Before I get stuck into other freelance courier equipment requirements, I am taking it for granted that, as a parcel courier, you will have a mobile phone. This item is essential in order for you to speak to your customers, chase additional business (e.g. return journeys, which we will cover in a later chapter) and a smartphone is a useful back-up for your Satnav. Your mobile phone can be offset against tax, as a legitimate business expense, as can all the following equipment requirements.
Back of Your Van.
In my opinion, after your phone, your next equipment priority needs to be your sack truck, or trolley. For the majority of the work I have done as a courier, I have
needed one of these. Prices can range dramatically. However, I have found
that you can generally get a good quality, lightweight, aluminium sack truck,
from eBay for a reasonable price. My tips here would be to get one with
puncture-proof wheels, also check that the wheels are fixed securely to the
trucks axle. There’s nothing more frustrating than crossing a busy main road
with a heavy load on your trolley, when one of the wheels literally falls off
half way across, scattering goods far and wide! Also, I have found that trucks
with a ‘ski’ attachment are better for dragging loads up staircases, rather
than getting a truck with a three-wheeled ‘stair-climber’ type mechanism.
You can also us the ski type trolley to drag loads up into the back of your van
and lower loads down to the kerb from your van.
Next comes ratchet straps and bungees. These are available in a range of
sizes and load-bearing limits. They always come in useful and are definitely
worth the money. On occasion, you will be asked to transport heavy goods,
often on a pallet. These will definitely need to be secured in the back of your
Finally, in the back of my van, I always keep some sheets and blankets.
These come in useful for those additional, weekend jobs where someone
wants you to help them to move house and you need to protect their furniture
and other belongings during the move.
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
This refers to personal protective equipment and is another area where
you can overspend if you’re not too careful. In the past, I have had Accord
Dangereux Routier (European regulations concerning the international
transport of dangerous goods by road) training. (No wonder they refer to it
as ‘ADR training’). Following this, I went out and bought chemical spill kits,
specialist fire extinguishers, safety goggles, eye-wash kits and special
magnetic signage for the outside of my van. I have also been trained to handle
dry ice and subsequently bought myself specialist gloves. You may say that
with safety equipment, if you only use it once, it will have paid for itself and
I had the same opinion. (‘Better be safe than sorry’ was my philosophy at the
time). However, as an investment, it didn’t pay for itself because none of it
ever actually got used. My advice here would be to buy specialist equipment
of this nature only when you need to and only when you are sure that you are
going to be undertaking this type of work on a regular basis. Don’t buy it ‘just
in case’, as I did.
Essential PPE however, would include safety footwear, some gloves, a hard
hat and some long trousers.
My best ever pair of safety shoes, in terms of comfort and durability
came from a well-known, pocket-patting supermarket and cost me just £20.
As far as gloves are concerned, I have found the best ones to be the grippy,
snug-fitting variety, where you can still get a good ‘feel’ for parcels as you
are handling them. Hard hats are rarely needed, but when you need one, you
need one and for the price, it makes sense just to keep one in your van at all
times. Same goes for long trousers. Yes! I am one of those middle-aged blokes
you see strutting around in shorts all year round. I just find shorts much
more comfortable for driving in. However, I found to my cost that some sites
that I had to collect from, or deliver to, do not allow shorts as part of their
own PPE requirements. Since I got caught out by this the first time and had
to rush around trying to find a pair of long trousers in the vicinity, which
ended up costing me way too much, I have always kept a spare pair of long
trousers in my van, ‘just in case’!
Satnav and Road Maps.
With the advent of smartphones, some would question the need for a
satnav, or maps. You only have to be in an area you don’t know, which has
no phone signal and no internet connection once to realise that a proper
satnav might actually be a good idea. (Currently, your phone needs an
internet connection in order to use the map function, whereas your satnav is
driven by a global positioning system (GPS) only). A functional satnav is an
investment in your business. For the time and effort that it will save you, the
cost is miniscule. However, satnav costs can vary wildly. I’ve always managed
satisfactorily with a fairly basic model.
Maps also have their place when it comes to planning a route, particularly
if you find yourself doing a multi-drop route in an area that you are not
familiar with. While it is not worth buying an A to Z map of every town in the
country, it is definitely worth keeping a large scale road atlas of the whole
country to hand. This will give you a good overview of an area, which makes
it easier to plan where to start, where to finish and what stop order to follow
between your start and finish points. Once you have your route planned, you
can then use your satnav to get from stop to stop.
NB. Many courier companies, particularly those that provide a significant
quantity of multi-drop work have route optimisation software, so that when
you get given a route, it will already be in the correct stop order. This can
often be helpful and save you a lot of planning time and is also useful in
situations where the courier company offer timed deliveries, whereby their customers (who you’ll be delivering to) pay a premium in order to get their
delivery by a particular time of day. While route optimisation software is
helpful, it is not infallible. Once you get to know an area, you will discover
more efficient ways of completing a route that will trump any computer
program. Nothing can surpass driver experience.