In an era of online shopping and home delivery offered as standard, it’s unsurprising that so many people are taking the jump and becoming self-employed couriers. And with a market value of over £10 billion in 2016, it’s equally unsurprising that so many are making a success of their venture.
However, as with any self-employed undertaking, it’s not always plain sailing. So if you’re eyeing up the field and thinking you’d like a slice of the action, it’s worth asking yourself these simple questions about becoming a successful courier first.
Have you got what it takes?
And by this, we don’t only mean the attitude. Of course, you’ll need to figure out if you are able – or even willing – to spend the majority of your time alone, driving the roads of your locality. That said, you’ll also need some people skills. After all, you’ll be interacting with the people you deliver to, as well as with the companies you contract yourself out to, so having the rudiments of small talk can help.
But we also mean: do you have the actual tools of the trade? A courier needs to be able to get places – can you do that? They may need to go to isolated houses and farms, as well as cover long distances, so relying on public transport is a big no.
You’ll need a car at the very least, if not a small van for any bulkier items you might be given. Doubling up on your personal and business vehicle isn’t always a great idea either, as if it breaks down then you’re stuck, and having a van means more room for parcels – potentially leading to a higher income.
Can you handle paperwork?
There are two kinds of paperwork you’ll need to deal with. The day-to-day stuff – the electronic signatures, receipts and the ubiquitous ‘Sorry to have missed you…’ calling cards – is easy enough to pick up.
The other is, in some senses, the more critical variety – and it’s the paperwork that means you’re legally allowed to do what you’re doing. It’s ensuring each year that your vehicle, be it car or van, is taxed, as well as having a valid MOT certificate to show it’s road worthy. If you’re not sure about the tax or MOT status of your vehicle, you can do a quick check at GOV.UK. An MOT also gives your garage the chance to check your car or van for any defects, which can be fixed to ensure it’s in top condition.
Another vital piece of paperwork you’ll need before you dash out on your first delivery is the appropriate insurance. It’s not the easiest thing to arrange, as not only do you have to insure yourself and the vehicle, but also any contents that may be in the vehicle at any given time, as well as ensuring you’re covered against any accidental breakages. There is also an emerging number of insurers offering dedicated courier insurance for van owners who are just entering the courier market space for the first time and are willing to offer sensibly priced policies.
Finally, you’ll need to make sure you have the right license documentation. A full, clean UK driving license is a standard requirement – if you’re still a learner, you’ll need ‘L’ plates and a qualified driver in the passenger seat, which somewhat defeats the object of working for (and by) yourself.
A typical category B (car) driving license will cover you in vans up to 3,500 kg in weight. But if you want to make yourself stand out from the crowd, then consider joining a professional industry association, or getting a formal qualification such as a Driving Goods Vehicles course to enhance your driving credentials.
Do you know the area?
It’s all very well to rely on sat navs, but if there’s congestion, or for whatever reason the technology fails, it’s always useful to know some shortcuts, or make use of local knowledge to avoid perpetually tricky routes. By skipping the queues, you’ll not only save yourself time and fuel but also earn a better reputation as a driver by showing up on time.
Are you business-savvy?
If not, it’s about time to brush up on your skills. Being self-employed isn’t just about being able to do the job – it’s about being able to make the job worthwhile. If you love what you do, then that’s fantastic, but if it doesn’t pay the rent, then it’s not going to give you long-term satisfaction.
One of the ways to make sure ends meet is to be smart about your spending. We’ve already mentioned the potential for a bigger vehicle to enable more deliveries and earn you more money, but there are plenty of other ways to take care of the pennies.
Keep an eye on local fuel prices, especially when you’re out and about. Fuel costs can vary dramatically from region to region, or even across town, so don’t just fill up at your local forecourt for the ease of it. After all, it might only cost you a few pence now, but if you’re doing that every week of every year, you could be depriving yourself of a substantial amount of income.
Equally, take fuel prices into account when working out your delivery charges. Don’t short-change yourself – but don’t go overboard and charge unreasonably. £0.40 per mile is what most companies are prepared to pay their staff to cover fuel expenses and general wear and tear on a vehicle, so that’s a relatively safe estimate.
Invest in a cheap but practical mobile phone contract. You’ll need a reasonable amount of data as well as minutes, with texts being less critical, but by shopping around and considering some of the lesser-known contract providers (such as supermarkets), you can often get a great deal. Don’t be tempted to double up your personal and business phone; it won’t end well.
And most importantly, keep your account books accurate and up to date. There is plenty of free accounting software out there, such as QuickFile, though if you’re taking in large sums of money, then a paid service is often better. You may even choose to have a personal accountant – but whatever you decide to do, make sure you know exactly what you’ve earned and spent because mistakes in your HMRC tax return could end up costing you dearly.
Is it worth it?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ or ‘sort of’ to the questions above, then chances are being a self-employed courier something you could succeed at. But is it worth all the hassle?
According to the National Careers Service, a novice courier earns on average between £14,500-18,000 per year, rising to between £25,000-40,000 when they’ve gained some decent experience. Of course, what you make depends on how much you’re prepared to work. Doing overtime, traveling longer distances and combining multiple deliveries into one trip can all help to boost your earnings.
However, it is worth pointing out that – as with any job where you are self-employed – there is no guarantee of income. Courier work varies from month to month, with the lead-up to Christmas by far is the busiest time of the year, and there may be some months where you only earn half of what you might typically expect. Being able to manage your finances – setting money aside when work is busy to make up the shortfall when things get quiet – is crucial.
Where to start?
If you’re set on becoming a self-employed courier, then your first steps are to approach existing courier companies, who may take you on in a self-employed capacity under their umbrella. They may also offer to advertise your services.
You should also think of a suitable business name, and get some business cards made up. You won’t need many to begin with, but being able to offer companies a formal introduction to your business will make you look more professional. It also gives them a means of contacting you again in the future.
Then it’s a matter of organizing all of the above aspects – the vehicle, the insurance, the tax – to give yourself the best chance at success. After that, it’s down to you to get behind the wheel. Good luck!