This week, I will be covering freelance courier equipment requirements.
“Hang on”, I hear you thinking…. “Isn’t there a whole page on courier equipment on the Driving For Profit website?”
There is! There is also a whole chapter on freelance courier equipment requirements in my book ‘Driving For Profit – A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Profitable Freelance Courier/Owner-Driver‘.
Additionally, if you have already subscribed on the website, you may already have received an email on this subject.
So, it’s probably fair to think that here at Driving For Profit, we have already said everything there is to say about freelance courier equipment.
This would be a fair assumption, which is why, in this post, I want to approach the subject from a slightly different angle and share with you some of my own personal equipment disasters and bad judgement calls in the hope that you won’t suffer the same catastrophes and anxieties that I have had the misfortune to suffer!
I will wrap-up these anecdotes in the following list of do’s and don’t’s.
Let’s start with the negatives so that we get a positive finish to proceedings. Starting with:
Don’t Be Cheap!
Don’t start your career as a self-employed, freelance courier with a poor mindset. You will have heard the phrase ‘you’ve got to speculate, to accumulate’.
This adage can be applied to many (if not all) walks of like and this is no exception.
Did I buy any additional equipment to assist me in my day-to-day work as a freelance courier? No!
“I’ll get it when I need it, I’m not spending all that money, when I’ve got nothing coming in” was my philosophy at the time.
I fairly quickly discovered that my most notable omission in the early days, was not buying a hand truck (sack barrow).
It didn’t take long before I was asked to cover a multi-drop route for another driver. Please bear in mind that at this stage, I was not just new to multi-drop, I was new to the job.
Undertaking a multi-drop route for the first time is challenging at the best of times. Doing it as a ‘newby’ is mighty difficult.
Doing it as a ‘newby’ without a hand truck is bordering on impossible!
I remember having to deliver 20 boxes of carrier bags (each box weighed between 5 and 10 kg) to a shop in the pedestrianised part of Huddersfield town centre.
I couldn’t find anywhere nearby to park, so I ended up carrying a couple of boxes at a time, by hand, the 100-ish metres to the shop and make about 10 trips to-and-from my van.
It took me about half-an-hour to do this one delivery, which put me behind for the rest of the day!
This escapade alone, leads me nicely onto a ‘sub-don’t’ (if there is such a thing):
Don’t Buy a Cheap Hand Truck/Sack Barrow.
This is still obviously under our heading of not being cheap.
My experience with the carrier bags was enough for me to go out and buy a hand truck – pronto!
What my experience should have also taught me is that I needed a truck with the weight capacity to hold maybe 7, or 8 boxes of carrier bags at a time, each weighing up to 10kg.
Therefore, one with a minimum load capacity of 80kg.
Is this what I sought-out and bought?
Of course not! Still trapped in my own cheap mindset. I bought the cheapest one I could find, which happened to be one of those fold-away affairs, with the load capacity of a wet paper bag.
I must have done something right on my first excursion into multi-drop because pretty soon I became the regular cover driver, filling in for all the contracted multi-drop drivers, when they were off, or on holiday.
Needless-to-say, my shiny, new truck lasted all of about 8 weeks, before it irretrievably fell apart. Hmmm….. Back to the hand-truck drawing board.
At least by now, I had some regular money coming in, so I decided to upgrade and get myself a more durable and versatile affair.
This one had a much higher load capacity, you could fit more onto it and it even had an extendable footplate. It also had something, which brings us nicely onto our next ‘sub-don’t’:
Don’t Buy a Hand-Truck With Pneumatic Tyres
This hand truck actually served me quite well for a few years. It was a minor irritation to regularly keep having to re-inflate the tyres and one that I would have continued to tolerate had I not started delivering stationery to offices on a regular basis.
When I say stationery, the vast majority of my deliveries involved copy-paper, which is surprisingly heavy stuff. Boxes of it are particularly heavy and don’t even get me started on boxes of A3 sized copy-paper!
One other thing that is involved with delivering stationery to offices is drawing pins. Yes, you heard that correctly – drawing pins. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see where I’m going with this.
Pneumatic hand-truck tyres and drawing pins are not a match made in heaven.
I found myself suddenly getting punctures in my hand truck tyres on a regular basis. At first this wasn’t the end of the world for me.
Tyre inner-tubes could be repaired quite easily and for a fairly small investment, I bought a spare wheel for my truck, which I kept in my van for just such emergencies.
For me, my ‘pneumatic truck-tyre end of the world moment’ came when I was delivering a pallet of A4 paper, 10 boxes-at-a-time to an office on the second floor of a building in the centre of Burnley.
My van was parked in a loading bay on the opposite side of a busy main road, from the office building and unbeknownst to me, I had inadvertently picked-up another drawing pin.
I was two trips into completing this delivery and on my third trip, with my truck loaded up with paper, my drawing-pin issue decided to manifest itself as I was about half way across the road. My truck suddenly pitched to the right and the whole lot went over.
Half the boxes burst open, along with some of the individual reams of paper.
There was paper and boxes strewn across the entire road along with a very irate delivery man and a lot of stationary traffic.
Don’t Think ‘It Won’t Happen To Me’
Obviously, your fundamentally most important piece of equipment is your vehicle. No delivery vehicle = no job!
So, look after you van (or whatever else you use to make deliveries) and don’t become complacent, or blasé.
When you are rushing (which seems to be a prerequisite of being a courier), it’s easy to think ‘I don’t need to lock-up my van here’.
We justify these decisions to ourselves – ‘It’s a quiet area’, I’m only going to be a minute’ etc.
I was lucky. I learnt my lesson early on in my career. Fortunately, without losing anything.
On this occasion, I was delivering to a premises in central Liverpool. It was a large and cumbersome parcel, which needed two people to carry it.
I had parked on a side street as near to the premises as possible. I nipped around the corner to the shop concerned to see if I could get someone to help me with the delivery.
When we got back to the van, I opened the back doors to find someone already in the back looking for something tasty to nick!
This individual immediately did a runner out of the side door, which was still wide open.
This particular van didn’t have central locking and I hadn’t bothered to lock the side door and this ‘opportunist’ (I’m being polite here) had decided to try and take advantage.
Some people aren’t so lucky, which brings us on to our next ‘sub-don’t’:
Don’t Ever, Ever Leave Your Vehicle Unattended While the Keys Are Still In the Ignition
I recount this story in the book, but it is worth repeating here.
On this occasion, I am back in Burnley, undertaking my regular stationery delivery route. One customer that I delivered to frequently was based on the Network 65 Business Park.
On this particular day, as I arrived, I noticed a silver transit parked in the loading bay, at the front of the building.
Its back doors were open and I could see it was full of gear, which a man was in the process of unloading.
In the same loading bay, there were also several parked cars, which belonged to staff members and there was a white transit van, with two guys in it.
I didn’t pay much attention to them and assumed that they had either already delivered, or were waiting to deliver.
I parked-up in a free space, got out of my van and walked around to the side door to retrieve the relevant parcels. As I was doing this I noticed the silver-transit guy walk into the building.
I didn’t think much of this until I was standing in the back of my own van and heard slamming doors and screeching tyres.
I jumped out to see the silver transit, being driven by one of the white transit guys hurtling out of the loading bay, closely followed by the white transit and not-so-closely followed my the owner of the silver transit, with a look of panic on his face and running as fast as his legs could carry him.
When he returned shortly afterwards, panting and van-less, he sheepishly admitted that he had left it unlocked with the keys in the ignition.
It took moments for the opportunists (there’s that word again) in the other van to take advantage of the situation.
Don’t Buy Stuff ‘Just In Case’
As a self-employed freelance courier you are a business. From street vendor, to Fortune 10 oil conglomerate, businesses function for one overriding reason – to make money.
You are no different. The more profit you make, the greater your ultimate personal spending power will be.
You need to ensure that the money is coming in and maximise it as much as possible.
There are plenty of hints and tips on the Driving For Profit website to help you to do this. But also, you need to examine every cost line and ensure that when you do spend, you look for great value for money.
Avoid being tempted to make purchases unless there is a real immediate benefit to your business.
Don’t spend £160 on snow chains for your Mercedes Sprinter van just because you got stuck in snow once (as I did)!
Much better to buy a bag of grit, or rock-salt, for a few quid, which can be used as necessary over the winter months. (One 25kg bag may last a few winters, depending how severe the weather gets in your area).
Don’t attend and ADR course, which teaches you about the transportation of dangerous chemicals and substances and then immediately go out and buy a full chemical spill kit, magnetic ‘hazardous substances’ signage for your van, fire extinguishers, safety goggles and an eye-wash kit (as I also did).
Actually establish exactly how much ADR work you are likely to do, before making the investment because I subsequently did none and all that money was effectively wasted.
Don’t Be Overly-Reliant On Technology
With this one, I am really referring to your smartphone.
These days, it is hard to imagine not having a smartphone with you at all times. So much so, it is hard to believe that the iPhone has only been around for only a decade.
Maps on your smartphone make a great back-up for your SatNav, and/or physical road maps.
However, don’t do as I once did and find yourself in the middle of nowhere, with just my phone for guidance only to discover that there was no internet (3/4G), or reliable gps available.
To compound matters, there was also no phone signal (so I couldn’t phone the office for assistance).
I had to just set off in the direction that I thought was right and hope that I got a signal soon.
Don’t Be Lazy
Our next example could also come under the ‘Don’t Be Cheap’ section.
Here, I am referring to another ‘freelance courier equipment essential’, which is bungees and ratchet straps.
Make sure that you buy them in the first place and are not ‘cheap’, but also make sure that you use them once you have them.
My tale of woe here, refers to those occasions when I had something heavy in the back of my van.
Often it was something that had to be loaded with a fork-lift and required securing to avoid mishaps during transport.
I am afraid to report that there has been more than one occasion in my history as a courier, where I either judged that the load didn’t need securing (‘after, all, I wasn’t going far’!!!)
Or, I made a half-hearted attempt at securing the load. e.g. Using bungees, when ratchet straps were necessary.
These decisions were all borne out of laziness and they invariably bit me on the bum!
Usually, as I was approaching a junction as the lights started to change and while I considered there to be ample time for me to get through them, the car in front disagreed with me and decided to stop, meaning that I also needed to stop….. sharply!
It is a cringe-worthy moment, when you here the load in the back of your van break free of its inadequate mooring an start to hurtle towards the bulk-head, just behind where you are sitting.
You feel foolish and helpless as you brace yourself for the inevitable deafening clang as the skidding load comes to an abrupt stop.
It is now too late! You can only hope that the damage is minimal, salvage and re-stack everything, and this time, secure it properly for the rest of the journey.
Enough pessimism. What are the self-employed, freelance courier’s equipment ‘do’s’?
As you might expect, most of these run contrary to the don’ts, so I will try not to repeat myself too much.
Do Invest In Your Business
Even in the early days, when there isn’t much money coming in, try to get yourself set-up to portray a professional image.
Make sure that you already have the aforementioned bungees and ratchet straps, all your essential PPE (personal protective equipment), such as safety boots and a high-vis vest, quality hand-truck, SatNav and anything else that will actually help you to do your job.
Not only will these kinds of purchases make your job easier, they may also help you to secure work in the first place. Courier companies like to see someone who is already set-up and ready to go.
When it comes to your hand truck, buy the best you can afford.
You can even design your own, customise them and obtain spare parts when bits wear out, rather than having to replace the whole truck.
Whether you use these companies, or not, look to get a truck that doesn’t have pneumatic tyres. These two companies provide wheels with puncture-proof tyres.
In my case, I purchased a cheap aluminium truck online, which had pneumatic tyres. I then purchased two puncture proof wheels and used them to replace the existing wheels.
This actually turned out to be an overall cheaper option.
Make sure that all purchases add value to your business.
Ensure that they are need to have items rather than nice to have.
Do Keep Your Vehicle Secure At All Times
A colleague of mine once went to the trouble (and expense) of having slam-locks fitted to his van.
These things compliment the existing security on your vehicle by having an additional, highly secure, lock on each door, which automatically locks when you shut the door.
There is no doubt that these act as a great deterrent to our ‘light-fingered friends’.
My colleagues problem occurred on the day that he locked his keys inside the van!
He eventually managed to get in by having his partner meet him with the spare key.
This episode lost him half-a-days wages as he didn’t get finished for the day and it put a dent in his partners day too.
He subsequently avoided any repetition of this by keeping the spare key on him at all times, while at work.
Generally, as a freelance courier, you won’t be keeping valuable gear in your vehicle overnight, so slam-locks are, in my opinion, are an unnecessary expense.
It is much better (and cheaper) to simply adopt the habit of locking up your van every time you leave it unattended, even if it is only for a minute.
If the engine is running, you need to be inside the vehicle! (Have I emphasised this enough yet?)
Nearly all vehicles these days are equipped with central-locking, so there’s no excuse.
Do the Right Thing!
This is the last point that I wish to cover within the confines of this blog-post and it is really just a summary of what we’ve covered above:
- Invest sensibly in your business. Spend wisely. Giddiness reduces profits!
- Be professional – Having the right equipment helps to communicate your professionalism to would-be employers.
- You fundamentally know what’s right and what’s wrong – If you’ve got a 1 tonne pallet on the back of your van, two bungees ain’t going to secure it. Put the (minimal amount of) work in now to avoid stress later.
- Unattended vans are catnip for thieves. Keep it locked!
I hope that my ramblings are in some way helpful to you, even if it’s just to while away a few minutes, whilst sitting on the toilet!
I would welcome any feedback you have on these posts and I would love to hear your stories, or any concerns that you may have. Please contact me, commenting below, or via email on:
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Until next time…….