Once you’ve got the hang of working for one courier company, you may want to see whether working for several courier companies will help you make more money. You make yourself available on one of the courier work exchanges, such as www.mtvan.com, and bid for work from other courier members and from end-users. 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 one- way 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 earn 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. And you haven’t actually earned any money until you have collected it and banked it safely.
Got a question? Click here to ask – it’s free!
TonysGuide.com the website is gradually being updated to include 100% complete and free articles on courier work, including the complete version of this article about getting paid. Please register and we’ll keep you updated.
TonysGuide.com the website is totally free, but remember that for just £4.99 you can download the whole thing as a convenient PDF here.
Note: Tim Gilbert owns and runs mtvan.com, so is obviously completely biased! There are other exchanges out there, which are worth checking out as part of your research into courier work, but generally they are either really expensive, or they have no work on them.