RFX Blog

Best Practices for Growing Your Freight Agent Business At Home

May 5th, 2014

Image Source: Creative Commons Flickr/Erik Eckel

One of the benefits of owning your own business as a freight agent is the flexibility of working virtually anywhere.  An independent freight agent’s core business is centered around building relationships in the supply chain and providing service to shippers and transportation providers at a competitive rate.  Fortunately, due to the nature of the business, a freight agent’s day-to-day operation does not necessarily need to be conducted within the confines of an office cube. The challenge of providing quality service at a competitive rate means that freight agents need to create low overhead for themselves, which is why so many successful freight agents have grown their business from their own homes.  Here, we will explore some of the best business practices of successful at-home independent freight agents.

Design your space (and escape from it occasionally) – Claim that spare bedroom, the cellar or the low-traffic foyer as your own personal space.  Separate that space from the rest of your life, though not completely.  You should find balance in a space that is tucked away, as to allow privacy and concentration, yet not so secluded that you are completely cut off from the rest of the world.  After all, we all need human interaction, we all need sunlight and we all need a reminder that there is more to life outside the office.  So choose your space, but step outside occasionally.  Take your phone and laptop to the coffee shop for a day, travel to a customer, plan conference trips and get involved in your industry by meeting colleagues face-to-face.

Stay organized!  – Find a system that works best for you and stick to it.  You should decide if you work better with physical documents on a table in front of you, computer files and databases or some hybrid of the two.  However, understand that relying on paper may affect you more than you think.  Paper brings with it the cost of the paper itself, ink, printers, fax machines, dedicated fax lines, filing cabinets and clutter.  Not to mention the fact that paper requires more space and a dependency on working from the office instead of the road.

For handling day-to-day operations and customer service, here is a structure that we recommend:

  1. Planning – Organize a space, folder or bucket (whatever you want to call it) where all of your load confirmation documents are stored.  Each load confirmation represents a different load that you will soon need to plan and execute.
  2. Execution – As your orders hit the road, collect documents related to each load such as Bills of Lading, emails and your in-progress load confirmations and place them into and “in-progress” folder.
  3. Archiving – Once an order has been closed, move your documentation to an archive of some sort. Again, if you use paper, this can add up very quickly, so we recommend electronic files.  Store your files for at least two years.  Why?  Audits, claims or disputes.  (Under Carmack Amendment, a shipper has 9 months to present a claim.  Or in the case of non-delivery, they have 9 months and reasonable estimated delivery time.  But they have 2 years to file suit after the date-of-loss, hence the two-year minimum rule).  Always back up your computer files on an external hard drive or the cloud.

Only invest in office equipment that you need –  Is a desktop computer necessary, when a laptop will do? Is a filing cabinet necessary if you plan to go paperless? Do you really need a sophisticated phone system for one person? Is a fax machine and fax line necessary?  Or would it be more efficient to subscribe to an e-fax service and get your faxes in your email inbox, wherever you are?  Remember, every purchasing decision you make has a direct impact on your ability to offer competitive pricing.  Come up with a structure for how you want your business to be organized first, then plan your purchasing around that structure.

Give yourself room to grow – You should anticipate that as your business grows, so might your need for more space.  Some of the best companies on the planet today began in a garage, but they all had enough sense to understand when it was time to move on to an environment best suited for growth.   If you bring on an employee or two, will you have sufficient facilities in your home office to allow them to succeed?  Understand when it’s time to move into a bigger space in a more professional setting.

Building your office as a freight agent and independent business owner can be exciting, because of what it represents: the freedom of owning your own business, taking the reigns and making decisions for yourself.  It is important that you pick the right environment for success, establish an organizational plan and purchase furniture and equipment keeping overhead in mind, all while understanding where your ceiling for growth is in a home office space.

 

Posted on May 5th, 2014 in business strategy, freight agent