Becoming a self-employed courier

Starting up

25 August 2016

A total of 2.8 billion packages and parcels were delivered in 2016, which drove the value of the courier and delivery market to £10.1 billion. With the market forecast to reach £13.2 billion by 2021, the demand for couriers looks likely to continue to rise.

One of the biggest benefits of becoming a self-employed courier is the flexibility the job offers. Self-employed drivers choose their working hours and plan their own workload, allowing them to fit their job around the commitments of their everyday lives. Rather than sitting behind a desk each working day, self-employed couriers use their existing driving skills to get out and about to deliver a variety of goods to expectant customers.

Interested? From the necessary qualifications to courier van insurance, here, we run down what you need to get your career as a self-employed courier on the road.

Tools of the trade

First thing’s first: you need a van with an up-to-date MOT. Although it's possible to deliver in your car, using your personal vehicle might not be practical. Plus, the bigger the vehicle, the more you can carry, which could lead to higher personal earnings.

Some basic breakdown knowhow is a must – you don't want to spend hours by the side of a motorway because of a flat tyre. Help to prevent the hassle of your van breaking down by carrying out regular maintenance checks such as monitoring oil levels and testing tyre pressures.

Fuel is the lifeblood of your business and with prices soaring at their fastest rate in 18 years, keeping your eyes peeled for low prices in your local area is key to helping to keep costs down. Make sure you incorporate the price of fuel into your delivery prices so that you’re not selling your services short. Driving as efficiently as possible can also help you to maximise the miles you get out of each tank.

It also pays to keep an equally savvy eye out for the best mobile phone contracts, as this will likely be your main point of contact while you’re hitting the highway. Shop around for a deal that offers bags of minutes of data so that you can use it to suit your business without having to worry about an additional cost. If possible, take out a separate contract in your business’ name, which will help make working out your tax claims much easier.   

Formal qualifications

Apart from a clean driving license and impeccable driving skills, you don't actually need any formal qualifications to become a courier. If you want to set yourself apart from other freelancers you can join a professional association or industry body, or a logistics-based NVQ such as the Driving Goods Vehicle course could be a great addition to your CV.

A good sense of direction

Besides impeccable driving skills, it’s vital that self-employed couriers are able to plan the best routes for their deliveries. Although modern sat nav apps include traffic information, it's good to be able to think fast should technology let you down. Knowledge of traffic patterns and roadworks should help you avoid congestion and establish your business’ reputation as a punctual deliverer.

How much money do self-employed couriers earn?

If you’re working in London, your pay is worked out on a postcode-to-postcode basis. Outside of the Big Smoke, a per-mile-per-load levy is applied, meaning you’re paid a specified amount for each mile you transport each good – for example, according to Money Magpie, some courier companies offer 60p per mile to your destination and 40p per mile for the return journey.

According to the National Careers Service, couriers can expect to earn between £14,500 and £18,000 per year when they first start, but those with more experience can expect this to rise to between £25,000 and £40,000. However, salary depends entirely on how much time you commit – the daily working hours tend to be between 6 and 8 hours but the longer you work, the further you travel and the more goods you carry, the higher your take-home wage is likely to be.

Keep in mind that demand for couriers ebbs and flows throughout the year, so if you want a steady stream of jobs it’s a good idea to make your services known to as many companies as possible. During busy periods like Christmas and Mother’s Day, the number of parcels needed delivered skyrockets, so taking advantage of these busier periods could be a great way for your business to reap the rewards.

People skills

Driving is a fairly solitary role, but you will need some people skills. Couriers come into contact with customers as they deliver parcels and also need to build relationships with the companies that they deliver for.

Being good at small talk and having a cheery personality may not be essential, but it definitely helps.

Business sense

It's not all driving, though – accurate bookkeeping is very important when you're self-employed. You can get in a lot of trouble with HMRC if you don't pay your taxes properly, or if you forget to protect yourself by taking out commercial van insurance.

Keeping track of your daily deliveries, customer signatures and costs is also important, as is figuring out which companies are the most beneficial to work with, and which are best avoided. Investing in a business laptop is a great way to keep track of your business’ accounts, daily housekeeping and website maintenance. Read our guide on how to calculate the allowable expenses your business can claim back to help keep your business in the pink.

Insurance considerations

Your van may be your biggest business expense but it’s also your biggest asset, making it doubly important that you protect it. Offering a guaranteed courtesy van, AXA’s comprehensive courier van insurance can help keep your business on the road if your van does come to a standstill so you can focus on delivering the services your customers expect. Public liability insurance can also offer extra peace of mind, knowing that if an accident does happen – such as dropping a heavy package on a customer’s foot – you’re covered.

Whether you want to earn a little more money on the side or fancy a brand-new career, couriering is great option. Before you take the plunge, make sure you’ve weighed up all the issues mentioned above and ensure you’re fully covered when you hit the road so you can focus on delivering the best service possible.

Keep your business moving – no matter what

As a courier, you can’t afford for your van to breakdown. Get in gear with AXA’s courier van insurance to help keep your business on the road.