What is Fractional Work?

Taylor Crane
February 15, 2024
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What is Fractional Work?

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I’m Taylor - the founder of We help senior talent become successful fractional operators, and we help companies reach and recruit that senior talent directly.

I’m also a Fractional Head of Product, specializing in early-stage startups. In my practice, I work with 3 startups at a time for 10 hrs/week each.

What is Fractional Work?

Fractional work is part-time work, typically paid on a monthly retainer, performed by experts in their field. A fractional job looks very similar to a full-time job, except the work is done on fewer hours per week for less pay.

Independent contractors like freelancers and consultants are not new, of course. Fractionals are independent contractors too, but that’s about where the similarities end. Fractional job responsibilities look identical to that of senior-level full-time employees.

But they cost less. 

And that is why companies are starting to hire fractional leaders to run their marketing team, develop their sales playbook, set the creative direction, or handle their finances (to name a few). These are companies that do not have the need for, or budget for, a full-time role. Thanks to fractional work, these companies are now able to hire the senior talent they need.

In this post we’ll break down exactly what fractional work is in more detail. We’ll also look at why it’s becoming so popular, including the macro trends that put us at the beginning of a fractional explosion.

Part-time Work

Yes, “fractional” is a fancy word for part-time. A fractional employee may work 10 hours per week for a company (or 5, or 20). And they’ll often work for multiple companies at once.

To date we’ve assumed that every job function requires exactly 40 hours of output per week. The 40 hour week served Henry Ford 100 years ago, but obviously much has changed since. Companies today can determine they need exactly 10 hours per week of CMO work, and get exactly that. Or 20 hours per week of CTO work. Or 12.5 hours per week of Sales Leadership work. Welcome to employment on a spectrum.

The bottom line is companies that leverage fractional work can build a more efficient team with exactly the skills and output needed, with lower burn (i.e. cost).

The Monthly Retainer

Fractionals are typically paid on a monthly retainer, meaning $X,000 per month, for a set commitment of hours. This is important because fractionals are an embedded resource on the team. This isn’t meant to be a one-off project with a fixed cost (which also differentiates fractionals from freelancers).

The relationship to a commitment of hours is also important. Companies get exactly the output they pay for, and nothing less or more. Compared to full-time employees, this is a much more transparent outcome for both sides.

Fractional work is designed to be a medium-to-long-term relationship, with increased transparency, and the monthly retainer reflects that.

Experts in Their Field

The term “fractional” implies someone who is an expert in their field. It’s often someone who has leadership and management experience.

There are fractional experts in every field you can name. Marketing, Design, Sales, Engineering, Product, Finance, Operations, People, Data, etc.

Most fractionals are 10+ years into their career. They’ve honed their craft as full-time employees, and are now able to drop into a company to add expert value quickly. This value comes in the form of providing strategic guidance, doing hands-on work, managing a department (including full-time employees), hiring and firing, and more.

If this sounds like the description of a senior-level full-time employee, that’s the point. The only difference is the work is done fractionally, i.e. less hours per week for less pay.

Since most fractional experts stack multiple clients, although they are paid less per client, their total compensation is the same (or in most cases, greater) than an equivalent full-time role.

Companies therefore get the benefit of an expert in their field, without having to pay full-price for it. The experts get to work with companies that otherwise would never be able to afford them, and get a more flexible work-life too.

What Fractional Work is NOT

It’s not a replacement for full-time work. If a company has the need for, and budget for, a full-time role, then they should hire a full-time employee. Full-time employees also come with increased predictability, availability, and are probably more likely to attend the company holiday party too.

Fractional work is also not a great fit if you just need a freelancer for a specific project. To redesign a landing page, hire a freelancer. To improve the conversion rate of the landing page as part of a larger marketing strategy, hire a fractional CMO. See the difference?

Fractional work is not a silver bullet for every resourcing need. Instead, it’s a new and valuable option that companies can leverage when it makes sense.

And an increasing number of companies are indeed leveraging it, the fractional movement is starting to explode in popularity.

Google Trends report for popular fractional work terms

Why Fractional Work is Becoming So Popular

The ideal output of every job is simply not always going to be 40 hours a week. Companies that embrace this realization, particularly for senior roles, are making hires that more precisely match their needs and budget.

This is welcome timing as the economy shifts away from the boom cycle over the last 15 years. Companies that over-hired are now shrinking teams. They’re managing burn more effectively and trying to get to (or increase) profitability. Hiring fractional employees is a brilliant way to do more with less.

Senior employees are welcoming fractional work with open arms, too. For them, it means working with companies they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. It means running their own business (how cool!). It means making more money, OR intentionally spending more time outside of work and making less money. Ultimately, it means more flexibility. It’s no wonder top talent is seizing this opportunity.

Companies Get Expert Talent for Cheap
Example: Acme Inc. has a great product but is struggling to market. They lack marketing expertise, but to go out and hire an experienced full-time VP or CMO would cost perhaps $300,000+/year (including salary, equity, taxes, bonus, benefits, etc.). Plus, they’re a small startup, they don’t need 40 hours/week of CMO-level strategic work.

Instead, Acme Inc. can hire a fractional CMO for $120,000/year, and extract the most valuable 10 hours/week from them.

Acme Inc. can perfectly fill their need with a seasoned marketing executive they would otherwise never be able to afford.

The cost reduction doesn’t stop there, either. Acme saves additional money because they don’t pay payroll taxes, don’t pay bonuses, and don’t need to offer benefits that don’t get used. The cost of the fractional CMO is simply the monthly retainer, and that’s it.

Employees Decide How Many Hours to Work
Example #1: Laura is a seasoned engineer, working at FAANG for 10 years, and feels eager to start her own company. She has an idea she wants to work on, but doesn’t have the time given her full-time job. For family reasons, she’s not comfortable quitting entirely and giving up all her income.

Instead, Laura can work as a fractional Engineering Lead for a startup for 20 hours/week. She’ll set the architectural direction, provide guidance and code reviews to the more junior engineers, and advise management on technical feasibility.

She’ll make enough money to support her family, and have 20 hours/week to start the next big thing. If Laura decided not to pursue her own company, she could also spend those 20 hours with family, pursuing a creative outlet, or traveling.

And the flipside is also true, fractionals can decide they want to work MORE.

Example #2: Kevin is a Finance Leader that feels bored as a full-time Finance Director, making $250,000/year. He’s been working on the same problems for 5 years, doesn’t feel challenged, and has a lot more firepower than his company even needs.

Kevin can work as a fractional COO, working with 4 different clients for 10 hours/week each. Each client pays him $10,000/month (~$230/hr), meaning he makes about $480,000/year, almost doubling his previous salary. For Kevin, a fractional job is a way to maximize his earnings.

The Future is Fractional

Fractional work is part-time, done by experts, embedded into the company.

It is for companies that keep a lean team, keep burn low, need expert talent, and want to maintain flexibility.

It is for employees that are experts in their craft, and are willing to be self-employed in pursuit of the flexibility and money fractional work offers.

Fractional Jobs

For us, the future is fractional. We built a job board, called Fractional Jobs, for companies and senior fractional talent to find each other.

For everyone else, there’s still Linkedin Jobs!

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playbooks, and more to

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