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24.12.2014
The good news is that you don't need an MBA and you needn't have taken an accounting class to get the basics of your cost structure and an associated billable rate.
Let's roll through a simple set of steps to understand your overall strategy, which will dictate the underlying cost structure and associated blended rate of your services. And though I typically write for the digital marketing agency ecosystem, these steps really apply to any services business.
Even if your digital marketing agency is well established, should you be launching a new service, or opening an office in a new city, or taking on a new large client that will entail expanding your resources, you will want to roll right back to these basics for a sanity-check on doing smart business. Therefore, in the Keep It Simple spirit, my recommendation is to come up with a single blended hourly rate for your business. Bigger firms may bill out different clients and different personnel at different rates, but for most small firms a single blended rate is a good starting point. Conceptually, your business should be able to charge higher rates for specialized services compared with general online services. Most firms we work with are asked by their clients to execute different digital marketing campaigns across channels (email newsletter, search engine marketing, social promotion to a custom landing page, website performance analysis, etc). Assuming some baseline rate per hour for a 6-10 year veteran, let's say you can charge a standard rate 50-100% higher for a specialty in just one high-impact service, such as email database marketing or SEO. Decide which strategy of the two above you want to pursue, because you will need to know that in order to benchmark rates and market expectations in Step 2.
Compared with that specialty services strategy, a rate for general digital marketing services would be more in the $60-100 per hour range.
Start with the services billing rule of the mythical number of billable hours in a year: 40 hours per week * 50 weeks = 2,000 hours. In a digital marketing agency or any services firm, the first 8-10 employees must all be billable.
That way, even if you bill them out at only 70% of billable hours at 2x what you pay them, they are still contributing something back to the business from their billable time. We have developed the partners' billable rates from Steps 3 and 4, and we have an idea of billable rates of employees from Step 5.


Besides obvious reasons based on the exercise above, I also urge you defend your rate because once you start at some standard billable rate with a client, it is very hard to increase that rate over time with that client. This article isn't about defending your rates; rather, it is about developing a standard blended rate that works for your business. You now should have a baseline to bid a project once you make an assumption on number of hours involved. Join over 600,000 marketing professionals, and gain access to thousands of marketing resources! As a service provider, we are constantly told that we place a definite cap on our earnings if we charge hourly - there are so many hours in the day. You can take inspiration from the following example that offers on-demand training using a bundled package for social media, SEO and digital marketing, for a fee. Another client category may include those who want to outsource their marketing processes to you, rather than having their in-house staff trained in them.
The following are some of the recurring marketing packages that can be useful as a growing revenue source for your digital company. And if you would rather not use a third-party platform, you can always do it on your own website with proper customization, registration and payment modules. This way, everyone knows what is good business for your firm, assuming you can accurately estimate the number of hours involved.
If this example rings true for your firm, you will want to be aware that the higher your blended hourly rate (relative to your local market), the less likely your clients are to want your services in a broad set of general marketing activities. For instance, an SEOmoz survey on specialized SEO services indicated that rates in the US are concentrated in the $101-$150 per-hour range, whereas in the UK they are slightly lower, in the $76-$100 range. The more clients you work with and the more digital marketing services you provide, the better you can dial in the assumptions above to develop a solid blended rate that helps you build a great business. It can be so difficult as a new business owner to ever know where to begin when setting your rates.
On-demand training is a medium through which you train your subscribers using resources that can be accessed anywhere and anytime.


For such clients, it is best to offer an ongoing retainer of marketing packages that easily creates a growing monthly income for your agency. Many big and small businesses practice email marketing strategies but may lack consistency or expertise to convert potential leads using email. Rather than modifying site content once in three years, it is beneficial to constantly make little tweaks to it that can improve site traffic and customer retention rates.
An ongoing monthly retainer for conversion rate optimization works well for big enterprises or for clients whose business website has a growing number of webpages or functions.
You can provide content in the form of website copwriting (preferrably with SEO keywords), blogs, infographics, videos, graphics, marketing emails, social media content, podcasts, whitepapers, e-books, press releases and so on. Assume that you need to bill employees out at 2x what you pay them at a bare minimum, and your baseline internal rate (list price) for your staff should be 3x what you pay them. You will have enough pressure to reduce rates due to many factors in business development, so start with a healthy blended rate that is good for your business. You are better off spending time developing a strategy and associated tactics of how to defend a blended rate that may be a little above market but works for you and your business.
Hourly rate definitely keeps importance in the segment but the way to manage it keeps importance.
In that scenario, recruiting, training, and management activities start to significantly affect a partner's billable hours.
One tool that has helped me manage the strategy in the best approach for hours management is the cloud based hours tracking tool from Replicon. No doubt I am in the sales profession, but the digital marketing approach also keeps importance in the segment.



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