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Becoming An Owner Driver: Getting Started As A Courier

Dec 25, 2007
Getting started as an owner driver is easy, and has the advantage of potentially becoming profitable pretty quickly due to the lack of overheads. However, there are some things to consider as you start, and this guide hopes to show you the kind of things you will need and the pitfalls to avoid when going freelance and becoming an owner driver.

What You Need:

Firstly, you need a vehicle. This is pretty damn obvious for anyone getting started as an owner driver, but it is still worth stating. The vehicle should be no more than six years old and can actually be of any size really - though if you're serious about making this work, then investing in a larger van (as opposed to using a hatchback car) will allow you to transport larger loads, and thus charge more.

Secondly a mobile phone is all important for new owner drivers. These days, people who don't own one are something of a rarity, so this shouldn't be an issue: All the same, it's important to be able to keep in touch with others from the road, so getting hold of such an 'unusual' and 'exotic' device is all important.

Finally, owner driver insurance is all important. The array of options can be confusing, but there are three types of insurance you need to look into, which I shall deal with now:

Get Insured

Courier insurance is all important for new owner drivers. There are three types of insurance you need to look into:

Vehicle Insurance

Any vehicle on the road must be insured - that's a legal requirement which most people are aware of! When you contact the insurance company, a common temptation is to say your vehicle is for business use - but actually be sure to specify that you need it for courier use. The difference is that you will be carrying goods for others for profit, and this will affect your quote, and any subsequent claims you need to make!

Goods in Transit Insurance

It's worth stumping up the extra cash for 'Goods in Transit' insurance as well. This will protect your cargo against loss and damage, generally covering you for goods up to a value of 10,000. Your main insurance company might cover this, but if not, then it's very easy to get this from specialist courier insurance dealers. This is especially worth considering for new owner drivers, as it makes you seem more legitimate and people will be more comfortable dealing with you.

Public Liability

This one may not be as necessary as the other two, but is still worth considering, especially for new owner drivers with butter fingers! This will cover you for incidents involving your customers, for example if you drop their same-day-delivery box of anvils on their foot...

While not strictly insurance, it's also worth mentioning at this point that as you'll be self employed, new owner drivers need to sort out their taxes with the Inland Revenue and arrange any credits they may be entitled to. At this point it may be worth hiring an accountant who will know how to save you money by understanding what expenses you can claim. Alternatively, if you know book keeping, there is nothing to stop you from managing your own finances, if you're not too busy with all the owner driver jobs you hope to be inundated with!

Getting Your Name Out There

So, now that your finances are all (hopefully!) sorted out, how do you go about finding your first owner driver jobs? Well the first step is getting yourself listed in local directories - the Yellow Pages and Thomson Local directory are a good start, as is putting an advert in the local newspaper. It's also worth joining a freight exchange like ours, as this can help you get owner driver jobs and backloads as well as keeping your running costs down. Some freight exchanges also provide a helpful community if you need help or advice.

Print some professional looking business cards, and don't be shy about handing them out - you never know when you might get an owner driver job from them!

One unusual way of getting business is to contact other couriers in your area. At first this may sound like an unlikely solution, but the truth is that if your rivals can't complete all their work in one day, then they will be happy to have your help, rather than risk losing their reputation for timely deliveries. If you can get on the sub-contraction books of a few local couriers, you may find this provides a steady stream of 'one-off' owner driver jobs to keep things ticking over nicely.

A web presence is useful as well, but in the early days of your operation you may find the costs involved in setting up and maintaining your site are going to cost more than the traffic they bring in, so I would suggest you save this for when your business has picked up a little.

Getting Paid

A tricky one to answer is the question of how much you should be paid. Unfortunately, I'm not able to give a definitive answer as to how much you should charge for each owner driver job, as it very much depends on the region you work in and the size of your vehicle.

Generally, owner drivers charge per mile on the outbound journey, and at a discounted rate on the return, but a good way of picking the right price for you is to check out the cost of hiring your local rivals and working from there.

Becoming an owner driver can seem a little daunting at first, but sticking to this basic framework should ensure that the first few months run smoothly. This should give you the solid foundations you need to begin earning the type of money the profession can offer, and can potentially see you expanding your operation over the following years.
About the Author
Luke Humble is the Website manager for The Transport Exchange Group. Their exchange for couriers, Courier Exchange, offers jobs for owner drivers and courier companies who are looking to make a start in the business.
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