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How to start a courier company

Could you make a living out of a delivery business?

In the 1980s boom years, courier companies called all the shots. If a client wanted a parcel delivering the couriers would dictate when it arrived. These days, though, the business is more customer led. People expect good service and don’t want to wait in all day for their packages. If you can’t deliver when they want you to, they’ll go elsewhere.

Thanks to this, there are opportunities available for smaller firms which can offer a more personal, local service. Although there are a lot of van couriers, this is something motorbike or cycle couriers are perfect for.

What is it?   

At first glance, the courier industry looks easy to get into. It can appear that all you need is an office, a telephone and a set of wheels – either two or four. As a result, there are a lot of new businesses starting up each year. Inevitably, there is a lot more to making a success of it though: very few tend to start up a courier company from scratch. Most of those who own courier enterprises are former couriers themselves. Even a smallish motorbike or cycle company requires considerable effort and knowledge.

Phillip Stone of the Despatch Association, a courier trade organisation, estimates that only 30% of courier start-ups make it to years two and three. Narrow profit margins and tight cashflow are realities of the trade but attention to detail and a great service will make your reputation.   

Cycle couriers can, by definition, only exist in an urban setting. Most cyclists cover around a two mile radius – otherwise the same day service and ability to deal with urgent jobs is lost. As courier firms operate in cities, jobs tend to be office related – lighter packages, urgent documents and so on.

Motorbike couriers are faster and can go further but, similarly, they would be more likely to do town or city based work. For long distance journeys it makes economic sense to do more than one job at once, for which a van is obviously better suited.

Prompt and courteous riders are a must as cycle couriers have had something of a reputation for unreliability in the past.

Unless you have unlimited money for a fleet of motor or push bikes, you will generally have people working with you on a self-employed basis, rather than employing them. They will be responsible for providing their own bikes and equipment, as well as storing and maintaining them.

A business can therefore be run from a home office on this basis, with a computer and mobile phones rather than a radio. These jobs tend to be with offices which you don’t have to deal with late into the night.

Although couriers are starting up all the time, this is a fluid industry. Firms merge and change, so if you find a niche within your area it is possible to work alongside them. No firm turns a job down but in a busy city there should be enough for everyone.

Cycle couriers are also a greener option with so many city centres plagued by traffic gridlock and plans for no-car zones to develop.

Ready to get started? Find out everything you need to know about how to start your own business here.

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