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James Serra's Blog

James is currently a Senior Business Intelligence Architect/Developer and has over 20 years of IT experience. James started his career as a software developer, then became a DBA 12 years ago, and for the last five years he has been working extensively with Business Intelligence using the SQL Server BI stack (SSAS, SSRS, and SSIS). James has been at times a permanent employee, consultant, contractor, and owner of his own business. All these experiences along with continuous learning has helped James to develop many successful data warehouse and BI projects. James has earned the MCITP Business Developer 2008, MCITP Database Administrator 2008, and MCITP Database Developer 2008, and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering. His blog is at .

Should a placement firm tell you what they are billing the client?

As a 1099 consultant, I usually use a placement firm to find a contract job.  I always ask the placement firm what rate they are billing the client.  They usually tell me.  When they don’t, it’s a sure sign that their markup is excessive (but note sometimes they have an agreement with the client not to disclose the bill rate to the consultant).  And in every case when I eventually found out the bill rate, it was excessive.  My question to you is, do you think the placement firm should disclose their bill rate to the client?  I have heard some say to just worry about your rate, and if they match it, who cares what they bill the client.  But the reasons I want them to disclose the rate is: 1) I lose trust with the placement first as I feel they are hiding something from me, 2) Based on my rate I may be thinking I’m at a “mid-level” expert and that is what the client is expecting, but if the markup is very high then the client may be expecting a “super” expert, and that is not fair to me, 3) I don’t want to be taken advantage of.  The placement firm certainly deserves a cut for finding the project, but as a 1099 I’m not getting any benefits from them and they are not having to pay employer tax, so their overhead is negligible.  A $25/hr markup would be fine but a $50/hr markup is just plain out of line.

Also, should the markup percentage (client bill rate divided by consultant rate minus 1) be the same no matter what the hourly rate is (assuming 1099)?  If I’m asking $50/hr and they markup 30%, they are making $15/hr.  If they keep the same markup and I’m asking $150/hr, they are making $45/hr.  It makes sense to me that the markup should be lower the more hourly rate you are asking.  I don’t see why the placement firm should make so much more money on a senior person compared to a junior person.

As for the markup, I found the larger placement firms do a higher market than small shops, since the large firms have more overhead (advertising, more staff, franchise fee, levels of management that take a cut, etc).

Some good Dice discussions on this topic:

hw much commission do contracting companies keep. Mine wants 30% of BR?

w2 rate through staffing companies ?

Recruiters’ Percentage of Bill Rate

Contract Billing Rate: Am I supposed to be STUPID?

How to Get a Better Rate from Consulting Firms


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