When Food/Bev Entrepreneurs Need Fractional Support 

Each week I conduct intake meetings with potential clients. Before we take a deep dive into the company’s history, their vision, how well they are doing, or whether there are hurdles to overcome, I remind the client that the entrepreneurial journey is a continuum and they are wherever they are at the moment. There’s no judgment here; just an acknowledgement that things are moving and that we need to discuss how to move them forward with the right velocity. I am genuinely glad that I am having a conversation with the potential client because they have acknowledged with their team and themselves that they need external support. This is difficult stuff because people don’t really want to admit that they are stuck, falling behind their goals, or that they don’t know what to do and I am grateful that clients have the wherewithal to ask for assistance. We’re always here to help but how did they get here? I’d like to cover five areas why entrepreneurs need fractional support. 

First, what I see the most often, is that the entrepreneur and their team have used all their existing resources and are out of bandwidth. Do you find yourself making your products at home, the shared kitchen or constantly at a small co-manufacturing facility and you can’t attend sales calls, distribute your product, or effectively market your brand? Do you find yourself and your team wearing too many hats and constantly in the midst of problem solving and not executing against a plan or vision? It’s extremely difficult to get out from under this.

Second, you’re experiencing a higher than expected period of growth. In many ways this is fantastic but if you didn’t plan for this well in advance this could be catastrophic. Typical signs of this are; You’ve just landed an account with a national grocery chain; Or, You’re expanding sales channels through D2C, Food Service, or C-Stores, and increasing volume. Each has different challenges. If you didn’t plan your supply chain execution effectively you are likely in need of a co-manufacturing facility, a more regional or national distribution solution or warehouse / 3rd party logistics partner. Not having this or other supply chain solutions in place could negatively impact the growth plan that you enthusiastically took on weeks or months ago. 

A third sign of need for fractional support is when you need short term experts to fill very specific needs that are not internal to your organization. You realize that the technical expertise or experience of a fractional member or team will get you to your goal faster and you don’t need to hire for that position at this stage in your business. I often see this in brands who need new product development (NPD) or abbreviated stage gate support to commercialize a new product line. They don’t understand the level of detail and the amount of time needed to manage all the moving parts of a market launch. Other areas where fractional help may be needed are: shelf life studies, packaging assessments, cost of goods (COGS) analysis and reduction strategy, as well as increasing productivity in a plant or third party needing AIB, BRC or SQF implementation and training. 

From my experience, the fourth reason for adding fractional assistance is the most practical for brand owners. The entrepreneur is looking for the most cost effective solution. Symptoms of this are generally because they are experiencing one of the previous three situations in their business; growth and limited bandwidth, specific expertise gaps, and time constraints. Most brands keep their organization chart fairly lean, wear many hats and have many responsibilities that they are not experts at but just know enough to keep the business progressing. At this stage they are seeking the expertise but want to avoid hiring another salaried position. Hiring fractional is beneficial here since you are not taking the time to hire and onboard a professional to the team, you are not paying the full annual salary or benefits for this position and once the project is complete or at steady state you don’t have to let someone go. 

The final, and often most overlooked, reason an entrepreneur may need fractional support is when they need fresh ideas or an innovative perspective in problem solving. I have to remind clients to not see ‘the forest for the trees’ (I had to look up the actual expression). We, as consultants or fractional supporters, bring in other problem solving experiences or have been conditioned to think more ‘outside of the box’. As fractional operators, we are often in front of many clients at any one time and constantly learning various methods of problem solving. We take the experiences of what worked and what didn’t work to the consultative table. Additionally, our perspective is fresh because we’ve been challenged to find solutions that are cost effective under strenuous time constraints. A prime example of this is when a brand is considering to build and run their own facility or find a co-manufacturing partner. The entrepreneur wants many things that are both for and against both of these decisions but cannot create an analysis model to make an informed decision. Another example of this is SKU rationalization. Since there is history there, a brand owner may be more apprehensive in moving on from a product that is not selling in hopes that something turns it around vs. examining the sales data or customer feedback.   

If any of these scenarios describe your current situation you should evaluate the need and quickly develop a plan to achieve success while mitigating setbacks. Having a support network, which could be in the form of fractional team members is a viable solution. We at FoodOps would love to understand your opportunities and be your interim solution.

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