Zachary King
February 23, 2024

6 steps to becoming a fractional executive

“How do I become a Fractional Executive?” is a question that I get asked a lot. Like dozens of times a week, so I thought I would try and document some of my thoughts on the process.  (Watch this space!ore content + maybe even some courses on the topic to come shortly! 😎)

When I started working as a Fractional Exec, I didn’t know anyone else that was doing it.  I was simply winging it based on an abstract concept I had read about.  It seemed like a good way to leverage my background to provide real value to early-stage companies in a targeted, affordable manner.  

Some days I still feel like I’m winging it - but at least I now have a few years’ experience under my belt!  But more importantly, I have been privileged to learn from hundreds of other Fractionals, primarily through the Fractional Exec Community I created.  The entire reason I founded it was to help others get up to speed faster than my own bumbling efforts. So many people have been incredibly generous with their time in helping me understand the space, and how to succeed at the Fractional Life. Now I feel like it’s my time to give back.

From my own learned experience, here are the 6 steps to becoming a Fractional Executive:

1. Identify Your Niche

Focusing on a specific niche allows you to leverage your unique skills and experiences, making you stand out in the Fractional Executive market. Assess your past roles, industries you've worked in, and the types of projects that energize you to pinpoint your niche.  It can be somewhat counterintuitive to those without a sales/marketing background, but the more narrow your focus, the easier it will be to sell yourself as a resource.  Your domain expertise is easier to understand, and your value proposition is easier to define.

Don’t worry about getting pigeonholed too much - it’s a widely shared experience that your initial role will broaden out as much as you allow it to.  After all, the entire reason founders and executive leaders bring  you on board is because you have seen some shit, and have scars to prove it.

2. Identify Your Ideal Customers

Knowing who your ideal customers are can significantly streamline your GTM efforts. Ideal customers are people who benefit most from your niche expertise and value proposition. Consider factors like company size, industry, and the types of challenges they face. Understanding your ideal customer profile helps in tailoring your messaging and engagement strategies to meet their specific needs.

Use an ICP template, get ChatGPT to give you a backstory, and use Midjourney to create headshots.  The more fleshed-out these profiles are, the more relatable they will be.

3. Develop Your Engagement Model

An effective engagement strategy outlines how you'll interact with both potential and existing clients, from initial contact through to project completion and follow-up. This includes defining your consultation process, your project management approach, and how you ensure client satisfaction throughout. Having a clear process not only makes you more efficient in getting customers but also builds client trust in your professionalism.

My hard-won knowledge in this space is that an upfront workshop/discovery session supported by weekly review/planning sessions are non-negotiables.  Having a very clear - and very mutual! - understanding of what success looks like is critical to the success of a Fractional engagement.

If you can work pro-bono for a short period of time, this is an excellent way to test out these systems.  I did this when I was starting out and not only did it help me operationally, it has turned out to be an excellent source of leads.  This is not a long-term strategy though and be wary of giving away your time for free.

4. Finding Leads

Hooooobooooy this is a big one and usually the one that people get stuck on.  There is a lot to unpack here - and as a starting point, you should start by talking to your existing network.  

It doesn’t have to be a hard sell to hire you! Just bounce the idea of what you plan to offer off them, get their thoughts/feedback and then ask if there is anyone that you should be talking to.  The crucial part is to be intentional about this… it won’t happen by chance.

Here are some steps you can do specifically to find leads:

>> Identify your Value Proposition

It is THE fundamental piece of your go-to-market strategy. Your value prop forms the basis of your sales, your marketing, and your elevator pitch and shows up in almost every facet of your business.

Your value prop is the fundamental reason why companies would choose to work with you.

Reflect on your unique skills, achievements, and the distinct advantages you bring to a business. This clarity is not just for your benefit—it's essential for communicating your worth and resonating with your ideal clients. Remember, this should be a concise statement that you can easily share, whether in conversation or in your marketing materials.

If you want to go deeper on this, I have written about it previously here.

>> Do Demand Generation: Effective demand generation extends beyond just posting on LinkedIn—it's about leveraging all channels where your ideal audience spends their time. This could include Twitter, Medium, TikTok (a notably underserved platform, in my opinion), your own website, blogs, Quora, Reddit, and Facebook. The objective is to engage with platforms that align with your audience's preferences and behaviours.

The essence of successful demand generation lies in creating content that deeply connects with the needs, challenges, and goals of your target audience. Share your insights, industry trends, and success stories not only to showcase your expertise but also to engage in meaningful conversations with your potential clients. 

By consistently offering valuable content, you transition your online presence from simply a professional outline to a resource for potential clients seeking expert advice.

>> Have a Deliberate Content Strategy: A significant hurdle for many, myself included(!!), is maintaining a disciplined and systematic approach to content creation and distribution. 

Consistency is the key.  Showing up day after day, week after week really compounds. For instance, on LinkedIn, aim to post 2-3 times a week and actively engage with your network beyond your own posts.

A content flywheel strategy enhances your efficiency and extends your reach by repurposing content across multiple channels. This strategy might include:

  • Publishing a long-form article on LinkedIn, then repurposing it on Medium, your website, etc.
  • Creating a Twitter thread to summarize key points.
  • Producing short-form videos to highlight main insights.
  • Distributing a newsletter that dives deeper into topics.
  • Launching a podcast to discuss issues at length.

Remember, evergreen content can also be scheduled for reposting every few months, helping you to gradually build a robust content calendar. This systematic approach ensures a steady stream of relevant content, keeping your audience engaged and attracting new clients.

There's much more to explore, from top-of-funnel awareness (TOFU) to bottom-of-funnel conversion (BOFU). Stay tuned for more thoughts on crafting a comprehensive content strategy.

>> Network Effectively: Make sure you are carving out time for both IRL and online activities. Make it a priority to attend industry events, both virtual and in-person, with a focus on those that are most relevant to your areas of expertise. Participate in discussions, contribute to panels, and share your knowledge freely. The goal is to be seen as a resource, not just another contact. 

Remember, effective networking is a two-way street; always look for ways to provide value to your connections, keeping an eye out for opportunities to introduce contacts who might benefit from each other's services.

Coffee catch-ups with your network can be a goldmine of serendipitous leads.

Don’t forget to network with other Fractionals!  This is the number one source of leads for many people after your own network.

>> Do Outbound Sales: Many shy away from outbound sales efforts, but when strategically executed, they can yield significant results - especially for those with a non-sales background.  

I will admit that I am also very bad at doing this for myself, which is crazy considering that people pay me good money to figure it out for them!  However recent research from the Fractional Godfather Henning Schwinnum showed that for Fractional Sales Leads, outbound was the #1 lead source, beating out referrals.

Once you have figured out your value prop, your ideal customer and your engagement model, it’s relatively straightforward to put together an outbound machine using a tool like Apollo or even Linkedin. Resources are abundant for those ready to build their outbound machine, and I’m here to offer guidance should you need it.

>> Build a Referral engine: this is going to be the *key* tool in expanding your business.  If you are just starting out, make sure to ask your existing network for referrals.  If you feel uncomfortable doing this, try and shift your mindset to look at this as a value exchange.  By asking for a referral, you are providing the chance for them to help someone they know.  They won’t do it if they don’t believe you can add value, so there is no concern there. 

Begin by leveraging your existing network, and asking for introductions to potential clients. It's also essential to cultivate a habit of requesting referrals from satisfied customers, particularly at moments when your value is most apparent. These referrals can be your most straightforward path to new business, so provide clear, easy ways for your clients and network to make introductions.

5. Adjust and Adapt

"Adjusting and Adapting" is crucial for a fractional executive. It's about listening closely to what your clients, the market, and your own experiences are telling you. If feedback suggests your services aren't hitting the mark, change them. If your pricing model isn't competitive or fair, adjust it. If your marketing isn't engaging the right audience, rethink it. 

This isn't about doing constant overhauls on your model - but being agile enough to make necessary tweaks to your offerings, ensuring you stay relevant and valuable. Act on feedback, learn from each project, and always be prepared to refine your approach to meet the market where it is. This mindset isn't just about survival; it's about thriving by staying aligned with your clients' evolving needs.

6. Join a community of your peers!

This goes without saying.  Working as a fractional can be a lonely experience, especially when you are just starting out.  Connecting with your peers to bounce ideas off each other, share mutual pain points and just shoot the breeze is a must. 

It’s like having a hive mind to help out both with functional questions (how do I setup a new CRM for B2B client?) or operationally focussed fractional questions (what’s the best way to allocate my time aross the week?) and just a good old fashioned chat.

Check out (obviously!) and to find groups of Fractional Executives globally to connect with and build out your network of future referrers and friends!

Additional Considerations:

Financial Planning: Understand the financial implications of being a fractional executive, including managing irregular income streams and planning for taxes and retirement. Talk to your partner, this is very important!!!

Legal and Contractual Knowledge: Familiarize yourself with the legal aspects of fractional work, including contracts, non-disclosures, and intellectual property rights.

Continuous Learning: Keep up with industry trends, new technologies, and management practices to maintain your competitive edge.

Personal Time Management: Develop strategies to manage your time effectively across multiple clients while maintaining work-life balance.  And don’t forget the all important pipeline development!

Client Relationship Management (CRM) Tools: Consider using CRM software to manage your client interactions, projects, and engagements efficiently.  I use the free version of Attia and it’s great.