In general, here’s how to become a van courier:
- Get a reliable cargo van
- Check your qualifications and insurance needs
- Consider your preferred radius of coverage
- Research your potential earnings and benefits
- Buy communication and navigation equipment
- Find work and market yourself further
- Learn the skills of running a business
If you’re a hard worker and a go-getter who enjoys driving and interacting with customers, then you may find it interesting to be a van courier.
While it’s true that the perks of being a van courier include fixing your own working schedule and routines, you can’t simply rush to it because you want to break from a 9-to-5.
Just like any other job or business, you have to brace up for the bells and whistles of this one too.
For instance, if you lack strong communication skills, can’t stick to specific delivery instructions, can’t bear with the traffic, or heavy package lifting, you might want to look elsewhere.
In this guide, I’ll discuss in detail what it takes to become a van courier, how to become one, the potential earnings and benefits, where to find work, how to beef up your efficiency as a van courier, the common issues you could run into, and their solutions.
If that sounds like the deal for you, let’s jump right in, buddy.
Before we get into the steps for becoming a van courier, it’s important to highlight some key differences in the working styles and environments, so you make an informed decision.
You can work for a larger courier company as their employee, or you can sign an independent contract with a company like UPS or FedEx.
Lastly, you can choose to go completely solo, working for yourself and finding clients by yourself.
Whichever route you take, however, there’s always plenty of work because there always seems to be high demand for courier service providers.
Perhaps that also increases the potential earnings of van couriers.
Let’s break it all down in detail:
In this case, you’re tasked with driving a company vehicle and delivering packages.
You’ll likely be paid an hourly wage, and may also receive other employee benefits.
The good news is you don’t worry about finding customers, nor do you struggle with fuel and maintenance expenses.
All you have to do is show up at the warehouse daily, get your load of deliveries and instructions, and hit the road.
Working as an independent contractor for a courier company requires owning a van.
While you may not worry about finding customers, you have to win the heart of the company you’re working with.
Additionally, your van’s maintenance and ownership costs are up to you. Generally, you get paid per mile, but you may also be paid per drop-off or some other basis.
This is where you put up with the hassle of finding clients for yourself. But that’s not a deal-breaker.
Remember, pharmacists, lawyers, florists, and other professionals may find it cheaper to hire you as opposed to outsourcing services of courier agencies or handling the tasks themselves.
You must, however, ensure your returns from regular deliveries are enough to cover your running costs like fuel, plus van maintenance.
It’s also up to you to account for these costs together with the time you put in, so you know what to charge your clients.
Here’s a highlight of the steps for becoming a van courier:
1. Get a Reliable Cargo Van
This is a no-brainer, you need a cargo van that is fully serviced and conforms to the FMCSA guidelines.
This way, you won’t run into legal issues, nor will you let your customers down and miss out on opportunities for repeat business.
Moving equipment like dolly carts could also come in handy, especially if you’ll be dropping off considerably heavy or bulky packages at customer doorsteps.
2. Check Your Qualifications & Insurance Needs
Generally, you need an up-to-date commercial driver’s license (CDL) and proper insurance to be a van courier. The latter applies especially if you’ll be working independently.
As such, the insurance should cover both the van, cargo, or any other packages you deliver, together with public liability.
In terms of formal education requirements, you need no special training if you’re in the US. While a high school diploma or equivalent is always desirable, it’s not mandatory.
However, I’d like to think you need a couple of soft skills plus on-the-job training.
In Canada, you might not need a college degree, but you often need to complete secondary school. You should also have a professional license and a safe driving record.
If you’ll be hauling dangerous goods, you need to obtain a Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TGD) certification.
The following are the additional skills that could boost your success as a van courier:
To win new clients, an independent van courier must have a clean driving record that proves they can deliver packages safely.
That’s why it can be a great idea to practice more and hone your driving skills.
An independent courier must address the needs of their customers and demonstrate remarkable patience and professionalism.
You must always communicate in due time if you’re experiencing any challenges, say due to bad weather.
If you’re caught in traffic somewhere like in LA, it’s also good to inform your customers that they should expect a delay, and update them on your progress.
Making timely deliveries to clients is a must-have attribute of a van courier, especially if you’ll be handling multiple deliveries in a day.
Since an independent courier will often travel to places they’ve never driven to before, you must be up to the task of navigating unfamiliar areas.
While GPS units and Google Maps are of much help, you need to master using them.
3. Consider Your Prefered Radius of Coverage
Depending on the location of your clients or the routes you’ll be assigned as an independent contractor, you should choose a convenient radius of coverage.
Remember, this could affect your earnings if you’re paid based on miles covered.
And if you cater for your fuel consumption, it influences your profit if you subtract the fuel costs from the returns.
At the same time, the shorter the distances, the more deliveries you can make per day, according to your target.
4. Find Out Your Potential Earnings & Benefits
It’s important to figure out your potential earnings based on the company you’ll sign a contract with, or the clients you’ll serve if you’re completely independent. We’ll explore these in detail soon.
5. Buy Communication and Navigation Equipment
A van courier must stay on top of their game and respond to dispatchers and clients promptly. Aside from a cell phone, that calls for equipment like the following:
You can’t go wrong with a wearable PC or some other kind of portable computer that’s equipped with software to keep track of your orders, deliveries, and payments.
A computer will also help you organize invoices and keep track of the distances you’ve traveled .
You could install navigation software on your smartphone, tablet, or computer, or you could still have a separate GPS unit to guide you through unfamiliar areas.
It’s quite simple and convenient to use a modern GPS unit since you only enter your drop-off address and figure out how long it’ll take to reach your destination, together with the fastest routes to take.
6. Find Work & Market Yourself Further
While being self-employed may freak you out, as an independent courier, you only need to ensure steady workflow and meet client expectations.
It’s good to start looking for contracts from any of the following renowned companies:
Understandably, you can also submit your job application to a local courier agency or business which may hire independent contractors, like the following:
- Accounting firms
- Financial planners
- Law firms
- Pharmacies, medical clinics, and hospitals
- Printing companies
- Real estate agencies
Most self-employed van couriers have contracts with reputable companies, much as they have their names out here locally.
The beauty of this age is that you can also market yourself through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Since an independent van courier is essentially a freelance worker, you need to demonstrate good networking skills and an entrepreneurial spirit to get consistent work.
It’s also a great edge to have people who can endorse you for your work ethic, timeliness, and diligence in following through with delivery assignments.
7. Learn the Skills of Running a Business
As an independent van courier, you’ll need to spare time for managing and growing your business.
That said, it’s important to keep and maintain records of deliveries, operating costs, customer signatures, and business accounts.
If you have a website, you’ll need someone to do the website administration and maintenance too.
You should also maintain correct records of your earnings and submit correct self-assessment tax forms.
Finally, and let’s be blunt, you’ll need to perform physical work and deal with work stress.
Remember, you’ll be sitting in a van all day, often driving in unpleasant traffic situations and trying not to miss drop-off addresses.
Pair that with the different customer attitudes you’ll have to deal with and a malfunctioning AC in the middle of the summer, and you get how tough things can be.
Lastly, don’t forget the part where you have to load and unload cargo – often lifting and carrying heavy packages, and being careful not to damage fragile items.
It’s not a walk in the park as such, but if you consider the benefits and really know what you want, you can still be committed.
With the increasing growth of e-commerce, meal, and grocery delivery, the demand for van couriers isn’t set to decline anytime soon, and the pay should remain reasonable.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the overall employment of couriers is expected to grow by up to 12% between 2020 and 2030.
That’s a job outlook that’s faster than average for most occupations.
According to Indeed, the average salary of a courier driver in the US is $20.15 per hour. In a year, that translates to $41,219.
Generally, van couriers get paid per hour, but there are notable exceptions.
For instance, companies that rely on van couriers to deliver meals pay per order. The formula also accounts for waiting time as well as mileage.
It’s important to note that the income of a van courier varies depending on the workflow plus factors like the distance you travel, and the number of hours you work.
Since working as a courier is a service job, drivers often make extra money through tips.
According to Indeed, the average annual pay may be higher in the following cities:
|Los Angeles (California)
Aside from flexible schedules, the following are the potential benefits for van couriers:
- Mileage reimbursement
- Fuel discounts
- Employee discounts
- Paid time off and sick leave
- Health insurance
- Life insurance
- Gym membership
You can beef up your performance as a van courier and get better returns if you deliver quickly and safely.
This especially comes in handy if you get paid per delivery. But even if you don’t get compensated this way, there are other advantages of getting your work done quickly.
Enter route optimization. It’s the process of determining the most cost-efficient route, other than just identifying the shortest path between two points using a GPS unit.
A normal satnav tool just shows you how to get from point A to point B and is great for doing normal journeys or taxi drivers.
However, route optimization tools look at all the parcels you have to deliver that day. It then gives you one route that cleverly shows you which address to deliver to first, second, third, and so on.
It would be really hard to work this out manually as a driver has so many addresses to deliver to each day.
It means getting from one drop-off location to the next in an orderly manner and within the shortest time possible.
A good route optimization tool helps a van courier avoid traffic and do away with backtracking. If you can also figure out a way to organize packages in your van, you’ll save a significant amount of time.
Here’s a quick overview of the potential issues van couriers run into:
- Unfamiliar destinations
- Un-anticipated traffic jams
- Vehicle breakdown
- Need for bathroom breaks
- Delays in delivery
Here’s how to get around the problems van couriers face:
Driving on an effective route helps you deliver on time and prevent other problems like running low on fuel and getting lost.
It could also save on maintenance costs since you don’t overwork your van driving through unnecessarily long distances and roads that are in bad shape.
Savvy courier drivers, therefore, invest in quality route planning tools that help them minimize time wastage on the road while keeping their customers happy.
Even if you end up stuck in traffic, you can move your stop to sometime later in the day, and modify your schedule altogether.
While a route planning app could help you avoid such problems, it can be a good practice to review your route for a few minutes when your day begins. This way, you’ll figure out unfamiliar destinations in advance.
You can also leverage an up-to-date paper map of your locale in case your van’s GPS or your mobile app doesn’t show you the exact drop-off point you’re looking for.
While it can be super-weirdo to talk about bathroom breaks, a van courier often finds themselves seriously in need of them.
And if you take coffee to stay awake and drive for so long, they’re very much expected.
To avoid unplanned stops and accidents, you could plan for bathroom breaks in advance.
Remember, going to the bathroom is necessary and shouldn’t be embarrassing as such, so it’s best to have a plan.
You can’t afford to have a flat tire on an interstate or a busy city street. At the same time, having a van that won’t start after you’re done with your delivery is a huge disappointment.
One way to avoid landing in these situations is by using a reliable cargo van and having it serviced properly.
You could benefit from a membership with the American Automobile Association since they can help you if your van breaks down and you can’t get back to business.
To become a van courier, ensure you have the necessary qualifications and insurance covers on top of having a reliable work van.
You must also examine if the job is worth it, based on what you could earn, the areas you’ll have to cover, the kind of clients you’ll deal with, and other challenges you’ll have to put up with.
For example, if your patch is a countryside area where each drop-off is kilometers away from each other, and you get paid the same per parcel as urban van drivers. In that case it may not pay enough to be worth the time and cost of doing it.
Ultimately, you can get the necessary equipment to support the trade, find work and market yourself further as you focus on building the business.