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The Freelance Finance Chief

As demand for executives and controllers grows more slowly over the next few years, CFOs may need to consider going “part-time.”

Amy Clayman never planned to become a part-time finance chief. For more than 14 years, she held full-time finance jobs, including four years she spent as treasurer and corporate controller at JBA International, an ERP software and consulting firm.

Amy Clayman, principal at Financial Fluency; freelance CFO

Amy Clayman, principal at Financial Fluency; freelance CFO

But after having her second child, she couldn’t keep up with the hours and raise her children at the same time. Being her own boss gave her more flexibility. “I came to the realization that I couldn’t really be on a plane all the time or working those crazy hours that the public accounting and corporate finance worlds demand from you,” Clayman says. “So I started thinking about trying to pursue other career paths that would still keep me engaged in higher-level thinking but not put me in a situation where I had to work 50-plus hours a week.”

Clayman had colleagues and friends in public accounting, and one referred her to an $8 million tech company that was hoping to double in revenue over the next five years. “They didn’t really have a plan, they didn’t do any formal budgeting, and they didn’t have the typical level of financial planning and forecasting,” she says. “It was a very comfortable situation for me because I’d done that for a $200 million business, so to implement that for a smaller business wasn’t that hard,” she says.

Clayman’s freelance business expanded from that first connection. The CEO of that company introduced her to an executive in one of his roundtable groups, leading to another part-time gig.  Now she holds the CFO role at seven or eight business-to-consumer service companies, and she says she wouldn’t want to go back to working for one business.

Clayman’s path — going from full-time financial executive at one company to a freelance CFO at many firms — may be growing more popular, Clayman says. “I feel it in the marketplace,” she says. “When I started this 10 years ago, there would have only been [a handful of] people you could choose to do this work. You had to really look to find them. Now they’re more apparent.”

Indeed, current and aspiring CFOs may need to consider freelance work as competition for the top finance spots gets fierce. Employment among top executives is expected to grow only 5 percent from 2010 to 2020, compared to 14 percent for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS estimates that the job market will grow 9 percent for financial managers (such as controllers) over that period. From 2000 to 2010, the BLS projected that employment would grow 15 percent among top executives, 19 percent among financial managers and 15 percent for all occupations.

12 thoughts on “The Freelance Finance Chief

  1. As someone intending to transition from banker to part-time CFO, I am interested in the fee schedules successful such part-time CFOs propose. Is it hourly, monthly retainers or annual contract? Also, how does one determine what is a “fair” charge?

    Any insights would be most appreciated.

    • Jonathan,

      There are lots of “1-armed Johnnie’s” who label themselves as CFOs but are really doing accounting manager and controller-level work at cut rates ($45 – 90 per hour). For true CFO work that includes pricing strategy, cash flow management, capital formation, Board reporting, etc. such as our TechCXO CFOs — who have public accounting and public company CFO experience — the range is closer to $190-$250 per hour. There are some fluctuations depending on markets. If you go to TechCXO.com/independence there are more details.

  2. As with many professions, many outside of their own have different definitions of a CFO… And different levels of services provided… And different qualifications. … An ex-banker might be be able to raise funds but a CFO, but a CFO worth their salt will have a CPA, public accounting experience, preferably Big 4, and be able to provide the proper financial and operational discipline, system and process and strategic guidance to prepare for and steer growth. http://Www.yourowncfo.com

    • All great CFO’s are high level thinkers who make all the moving parts of the finance function (and people) work together to accomplish the long term vision of the company.

      Not all of them are CPA’s.

  3. To weigh in on this discussion, rates vary by market. In the Austin TX market, a qualified P/T CFO goes from $150-$175/hr if you are doing work for young tech companies. In the Boston, MA market, similar qualifications command upwards of $250/hr. I am told Silicon Valley rates are similar to Boston. These rates vary depending on qualifications, size of client, issues to be addressed, industry. In this business, breadth of experience is very important as well. It is good to be able to raise capital, but you should also be able to do a lot of other things ranging from budgeting to contract negotiation, understanding IP issues, and taking out the trash at night. As far as a Big 4 CPA, I do not have one and have been doing this successfully for about 15 years. I do however have a very presentable MBA and excellent experience that only time will give you. And, yes, we always live in fear that the pipeline will dry up – my advice if you want to do this – 1) treat it as a business, not a job 2) expect to work 50 hrs/wk of which 30 is billable 3) do some biz development every single day and 4) keep up on CPE’s even if you are not a CPA.

  4. Fantastic article! Our experience with compensation varies by market and is commensurate with experience, availability, and utilisation, the range for “True” part-time CFO work can range from $1,000 to $2,500 per day.

    If you are interested in pursuing a “Freestyle” career, The CFO Center is currently seeking high-caliber part-time CFOs to work with a portfolio of mid-tier private, public, charitable, and not-for-profit businesses across multiple industries in the Boston area. If you are a qualified professional accountant (CPA, CA, CMA), and have been a frontline CFO, we want to hear from you. bill.starr@cfocenterllc.com (http://www.cfocenterllc.com)

  5. Hi Amy,
    A good article, I am currently considering this move myself, but in the UK, any help would be appreciated for the UK market?

  6. Great article. I have been doing contract-CFO work in both SF and now NY at rates from $150-200/hour. There seems to be a lot of startups that neglect to staff FT hires in the finance area early on, so there are now multiple firms targeting this area. I just relocated to NY and have found VCs are a great lead-gen target for PT gigs. I agree that you need to focus on BD at least one day a week.

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