Why You Shouldn’t Hire a CMO

At many points during the growth of my business, I felt like I needed a Chief Marketing Officer.

Here's I wanted a CMO:

The business was growing just fine, but I couldn’t see the next level.

I didn’t know what the next stage of growth would look like.

“How do we 10X this puppy?” — I couldn’t answer this.


My business coach at the time said:

“You need a CMO!”

I never hired one.

And I’m glad.

I’ve since met many entrepreneurs who also wanted to hire a CMO. Typically, they are:

  • Established business
  • Mid-6-figures in revenue  
  • Good product range and solid audience

But growth is slowing and they don’t know what the next stage looks like.

They want to hire a CMO to help them grow further and faster.

And I always tell them the same thing:

“That would be a mistake.”

But why?

What Do You REALLY Want a CMO?

Here’s the brutally honest way I think about this now:

If you want to hire a CMO, it’s most likely because you’ve run out of ideas.

You know you have a marketing problem…

But your knowledge is out-of-date and you don’t feel like the right person to grow to the next level.

So you ask your business coach, and they say:

“You don’t have to have the answers yourself. Hire someone smarter than you to solve the problem. That’s how you grow!”

In 99% of cases, this is true.

But when it comes to marketing, and the CMO role in particular, I make an exception.

Here’s why:

“Marketing” is a generic term that probably doesn’t describe the problem you’re actually facing.

For example…

Let’s say you hire a CMO for $150k, and they decide to try and grow your business with digital marketing — starting with Facebook ads.

Great idea!

But the campaigns are not profitable and you’re losing money.

Now what?

“Let’s try YouTube ads next!”

Same problem, except YouTube turns out to be even less profitable than Facebook.

You decide your funnels need to be improved.

CMO says:

“That’s not my area of expertise. You need to hire a copywriter.”

So you hire an expensive copywriter.

$20k later, things have improved, but the ads are still barely profitable.

Eventually, CMO comes to you and says:

“The problem is your products aren’t converting. We need a new product line that will work with paid traffic.”

Now it’s no longer a marketing problem — it’s a “business growth” problem, which is a multi-dimensional challenge:

  • targeted, qualified traffic
  • business model evolution
  • deep customer research
  • new product lines
  • focus on product quality
  • better sales processes
  • conversion rate optimisation

And there’s only one person who can lead on all that…

It’s you, champ!

It’s what the entrepreneur does.

No-one else is ever gonna care enough to grow your business for you — not a “hired gun” CMO who has no skin in the game, however much you pay them.

Growth is never simple…

Despite what the Twitter bros will have you believe.

Execution Risk

Execution risk is where you hire someone for a job they're not able to actually execute on because of wider circumstances.

I love this term.

For example...

  • You’ve got a problem you want solved [better marketing]
  • You hire for the role [CMO]
  • The problem proves more complex than you thought [business model]
  • Cannot solve problem [back to square one]


  • You spent 3-6 months on hiring
  • Another 2-3 months to get up to speed
  • You’ve got a 6-figure salary to pay
  • You had to hire assistants to support CMO

In other words:

You wasted a bunch of time, massively increased your overhead, and can’t easily get out of it.

Far from solving your growth problem, you set yourself back years.

(Getting hiring wrong is an expensive game.)

For many business roles — HR, operations, finance, customer service — the job to be done is a known quantity, and can be done competently if you find the right person.

But business growth is a deeply-complex problem that encompasses all aspects of the business.

And there simply aren’t that many people on the planet who are capable of doing this well.

For that reason, I believe your job as the entrepreneur is to stay glued to growth.

As founder, your energy and determination can will this into existence.

It’s our superpower.

It’s our true value.

How To Figure Out Growth

So, does that mean you have to figure out business growth all by yourself?


It means that you should avoid execution risk.

Don’t take a “one and done” approach, make long-term people commitments, send your overheads soaring… pinning the future of your company on one single individual.

Here’s a better approach:

  • Find mentors who have done what you’re trying to do (ideally in same industry)
  • Optimise for fast iteration and testing of ideas
  • Use CRO people with targeted skills to work the problem
  • Put myself in rooms with high-calibre people working on similar problems (breakthrough ideas often come from the outside)
  • Spend whatever it takes on all the above


Make no mistake, this is also very expensive to do.

(At StoryLearning, for example, we currently spend $22k/mo on CRO.)

The difference is:

Instead of pinning all your hopes on an individual CMO hire, you’re casting a wide net around skill, experience and ideas, increasing the surface area onto which results can stick…

You’re doing it at a far faster speed…

And you’ve avoided adding expensive overhead to your business.

Congrats — what a win!

And then…

When you get your big breakthrough from fast ideation and experimentation, and you scale your business to the level you’re looking for, then by all means bring in the CMO to manage the operation and hold it down, smooth out the rough edges and professionalise everything (potentially laying the groundwork for a sale).

Much more sensible, IMHO.



I don’t mean to sound so dogmatic about how to do stuff.

I just happen to know quite a few people who tie themselves up in knots looking for a CMO, and I think they could spare themselves the trouble.

To summarise:

  • If you’re thinking about hiring a CMO, it’s likely because you’ve run out of ideas
  • However, marketing is likely not a clean path to growth
  • Rather, you need to grow your business in multiple dimensions
  • Expecting one single person (CMO) to crack this carries high execution risk
  • You incur high structural cost, lose a lot of time, and cannot easily reverse course
  • Instead, find people with significant domain expertise to identify and iterate quickly on blockers
  • Use CMO to manage the operation once growth has been solved

If I could go back 6-7 years, to when I was first thinking through this stuff, this is what I would tell myself.

I’d say to younger Olly:

“I know it’s hard. But stop looking for a saviour. Stop abdicating responsibility. Understand that growth is a complex problem, and resource it accordingly.”

That’s what I’d say.

But what the hell do I know?

I’m just a guy living a field surround by cows.



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