Professional Service Profit and Loss Made Easy

By Jeanne Urich, Managing Director, Service Performance Insight, LLC

Step 2: Analyze revenue and costs

profit and lossThis is the second article in a three-part series examining the metrics that matter for running a professional services business. Part one looks at key metrics, typical targets and the incremental impact of small improvements. In this one, we provide descriptions and industry averages for the critical components of the professional services income statement — both revenue and expense. The third article will reveal the best practices and profit and loss statements of the top PS firms.

Based on eight years of benchmarking more than 2,000 professional service organizations, by far the most important questions and variances come from our income statement analysis. Both revenues and costs show enormous variability — not just for embedded versus independent services providers — wide variances are also seen across professional services verticals and different size organizations. There are no definitive right or wrong answers as services-based businesses are comprised of many different business models with varying sources of revenues and costs.

The secret success formula is based on maximizing the productivity and profit of each business line while limiting unwarranted overhead. Our research continually shows that the most successful services businesses are also the fastest growing. Early-stage service organizations are typically very decentralized while more mature organizations move to centralize critical overhead functions such as finance and operations, IT, PMO and resource management. Centralized overhead activities are typically less costly than decentralized.

Flat or negative growth in a services business is deadly because of the high cost of finding and retaining talented consultants. Without enough new and interesting work and clients, high-priced consultants will start looking elsewhere for new opportunities where they will be able to grow their skills and income.

Analyze your income statement
We recommend PS executives begin the process of profit improvement by analyzing their income statement, and comparing it to the 2015 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark. This comparison provides insights into where they can increase revenues or reduce costs to improve profitability. The following sections highlight the various components of the PS income statement.

Revenue sources
• Direct gross PS revenue – Directly delivered PS revenue that does not include re-billable travel.
• Reimbursable travel and expense revenue – The revenue recognized from re-billable travel and business expense.
• Indirect gross revenue – Revenue from subcontractors and other outside resources.
• Pass-through revenue – Revenue from hardware, software, materials, etc.

• Direct Labor expense – The cost of direct billable labor, not including fringe benefits, vacation, sick time or overhead. Non-billable labor expense for sales, marketing, IT, general and administrative, etc. should be shown in those categories.
• Fringe benefit expense -Typically this expense is based on a percentage of direct labor cost. It is the cost of employer-provided healthcare, pensions, vacation and sick pay for billable personnel.
• Billable travel and business expense – The cost of travel and business expense that can be billed. These costs may be equal to the revenue from rebilling travel and business expense. Most firms are not able to charge a mark-up on re-billable travel and business expense. They may however charge consultant time spent while travelling. Billings for consultant travel time should be shown in direct gross revenue. If the consultant is not engaged in billable work while travelling, travel time is typically charged at a lower bill rate.
• Non-billable travel and business expense – The cost of travel and business expense which cannot be billed to clients. Non-billable travel and business expense for business development should be included in the cost of sales. Costs shown here are typically for non-client related business travel for training, company meetings, etc.
• Subcontractor and outside consultant expense – The cost for non-employee contractors and outside consultants. This cost is offset by indirect gross revenue. Typically firms target 25 percent or more markup on subcontractors.
• Pass-through expense – Expense for hardware, software, materials, etc. that can be rebilled to clients. Typically firms mark up the cost of re-billable hardware, software and supplies to cover their procurement, handling and shipping costs. Typical target markup is 15 percent or more.
• Sales expense – This comprises the cost of sales headcount, bonuses and non-reimbursable sales expenses.
• Marketing expense: This includes the cost of direct and indirect marketing headcount, bonuses and marketing program expenses.
• Education, training and certification expense – The cost of education, training and certification expense across the organization.
• PS IT expense – All IT expense both capital and depreciation for the IT infrastructure including personnel, equipment, software, networking, etc.
• Recruiting expense – Direct and indirect headcount, costs and fees for recruiting.
• All other general and administration – The cost of all non-billable headcount not already shown in sales, marketing, IT or recruiting. Includes facilities, general and administration overhead.

Expense targets
We have found typical overhead expenses — as a percent of total PS revenue — should fall into the following ranges. If your expenses exceed the benchmark averages, your organization is most likely spending too much, which lowers profit.
• Direct labor expense (40 to 50 percent). Direct labor cost as a percent of total revenue.
• Fringe benefit expense (6 to 10 percent). Fringe benefit expense as a percent of total revenue.
• Subcontractor expense (7 to 15 percent). Subcontractor cost as a percent of total revenue. This number varies depending on the percentage of total revenue generated by subcontractors. In the 2015 PS Maturity Benchmark, subcontractor-generated revenue averaged 13 percent of top line revenue.
• Sales (2 to 20 percent).Includes all direct sales headcount and fringe benefits plus non-billable business development travel and expenses, commissions, incentives and sales training. Sales expenses are typically low for embedded PSOs because they rely on the product sales force to generate PS opportunities. Embedded PSOs are typically not allocated a corporate sales charge. There is tremendous variability in the cost of sales as many organizations rely on their consulting staff to develop business. In many cases, PSOs do not capture the true cost of business development; it may be represented as non-billable time for consulting staff.
• Engineering and project management organization (1 to 2 percent).This includes all PS engineering and PMO headcount; fringe benefits and expenses such as labs, tools, delivery training and project reviews. This expense should include the cost of non-billable time for consulting staff spent on improving tools, methods and infrastructure.
• Marketing (1 to 2 percent).This encompasses all services marketing headcount and marketing expenses, such as website, PR, advertising, trade shows, sales training, customer satisfaction survey, references and services packaging.
• IT (1 to 2 percent).Comprises all IT capital expense, depreciation and headcount costs. Embedded PSOs may receive a corporate per headcount IT allocation.
• Recruiting (1 to 2 percent). In today’s talent-constrained market, both recruiting costs and time to find and hire consultants are growing at an alarming rate. Most PSOs use a combination on in-house HR and external recruiters.
• General and administrative (5 to 20 percent).This includes PS corporate management, facilities and non-billable travel.

2015 PS Maturity Benchmark income statement

2014 was a good year for PS profitability. Profit for both embedded and independent services organizations increased as did the profit reported by all geographies. Average net PS profit for the entire benchmark increased to 13.2 percent in 2014 as compared to 11.4 percent in 2013. Embedded service organization (ESO) net profit increased to 19 percent from 15.4 percent in 2013. Independents saw profit increase slightly from 10 to 10.8 percent.

Table 1 compares the income statements of the 2015 Professional Services Maturity Benchmark for 220 professional services organizations. Sixty-seven are from embedded services organizations (ESO) and 153 are from independent professional services organization (PSO).

Table 1: PS Income Statement for Embedded and Independent Consultancies in Percentage
PS Income Statement Source: Service Performance Insight, September 2015

Although still not yet at pre-recession levels, most key financial metrics improved from 2013 to 2014. The bottom line is that profit improved almost across the board for professional services organizations in 2014. The benchmark shows strengthening demand, utilization and bill rates which led to higher revenue yield by consultant and employee.

With improved demand, PSOs did a good job of limiting non-billable overhead and discretionary spending. The overall PS market grew revenues at 10 percent, unchanged from the prior year but firms did a much better job of balancing supply and demand, leading to bottom-line profit improvements.

Focus on both revenues and costs
Above the line, revenue is driven by revenue by account, client or project. Revenue generated is typically based on the number of hours worked at an average bill rate. These are fairly easy numbers to get and report. Below the line, revenue is offset by labor cost and overhead. Yes, your organization can improve revenues while reducing costs.

Here are activities you might consider to improve revenue and cut costs:
• Focus on improving sales and marketing effectiveness to capture more installed base business while keeping a lid on sales and marketing expense.
• Add more strategic services that command higher rates. Focus on selling and delivering larger projects.
• Develop repeatable services packages to demonstrate client value and reduce the cost of sales and marketing.
• Create dedicated consulting sales and delivery roles. Excellence comes from specialization. Immature organizations may be spending more and getting less by employing a jack of all trades model in which everyone sells and delivers.
• Invest in superior talent. Winning and keeping top clients is based on providing top consultants with unique insights. Arm them with proprietary tools, methods and knowledge that enhance client success and ROI.
• Tightly measure and manage consultant billable utilization and bill rates to drive high productivity.
• Provide rewards and recognition to enhance employee engagement.
• Keep a tight lid on overhead and fixed costs by reducing facility costs and limiting non-billable roles while investing in systems and tools to automate time capture and billing.
• Ensure clients are satisfied and willing to be a reference.

Professional services organizations that focus on understanding and improving their income statement generally perform at higher levels and grow faster and more profitably than those that do not. They invest in services that offer both growth and profit potential, as well as in the talent who will ultimately deliver superior results.

Building the Professional Services Income Statement

By Jeanne Urich, Managing Director, Service Performance Insight

This is the first article in a three-part series examining the metrics that matter for running a professional services business. This article looks at key metrics, typical targets and the impact of small improvements. In the second article, we’ll provide descriptions and industry averages for the critical components of the professional services income statement — both revenue and expense. The third article will reveal the best practices and profit and loss statements of the top PS firms.


We’ll show actual results from the 2015 Professional Services Maturity benchmark, which provides a benchmark of technology professional services organizations — both embedded (within hardware and software technology companies) and independent (IT and management consultancies, architects, engineers, etc.). All three articles share insight, measurements and guidance to help professional services executives improve profitability.

What metrics matter for professional services?
Running a professional services organization, or PSO, is complex. It’s a game that must be won with singles and doubles, not home runs. Thus, it’s imperative to know which key performance indicators are essential, the ones PSOs must continually measure, and the ones that are nice to have but not critical. Figure 1 shows the most important metrics for measuring a professional services organization.

Figure 1: Metrics That Matter for Services Organizations
Figure 1
Source: Service Performance Insight, August 2015

The question is how to continually capture new business while ensuring revenues and costs remain aligned. At the same time, PSOs must provide consultants the tools they need to deliver high-quality projects while growing their skills for the future. Professional services is a balancing act requiring both effective selling and project delivery. Client satisfaction is the ultimate goal to ensure clients pay their bills, continue to buy and provide great references and referrals.

What are typical KPI targets for professional services?
As the professional services market comes of age, standard measurement targets are emerging based on the type of services delivered — software or SaaS implementation; customization and integration; hardware and network installation, configuration and optimization; management and business process consulting; and so forth.

The targets for software consulting differ from those of business and management consulting. More commoditized services garner lower fees that require higher utilization rates to generate profit. However, net margin should be equivalent to more complex services due to lower labor costs. Significant factors affecting profitability include market demand, reputation, workforce quality and skill level, geography, risk and complexity, and depth of intellectual property, etc.

PS targets depend on the charter and mission of the service organization. If the organization’s mission is to “create referenceable customers” at any cost, then the services organization may not be a profit center. If the mission is to “support sales and drive product revenue,” then the organization may run on the low end of billable utilization and revenue per person while accentuating metrics around bid/win ratio, customer adoption and cost of sales.

Measurements for smaller, startup organizations benefit from accentuating “building client references” rather than services profit. Targets for larger, more mature service organizations gain the most from focusing on the highest possible service revenues and margins while ensuring clients are wildly satisfied.

Figure 2 highlights target metrics for a PSO within a software company.
Figure 2: KPI Targets for a Software Company PSO
Figure 2
Source: Service Performance Insight, August 2015

Small improvements can produce big results
In the people-intense world of services, the primary cost driver is labor cost. Small improvements that enhance labor productivity can quickly add up to yield significant profit increases. Figure 3 illustrates how small improvements can produce big results. If the organization makes a 10 percent improvement in four or five key performance measurements, due to leverage and the cumulative effect of the improvements, the organization could improve both revenue and margin more than 50 percent!

Figure 3: Small Improvements Can Produce Big Results!
Figure 3
Source: Service Performance Insight, August 2015

Priority Improvement Recommendations
Now let’s take a look at priority improvement areas. The following suggested tips and tricks will enhance your bottom line:

Revenue. In the revenue quadrant, the best accelerator is to improve sales productivity — through better deal qualification, marketing and stronger references. The best revenue accelerators are increased sales productivity, improved bill rates and larger projects. Improving sales capture rates and sales effectiveness is a much lower cost alternative than chasing every deal that moves because of a weak pipeline.

Improvements in sales productivity also show up in better price realization. Bill rates are market sensitive but can be dramatically improved through better estimating, effective project delivery, change control, references and project quality. Hourly bill rates almost always produce a higher margin than daily rates.

An interesting phenomenon is that a given percentage increase in either utilization or bill rates produces a similar bottom-line impact. The corollary is that services margin cannot be made if the PSO cannot charge twice the fully loaded cost of consultants, or if average billable utilization falls to below 50 percent.

Margin. The best way to improve margin is to lower costs and to make more profit on every facet of the business. Be careful to ensure the organization makes at least a 30 percent margin on subcontractors and offshore resources. Across the PS industry, subcontractor delivered revenue consistently averages 13 percent of total revenue. If subcontractors and offshore resources are overused, it may compromise delivery quality and put client relationships and knowledge capture at risk.

It is surprising to see how many PSOs do not adequately mark up their subcontractors or bind them to the firm’s contract terms. Executives do not want to be in a situation where they are paying contractors on a time and materials basis but charging customers on a milestone basis.

The other key margin lever is to reduce non-billable overhead by running a lean business. One effective strategy is to zealously measure and publicize non-rebillable travel and expense. If organizations spend a fortune in non-billable travel for business development, this clearly indicates a need to improve marketing, lead generation and deal qualification.
Many leading firms like to set a “non-billable” expense target per person, say, $2,500 per quarter. This target may be too low for business development staff, but it is a good number for the overall organization and incentivizes the team to carefully monitor telecom charges and those sneaky free meals! Normally, the organization should have very limited non-billable travel expense for billable consulting staff.

Client satisfaction. No matter the size of the organization, PSOs must keep a master project dashboard and have a mechanism for impartially tracking project quality. Some key metrics are proposed vs. actual hours per task, milestone or deliverable. Catch problems early — an overrun early in a project says it’s time to reset expectations, execute a change order or improve project management. Failed projects ruin a firm’s reputation and can have a devastating effect on profit.

The best way to improve sales productivity and project margins is to sell more projects to existing customers or at the time of initial product sale. Just a 1 percent improvement in services attached to product sales can produce big gains in revenue while lowering the cost of sales.

Invest in services sales compensation to motivate the sales force to include services with every deal. A best practice is to compensate product sales representatives at the same commission level for product and services sales.

Resource plan. An important profit lever is employee retention. Attrition is incredibly expensive. On average, it takes almost a year to recruit, hire and ramp a productive new consultant, which makes replacement hiring costly. Best-in-class PSOs focus on recruiting the best and invest in training to shorten ramp time.

One of the most important levers is to ensure the most productive (and most senior) consultants stay with the firm. Create a compensation plan that encourages them to develop new business, mentor new employees or build infrastructure. Treat them as crown jewels, not billable objects, and find ways to reduce the burden of travel.

With utilization, executives need to run the organization at a target billable utilization, say 75 percent, to cover costs and produce margin. However, running the organization too hot through excessive utilization has the unintended consequence of negatively impacting customer satisfaction and attrition.

The other significant workforce lever is reducing overhead. That said, the non-billable headcount should be less than 30 percent of total headcount with a target ratio of 10 to 1 of employees to management. Pay careful attention to headquarters spend. Through the use of integrated business applications, PSOs are reducing non-billable administrative headcount by automating resource management, time capture and billing.

Next time, we’ll analyze the professional services income statement. Stay tuned to learn about the benchmark averages for revenue and costs across hundreds of professional services organizations, along with best practices for maximizing revenue and profit!