At year end, most businesses take some time to look back on the prior year and judge successes and failures, and the outlook going forward. Sadly, for many small businesses, that discussion also includes serious consideration as to whether it’s practical, wise, or even possible to continue operations. Small businesses close even in the best of times, and 2020 was not the best of times.
So, what does that mean for freight broker agents then? As you’re looking back on 2020, and forward to 2021, it’s harder than usual to take a look at your business’s performance and get a firm grasp on your prospects.
Freight Industry in 2020
The freight industry has been on a roller coaster ride in 2020. Like many industries, we were almost at a standstill in the early part of the year. Trucks and drivers are naturally essential to our economy, but closed businesses don’t send or receive a lot of shipments. In April of 2020, a lot of the freight industry just stopped moving. Since then however, you may have seen that the industry has actually had unprecedented demand. Freightwaves did a great recap of 2020 in their look ahead to 2021.
In spite of 2020’s strong recovery in freight, there’s something very important to realize for freight brokers and freight broker agents. When there’s such a dramatic change in an industry, not every business is poised to capitalize on those changes. No matter how well this or any other industry recovered, remember that many businesses may have been left out of that increase. If you weren’t in a good position to ship medical supplies or cleaning supplies, many of those increased shipments never would have been available to you. Likewise, small businesses do best when they are able to handle a steady stream of transactions. If businesses dried up in April and then skyrocketed to more volume than you were able to handle, you likely still lost out.
All of this is to say one thing: if you had a rough year but heard the rest of the freight industry had massive volume, don’t lose hope. You may know freight brokers who had great years, some that had terrible years, and every possibility in between. Wherever you fall in that spectrum, it’s going to be important to take the lessons you can and move forward, ready for new challenges and opportunities in 2021.
What to expect in 2021
We’ll start with a disclaimer: we have no idea what to expect in 2021 for the most part, and anyone who says otherwise is probably wrong. It does seem like we’re all expecting things to return to normal, or whatever the new normal will be, at some point in the second half of the year, however. So let’s think about what that would mean.
What would happen if, right now, every account you had suddenly behaved as if it was December of 2019. Certainly, that’s not what is going to happen, but it’s probably the closest approximation we have. There’s probably a lot of good things that would come out of that, but are there any problems? If those companies suddenly resumed their prior shipping habits, would you still be their first call? Would you be able to handle the sudden increase or decrease in volume or change in timing, mode, or lanes?
In September we reminded you to stay in touch, if possible, with your customers that were not shipping or not shipping as much during the pandemic. This is a good time to do that as well. See if you can get a handle on any changes they’d like to make to their shipping processes when things pick back up. On our blogs post, social media, and on The Broker Bros podcast, we’ll continue discussing our experiences and what we’re able to learn, but remember that no one knows your customers like you. Your product is yourself, your understanding of what their business needs, and your expertise in freight – keep offering the best mix of those three things.
If you have customers that are shipping more since the pandemic started, this may be a good time to start feeling out whether you’re part of their long term plans. Businesses that needed shipping support to deal with changing circumstances during the pandemic might plan on going back to how they did business before, but if you’ve shown your value, it’s a good time to remind them that you can help with their day-to-day business even after things calm down.
Setting aside the strategic suggestions for a moment, the biggest thing for everyone to remember right now is that 2020 was unusual. However you did in 2020, personally and professionally, was probably affected in a very direct way by things that were beyond your control. While none of us know quite what to expect in 2021, we all expect the end of the pandemic and better days ahead. If your business is doing well right now, do your best to capitalize on that. If not, remember that there are big changes coming in the New Year. As always, LDI will be here to support freight broker agents in 2021.