Who’s belittling what?

Since I launched FOAF nearly a year ago, I’ve received all kinds of feedback – praise, skepticism, constructive and non-constructive criticism, offers to help, and so much more.

But I never received a message like the one that arrived in my LinkedIn inbox this week, and it’s one I must respond to.

The context: I got a LinkedIn connection request from someone whose name I know well – someone who’s a leader in the fractional executive world.

I quickly accepted and sent a personal response praising their work with a detailed note, saying that they are well respected by many members of my communities, including FOAF.

Here’s what they said, after a few brief pleasantries:

“FOAF has come up a few times…Many of us feel it actually hurts the fractional movement since it belittles what we do and bring to the table.”

That’s one hell of an introduction.

And I respect it. I thanked them for their candor.

“I appreciate your candor,” I said.

Let’s break this down though, shall we?

“FOAF has come up a few times…”

Okay, that made my day.

If I felt like maybe I wasn’t marketing FOAF enough, this is the best validation that our message is getting out in some of the right circles.

So, thanks for that. You made a founder and marketer’s dream come true.

“Many of us”

Manna, manna, manna! Let it rain, baby. I’m here for all of it.

I have no clue who the “us” is, mind you. But there are many!


And more importantly, the masses (is that a stretch?) FEEL something.

I don’t know if the number one rule of marketing is “don’t be boring,” but it’s up there.

“it actually hurts”

My initial note to them was all “Love, Actually,” but the sequel is “Hurts, Actually,” and that doesn’t sound like a box office draw.

I went through five stages of something seeing that h-word.

And it doesn’t just hurt, but it actually hurts?

After my note about the candor, I told my new connection, “It’s meant to be a way of creating more opportunities for fractional execs – or even execs who don’t see themselves as fractional talent.”

This expands the pie, not contracts it.

More on that shortly.

“the fractional movement”

Let’s get into two big reasons why there’s such a movement, if it even is a movement.

One is that the corporate world largely doesn’t see itself as having any obligations toward its workers.

There are plenty of exceptions among firms of all sizes, but the rule for most is to prioritize profitability at all costs.

In turn, a lot of people moved away from wanting corporate jobs. They’ve shifted toward fractional work, whether it’s to pursue economic freedom, work-life balance, a greater variety of assignments, or all kinds of things that sound way better on paper than they usually are for most who go this route.

I still wouldn’t call the fractional approach a “movement.”

Most of us fractional folks are trying to do what we’ve always done: get paid, do honest work, work with people we respect, and not burn ourselves down to ashes.

Does that make FOAF or I part of a movement?

On one hand, I hope not.

On the other, if it means we get to wear silly hats or learn secret handshakes, I might be able to get behind it.

“since it belittles what we do”

Belittles, eh?

There are two reasons I can think of for this.

One is the FOAF tone. Look at our site or marketing materials, and you’ll see we don’t check our personality at the door.

Some of it comes from the name itself. When I stumbled on the concept and discovered the acronym that went with it, “FOAF” was brimming with personality. Saying it aloud (rhyming with “loaf”) just sounds goofy.

Try it. Say it aloud. Loud enough that you startle your pets. Or a nearby squirrel.

We have five values at FOAF, and the last but not least one is “fun.”

Here is how we describe it:

“Fun: We love what you do, and what we do. We apply our expertise to exciting projects and match CXO executives who want to work with you, not have to work with you.”

That’s the FOAFing dream, ain’t it?

But then there’s the other part of “belittling,” which I felt was the reason the fractional masses seem aghast at our feather-ruffling.

I think it’s because we dare say this on our site and elsewhere:

“You don’t need a fractional CXO. You need a Fraction of a Fraction… or a FOAF. And you’ve come to the right FOAFing place.”

I’ll be honest: there’s some slight of hand in my phrasing.

That’s because no one really knows what “fractional” means. What kind of fraction are we talking about? 1/3? 1/2?

4/5 is a fraction. 1/1 is a fraction. 2/1 is a fraction. 500/1 is a fraction – and it means you’re probably overpaying your agency.

My hypothesis is that most people equate “fractional” with “part-time.”

“Part-time,” I’d imagine, is somewhere between 1/5 and 4/5 of someone’s time. I’d wager most think it’s somewhere between 1/5 and 1/2.

For the companies I was working with before and since my last full-time role, that was more than many companies needed, and it would cost more than they could afford.

What these clients needed was an advisor who could also roll up their sleeves and get stuff done.

But in the more limited window where the exec is getting stuff done, that exec is bringing their 10 or 20 or 50 years of experience, so they can get their client further along.

That buys time until the client has the needs and budget to fill their leadership and skills gaps.

This is why we’re not “belittling” but rather “elevating.”

We’re increasing the pool of who can tap into this fractional, ahem, movement.

And we’re increasing the supply of execs who might consider themselves buying the silly fractional hat.

By the time someone gets to FOAF.pro, it’s true, they probably don’t need a fractional CXO in the way most people think about it.

But if someone comes to us needing a part-time hire or even an agency recommendation, am I going to talk them out of it?

Hell no! I’ll open my rolodex.

Try me. I’ll give you a recommendation for whatever you need.

Need a carpenter in Monmouth County, NJ? I’ve got one!

What about an acting coach? I know one of the all-time greats.

Name it.

“what we do and bring to the table.”

You thought I was never going to get there, right?

I think it’s a big table.

But I think there are a lot of boring folks at the table.

And I don’t want to do anything boring.

So if our brand’s a little feistier than others, and we like talking about our favorite four-letter F-words, and we get a little brash about our offering, we don’t need to apologize for that.

If that means we’re not invited to the table, we’ll eat in the car, going 88MPH.

Where we’re going, we don’t need FOAFing roads.


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