Target Billability Rate: How to Set One | Teami

Target Billability Rate: How to Set One for Your Marketing Agency

Setting a target billability rate is crucial for marketing agencies. Learn how why it's important and how to set one to optimise efficiency

In the dynamic world of marketing agencies, understanding and managing billability rates is a game-changer.

As an industry insider, I've seen first-hand how the concept of a target billability rate can transform an agency's operations, efficiency, and profitability. 

But what exactly is this elusive 'target billability rate'? Simply put, it's a benchmark that helps agencies optimize their billable hours, ensuring every minute counts towards their bottom line. 

It's a powerful tool, but like any tool, it's most effective when used correctly. 

In this guide, we'll delve into the importance of setting a target billability rate, how to go about it, and the role of technology, like Teami, in tracking billable hours. We'll also explore the difference between billable and productive utilization, and the importance of measuring both.

Understanding Billability Rate

Definition of Billability Rate

The term billability, also known as the billable utilization rate, is a crucial metric in business operations. It represents the percentage of an employee's working hours that can be charged to clients.

Calculating Billability Rate

The most common way to calculate billability (or billable utilization) is dividing the number of billable hours by the total number of hours worked. This percentage gives us the billability rate, indicating how much of an employee's total work time is spent on billable work.

Role of Billability Rate in Marketing Agencies

In the context of a marketing agency, the billability rate plays a pivotal role. It's the lever that drives agency profitability. By tracking the billability rate, agencies can monitor their earning efficiency, balancing gross margin and average billable rate.

Moveover, it’s an invaluable tool for resource analysis and evaluation. By comparing billability rates between employees or teams and monitoring them against standards, agencies can identify if tasks are being assigned to the appropriate role and assess if their time is being utilized efficiently.

In essence, understanding and managing the billability rate is a key to unlocking an agency's potential, driving profitability, and ensuring sustainable growth.

How to Set a Target Billability Rate

Steps to Set a Target Billability Rate

Setting a target billability rate involves a few key steps. 

First, understand your current billability rate. This involves calculating the percentage of billable hours out of total working hours. 

Next, analyze your business goals and how the billability rate aligns with them. 

Then, communicate this target to your team and explain its importance. 

Finally, regularly monitor and adjust the target rate as necessary. It's not a set-and-forget metric; it should evolve with your business.

Factors to Consider When Setting a Target Billability Rate

When setting a target billability rate, several factors come into play. One is the nature of your work; some tasks are inherently non-billable but still essential. You also need to consider your team's capacity. Overworking your team to meet a high billability target can lead to burnout and decreased productivity. 

Your business goals are another major factor. Each agency has its own percentage for the billable utilization, which is often a reflection of its operational efficiency and culture. 

Remember that a balance between billable and non-billable work is crucial for sustainable growth.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Setting a Target Billability Rate

Setting a target billability rate is not without its pitfalls. 

One common mistake is focusing solely on maximizing revenue and underestimating non-billable tasks. This can lead to overworking your team and neglecting essential non-billable work. 

Another pitfall is setting unrealistic targets. While it's good to aim high, setting a target that's too high can demoralize your team when they fail to meet it. Remember that billable utilization rates differ based on the role level. Senior staff members in an agency often have lower utilization rates due to managerial duties, resulting in most of their work being focused on internal tasks rather than client-facing responsibilities. 

Lastly, avoid the mistake of setting and forgetting. Your target billability rate should be a dynamic metric that you adjust as your business evolves.

Industry Standards as a Benchmark

While some agencies have a target utilization rate of 85 to 90 percent, the recent 'Benchmark for Agencies' report from BenchPress found that the actual average utilization rate is much lower at approximately 65 percent. The report further breaks down the average utilization rates by role, revealing that Junior roles have an average utilization rate of 75 percent, Mid-level roles have 73 percent, Senior roles have 63 percent, and Director roles have 37 percent.

Understanding the Difference Between Billable and Productive Utilization

Billability vs Productivity

Billable utilization and productive utilization are two key metrics in the operations of a marketing agency. 

Billable utilization refers to the proportion of time spent on billable tasks, i.e., tasks that directly generate revenue for the agency. 

Aside from internal non-billable time such as team meetings, staff development/training, administration or attending conferences, some hours worked for clients are also non-billable. It could be due to a project going over budget or the need for some free rework. In these cases, some non-billable hours may be worked on the project.

For example, let's say an employee works a total of 40 hours on a project, but only 20 of those hours were billable because the project exceeded its budget. In this scenario, they would have a billable utilization figure of only 50%, even though they worked a full 40 hours.

Productive utilization, also known as total utilization, refers to the percentage of time that employees spend on client work (billable and non-billable client work) and on other value-added initiatives that may not directly contribute to immediate revenue. This includes activities like developing new services or implementing new internal tools. These activities are considered "productive". 

Activities such as filling out timesheets, attending internal meetings, and administrative tasks are examples of non-billable, non-value-added time that are still necessary but are not productive.

In essence, billability is a measure of chargeability, whereas productive utilization is a measure of productivity.

Importance of Both Billable and Productive Utilization

Both billable and productive utilization are crucial for a marketing agency.

Importance of Measuring Billability

Revenue Generation

Billable utilization is directly tied to the agency's revenue. By tracking this metric, agencies can ensure they're effectively monetizing their time and resources. It's a key indicator of the agency's financial health and profitability.

Identify Poor Task Allocation

It is important to note that billable utilization rates are not indicative of the level of effort someone is putting into their work. A higher billable utilization rate does not necessarily indicate better performance.

In most instances, senior staff members in an agency may have lower utilization rates due to having managerial responsibilities. They typically focus more on internal tasks rather than client-facing duties. By comparing billability rates between employees or teams and monitoring them against standards, agencies can assess if their time is being utilized efficiently.

By tracking the billability according to the level of experience of your staff, you can identify problems with task distribution. For example, senior employees may be burdened with low value tasks and have limited time for more valuable activities such as development, mentoring, and management.

Importance of Measuring Productive Utilization

Assessing Productivity

Evaluating total utilization is an important aspect of assessing the productivity of employees, teams, and the entire agency, especially when internal projects are being undertaken.

Assessing total utilization is crucial as it recognizes that an employee's non-billable hours might not accurately reflect their performance. This is particularly relevant in cases when a client project goes beyond its original timeline or budget, or if an employee is engaged in essential internal project development. In such instances, the non-billable hours should not be seen as the employee's responsibility.

Considering productive utilization allows for a more complete evaluation of an employee or company's utilization by taking into account all hours spent on productive work, regardless of whether they can be billed or not.

Assess Capacity

Monitoring the amount of time individuals dedicate to productive tasks per week aids in assessing their capacity for work. By closely observing the workloads of your employees, you can anticipate their potential to handle additional tasks.

Evaluating productive utilization rates will reveal if there is consistent overuse of any individual, skill, or team. With this valuable information, you can promptly and decisively address excessive workloads, protecting your team members from burnout and overwork.

Inform Staffing Decisions

Having the utilization figures readily available makes it easier to make the case for hiring new employees. Areas with high levels of overutilization may indicate a need for additional resources, which should be taken into consideration when planning for staff.

The Role of Technology in Tracking Billable Hours

Importance of Technology in Tracking Billable Hours

In today's digital landscape, technology has become an indispensable tool in tracking billable hours. It's not just about logging hours; it's about ensuring accuracy, enhancing efficiency, and promoting transparency. With the right technology, tracking billable hours becomes an integrated part of your workflow, eliminating the need for time-consuming manual tracking.

The significance of technology in tracking billable hours is underscored by its ability to deliver real-time data, which is essential for making informed business decisions. It eradicates the potential for human error inherent in manual tracking, leading to more precise billing and, consequently, improved client trust and satisfaction.

Furthermore, technology facilitates effortless analysis and reporting. With just a few clicks, you can generate insightful reports that shed light on how time is being utilized, which tasks are most time-consuming, and where efficiencies can be improved. This data is crucial for strategic planning and resource allocation.

Role of Time Management

To optimize utilization rates, one of the most effective approaches is using advanced time-tracking software with utilization calculation features - tools like Teami. This data can then be used to identify areas of inefficiency and develop targeted improvement strategies. 

According to the recent [2023] BenchPress’ ‘Benchmark for Agencies’ report, using software boosts utilization rates. Agencies that use spreadsheets to track time and manage projects and resources had an average utilization rate for non-director roles of 66%. Those that use software had an average utilization rate for non-director roles of 75%. That difference translates directly into profitability.

Remember, do not solely focus on maximizing billable hours, but instead prioritize high-quality work, continuous learning, and allocating billable and non-billable time appropriately based on the role level.


In the dynamic world of marketing agencies, understanding and optimizing billability rates is crucial. From defining the concept of billability rate to understanding its role in agency operations, we've delved into the importance of setting a target billability rate and the role of technology, particularly tools like Teami, in tracking billable hours. We've also highlighted the difference between billable and productive utilization and why it’s important to track both rates. The journey to optimizing your agency's billability rate is a strategic one, involving a balance of innovation, professional development, and the right technology. By implementing these insights, you're well on your way to enhancing your agency's efficiency, profitability, and overall success.

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