The Fractional CMO role is becoming more and more popular as a career choice. But what about taking on those kinds of projects on top of a full-time role?
If it's something you're considering, but worried about the challenge, don't despair! We spoke to award-winning B2B marketer, Shikha Pakhide, on how she's approaching her Fractional CMO side hustle.
Whether it's time management, finding clients, juggling multiple projects, or just finding time for yourself, Shikha has advice to share on all this and more.
Originally an episode of CMO Convo, now available in written form below for you to enjoy.
- Shikha's 'one team' dream
- The allure of fractional CMO roles
- The challenges of working across multiple organizations
- Finding the right projects to work on
- How to manage a fractional CMO side hustle alongside your full-time job
- Advice for finding fractional CMO roles in an economic downturn
Shikha Pakhide and her ‘one team’ dream
Hi, Shikha. Welcome to CMO Convo. How are you doing today?
I'm doing good, thank you. I hope it’s the same from your end as well.
All good, thanks! It’s going to be an exciting conversation. We've covered fractional CMOs and interim CMOs a few times, but it's usually been from the perspective of that being your full-time career, so it will be very interesting to talk about the possibility of it being a side hustle in addition to a full-time job.
Before we get into that, Shikha, maybe you could introduce yourself.
Sure. I'm Shikha, a B2B marketer with close to two decades of marketing experience. I've never studied marketing as a discipline, and that has worked really well for me because I'm not going by any textbook, framework, or what somebody has said. It's all about learning, unlearning, and relearning, and I'm really enjoying that part.
I'm passionate about demand generation with a growth mindset, and, of course, account-based marketing – I'm learning the tips and tricks of it. Sales know all about this concept; I think they’ve been doing account-based marketing since the day they started doing sales and bringing revenue to the organization. It's only we marketers who have just warmed to the concept.
The other thing that is really close to my heart is ‘one team’ collaboration. We keep on talking about it as a theory with sales, product, marketing, customer success, etc., but I always see people working in silos. To date, I’m still dying to see a perfect combination of all these teams working together as one team to bring more revenue and success to the organization.
The allure of fractional CMO roles
That’s the big dream to aim towards – a united front between sales and marketing. You probably get to see a lot of different team frameworks, which must make it easier to identify warning signs of silos forming within an organization. Is that one of the reasons you were so enthusiastic about being a fractional CMO?
I’ve had years of seeing, understanding, and learning about different industries and, of course, seeing how different teams work and organizations’ various paths to success. That was one of the forces that helped me evaluate the concept of working as a fractional CMO.
And then the second part is that I feel that most organizations do well on the logistical and tactical front. Most marketers – whether they’re directors, VPs, or even CMOs – are drawn to the logistical day-to-day grind. In this entire scenario, the most strategic part – alignment with the rest of the C-suite – gets lost. That's another one of the prime reasons I’m drawn to these types of roles: to change that.
I really want to understand and be more deeply involved in how my CFO is thinking, how my CRO is thinking, how my Chief of Sales, how my Chief of Customer Success, and definitely how the CEO is thinking about the business.
The other thing I’ve noticed after interacting with a lot of other CMOs at different events and panels is that though they’re given the title of CMO, they’re often not given the due recognition of being in the C-suite. My end game is to bring a strategic dimension to the CMO role and make it more evident that Chief Marketing Officer is not just a title – we mean business and we can help the organization achieve its revenue targets.
That’s how the idea of being a fractional CMO evolved in my mind, and those are the goals I’m working towards as a fractional CMO. Plus, of course, it allows me to pick and choose the projects that give due justice to my values and goals.
The challenges of working across multiple organizations
That sounds like so much to be working on just within one organization. To be working on that across multiple organizations has got to be a challenge, surely?
To be honest, it is a major challenge, but I’m taking one project at a time and working with other C-suite people to understand how they see their end goal. Sometimes I need to help them to adjust their mindset, which if it’s been built over a decade can be very, very difficult.
I'm not there to totally alter their way of thinking, but, to borrow from Adam Grant, I want to show how they can think again about the practical aspect of the situation or challenge they’re facing. Rather than following fixed ideas about how SaaS works and how demand needs to be filled, let’s pause and think again.
How do you go about getting to know the C-suite and their priorities when you don't necessarily have the luxury of time?
The first part is breaking down the communication barrier to establish rapport with them. I’m getting better at it. I'm not gonna say that I'm an expert, but I’m learning, and again, doing the unlearning and relearning part.
When you’re trying to achieve this level of communication and alignment in a shorter time span, you can not avoid looking at the targets the organization is aiming for. If the entire C-suite has a totally clear focus on that, that’s going to be a common ground that brings everybody together.
Those targets can help you make it clear that we’re not all at different tables and marketing isn’t just everybody’s enabler. We’re on the same side, so let's work together to achieve $10 million in ARR or whatever the target is. Of course, I'll have my own KPIs too, so we need to bring them together with the organization’s KPIs to create a win-win, then get it done.
Finding the right projects to work on
Let's talk a bit more about practicalities. You said earlier that you had some ideas in mind of the types of projects you want to take on. How do you go about finding those types of projects?
One of the best approaches is to look in Slack communities because they are places where you can be yourself and you can share the exact details of the projects you’re looking for.
The other thing to mention is that it’s not hard about pitching. It's actually a very soft pitch wherein I'm projecting myself as a known B2B marketer with X Y, Z skills, and this is what I'm looking for, and this is how I can help you out. I also utilize LinkedIn as a platform to celebrate my accomplishments.
You could say I take a slow and steady approach, rather than going all in and then getting overwhelmed with responses.
How to manage a fractional CMO side hustle alongside your full-time job
When it comes to day-to-day management, how do you plan your time around a full-time role and the fractional CMO projects? It seems like we barely have enough time in the day as it is, even without taking on extra side hustles.
The first thing was to get to grips with the meaning of deep work. We all keep on saying that we don't have enough time and that our inboxes are bursting with emails we have to respond to. I really wanted to take a step back and see if it’s really the case that I don't have enough time. Am I spending my time properly or not? Self-observation came into the picture, and trust me, there was a lot of scope for improvement.
I picked up the Deep Work book to better understand where I'm lacking and how I can fill that particular gap. We all want to learn, achieve more, earn kudos, and move our projects forward inch by inch. To do that, deep work is absolutely essential. I don’t use any productivity tools or website blockers. I've just started implementing this concept in my day-to-day routine, and it has really helped me.
That kind of approach must require very clear boundaries in terms of the separation between different projects, the time that you're able to spend on certain things, and turning down superfluous meetings so you can focus on the work that needs to be done.
How do you go about having those conversations both with your full-time organization and the other stakeholders in your upcoming projects? The CMO role is very demanding – there are lots and lots of things to cover, and most C-suites probably want their CMO available all the time to jump in and do what needs to be done, so how do you establish those boundaries?
It goes back to setting very specific KPIs at the beginning of the project. We define what we are going to achieve in the time available from my end, and we also have regular check-ins. In those check-ins, we’re not going to discuss the minutiae of the messaging for a particular event or whether an email went out. No. That superfluous work has to be cut down. The check-ins have to be totally focused on KPIs, strategy, and our execution plan.
When it comes to the day-to-day stuff, I also establish clear boundaries with the teams, agencies, and vendors I work with about which mediums I’m available on. If you're expecting a professional answer from my end, don't ping me on WhatsApp or LinkedIn – you're not gonna get a reply from me there.
If you're only available on Slack, no problem. If you're only expecting email responses, so be it. Only on Teams? Fine. These are the only mediums I use for professional correspondence with the teams, organizations, and agencies I work with. I don’t use any other mediums because the more mediums you open up, the more chance of distraction.
The third thing is that before I arrange any kind of meeting, I always do a couple of checks. Is it necessary? Can I get an answer over email? If that person is in my time zone can I make a quick call rather than using other people’s valuable time?
It’s so important to make other stakeholders aware of all these boundaries if they’re soliciting any response from my end.
Those boundaries must be very important too in helping you to maintain a personal life and your sanity. If you're constantly working, you don't have time to decompress. That's very important for CMOs to consider, particularly with the tough economic times ahead. How do you manage the personal and the professional in this respect?
I don't work on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s a complete no-no in our household. I don't even attend any networking events or meetups at the weekend, but if it’s happening Monday to Friday, I'll be more than happy to find an hour to attend an event.
I don’t organize any meetups either. I know that I may have missed out because of that, but that's okay because, to be honest, if you do too much, you become like a machine. If you're working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, it kills the creative part of your brain. You're not able to think up the kinds of ideas that you could have had if you’d taken some time for yourself.
I also make sure I take some time to read. I always have at least one or two books on my desk, so if I need to take a break or I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed, I can flip through a few pages. That way, I’m at least using that time well. Plus, it’s a great stress-buster.
Advice for finding fractional CMO roles in an economic downturn
How is the current economic situation impacting the market for fractional CMOs? Do you think there’s going to be more demand for fractional CMOs, or is it going to be trickier to find clients and projects to work on?
I think there will be enough demand. With the uncertainties organizations are facing, they might not want to bring a permanent full-time CMO on board. If it doesn’t work out, there are so many complexities to deal with, so I think there will be a substantial demand for fractional CMOs because that's a win-win for both parties.
That's good news. With that in mind, many people in the CMO Alliance community are interested in becoming fractional CMOs – what is your main piece of advice for them?
I think it's a very personal choice. Do you want to do it? And if so, why? Is it for the learning opportunities? What is your prime focus in picking up this kind of project? Trust me – once you find the ‘why’, that will lay the foundation for your work and make the whole idea much less overwhelming. Taking a little time to think about it also makes it less likely that you’ll end up wasting energy on a project that turns out not to be right for you.
Should pretty much anyone who's looking to advance their marketing career consider this as an option?
It depends on your professional and personal goals and if those goals are in alignment. For example, my goals are to learn and to better understand how the C-suite dynamic works. That’s why I'm doing this.
However, I don't think it's for everyone. Not everyone has the same kind of approach. Some people are only happy doing full-time jobs, some people are only happy doing fractional roles, and some people are happy doing a combination of the two.
On a personal level, I would not recommend that anybody sacrifice their personal needs to take on this kind of role. At the end of the day, that’s not going to make you happy. So please, pause, think about it, and as Simon Sinek always says, find your ‘why’.
Great stuff. Shikha, this has been really interesting. Thank you very much for joining us today. We've got many fractional CMOs in the CMO Alliance community and many people who are looking at these roles with interest, so it's gonna be a very useful conversation for them.
Thank you for having me.
Considering a move into a Fractional CMO role (whether it's full-time or side hustle)? Get all the advice you need from a global network of CMOs and marketing leaders on the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel.