Back to Blog
Blog post image

How I became a Fractional Finance Director

Sep 11, 2023 1:18:28 PM

I recently trekked across Dartmoor with my son, walking 120 tors in 9 days. The trek gave me plenty of time for self-reflection. One question I mused on was how I ended up becoming a Fractional Finance Director.

I never planned to become a FD, or even an accountant if I’m completely honest. I still remember my first lesson on double entry and thinking “well I definitely don’t want to be doing this for the rest of my life!”.

Yet here I am, and to be clear, I absolutely love my job.

I work as a Fractional Finance Director for four growing UK SMEs in the £4-£10m turnover range. Alongside this I am co-founder of Full Stack Modeller, an online training platform for modellers, and continue to deliver face to face training and coaching. I also take on occasional modelling projects through my own company.

So how did I get here?


A solid foundation in analysis

I realised early on that I enjoyed the management accounting and analysis side of being an accountant, and therefore chose CIMA as my qualification.

My first two roles were as a Financial Analyst, firstly in financial services and then in manufacturing. In these two roles I fell in love with both Excel and the role of an analyst. I loved the challenge of turning data into meaningful information and discovering how to communicate it well. I still do.

The skills of a Financial Analyst are absolutely fundamental to the work that I do as a Fractional Finance Director. Business owners need more than just accurate and on time management accounts. They need insights and thoughtful interpretation. For me it is the detail behind the numbers in the accounts that matter; the operational levers of the business that are driving the financial KPIs. These are the skills I honed as a Financial Analyst.

Returning to Accounting

I took a change in direction when I was invited to join the family business in the role of “Head of Finance” - a rather grand term given there were just three of us in the team!

When I look back, this was really my first Finance Director role. I transformed the accounts from being paper ledger based (yes really) onto Sage, and put in place what is now my core toolset: A budget model, a weekly flash report, monthly management accounts and a cashflow forecast.

I relearnt a huge amount of core accounting in this role. It definitely set me on my way.

Taking a break to have my son

I was fortunate to be able to take a decent break when we had our first son.

I used this time to try out a few ideas:

  • A digital camera retail business that didn’t work out, but I learnt a huge amount about websites (I wrote the site from scratch, teaching myself HTML and then CSS), and marketing.
  • A social media platform, which also didn’t work – Yes, I could have been the Mark Zuckerberg of Bristol.
  • And finally, a consultancy firm leveraging my spreadsheet skills. That one stuck and is still going strong today.

The break gave me the chance to assess my position, try a few things out, fail a couple of times and then press on with my new life as a consultant.

Working in the change team in a FTSE top 100 company

Whilst I was trying to get my consultancy off the ground I took a number of contract roles. The most influential of these was working within the Group Finance change team of a FTSE 100 bank.

I learnt the core skills of a Project Manager and Business Analyst on the ground and followed them up with Prince 2 and BCS Business Analyst qualifications.

Those technical skills have proven themselves priceless throughout my career.

The key project management take aways for me were solid planning, great communication, the right team, and complete honesty – I learnt early on that without these a project was destined to fail.

I loved working as a business analyst. I think it just really suited my personality type (structured and conscientious – for those of you familiar with DISC), and it helps that I am very pedantic. The skills I learned – such as requirement elicitation, concise documentation, constantly questioning and playing back the detail and admitting when you don’t understand - have helped me throughout the rest of my career.

You also shouldn’t underestimate the benefits of spending time working in a large organisation. They certainly have their downsides, but I learnt so much from working in that environment. Being able to apply the skills I learnt to SMEs, whilst dropping some of the negative aspects, has been something that clients have hugely valued.

Becoming a trainer

If you’d asked 20-year-old me if he would be a trainer, he would have laughed at you. I was a shy child, happier on my own than in groups and never wanting to be centre of attention. It took me well into my forties to realise that I am an introvert. However, I found that I was good at teaching people how to use Excel and decided to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I took a train the trainer course and put myself through the interview process to be a trainer for BPP. I also started advertising myself as a trainer on my website.

Training has certainly helped my confidence in public speaking. I am now happy to lead a conversation in a group setting and I know how to explain concepts clearly. All key skills for a Finance Director.

Becoming a Financial Modeller

Being able to represent a business in a three-statement model (P&L, Balance Sheet and Cashflow) requires not only good modelling skills but also a very clear understanding of accountancy.

Working through the process of building my first few financial models cemented by accounting knowledge and has definitely made me a better accountant.

Great role models

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life forever.” Amy Poehler

This quote really resonates with me. Throughout my career I have been incredibly lucky to work with some great people and they have greatly influenced my journey.

Running my own businesses

Alongside my consultancy business I am also a co-founder of Full Stack Modeller and run the business with my long-term business partner Giles. We are in our third year and have experienced many of the ups and downs of a startup.

There is nothing quite like running your own business to put yourself in the shoes of the entrepreneurs that you advise.

It’s funny how much more difficult it is to take your own advice, and realising this gives you the humility you need to work with people who face the challenge of running their own business every day.

I’ll give you an example. As an FD, marketing spend is always a tricky one to balance. I personally advise investment in marketing.

Hardly revolutionary, I know.

But then when we consider a £500 monthly budget for Google PPC for Full Stack Modeller, it’s a different story. It’s just different when it’s “your own money” (a phrase I used to roll my eyes at).

Working with Artemis Clarke

For a long time I was in denial that I was a Finance Director. It wasn’t exactly imposter’s syndrome, it’s just that when I thought of a Finance Director I had in mind someone heading up a global corporation with a team of 500, someone who could reel off the accounting standards at will and have a regular slot on the BBC.

Kate from ARTEMIS CLARKE showed me otherwise. She demonstrated that the skills that I have and the approach that I take is just what a growing SME needs.

That was all I needed, some gentle reassurance and guidance from an expert in placing Fractional Finance Directors. Several of my Finance Director roles have come through Artemis Clarke. Their support cemented me in my role as a Fractional Finance Director.

In summary

So, to summarise, how did I develop from a newly qualified CIMA accountant to Fractional Finance Director?

I think the key elements have been:

  • Working across a number of industries and company sizes
  • Learning a broad set of skills including analysis, financial modelling, project management, business analysis and presentation skills
  • Pushing myself out of my comfort zone
  • Not being scared to try different things
  • Running my own businesses
  • Working with great people and learning from them


This is the first in my "I love month end" series. More to follow soon.


Take our free 30-question skills assessment

See where you stand with your Excel, financial modelling, data visualisation & analytics, and modelling tech skills

Take Free Skills Assessment

Subscribe to our monthly modelling newsletter