Articles

The Part-Time Executive: Filling the Management Void

Several years back I met with the president of a $5 million firm about hiring my marketing agency. For two hours he spoke about great things his company wanted to do to increase product awareness in the marketplace.

As the meeting progressed I noticed a fascinating rhythm to the conversation. Each item on his wish list was discounted by a concern about lack of resources or effects of the larger economy.

It was an interesting dichotomy, as he simultaneously recognized his overwhelming need to keep one step ahead of the competition and acknowledged a fear of spending money…or of not spending it.

Intellectually, this gentleman understood his marketing was an investment rather than an expense. He had saddled his sales director with the company’s entire marketing requirements, which prevented him from doing HIS job adequately. The boss knew he needed a marketing professional in-house to watch over every step of the process on his behalf, and was paralyzed.

As we parted I realized how wide the gap had become between big companies that can afford to hire top-notch talent and smaller firms that can’t.

The question became how to level the playing field, making world-class marketing, financial, HR, and similar types of talent available to the companies that need it the most at a price they’re willing to pay.

The short answer – hire a consultant – troubled me. Too many consultants approach their assignments knowing it’s a limited arrangement and remain emotionally distant from the client company.

And the long-term answer – hiring full-time employees – was economically repugnant to those who foot the bill.

A halfway solution was required.

Solving the Problem
At the MarketBuilding Team we developed a virtual in-house advertising agency to address the challenge.

We provided to this client a bank of hours into which he’d deposit a fixed amount each month and have access to a range of strategic, creative, and tactical services from world-class providers with whom we had relationships.

This approach made it possible for smaller companies (typically under $50 million) to hire just as much of a given service as they needed. They got C-level professionals working as Part-Time Executives (PTE) for a fraction of their normal fees.

Here’s how we worked it:

1)    We Analyzed. Determining there was adequate need for in-house marketing capabilities, we negotiated an annual contract and planned strategy for the coming 36 months. A comprehensive range of marketing communications services were made available, with an estimated number of hours for each service based on the marketing plan. Work was done both on-site and in the field.

2)    We Motivated. Each service had a regular hourly rate attached to it. To reward the client’s long-term commitment, all rates were discounted for the length of the contract, extending the client’s budget.

3)    We Organized. Each quarter, client and agency reviewed objectives, strategies, and results. Resources were adjusted as necessary.

4)    We Complemented. We coordinated closely with all client departments to maximize their resources and minimize duplication and unnecessary expense.

5)    We Delivered. We had weekly conversations with the client to keep everyone on track, with written status reports. These discussions – from 5-60 minutes each – ensured everyone stayed productive and deadlines were never missed.

6)    We Adjusted. A summary of activity by project and service was provided monthly, with any financial surplus or shortfall rolled into the next month. At year-end accounts were balanced as contracts were extended.

Admittedly, there was still a learning curve as we got to know each other. However, we all quickly discovered that bringing in PTEs provides higher caliber employees than most small businesses can usually afford, with more continuity and expertise than the client expected.

All without busting the budget.

As an extra benefit, since this professional’s end-date wasn’t a foregone conclusion from the outset, they were universally seen as part of the family, rather than merely as a hired gun.

The Key to Success is Flexibility
Our model quickly matches services needed to services provided. It’s much more cost-effective than working à la carte, and makes budgeting for both sides considerably easier.

Withdrawals from this “bank” are made in quarter-hour increments whenever work is done for any client assignment. Many times those five-minute fixes just drop off the table and remain uncounted.

We’ve found ourselves able to rapidly add or subtract hours based on changing markets and new opportunities. Any services not accounted for in the original proposal can easily be added, with additional out-of-pocket costs approved by the client before being incurred.

And while originally developed to allow a small marketing agency to provide turnkey communications services to a small client, this strategy easily lends itself to financial, HR, and similar services.

Which means a $3 million firm can now hire a highly-credentialed CFO, benefiting from the cachet and connections she’ll provide. A $10 million business can hire a Madison Avenue veteran like me for a fraction of a full-time employee’s normal costs.

Why Service Providers Do This
Having world-class talent on-hand for a variable amount of time each month is a winner all around. In dozens of such arrangements it’s proven itself to be universally simple and profitable.

Like the client, the service provider desires flexibility. In his case it’s to pursue other assignments, network, join boards, write, and otherwise stay intellectually stimulated.

From a financial perspective, several part-time gigs easily generate more money than one full-time position.

Finally, there’s the boredom factor. Simply put, there may not be enough challenging work in one company to occupy a high-level professional who knows how to work smart.

Therefore, rather than working for a single employer, the PTE keeps fresh by interacting with a dozen. Each gets between 10-30 hours of time monthly, with substantial interaction by email, text, and phone at no additional charge.

Getting Started
Hiring the PTE delivers greater ROI, flexibility, diversion, opportunity, commitment, continuity, and experience applied to every assignment.

This is added to the benefits staff and management gain by learning from workers with a wealth of professional knowledge who are continuously rejuvenating their educational base on someone else’s dime.

It quickly becomes obvious how any company can grow and function at a higher level with much lower risk than traditional arrangements.

If hiring a Part Time Executive makes sense for you, ask for referrals for the necessary skill set at your next Executive Forums meeting. Other resources to consider include chamber of commerce websites, trade associations, and Guru.com.

Granted, such arrangements are still considered unusual at this level. Most people see themselves as full-time employees or consultants, rather than in the gray area inhabited by PTEs.

But investing effort to match your company’s needs with the super-qualified person who can accomplish your company’s work in just a few days per month will easily provide you with the critical
differences present between an incredibly successful company and one just getting by.

Before inviting a stack of resumes, and for the sake of improved financial and operational results, consider hiring a variety of Part-Time Executives.

Your business will grow much faster than you expected and with considerably lower overhead.

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