How to get yourself started with some courier work

If you’re hoping to make a living as an owner-driver courier, the best way to start is to find work for a while with courier companies in your area. This page will help you know what they expect. Many courier companies are nervous about taking on beginners, so you need to set yourself up properly, to give yourself the best chance of getting work and getting earning.

Courier companies need couriers like you to carry out the work, so it’s the obvious place to start. Once you have learned the ropes working for a single courier company as an owner driver, you can, if you want, go out and get courier work for more than one courier company.

In the meantime, to get yourself started, you can find the contact details of courier companies throughout the UK, and especially your local ones, using the internet, or if you still have one, a copy of the Yellow Pages. Call them, and arrange to pop in to the local ones for a quick chat, and to show them your van and your documents, and above all, to let them get to know you.

Don’t emphasise the fact that you’re “new”, rather that you’re “available”. “New” is good for washing powder, but disastrous for couriers.

Then phone up all the courier companies within 20 miles of you, and introduce yourself. Ask them if they need any couriers at the moment, either for their busy periods or regular work. Some of them will ask you to turn up to see them. Others will ask you to write in. Others will say “I’ll keep your number on file”. They’re the ones who may need several friendly phone calls to encourage them to remember you’re there. Write down as you go along who you spoke to and what they said, and make a note in a diary to call again the following week.

Don’t be shy about calling several times. In fact that’s quite normal. And feel free to pop in to their control room, especially on a Friday morning, when they may well need more couriers, to give yourself a better chance of a result. You just have to wait till they are short of couriers. When they are, suddenly their attitude will change, and they’ll invite you in.

Try to get the email address of those who sound interested, and email them your Goods in Transit insurance certificate, and a short letter including a photograph of you and your smart clean van. It’s a bit of effort, but it will help your chances. When you have sent the email, give them another call the next day to check that they got it, and to ask if you can go and see them.

We strongly advise against sending letters or emails out without phoning first. All you’ll do is waste paper and postage, and worse still, you risk annoying people with your pointless junk mail.

As an owner-driver courier, you will be a self-employed subcontractor when working for the courier company. The relationship is similar to that between a householder and a plumber. The courier company (your customer) makes no tax deductions from your money; you are paid to get the job done, using your equipment, in the way that you see fit, and at your risk.

This kind of relationship with the courier company means you are responsible for your own income tax and national insurance contributions, as this is not a contract of employment.

As an owner-driver courier you are at liberty to work for more than one courier company. In fact, many courier companies positively encourage this, as if you only have one customer (the one courier company) it may be argued by the HM Revenue & Customs that you are an employee. This would be bad for both you and especially for the courier company.

Once you’ve got the hang of working for one courier company, it’s possible that working for several courier companies will help you make more money. You make yourself available on one of the courier work exchanges, such as, and bid for work from other courier members. Obviously, you have to avoid any risk of messing up work for one courier company because of work you’re doing for another.

You need also to be very careful to look after the commercial secrets of all the courier companies you deliver for. This obviously means not talking about customers and prices. You should take very seriously your own reputation for reliability, availability, discretion, and value. It’ll take a long time to build it, and possibly seconds to destroy it.

Only ever promise what you can deliver, and once you’ve promised it, deliver it, make sure the courier company knows you’ve delivered it, and make sure that you can prove that you have delivered it.

As an owner-driver courier, you won’t receive any payment to cover holidays or sickness. You are only paid for the delivery work you carry out, and you can choose your hours of availability yourself. Obviously, the more you’re available, and the more helpful you are, the more work you’ll be offered.

Courier owner drivers are typically paid an agreed percentage of whatever the courier company is charging the customer per job. Each company will advise you what the percentage is in your area and for your vehicle type. You should therefore enquire about their prices (to their customers), so you know what you’re being paid a percentage of.

Rates to the customer vary by area and by van size, but generally a small van is charged out at between 75p and £1.10p per mile, and you’ll be offered between 50% and 70% of that. Remember it’s not only the rate per mile that affects how much you earn, it’s also the amount of work that you can do at one time, and the success you have in not running around with an empty van.

Of course, if you don’t fancy the rate per mile being offered, or if there’s not enough work to keep you busy, you’re free to turn the work down or find work elsewhere. Generally, though, courier companies pay a reasonable rate (or they’d have no couriers) in return for reasonably quick payment (ideally 7 days, but sometimes up to a month).

To arrive at the price to the customer, mileage is calculated either from the collection point to the delivery point, or base to collection to deliver and back to base. Each courier company will advise which is applicable in each case.

Obviously the rate per mile will be lower if you are being paid base to base, than if you are being paid from collection to delivery. You may well want to check the mileages being used. You shouldn’t become obsessed by the mileages, as they can vary according to how you calculate them, but you should keep a check on them to ensure that any differences with your calculations are small, and that they’re not always to
your disadvantage.

If a job is a “wait and return”, ie a two way trip collecting, delivering, waiting, collecting and returning to the original point, the return journey is usually charged and paid at a percentage of the one-way rate (which is typically 50% of the oneway rate). It’s well worth asking about.

If you are kept waiting on a job, waiting time is paid. The rate usually varies depending on vehicle type. Each courier company will tell you the rates they charge and pay. Typically, for a wait of 15 minutes or less waiting time is usually not chargeable or payable, but if you wait for more than 15 minutes the wait is fully chargeable from when you started waiting.

Many courier companies pay weekly, a week in hand, by credit transfer, straight from their account to yours, or by cheque. You should of course receive a HM Revenue & Customs approved “self-billing invoice”, which also acts as a pay advice detailing the work that you have done. Reputable companies will always give proper documents like this to explain the payments made to you. If you’re not getting some kind of list of what you’re being paid for, and/or if you’re not being asked to invoice the courier company, it’s probably worth finding work elsewhere.

You may be expected to wear an ID Badge supplied by the courier company while on their business. We recommend that you also put together one of your own, with a photo. You could use a business card as an ID badge, with your photo on it. You can buy DIY business cards from stationers, you use in your printer at home. Or you can buy them cheaply online.

Dress code for a courier is typically smart black trousers (try to get the washable ones from places like Marks and Spencers that come out of the washing machine with the creases still smart and straight) and a white shirt or polo shirt.

This allows you to really look the part while out delivering. Some courier companies may ask you to wear an item of their clothing such as a sweatshirt or polo shirt while on their business. This clothing bearing the courier company logo may even be sold to you. We recommend that you use your common sense here; if it seems like a sensible amount of money for the garment, and the company looks busy, it’s probably worth it. If your instinct says it’s an over priced rip-off, with no promise of work, you may want to go elsewhere.

Your van should preferably be white in colour, and no more than 5 years old, and very clean inside and out. Many couriers find it actually pays them to rent (contract hire) a new van, rather than buy one outright and maintain it. Watch out for surcharges on excess mileages, though, as if you’re successful, you’ll be a high mileage user. The size of van you choose is up to you. You need to think of whether you are comfortable driving, loading, and parking (outside your house) in a big van, and find out whether there is enough work locally to make the extra expense worthwhile. There is slightly more money per mile to be earned in a big van. If you prefer a small van, make sure it’s one that can be loaded with a forklift truck, ie it must have rear doors that open outwards, well out of the way of the loading area.

If you are hoping to start as a courier using your car, it is possible, though it will slightly restrict the loads you can carry. You will need to work a bit harder at getting the right kind of insurance. You might also find that the very high mileage involved in being a courier may wreck your car more quickly than you had anticipated. Of course, you can start in your car, and move on to a van once you are established.

Many courier companies offer their customers a 24-hour service, 365 days of the year, though most of the work comes in between 0800hrs and 2200hrs Monday to Friday. This will vary depending on the courier company and on the nature of its contracts. Making yourself available out of office hours is often well
worthwhile, as it makes you popular with the controllers (always a good thing, as they are the people who choose who gets which job) and the traffic is lighter (saves time and wear and tear) and the money is sometimes better per mile.

Work booked outside office hours may be charged, and therefore paid, at higher rates. You should ask about this.

How much money you will make subcontracting as an owner-driver courier to courier companies is impossible to predict, as there are so many factors involved. You can make anything from £250 in a week to over £1500. The former figure is very low, probably less than 5 days’ work, and the latter very high, almost certainly involving long hours and weekend work too. Since you get paid per job, the more you do, the more you get!
If you do no work, you will get no money.

Some of the things which affect how much you can earn are shown below:

How quickly you get the hang of the work, how quickly and safely you can get from one place to another, how well you can navigate and read maps/GPS etc.

How many hours you are prepared to be available for work and how hard you are prepared to work during them. If you are unavailable to do early collections in the morning and want to finish early, you are obviously limiting you’re the amount you can earn. It’s all about being available.

Vehicle maintenance, reliability, and equipment. As soon as you are not available due to a breakdown, or for maintenance, your earnings will stop. Equipping yourself with the basics (eg check you have a legal spare tyre, a jack and brace, and a readycan etc) can make a huge difference, as can installing a GPS unit and some kind of internet access in your van.

Bad weather, illness and holidays. Think about making and investment in tough and effective wet-weather and cold-weather clothing. A waterproof high-visibility jacket with a quilted lining, available from builders’ merchants, may be a good idea.

Luck. It is impossible to overstate the effect which being in the right place at the right time can have on your income. If you get a really nice long job, and then another one comes in collecting nearby and going in the same direction, it’s you’re lucky day as you’ll be being paid twice for at least some of the miles you’re driving. Check with the courier company what their policy is on this, as some try to pay a lower rate for the second job.

How well you play the system. When you are empty away from your home city you can increase your income by calling for a return trip from another courier company office, and by calling other courier members to say that you are in their area. If you have internet access in your van, you can even bid for nearby collections on freight exchanges when you’re empty miles from home.

How busy your courier company is at anyone time. Every courier company has quiet days, weeks and even months, most noticeably in the summer. Getting to know as many courier companies as possible will help when it’s quiet. With all this in mind, you need to give yourself time. Four weeks is the absolute minimum that you should allow before you judge your initial success with any given courier company. Every day is different and you will find that some days go your way and on others you may wish that you had never got out of bed.

So it is better to look upon courier work by the week, month or year rather than by the day, as things average out over time and you will get a more accurate picture.

Above all, don’t be tempted to earn more by cramming in more deliveries than can realistically be done to their deadlines. If someone is paying you to deliver to a tight deadline, that deadline is all-important. Taking on and fitting in extra work that will make you miss an important deadline is bad for your reputation, which will cost you more in the long run.

Of course, you’ll often be handling valuable goods, and if you are careless, or even just unlucky, and a package is lost, damaged or stolen whilst in your care, you will not be paid for the job, and you may be charged for its replacement. So you should arrange your own Goods in Transit Insurance. Also essential is Public Liability insurance, in case you injure someone or damage something while delivering. You should also ensure that you have “courier” insurance, which specifically covers you for driving while earning money as a courier.

As well as being valuable, the goods will usually be urgent, so if you break down, and cannot complete the delivery, and the courier company has to get another courier to complete the job, you may well not be paid your full agreed percentage. You may well even end up owing the courier company money, as you had agreed to undertake the delivery for an agreed price, and at your own risk. It’s worth asking about the courier company’s policy on this kind of thing at the start.

It is a business that rewards hard work, self-discipline and the right approach. If you’re this kind of person, there’s a good living to be made.

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