TO HEAR BRAD HOWE TALK, you might think he can't hold a job. "In May 1983, I walked into five companies on five successive days and said, "I'm your new CFO," he recalls.

Howe actually has a thriving business as part-time chief financial officer for six small companies. "He is not only our financial man, but our general philosophy adviser," says Richard Olken, vice-president of Ben Olken Inc., a $4.5-million bicycle wholesaler in Cambridge, Mass.

Like Olken, a growing number of small-business owners are turning to part-time officers to complete their management teams. These small companies usually don't have enough work or enough money for a full-time person. Unlike typical consultants, part-timers don't just work on specific projects but also manage daily operations. A client "treats me as if I were his vice-president or director of human resources," says part-time consultant Patricia Mapps, of Merion, Pa.

Many part-timers specialize in start-ups. Mapps gets referrals from venture capitalists, and often works for high-technology start-ups run by scientists who have little experience starting and managing a business. Dennis O'Connor, a Lexington, Mass., lawyer, advises start-ups to hire a part-time CFO before seeking capital, so that "the financial source knows there is someone on board, even part-time, who will be watching the money."

"Entrepreneurs tend to go to extremes," notes O'Connor. Instead of hiring no help at all or an expensive, full-time team, he says, a part-time arrangement "is a very, very logical approach" that can expand from a few hours a week to a full-time position.

Part-timers aren't for everyone. Sharing an officer may endanger company trade secrets. More common is the experience of Solid State Devices Inc., of Tempe, Ariz. Frustrated by the poor work done by outside advertising agencies, SSD hired a part-time ad director. He got to know the business and thus produced better ads. Then he left for a full-time job.