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Fractional Staffing for Digital Marketing Roles

Jeremy Lopatin | June 28, 2021 | Digital Marketing

Not all skill gaps in your digital marketing team require a full-time employee to fill the void. For many companies, it may make more sense to hire a fractional employee if they need to supplement their team’s strategic vision or specialization in a certain field.

Fractional staffing can be a cost-effective way for growing or transitioning businesses to gain the expertise of seasoned marketing executives or specialists without having to pay a full annual salary. If you’re wondering how fractional staffing arrangements work, what marketing roles work best as fractional employees, and what companies are best suited for fractional hires, we’re breaking it down below.

What is a fractional employee?

Fractional employees are typically experienced executives or specialists that are contracted on a part-time basis for a set number of hours each week. Fractional hires typically divide their workweeks up between multiple companies, and generally have a defined number of hours to support a company each week. Though their schedules may be somewhat flexible, fractional employees are usually much more integrated with internal teams, systems, and processes than the average consultant or agency due to their embedded arrangement and consistent, routine involvement with the company.

Billing is generally handled similarly to third-party consultants, where fixed fees are established ahead of time and paid out on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. However, some fractional employees are arranged through staffing companies or agencies that lend out their consultants on a fractional basis.

What marketing roles or functions are best suited to fractional staffing?

Fractional staffing arrangements are typically best suited for roles that are highly strategic and/or highly specialized. You’ll often see fractional C-suite employees or executive-level positions, where a company is in need of an experienced leader, but cannot manage the price of a full-time hire.

In marketing, fractional CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) are becoming more common, and occasionally marketing director or manager positions. However, fractional staffing also lends itself to specialist roles where a company may not need full-time support. Digital marketing functions that require highly-specialized expertise and/or technical skill may be better satisfied by fractional hires rather than full-time generalist employees that do not have the same depth for specific skills. Specialist positions that could be outsourced as fractional hires include:

  • SEO experts
  • Digital advertising, SEM, and PPC experts
  • Web developers
  • Marketing automation specialists
  • Graphic designers
  • Content marketers
  • Analytics or CRM experts

What’s the difference between “fractional staffing” and part-time employment?

You’ll be hard pressed to find many marketing experts that are looking for part-time employment opportunities. Fractional staffing tends to involve higher value roles, which are either highly specialized or strategically impactful. Part-time employment tends to cater to more entry or mid-level tasks or functions, and individuals seeking part-time roles typically have lower salary expectations.

What’s the benefit of fractional staffing?

For companies, the primary benefit of fractional staffing is that it allows companies to bring in a highly-qualified expert at a fraction of the cost to hire them full-time. Companies primarily rely on fractional hires to fill a specific need that does not require full-time support. It also allows the company to forego extra costs associated with onboarding a new employee (the U.S. Small Business Administration estimates internal hires cost anywhere from 1.25 to 1.4 times the base salary).

Digital marketing fractional employees help companies fill gaps in their marketing needs, and fractional hires typically act as embedded members of an internal team, which allows for mentorship and transfer of knowledge to internal marketing employees. Due to their varied work arrangements, fractional employees also get diverse experience and exposure to different brands, industries, strategies, and platforms, which is especially helpful in the ever-evolving field of digital marketing.

For fractional employees, advantages include a diverse set of clients and flexible work arrangements. Fractional marketing hires can also focus on specializing in a particular discipline that they’re passionate about rather than serving as an in-house generalist.

What are the downsides to fractional staffing?

For many companies, the most immediate concern with fractional employees is the price. Proven marketing leaders or specialists may charge upward of $100 or $150 per hour (or more). At that cost, companies could hire a full-time entry-level marketing coordinator. However, relying on entry-level marketing professionals to effectively conceive and execute marketing strategies could result in disaster.

Fractional hires are also not typically as intimately integrated as a full-time in-house team member, both from a cultural and process standpoint. Having too many fractional employees can result in disjointed communication, project management, or company culture.

What types of companies are best suited to fractional staffing?

At this point, you might be wondering – is my company a good fit for fractional employees? As a general rule of thumb for fractional hiring, your company should be large enough to have other full-time marketing employees, but too small to have the budget or workload to justify full-time staffing for the position in question. 

In our view, it’s extremely important to have full-time marketing employees in house before bringing in a fractional hire, or it’s quite difficult to maintain a consistent marketing strategy and company culture. Fractional staffing engagements don’t usually last forever, so having other marketing roles in-house can also help to expand internal marketing capabilities by gleaning skills and strategies from fractional experts.

When to choose a fractional marketing team member vs. an agency

Rather than hire a fractional employee, companies can also consider outsourcing work entirely to a marketing agency. If the role or function in question is strategic, longer-term, or cross-functional, it might be a good fit for fractional staffing. On the other hand, if the role or function is more transactional, short-term, or requires the contributions of many different skill sets to execute, it might be better tackled by an agency.

There are also software and process considerations when choosing between a fractional team member or an agency. If you’re in need of specific tools or software platforms (i.e. the Adobe Suite for graphic design or a keyword-tracking tool for SEO), you should clarify whether the fractional employee has access to essential software and tools, or if there will be additional expenses. In some instances, fractional marketing services offered through agencies may include access to software platforms, templates, and processes.

What will the future of fractional staffing look like in the marketing industry and beyond?

With the growing adoption of remote work, the expanding gig economy, and the rising importance of digital marketing after the pandemic, fractional staffing in the marketing industry will likely continue to grow over time. Fractional digital marketing leaders are compelling for startups and companies in transition, but medium-sized businesses with gaps in their marketing mix are increasingly looking to part-time digital marketing specialists for support. Fractional CMOs are still the most frequently searched and advertised positions, but the unique skill sets needed for certain digital marketing functions makes fractional specialist positions attractive for companies that cannot justify a full-time hire.

Need a digital marketing expert at a fraction of the cost?

At Climb Marketing, we offer fractional marketing strategy, SEO, and digital advertising services to help B2B companies expand their online visibility and reach without the cost of a full-time salary. Please request a consultation today if you’d like to discuss your digital marketing efforts and whether a fractional expert would be a good fit for your team.

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