For a retired finance professional, moving to a part-time role with a small or mid-sized company can help fill a lot of things in one’s life: time, a bank account and the desire to be around people who can talk shop.
For the CFO still in a full-time position, going part-time can be a potential safety net to use for when the job disappears and conducting a job hunt at an advanced age looks daunting.
There are a few things to keep in mind when making the decision whether or not to go the part-time CFO route, said Alyse Bodine, global managing partner of the financial officers practice at the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.
“One key advantage a part-time role may offer a CFO is flexibility, while having the opportunity to continue applying career-long experience to a company that is looking for a time-tested counselor to give advice or offer a “been-there-done-that” perspective,” said the recruiter.
When you are negotiating with a company for a part-time CFO role, Bodine said, it’s important to make sure the hiring company is clear on leadership responsibilities and determine whether the intention is to hire a full-time or permanent CFO — for example, is the part-time CFO being hired to provide a stabilizing presence to the team while a full-time CFO search is being conducted?
You should make sure you won’t be stretched over a number of projects, areas, or other companies and that the company has your full attention to ensure you will deliver the desired impact, she added.
Knowing your role and responsibilities is vital as well, said Bodine: being a “part-time” CFO versus a project-based or interim CFO has subtle differences.
She pointed out smaller businesses or startups often use a part-time CFO on a regular basis, although the role is often more of a “keep up the books” type of job rather than one that is strategic or highly technical.
By contrast, she explained, mid-sized and larger companies are not always able to “make do” with a part-time CFO, but have a surprisingly frequent need for interim CFOs, who work full time for a period of 3-6-9 months while the next permanent CFO is recruited.
Heidrick & Struggles is seeing this through its Business Talent Group, a Heidrick & Struggles unit which connects independent consultants, subject matter experts and interim executives with the Fortune 1000 companies.
Bodine said you don’t have to stick to pitching your services to companies in industries where you’ve had experience.
“In some cases, there are organizations that seek outside perspective and, therefore, having expertise from a different industry is desired and can be valuable to the hiring organization,” said the recruiting firm executive.
In seeking a potential part-time employer, she stressed it is important to look at the stage of the hiring company and the setting: Is the company looking at a growth play? Is it venture capital-backed or in an early stage in need of a build? Is it a turnaround or restructuring play? Is the company looking to drive a finance transformation (automation, digital, etc.)? Does the environment the hiring company provides resonate culturally?
In terms of geography, she said a CFO may run into challenges assuming a global role as a part-time CFO, but if the CFO does have deep global experience, the inverse could work well — especially if global expansion is a key priority for the company.
In marketing yourself Jason Flanders, executive director for Robert Half Management, another executive recruiter, urges highlighting your soft skills.
“To break into consulting, you need technical aptitude to get noticed, but soft skills, like communication and adaptability, are vital for success, particularly in a remote work environment,” he said. “Focus on quality of work. Your ability to produce quality work and satisfy clients will help ensure you gain future projects and clients.”
You can also help market yourself by building your professional visibility through bylines to trade publications and speaking at industry events, including today’s virtual events, he said.
When you are considering whether to go part-time, Flanders said examine yourself to ensure you have the right mindset and are adaptable:
“You should have an appetite for risk and unknowns,” he said. “Be able to parachute into a situation, and be able to engage with stakeholders and take people with you on the change journey.”
The options of working part-time include setting up shop yourself and working for a part-time (or fractional) CFO services firm.
Dave Robinson who founded one, Driven Insights, said there are several advantages to working with a fractional CFO services like his compared to going into the consulting business by yourself:
The firm tees up all client relationships and these are ongoing relationships, not one-and-done projects.
Processes and technology are all standardized so you can parachute in and efficiently add value without “re-working” everything to your liking every time you need to weigh in on a decision.
With a fractional services firm, like Driven Insights, you can fill in your knowledge and experience gaps with others in the company who have it. “For example, if your experience in sales tax for SaaS firms (or raising VC, or governance, or M&A, or any area) is light, tap a colleague to coach you up or to step in to complement your expertise where it’s needed,” he said.
You always know where your next paycheck is coming from, avoid the whole feast/famine that comes with freelancing.
The time commitment for fractional CFO firms can range from a few hours a week to one to three days a week, he said.
On how much to charge, Robinson said part-time CFOs typically go for $1,200-$2,500 per day but it’s not uncommon to present an all-cash proposal with a cash + equity alternative (if they’re willing to take a lower fee and feel good about the client’s prospects).