For many, the attractions and advantages of self-employment outweigh the loss of paid holiday. Then again, the autonomy of being your own boss means that now, you reap the direct rewards of your effort at work. Of course, there is plenty to organise too. As a courier, you’ll need to run a delivery vehicle.
If you plan to go self-employed and become a courier, rider or delivery driver, read on as we review the advantages, opportunities and other considerations. Below, you will find time-saving tips, valuable insights and what you ought to know before making the transition.
Driving or riding?
Firstly, which type of courier you would like to be? If you are a keen motorcyclist, the idea of being out on the open road will probably seem attractive. Logically, though, the work will also involve navigating across towns or searching for city centre delivery addresses.
Choosing a delivery vehicle
Whether you decide to opt for a van or a motorbike, your business transport will have to be roadworthy and fully serviced. A valid test certificate is necessary for vehicles more than three years old. Also, the larger the volume or capacity, the more goods you can carry and deliver, leading to increased earnings.
Notably, high mileage and older vehicles tend to be less reliable. Apart from not always presenting the right impression, they are prone to breakdowns. That might mean letting customers down, with the likely loss of repeat business and valuable referrals.
When you become a self-employed courier, you should take out public liability insurance against claims for injury or damage. In addition, legal expenses cover is advisable to avoid ending up out of pocket if you have to defend yourself against unfounded accusations.
Your vehicle will need insurance. Personal car insurance with social, domestic and pleasure cover does not include courier work. Instead, you will need a hire and reward type of policy. It is advisable to insure goods in transit, too.
Running a small business
Unless you set up in partnership, you’ll be what the taxman classes as a sole trader, i.e. a one-man-band. There is the prospect of increased job satisfaction, but with extra responsibilities. As you startup, you’ll need the patience to deal with the unexpected, as well as plenty of motivation.
On those rainy Monday mornings, get-up-and-go is essential. As on any other day, people will be waiting for their goods or documents – sometimes impatiently! That’s where people skills come in handy, especially the ability to handle customers with ease.
Managing yourself means that you set your hours. However, this will need to be within standard delivery times. Significantly, senders or supply hubs might stipulate the time frames and deadlines.
It could be shrewd to make alternative arrangements for delivery cover with a business associate when you take a holiday. However, do beware of sharing commercial and contact information with competitors.
Track expenditure by filing all business receipts. If you have a computer, a logical step is to download some free business software to log your outgoings. Alternatively, if maths is not your strong point, a trusted friend or family member might be willing to help you with bookkeeping.
When going self-employed, you could consult a business advisor or an accountant to help with National Insurance and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC). That way, you will be able to make the most of grants, capital allowances and tax incentives.
Before setting up, it is usual to prepare a business plan. According to information published by the National Careers Service, self-employed couriers can expect to earn between £14,500 and £18,000 a year when they start up, depending on location. However, with experience, income can increase to £40,000 p.a.
Typically, couriers work approximately 45 hours per week. Glassdoor UK advertises temporary work for couriers, with rates between £10 and £30 per hour. This type of work may be useful if you need extra customers during quiet periods.
To get a reasonably accurate idea of monthly outgoings, remember to check the prices or calculate the costs of:
- Initial advertising.
- A mobile phone handset and a business tariff (with regular calls).
- Vehicle purchase or leasing.
- Monthly fuel costs.
- Regular servicing and maintenance. City driving is quite heavy on tyres and brake linings.
- Accountancy support.
Some expenses are allowable against tax.
Income tax payments are due half-yearly, at the end of each January and July. Once their business gets off the ground, most self-employed people opt to have an accountant. Professional support is not essential, but it is usually a good idea. With their professional advice on self-assessment tax and pension arrangements, your tax liability could well be lower than expected.
Although formal qualifications are not necessary, a clean full driving license is vital. Completing a City & Guilds course in driving goods vehicles is a practical option if you want to learn new driving techniques and gain experience.
Alternatively, you could join a professional body such as the National Courier and Despatch Association (NCDA), the leading UK organisation for independent same-day couriers.
Naturally, you will need to be a person who likes driving a van or riding a motorcycle. Instead of being desk-bound, you’ll be using your driving or riding skills to get about. That’s why familiarity with your area, a good sense of direction and the ability to read maps are all helpful – even though satellite navigation usually works in most locations.
Rudimentary motoring knowledge is essential. For instance, van drivers should know how to change a wheel if a tyre gets a puncture. Your business skills will include keeping an eye on fuel prices at different garages and driving as efficiently as possible.
People will notice if you have a cheerful personality. Without a doubt, greeting customers and making occasional small talk will help grow your business.
Being able to think quickly and react to challenging situations is a plus. Couriers and delivery drivers often experience changing road conditions, heavy traffic and busy or impatient clients. It helps if you have an organised and proactive approach with an eye for detail, of course.
In addition, using portable digital devices to track deliveries is a part of delivery work. Basic computer skills will help, too.
So, what for the future? Data published by Mintel put annual growth in courier delivery activity at nearly a quarter (23 per cent) in 2020. This increase was the largest in years, due in part to social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders.
More than four in ten UK residents surveyed (42 per cent) said they now shop online more since the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Significantly, industry commentators expect the trend to continue over the coming years. By the end of 2024, the boom in courier and delivery services will likely see the market expand from around £13.5 billion (2019) to an estimated £21 billion.
The opportunity to become a courier means that you will have the flexibility of self-employment. At the same time, you will be able to explore your city and area, make extra money and take more holiday time off, albeit unpaid.
Also, your workflow depends on demand, which can fluctuate. Nonetheless, you might be able to fill off-peak periods with same-day delivery work on Gophr.
Finally, gov.uk gives further information on going self-employed.