This second post simply provides some definitions. We will add to these as we proceed.
The term billings simply describes the value of work actually billed to the client. These billings will include disbursements if these are to be recovered from the client.
Disbursements are simply the cash-out costs directly involved in doing the job.These may be very small, bus or taxi fares, phone costs. However, in some consulting work they can be very substantial, especially where subcontractors are used.
These simply definitions provide the basic financial structure for the standard professional services firm.
As we do the work we create WIP. As our future billings, WIP is a key asset of the firm.WIP minus any write downs plus any write ups then translates into billings as we bill the client. So in balance sheet terms the WIP asset has been replaced by accounts receivable. Then as the client pays, accounts receivable become cash.
Gross fees simply describes the total value of work we have or will bill the client.
Net fees, the amount we actually get for the job, equals gross fees minus disbursements. This is our real income.
Clients may pay us in advance for part of the work.In some cases, law is an example, these may be placed in a trust account and excluded from firm accounts until the funds are drawn down upon billing. In consulting, advance payments may be made upon contract start or on meeting certain milestones to help fund the job. In these cases, the prepayment is formally a liability in an accounting sense, diminishing as work is done and WIP created.
Work in Progress
Work in progress or WIP represents work done but not yet billed. It includes disbursements where these are to be charged to the client.
Write Ups, Write Downs
Actual billings need not equal WIP. When we come to bill, we may find that we cannot bill the client for all the time involved. In this case, we have to write WIP down. In other cases, we may be able to bill more than the time directly involved. In these cases WIP is written up.
As an aside, write downs are not necessarily bad, write ups not necessarily good. A firm without WIP write downs may be undercharging, a firm with write ups over charging. It depends upon the circumstances.
Note on copyright
This material is copyright Jim Belshaw. It may be reproduced or quoted with due acknowledgement.