10 Questions to Consider When Choosing Your Freight Broker
If you’re new to shipping and looking for a freight broker, how do you decide who to go with? Do you just Google the phrase “Freight Broker?” Do you reach out to your shipping contacts and see who they’re using? Do you try to go straight to the carrier, and bypass the broker option entirely? Shouldn’t it be easier to get started?
Below you’ll find 10 questions to consider when choosing your freight broker. These questions are not in any particular order or level of importance, but if you can answer all or most of them, you’ll be on your way to getting the right freight broker for you and your shipping.
It’s important to remember that the relationship between a shipper and a broker is a two-way street. Some brokers are experts in certain fields, some put a higher priority on different kinds of service. Freight brokers are always looking to work with great shippers, and a good broker-shipper relationship should be a great exchange of services, that make BOTH parties happy.
Whether this is your first foray into freight, or if you’re an old pro looking for a new broker, utilize these 10 Questions to Consider When Choosing Your Freight Broker:
1.) LTL, Truckload, or Small Package?
What kind of stuff are you shipping? I’m not talking about the commodity (we’ll get to that in a bit). I’m talking about what form of shipping you’re looking into. There are a lot of different ways to move freight, and different brokers specialize in different shipping options. The skills involved in being an LTL broker do not always translate to the truckload side of the freight industry (not to mention ocean container shipping, or even air shipping – both of which have totally different practices than LTL or truckload). Some brokers offer multiple services through different teams, some brokers are more specialized. To be able to get the best rates and service, you should figure out what kind of freight you’re shipping, and find the freight broker that knows the ropes for your particular shipping type.
2.) How Often Are You Shipping?
There’s no base number of “You must ship BLANK many times a week to utilize a freight broker.” Like most things in this industry, there’s no hard and fast rules. And while you can use a broker to set up any shipment (For instance: If you wanted to ship an engine from Florida to California), there are brokers that focus more on “one-time-shipments,” and then there are brokers that focus on residual shippers, or shippers who ship daily, weekly, or monthly. These brokers are known as “full-service freight brokers,” and can assist in invoice discrepancies, freight tracking, and even negotiate FAKs or lower rates. If you’re a residual shipper, you’ll want to be in contact with a broker that can handle more than just pickups and deliveries.
3.) What is Your Commodity?
Freight class is one of the main factors in LTL shipping rates (along with weight, and distance travelled), so it’s important to know your commodity and, subsequently, your freight class. Fragile and oversized pieces are often more expensive to ship, while smaller, easily packaged, and hard-to-break items are usually cheaper. Before you select a freight broker, it’s important to note the sort of commodity you’re shipping. Some truckload freight brokers have contracts that utilize flat bed shipping, others are more focused on the movement of produce and perishable goods. To find the best broker for you, whether it’s full truckload or LTL, you’ll need to know what you’re shipping.
4.) Where Are You Shipping To & From?
Truckload rates heavily depend on seasonal capacity and geographic coverage. That means, depending on the time of year and capacity of drivers, a shipment going into California might be more or less expensive than a shipment leaving California. The up and down of truckload capacity is an art, and you need a truckload broker that’s not only aware of the game, but has mastered it. On the LTL side, certain carriers only operate in certain geographic areas. Of course, there are national carriers with coverage maps that extend across the whole of the United States. But sometimes, small regional carriers can offer better freight rates in their area. A good broker will be able to customize your freight experience, and get you the best rate, depending on where you’re shipping to and from.
5.) Dock to Dock? Liftgate? Warehouses?
Standard freight shipments are “dock-to-dock,” which means that a loading dock is required for both pickup and delivery. But what if your shipments are not moving out of warehouses, or don’t have docks? This is something that you’ll have to look into when choosing your freight broker. Liftgates can be used to load and unload freight when there’s no dock, but these usually carry additional prices. There can also be additional “limited access” fees when delivering freight to places like government facilities, or distribution centers. Some brokers will be aware of these locations, and can be proactive in in negotiating rates with fees included, or getting additional fees removed all together. These are determined on a shipment by shipment basis, but if you know where your freight is being delivered, that gives your broker the best opportunity to save you money on freight quotes.
6.) Looking for Value or Price?
Before you select a freight broker you should know the difference between value and price. For a full-service broker, the quote is just the first part of the journey. Other brokers can offer cheaper quotes and less post-transit service. Before you select a freight broker, consider where your priorities lie when it comes to your freight shipments. It’s easy to think the bottom line is price, but it’s important to consider what you might be losing once your freight is in transit, whether it’s dealing with accidentally damaged freight, invoice discrepancies such as reclasses or reweighs, and any other hiccups that can occur during transit.
7.) Will You Be Shipping Internationally?
International shipping is a different beast than regular LTL or truckload shipping, with different practices and documents needed. Anytime you ship internationally, your freight shipment will have to pass through Customs. When you’re selecting a freight broker, you’ll need to use carriers that service the movement of freight from Canada, Mexico, or wherever. Customs brokers are different than a typical freight broker, but freight brokers can help with the domestic side of your shipment, as well as help you with the documents needed for Customs such as commercial invoices. There’s a lot that goes into international shipping and having freight that crosses borders, so before you start shipping make sure you’ve got all the paperwork in order. This will help you avoid delays that might cost you time stuck in Customs.
8.) White Glove Service or Inside Delivery?
While most freight brokers regularly offer services such as “inside delivery,” it’s important to note the difference between ID and white glove services. Due to liability issues, LTL carriers are not often eligible to enter a consignee’s home. LTL carriers are not moving companies. If you’re shipping items that need to be hand-delivered, or installed in the consignee’s house or store, you’re going to need to hire a white glove service. Your freight broker can help you navigate residential pickups and deliveries, but make sure to note if you need the assistants of white glove services. If all of your shipments will require that sort of handling and care upon pickup or delivery, it might be worth it to look into a moving company, instead of using LTL or full truckload shipping.
9.) How “Hands-on” Do You Want to Be?
Different brokers will offer varying levels of service, so before you choose your freight broker determine how hands on or hands off you want to be with your shipments. Some brokers offer the services of a TMS (Transportation Management System) allowing you to set up shipments on your computer or mobile device, print BOLs, and even track shipments. Other brokers will handle all of that for you, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your business. Determine how involved you want to be in the daily ins and outs of your shipping, and choose the broker that handles (or provides the tools for you to handle) your unique freight shipping practices.
10.) What Kind of Company Do You Want to Work With?
Trust is imperative in any successful business relationship, and selecting the right freight broker is no different. But it’s not just about trust. Before you select a broker, think about what kind of companies you want to work with, and what kind of business relationships you want to cultivate. Do you want to work with a local broker? Or do you prefer the scope of something on a national scale? A small freight brokerage with a dedicated team, or a larger one, with more resources but less personalization? There’s no wrong answer to these questions, just preferences. Finding a good freight broker is a two way street. You’ll want to work with them, and they’ll want to work with you. By considering these sorts of questions, you can save you and your business time and money.