As a freelance courier you will essentially undertake one of two varieties of work:
- Distance Work.
Here, we will examine the 2nd in a bit more detail and provide guidance on how to boost your income and successfully navigate (literally) around the tricky task of delivering to multiple locations in one day:
As the name suggests multi-drop driving involves dropping off deliveries in multiple locations. Generally, when undertaking multi-drop work, you will be completing a pre-defined route on behalf of a customer. There are numerous additional challenges with multi-drop, when compared to distance work, but it can also be very rewarding.
Companies will receive orders from customers, which are expected to be delivered within the next 24 hours (at most). As there are many different orders, coming in from varying locations and they are all destined for multiple other locations, these companies are presented with a logistical challenge. How are they going to organise and plan things so that the receiving customers get their goods in a timely fashion? (When you add in the fact that some customers may also pay a premium to get their specific delivery by a certain time of day, this challenge is compounded further).
In order to solve this challenge, companies divide the country up into regions and then sub-divide those regions into geographical areas. Each area is then allocated a route number. Often, within each region, there will be a depot, which acts as a hub. All orders that are scheduled for the following day will be processed at the depot, either the previous day, as the order comes in, or overnight. As orders come in, or are picked at the depot, they are then organised into the relevant routes. These days, much of this process is automated.
Once all orders for each route have been picked and collated, they will be stored in a particular area of the warehouse awaiting delivery throughout the day, which is where you, the delivery driver, come in.
We will discuss the merits of multi-drop driving shortly, but for now let’s assume that you have been assigned the task of completing a route for a company and that you will be working from their depot.
When undertaking multi-drop work, it is often best to arrive at the depot early in an attempt to beat the traffic. Ideally, you want to aim to be arriving at the first scheduled delivery of the day just as they are opening in the morning. (usually anytime between 08:00 and 09:00. Deliveries could be to businesses, and/or to private addresses). This means that you need to be arriving at the depot allowing enough time to load your van/vehicle, plan your route, and drive to your first delivery of the day.
It makes sense all round to have experienced drivers completing multi-drop work. You will no doubt, be starting to realise that there is more to multi-drop driving than there is to distance driving. Anybody with a driving license can transport items from ‘A’ to ‘B’. (Distance driving does become more challenging when you’re proactive about it, but it’s still not at the level of complexity presented by multi-drop work).
An experienced multi-drop driver will be significantly more productive than someone who is new to it, which is why there is a good chance that when you get offered multi-drop work it may well be to cover a specific route for a period of time, which could range from 1 day up to years. If you do end up with a regular route, there are a number of potential benefits:
- Regular, guaranteed work.
- Consistent rate of pay. (See below).
- As you get to know ‘your’ route, you will get much quicker and more productive.
- Regular, social hours, thus improving your work/life balance.
- Improved customer service. You will get to know the regular customers that you deliver to on a frequent basis and build rapport with them.
- Sense of teamwork. Although you are self employed, you will get to know the other regular drivers (who may also be self employed on the same basis as you) and you will get to know the managers and staff at the depot you load up at.
- Lower mileage. There are always exceptions to the rule, but generally, when doing regular multi-drop work your mileage (and therefore wear and tear) and costs will be lower than when doing regular distance work.
- Exercise (see the section on ‘physicality’ further down). Besides loading parcels in to and out of you van, you are having to climb in and out of your van every 5 or 10 minutes to make deliveries and sometimes have to walk some distance, carrying parcels, or pushing your sack-truck. If your a natural born couch potato, this aspect of multi-drop will actually do you a favour!
With multi-drop there are a few differing ways in which you could be paid. But it will probably be one of the following three:
- Day Rate – You will receive the same fixed pay every day you work irrespective of how busy, or quiet you are on any given day.
- Drop Rate – You will receive a fixed rate for each delivery (or collection) you make.
- Parcel Rate – You will receive a fixed rate for each individual parcel that you deliver (or collect). This rate will be lower that a corresponding drop rate as there may be several parcels for one drop.
Each of these pay rates will be calculated in such a way to ensure a fair rate of pay for a fair days work. With drop rate and parcel rate there is the advantage that the busier you are, the more money you will receive for your labours and it is in your interest to provide a good service and seek to build the route as ultimately it will also improve your income.
There is no doubt that multi-drop work is challenging especially at first. However, it becomes much easier as you become more experienced.
If this is your first time working out of this particular depot, for this particular company there are a number of things that you will need to consider:
- Once at the depot, make yourself known to the route planner. It is likely that you will already know which route you have been scheduled to complete, so advise them of this (assuming that they don’t already know it).
- The route planner will advise you where to park to get the best access to the goods assigned to your particular route.
- They should also provide you with a manifest of some sort. The manifest will be a list of all the scheduled deliveries for that route, for that day. It will provide details of customers names, addresses, telephone numbers and how many parcels contained within each customers’ order.
- Allow additional time for this process, for planning your route for the day and for physically loading the parcels assigned to the route into your courier vehicle. This is especially important if you are not geographically aware of the area that you will be covering. (As with most things, the more you do it, the quicker and more efficient at it you become. Once you have done the same route a few times, your speed will improve dramatically. Don’t be disheartened if the first few days feel tough, it does get easier).
- If you have to manually plan your scheduled route for the day, do not skimp on the time and effort that you put into this task. It is tempting to rush to ‘get on the road’, but time spent planning now, will reap dividends later in the day. (See our section on Route Planning). Only by having planned your proposed route order, will you be able to effectively load your vehicle.
If you are undertaking multi-drop work, it is more than likely that you will be in a van, so for this section, we will assume that you are in a large panel van, with a side door and double doors at the back. Here are our ‘six-of-the-best’ tips for loading a multi-drop route onto your van and managing the load throughout the day:
- Review the manifest and plan your route before you load your van.
- If space allows, separate and organise the parcels assigned to each customer/delivery-point on the loading bay, at the back of your van.
- Now, it is basically a case of loading the orders (parcels) onto your van in reverse order so that essentially the last deliveries of the day are positioned up against the bulk-head behind where the driver sits and the first deliveries of the day are right by the back doors.
- Experience has taught us that working off your side door is marginally quicker than working off the back doors, so while you may start the day working off the back door, aim to start working from the side door as soon as possible in the day. An alternative side-door tactic, when loading-up in the morning is to use it for particularly large orders (ones with lots of parcels for one customer), to allow for ease of access.
- As you load up, keep address labels and barcodes (for scanning purposes) easily visible. Stack everything as neatly as possible.
- It is important that everything is kept as low as possible too. I.e. If, after everything is loaded, your van is not full to capacity, rather than stacking it all up high, spread everything out and fully utilise the floorspace in the back of the van. Otherwise, it only takes one sharp bend, or heavy-footed brake-stamp to send everything in the back flying all over the place and undo all your hard work when loading up, as well as potentially damaging customers goods. This holds true throughout the day, as your van starts to empty. Keep spreading stuff around to keep it low and stable.
One point to note here is that over time, technology has had a significant impact on logistics generally and multi-drop work in particular. Gone are the days of paper manifests that you ask customers to physically sign with a biro to confirm that they have received their delivery. It is much more likely that this process will be done digitally.
When the route planner hands you the manifest for your route for the day, it will probably be in the form of some kind of PDA, or hand-held scanning device. All parcels scheduled for your route will have to be scanned into your vehicle (by you), by ‘zapping’ the barcodes that will be on each and every parcel. Similarly, when you arrive at each drop throughout the day, you will also be expected to scan the individual parcels for that customer back off your vehicle and then get the customer to digitally sign on the screen on the hand-held device. You have probably already experienced this from the customers viewpoint.
One of the immediate advantages of this technology, from the company’s perspective is improved stock-loss. Every parcel entering your vehicle is accounted for, plus, if you happen to scan the wrong parcels off your vehicle when at any given destination, the hand held device will alert you, so ultimately each customer receives exactly what they were expecting to receive and not someone else’s order by mistake!
Another advantage for both the company and for you, the driver, is that generally, these days, this type of technology is accompanied by gps (global positioning system) and route optimisation software. For the driver, this removes the headache of having to try and manually plan a route because the system does it for them, which makes loading their vehicle a much quicker and easier process because they know exactly what order to load it, and subsequently they just have to drive from drop to drop as prescribed by the system.
For the company, they have the additional benefit of being able to track where individual drivers are via the gps, which means they can advise their customers on when they can expect their delivery, thus minimising those occasions when customers are either not in, or not available to receive their orders.
Under the section on benefits, earlier, we mentioned exercise. This aspect of multi-drop work cannot be over-emphasised. Many large vans have a payload of up to 1.5 metric tonnes. If you were to be maximising this on a daily basis, it means that you lift 1.5 tonnes of gear to place it in the back of your van and then, throughout the day, drop-by-drop, you unload 1.5 tonnes of gear, some of which may need to be carried for distance, or up several flights of stairs. This means that by the time you hang up your keys at the end of the day, you have lugged about 3 metric tonnes of stuff and are likely to have hit the popular recommendation of 10,000 steps.
Hopefully, this section will have provided you with some insight regarding the complexity of multi-drop work and the effort involved. Ultimately, it is not for some, but it is no coincidence that most experienced freelance couriers eventually gravitate towards multi-drop work. There’s more of it about and you have the added advantage of regular hours and a regular income.