If you live in a city, chances are that you’ve seen many couriers at work and may not have even known it. With their efficient and sometimes specialized delivery services, couriers help to keep other businesses running. Starting a courier business of your own could provide many advantages. It’s possible to start up a business on a part-time basis, and if you already know your local area well, then you may be well-prepared for this career. 

Business Overview

Courier businesses transport packages, goods, and documents from businesses to recipients, who may be other businesses or individuals. Couriers offer the advantage of fast delivery, package tracking, and a more secure experience than businesses might have if they used traditional shipping methods. Most courier businesses accommodate a wide range of goods, including a same-day document delivery or a more complicated large piece of equipment that requires special handling. 

Couriers may work with a variety of businesses, but they typically have specific service areas that they know well. Pharmacies, veterinarians, realtors, lawyers, and many other businesses frequently use couriers for their convenience and efficiency. Couriers don’t just operate during standard business hours, and instead may deliver at night, too.  It’s most common to find couriers in highly-populated areas, like cities, where such time-sensitive deliveries are common. 

Industry summary

According to IBIS World, the couriers and local delivery services in the United States industry experienced a 4.7% growth from 2015 to 2020. That data reflects both larger couriers and smaller local delivery companies. Increased consumer spending, corporate profit, and a greater number of businesses in operation during that five-year period drove the courier industry’s growth. 

The industry is expected to benefit from increased consumer spending and a growing number of businesses from 2020 through 2025. An improving economy is also likely to drive spending and the need for courier services. 

As of 2020, the courier and local delivery services industry was a $113 billion market. A total of 235,005 businesses employed 935,038 staff. 

Industry trends

The courier industry continues to evolve, and it’s shaped by many trends. Picante Today notes that with the development of technology, tracking is more important than ever. Couriers can use real-time tracking to give their customers confidence and build their trust in the business. Route tracking also plays an important role in the industry, since it can assess traffic and save drivers time by choosing the fastest route. Route tracking also helps larger businesses to decide which packages to assign to each driver, maximizing efficiency. Adopting this new technology can help a courier business to stand out and provide an excellent customer experience, encouraging customers to use the courier business again and again. 

With the rise of e-commerce, the industry is growing as demand for couriers increase. One potential threat though is drone deliveries. Drones have proven to be cost-effective, and they also have the benefit of saving time and offering fast deliveries. When it comes to the delivery of time-sensitive items like medicine and food, we’ll likely see drones increasingly used. 

Target Market

Courier businesses often work with businesses who need prompt, personalized delivery services. These clients could consist of retailers or manufacturers, but they can also be other types of businesses or even individuals who need to have something delivered quickly, often on the same day. A courier business might target certain types of other businesses needing deliveries made within a certain timeline. 

Geographic area may also define a business’ target market. A smaller courier business might specialize in a part of a city or a few towns, while larger businesses could expand to cover larger areas and enjoy a larger customer base as a result. 

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a courier business

Starting a courier business doesn’t require a business degree, but certain skills and experiences can give you an advantage in this industry. 

Previous courier experience. Previous experience working within the industry is valuable and can prepare a business owner for the challenges they’ll face in running their business.

Geographic knowledge of the area. In-depth familiarity with the service area is a definite benefit. When a business owner knows an area intimately, they can better plan routes, avoid known problematic traffic areas, and ensure that deliveries arrive at the right destination.

Organization skills. With multiple deliveries going to different destinations with different deadlines, a business owner needs to be organized and efficient. 

Attention to detail. Details, like pickup times and destination addresses, matter greatly in this industry. Attention to detail can contribute to a business’ success. 

Physical strength. If a courier business offers delivery of large packages, then physical strength is important. Training in how to properly lift heavy loads can also help to prevent injuries while on the job.

Customer service skills. Phone etiquette, the ability to address customer concerns, and strong interpersonal skills are all essential customer service skills that can help a business owner to build rapport with customers.

Troubleshooting skills. Problems will arise in this industry, and a business owner will need to be able to think on their feet to address and fix any issues. 

Financial Overview

One of the major benefits of starting a courier business is that it requires a minimal initial investment. 

Common startup costs for a courier business include:

  • A computer and website
  • A business cell phone equipped with a GPS
  • Equipment like dollies and moving blankets
  • A vehicle, like a van or truck
  • Uniforms
 

Steps to Starting a Courier Business

Step 1. Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a courier business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

Related:
How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements. 

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3. Select your Location

It’s possible to start a small courier business out of your home, especially if you are the only initial employee. As that business grows, it may be time to expand into a rented office space. Rental costs will depend on the size and location of the space, as well as available amenities like designated parking space. As you grow your business into a multi-vehicle fleet, you may need to rent garage space for the vehicles. 

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

A courier business will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. Some cities require couriers to have specific licensing while others do not.  In addition to courier specific licenses, there may be general business registrations to register for as well. 

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a courier business is another.  While to costs to start are generally low, funding to start a courier business business can be difficult as it is generally a cash business with few assets.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs. 

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Marketing is essential to build up an initial customer base and continue to bring in new customers. Common marketing techniques include establishing a website, social media marketing, online ads, direct mail marketing, and even networking with business owners in person. Some courier businesses may offer a loyalty discount to encourage repeat customers, and establishing a referral program can also help to build up a roster of customers. Marketing costs will vary depending on the type and volume of each activity that’s performed. 

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 7. Get Insurance

A courier business needs several types of insurance for full coverage:

  • General liability insurance protects the business if customers are injured or their property is damaged because of the business’ work. This type of insurance can help to cover medical bills, the replacement cost of the property, or other expenses. 
  • Commercial property insurance can help to cover the cost of the business’ equipment if it’s damaged or destroyed in an event like a fire. 
  • Commercial vehicle insurance covers business-owned vehicles and helps to protect the business if the vehicle is ever in an accident. 
  • Worker’s compensation insurance helps to protect the business and cover legal and medical bills if an employee is ever injured on the job. 

Insurance policy cost will depend on factors like a business’ location, the number of employees on staff, and the value of the business’ vehicles. To get the most accurate idea of how much to budget for insurance, request insurance quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, don’t only account for differences in premiums, but also consider differences in coverage limits, exclusions, and deductibles. 

Step 8. Hiring Employees

It’s possible for a business owner to act as the only courier when starting up a business, but as that business grows it will be time to hire additional couriers. Salary.com reports that couriers and messengers make an average of $32,604 per year. Actual salary ranges vary from $25,162 to $41,573 per year. In addition to budgeting for salaries, a business’ budget will also need to include other employee-related expenses like paid time off, health insurance contributions, and worker’s comp insurance.

Related: Hiring your first employee


Amazon has several books that go into detail on starting a courier business:


How much can you potentially make owning a courier business?

Many variables affect the profitability of a courier business, including how long the business has operated, where it’s located, how many employees are on staff, and even whether the business operator runs it as a part-time or full-time business. Business owners can maximize their profits by focusing on the types of jobs that pay the most, like delivering medications for pharmacies or performing rush jobs. Establishing relationships with customers who have ongoing delivery needs can also ensure a steady stream of work and help to boost a business’ income. 

Things to consider before starting a courier business

If you’re considering starting a courier business, make sure that you’re focusing on the right location and target market. These businesses do best in highly populated areas, like cities, where there are plenty of retailers or businesses with ongoing delivery needs. Do some market research to identify not only the need for courier services, but also any existing competitors. Try to identify any unmet need in the area, like the availability of couriers who will take on rush jobs or large, heavy packages. 

When it’s time to start your courier business, you don’t have to immediately start up full-time. This is an industry that allows you to test the waters on a part-time basis while still retaining employment elsewhere. You can gradually scale up your business and transition into a full-time operation once you’ve built up your clientele. 

Resources:
Customized Logistics & Delivery Association
Express Carriers Association