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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.”

Gene Godick, another freelance finance chief who previously held full-time CFO positions, says being part-time allows him to work with companies that excite him. “You can do all the things that are, you know, the sexier part of being a CFO without having to be there for the day-to-day drama,” he says.

Godick has a lot of creative freedom, since he runs his own company. After he left his job as CEO at Tafford Uniforms, a nursing uniform online retailer, he spoke with a venture capitalist in Philadelphia who suggested that he start a part-time CFO business. He launched a CFO services firm, G-Squared Partners, last year, and he just hired his first employee. “I’ve found that this is a way to provide value for a company where they need expertise, but they either don’t need it every day or can’t afford it every day.” Godick has eight or nine clients that each earn up to $100 million in revenue, mostly in the tech industry. Most are in the process of raising money.

Clayman runs a bookkeeping service with four employees. “What ended up happening is I started uncovering this need: I was constantly asked for bookkeepers. That’s not the work I like to do … but I just sort of fell into the role of providing bookkeeping services.” The company, Financial Fluency, does bookkeeping work for about 25 firms.

Having to Hustle
Being a part-time CFO has its downsides. For one, you have to drum up your own business. “The biggest challenge in being a consultant is finding your clients,” Coffey says. “Networking and finding new clients absorbs a lot of time.”

Even if your pipeline stays full, there’s always the looming fear it could run dry, Clayman says. “I’ve been doing this for 13 years and I’ve never had a moment where I haven’t been very busy,” she says. “But just because I haven’t had that moment doesn’t mean I don’t have anxiety over it. There’s always that uncertainty about losing a big client. How am I going to make up that income?

To address this fear, Clayman says she’s always networking. Apart from that, “the only thing that can do to assure that I maintain my clients is that I do good work,” she says. Being a part-time CFO also means you have to do your own billing, health insurance, and accounting, says Godick. “The person’s books who are in the worst shape are mine,” he says.

A Lifestyle Change
Despite the drawbacks, all three freelance CFOs said they wouldn’t want to go back. The first company Amy Clayman did freelance work for, which now pulls in about $32 million in revenue and projects $38 million next year, recently asked her to become its full-time CFO. “I just wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment,” she says. “I think I would enjoy it, but I really like what I do now. And I’ve built a little business that would be hard for me to give up.”

Coffey wouldn’t want a full-time position at this point either, he says. “I’m 61. My wife wanted me to retire about three years ago. But I enjoy what I do. Honestly, most of the time I don’t consider it work.”

Godick says for him to take a full-time finance chief role, the client would have to be preparing to go public and he would want the title of CFO and chief operating officer. Until then, “I like what I’m doing,” he says.

“If I thought about the profile of a half a dozen part time CFO’s that I know, they all landed there for somewhat different reasons,” says EisnerAmper’s Reiner. “And I would say that most of them made the decision to not seek full-time employment again.”

While there may have been a few part-time CFOs that started off seeking full-time employment, especially around 2008, they quickly decided that it wasn’t going to happen, Reiner says. “But they also quickly realized that this is a great profession, being a part-time CFO, because they feel very valuable to the company that they’re working with. That value can be transported to the next company [they do work for] because they’re extremely knowledgeable, whether selling a company or raising money or putting together a business plan.”

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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