It can be expensive, time consuming and take a toll on the culture and mood within your team.
That’s not to say this is a clear-cut choice: it really depends on your situation, needs and often timing. The long term benefits of a full timer that works out well are obvious… but the long term impact if it DOESN’T, are just as big.
When to stop working with a Part-Time CMO?
Knowing when to stop working with a Part-Time CMO can be just as important as knowing when to hire one. There are a number of indicators that it may be time to part ways.
Firstly, when the time required to do the job doesn’t match the availability or mental capacity of the Part-Time CMO, it means you probably need a full-time CMO. Part-time or fractional CMOs are best suited for startups or scale-ups that require temporary, short-term strategic support. But as your business grows, you’ll need to be on the lookout for a good CMO more permanent solution.
Secondly, when day-to-day management and long term strategy is the vast majority of the job, it may be time to consider a full-time CMO. Part-time CMOs are generally brought in to provide strategic support and execute in some specialist areas. But if the role has become more operational and day-to-day, it could be time to try and find the right CMO to take on the role full-time.
Third, when your marketing team needs full-time guidance, a Part-Time CMO may not be in a position to provide the level of support that your team members expect of a marketing leader. It could be that they’re not able to be as immediately responsive; they can’t be in your office as much as you’d like or your team is growing beyond their scope. Your team is your most valuable asset, so if they require more constant, hands-on guidance, a full-time CMO could be the solution to provide the necessary leadership.
Lastly, when the skills of your part-time CMO are less relevant to your stage of growth, it may be time to part ways. As your business grows and evolves, the skills required to drive it forward will also change. Maybe they're more of a doer than a strategist, maybe their digital marketing only when you need a diversity of skills for your marketing team. Basically, if your part-time CMO's skills are no longer relevant to your stage of growth, it could be time to find someone with a different skill set.
Knowing when to stop working with a part-time CMO can ensure your business has the right level of support and guidance at all times; A good CMO will help you manage the process of moving to a full-time CMO role and may even help you hire their replacement.
There are multiple benefits of hiring a part-time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). For businesses that may not have the need or resources for a full-time senior marketer, a part-time CMO helps momentarily fill the gap. Startups, scaleups, and businesses that need help defining the scope of marketing can benefit from a part-time CMO’s experience and expertise. When it comes to why hire a Part-Time CMO, timing is everything. A part-time CMO can be great before or after a product launch to understand your target audience, during a pivot to develop your marketing strategy, or when choosing to expand into new countries and markets to help deliver brand awareness. By adding a part-time CMO to your team at the right time, your company can reap the benefits of their guidance and expertise.
A part-time CMO may not be right for every business, but if you think it’s right for you or you're on the fence, give us a call!
*We’d refer to ourselves as “Part-Time Head of Marketing”, but we’re not sure it has the same ring to it.