The date was March 2, 2020. I felt excitement, adventure and optimism: It was my first day as CEO at Yupro Placement. The company had already beaten the statistics by surviving longer than most startups, and we expected continued growth.

Fast forward 10 days to March 12, 2020. We all know what happened then. Suddenly my confidence was shaken. I wondered if the business would even survive the next month, let alone five years.

Survival Mode

In my brand-new role as CEO, I wasn’t just worried about my family. I was now responsible for the survival of the company, its staff and contractors. That 30-60-90-day plan I created during my interview process? It went out the window. We had to ditch the rule book, too, and start from scratch. It took a lot of reflection, determination and a focus on our mission to survive. But we did it, and we are now on the eve of our 10th anniversary.

Today, I find myself facing a survival mindset of a different kind. Stagnant performance, a looming recession and an industry that’s changing at lightning speed have me stretching for solutions. But researching, planning and working long hours are not cutting it like they did back in 2020. What’s happening?

I came to the humbling realization that our marketplace message wasn’t clear, despite two recent website projects. We were too emotionally attached to our social mission to allow our external marketing agency to take creative content liberties. With declining revenue, our attachment to the social impact messaging was not resonating; it was holding us back. But it felt like a betrayal to let it go.

A Fractional Solution

Enter the world of fractional expertise. I was skeptical about it, but something had to change. I held up the white flag and brought a fractional chief marketing officer onto our team in August 2023.

I shared our pain points and company performance with her. I described my lofty goal of achieving 30% growth in 2024, with a revamped website and aggressive sales campaigns.

We set goals and deliverables that would be accomplished in three months, with her dedicated time limited to 10 hours per week. I was upfront on my budget, as this was pure investment in a down year.

I trusted, leaned in and haven’t looked back. While the job posting included the word “fractional,” the experience has been far from that. It’s been wholly transformative. For a fraction of the week — and 15% of the fully loaded cost of a senior marketing leader — we have an expert who is objectively focused, drives us to think differently and challenges our status quo.

We got some tough feedback — and our company and team are better for it. I’m a stronger leader because I now can lean on external expertise, resources and data to point us in the right direction. Our team’s confidence has grown as they’ve seen the early-term results.

This experience has also taught me, a first-time CEO, some valuable lessons. I’ve learned to let go of some things. I’ve learned to trust the data she provides to guide our decisions. I’ve learned that if messaging doesn’t resonate with our audience, we can and should change it.

Fractional Is Anything But

I often think back to the incredible challenges of 2020. There was no playbook to survive, much less thrive. I didn’t have the answers. I felt like a fraction of myself. But our impact as leaders is far from fractional no matter what’s happening around us.

Our fractional CMO’s insights and expertise have freed me to become more in touch, more connected and more whole. We now have a 12-month actionable marketing plan, our new website traffic is up 400% and the average visitor time spent on our site leaped from eight seconds to two minutes! This isn’t by accident and isn’t fractional performance; it’s the result of relinquishing the past and trusting an expert and partner to bring our vision to life.

I’m more in touch now than I’ve ever been. I didn’t think someone who wasn’t on our full-time payroll could have such a deep impact on me and my company. For our small organization, it’s made all the difference.