This question was originally posted on Friday, June 12, 2009 10:47:57 AM by mzaret20000 on http://www.howtomeasureanything.com/forums/.

“Hi Douglas,

I have been asked to provide the gross margin for client engagements. My company is a recruiting firm that operates like an internal recruiting team (meaning that we charge fixed rates as we are doing the work regardless of outcome rather than billing a percentage of compensation hired). Most of our engagements are small so they aren’t not profitable in the absence of other engagements. I’m wondering what your strategy would be to make this type of measurement.”

Thanks for your post. At first glance, your problem seems like it could just be a matter of accounting procedures (e.g. revenue minus expenses and divided by revenue with consideration for issues like how you allocate marketing costs across projects, etc.) but let me presume you might mean something that is more complex. It might not be what I strictly call a “measurement” since it sounds like you probably have the accounting data you need already and you probably do not actually need to make additional observations to calculate it. This is more of a calculation based on given data and the issue is more about what it is you really want to compute.

Since you mentioned that your projects are small and not profitable n the absence of other engagements, perhaps what you really want to compute is some kind of break-even point based on fixed costs and marginal costs of doing business. But even that’s a guess on my part.

Perhaps you could describe why you need to know this. This is a typical question I ask. What decision could be different given this information? What actions of what parties would this information guide? Once you define that I find that the measurement problem is generally much clearer.

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