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Growth Strategy Framework: Managing Utilization and Bill Rates

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Growth Consultant

Growth strategy framework is a structured approach used by businesses to plan and execute strategies that drive sustainable and profitable growth. Managing utilization and bill rates are essential practices for professional services comapnies and help shape the potential for account growth and financial future. There are really only a few key factors to determine whether or not your organization succeeds financially.

Profit Levers

In the context of developing a growth strategy framework for account growth, the first points to consider are profit levers. Bill rates and billable hours have an impact on cash flow, profit, and gross margins. Optimizing these can be a challenge, but one tip is to target 80% utilization to drive billable hours. 


Another important point to understand is that bill rates and consultant productivity are the primary consulting profit levers. Any given percent increase in either utilization or bill rate has a similar bottom-line impact. The result is that service margin cannot be produced if executives cannot charge at least double the fully loaded cost of consultants, or if average billable utilization falls below 50%. 

By carefully analyzing and fine-tuning bill rates and billable hours, businesses build a strong account growth strategy for cash flow, boosts profitability, and strengthen gross margins.


Billable rate = $100

  • At 55% utilization, lose money

  • At 60% utilization, lose money

  • Not until 70% utilization do you start making money

Billable rate = $175

  • Profitable at 60% utilization

  • Not until 40% utilization do you lose money

When rates are low, like in IT Services, you must drive high utilization to drive profitability.

When rates are high, like management consulting firms at $400–500 an hour rates, you can operate more profitably at lower utilization.

Growth Consultant

Should I Increase Volume, Rates, or Utilization?

Consider this example:

A professional services firm that is not profitable has a $6M a year business with negative cash flow. What do they do? Let’s take a look at 3 different pathways:

If they increase volume, it will improve revenue, but still have negative cash flow. Why? For every additional unit of volume, the business has to hire another consultant making it harder to achieve profitability.

If they increase rates by 5%, this creates positive cash flow as well as profits. There is an increase in operational profitability. Increasing rates has a more impactful outcome than an increase in volume as it optimizes cash flow and has a greater impact in operational profitability.

If they increase utilization and add a 1% utilization, this reduces direct costs as a percent of revenue. This will indeed grow their cash flow, but it doesn't impact profit. However, it will impact direct costs.

Increase Gross Margin 

Gross margin is the difference between the cost to deliver and the selling price of a company's products. It is also known as gross profit because it is the profit before accounting for other expenses, such as operating costs, depreciation, or amortization. Gross margin is an essential metric because it indicates whether a company has a competitive advantage in its market.

If your business has high fixed costs and low variable costs, you will want to focus on increasing your gross margin so you can recover those fixed costs more quickly through the growth strategy framework.

4 Strategies to Increase Gross Margin

  1. Be very clear about what margin you’re making and what rates you’re charging on each project and slightly increase them.

  2. Focus on rate increases to drive profit instead of increasing volume to drive revenue. This way, you don’t have to add consultants or capacity.

  3. Go through old MSAs and examine the rates. You may notice you have rates that are 3, 4, and 5 years old. Create a systematic way to update your rate schedule.

  4. Manage your rate schedule and pricing, especially in a period of rapid inflation with costs going up. Look at total direct costs and have corresponding increases in rates to offset them. Conduct periodic reviews and look at these at least twice a year.

Key Takeaways

Growth Strategy Framework serves as a powerful blueprint to transform businesses, driving sustainable and profitable growth. By market analysis, strategic planning, and performance optimization, companies can unlock their growth potential. With profit levers like bill rates and billable hours, businesses can optimize cash flow, bolster profitability, and increase gross margins.

These 2 primary profit levers have a potent effect on the bottom line, consultant productivity (billable utilization) and average bill rates.

Focusing on rate increases will ensure you are not exhausting resources. Make sure to take a look at old rates and adjust as necessary. Slight increases are always better than vast ones. Finally, look at your rate schedule during economic shifts, and conduct reviews periodically.

One final key piece of information to leave with today is this:

At the beginning of your consulting maturity journey, a good place to start is by measuring your consultant billable utilization and your average realized bill rates. Once you establish a baseline, strive to continually improve both measurements.

With growth strategy consulting and the expertise of a business growth consultant, businesses gain objective insights and tailored strategies to accelerate their trajectory, achieving greater success and market competitiveness.

Create a Sustainable Growth Strategy With ALTA Consulting

Understanding the impact of bill rates and utilization on profitability is key to transitioning from low to higher margins. ALTA Consulting can help you optimize bill rates and consultant productivity, to unlock your true potential.

Ready to have maximum impact? Book a call with us here.


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