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Hiring Employees

If your freight brokerage has reached the point where you’re considering hiring employees, you’re not alone. Around 20 million employees in the US, more than 15% of all workers, work at a company with 20 or fewer employees. Hiring that first employee can be a milestone for your business that helps determine your growth prospects for years to come. The decision to hire and the process of making that hire should not be taken lightly.

Should You Hire?

 

If you’re considering hiring, that almost certainly means that you’ve grown your business to the point where you can no longer manage it alone, or you foresee reaching that point very soon. Congratulations on your success so far. The first thing to do is stop and think about whether you need to hire someone, or if you might have better ways of getting help. Hiring an employee is a major, ongoing investment that changes the way your business operates, even if the employee doesn’t work out. Before you hire, check to see if there are services or contractors that can do what you need.

If there’s no service for what you need, or it looks like you’re going to need those services so much that it’s more cost effective to have a full-time employee, that’s when it’s time to move ahead with hiring. Be careful though, just because you’re sure you need to hire doesn’t mean you have all the information you need.

Requirements

 

There are some important details in hiring that can’t be overlooked, and frankly aren’t fun to research. Fortunately, there are resources available to help. The Small Business Association (SBA) has a guide to help hire and manage employees. It’s likely to be an important resource for you, since your area of expertise probably isn’t HR. The SBA’s guide should be able to help you through some administrative requirements, required and optional employee benefits, and other laws you might need to understand. Make sure to look at your state’s laws as well, which the SBA has aggregated in a link on the same page.

A common question for freight broker agents when hiring is whether they can pay their employees commission only. As with most employment questions, the answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. That said, you’re probably going to be held to federal minimum wage and overtime requirements.

Reading the link above, you’re naturally going to be drawn to the outside sales exemption. It’s possible that someone working in your agency will qualify for that exemption, but it’s a high standard. The Department of Labor defines who qualifies for the outside sales exemption, including that “The employee must be customarily and regularly engaged away from the employer’s place or places of business.” On page two of that same document, you can find that ANY fixed site qualifies as your place of business. The phrase “customarily and regularly” is less clearly defined, but court cases seem to view this as a high standard as well. Bottom line – unless they mostly travel to customer locations, they probably don’t qualify, and will need to be paid at least minimum wage, plus 1.5 times minimum wage for hours worked over 40. They can be commission only, but you’re on the hook for the difference if their commissions are less than minimum wage would have been.

So now we’ve got the scary stuff out of the way. Those requirements are a big part of the reasons we talked about whether you can find support without hiring in the first section. Here’s the good news: if you’re heavily leveraging outside services to get your day-to-day work done, or you’re not growing because you just don’t have the help in the office, then a new employee can be a great investment – as long as you hire a good one.

How to Find and Interview Candidates

Wanted

This… probably won’t work on its own

It’s almost unfair to small business owners that when it’s time to grow, hiring becomes maybe the most important factor in your success. That almost certainly wasn’t the skill that made you decide to start your own business in the first place. For freight brokers, booking loads does very little to prepare you to find and interview potential new employees, so you’re left with a whole new skillset you need to learn.

There are more ways to find candidates than we could ever discuss here, so let’s just talk about what works for small businesses. You need to compete with everyone, so take the advice of baseball great Willie Keeler and “hit them where they ain’t.” Major companies are prevalent on top job sites, so check out sites that serve your specific industry like Jobs in Logistics. Talking to people in your network is also a great idea. In a small business, being linked up with candidates by people who know you and the candidate can help make sure you’ll have a cultural fit. You’re not just asking them for help, you’re looking to potentially give someone they know a great opportunity.

No matter where your candidates come from, it’s important to go into hiring with a plan. You want to make sure that you’re asking relevant questions to help you identify the person who best fits the job and your business. Keep in mind, too, that you are trying to grow, and the person you hire today needs to be a good fit for the organization you want to become. You need to decide ahead of time the skills and temperament that you’re looking for and how you’re going to identify those.

To do that, really stop and think about why you’re hiring. It can be tempting to hire “another you,” someone who reminds you of yourself, has a lot of the same skills, and can back you up on almost anything. Undoubtedly, that person can make your work easier, but is that the best move to help your business grow? After all, your business already has you. Consider what this person needs to be best at. If you’re looking to offload the tasks that you enjoy least or struggle with most, another person like you may feel the same way. If you’re just overwhelmed with volume and need someone to back you up on everything, it could work. Even if that’s the case, though, it might make more sense to let a hire take on administrative work so you have more time to do what you do best.

Onboarding

 

It’s easy to overlook the importance of the employee’s first few days in a new job. Before they start, you should have a checklist. They probably need a computer and a phone, but what else? If they’re working from your office, where are they going to sit? If they’re working from home, how’s their internet service? There are probably all kinds of logins, licenses, and software they need in order to do what you do. It’s best to have all of that in a list and even set up ahead of time to make a good impression, but that’s a small part of onboarding.

Your new employee is looking for a paycheck, of course, but the best employees are usually looking to grow and advance. They’re going to want training, not just in a formal setting but from you every day. None of that starts the day they get to the office, but it’s a good idea to make sure they know you’re there to help them learn. Employee retention is tough in an age where people have unlimited access to information and employers can hire in your neighborhood even if they’re a thousand miles away. Ultimately, you can think all you want about compensation, benefits, and titles, but your employees want to feel good about their work.

Making sure your employees find their jobs fulfilling, while also making sure they are a good fit for you, is a tough task. There’s no one way to make sure you hire the right people, but if you make sure you have a clear understanding of your needs and what you’re offering through your hiring process, onboarding, and during their time at your company, you and your employees will be far better off.

The Importance of Customer Retention

Let’s face it, landing a customer is hard. We don’t always like to say that out loud, because most of us make our living based on how good we are at landing customers. Being good at it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy though. According to sales consulting firm The Brevet Group, it can take 8 cold calls to reach a prospect and 5 follow ups after a meeting to give yourself a good chance of landing a sale. Even then, up to half of all sales go to the first vendor that responds with a workable solution.

Of course, you need new customers to grow and even sustain your business, but it’s important not to overlook the value of customer retention and maximization. Both are exactly what they sound like: customer retention is how many of your customers continue to do business with you over time, and customer maximization means getting the most out of your existing customer relationships. Effectively, we’re talking about selling more to your customers, for longer.

Why is Customer Retention Important?

 

Okay, we all have a pretty good grasp on this on an intuitive level. It’s not like anyone reading the first section stood up and shouted “why should I keep my customers?” Still, it’s important to take this to the next level and quantify what we’re talking about, so you can make educated decisions on how to focus your efforts.

It’s an old adage in sales and marketing that it costs 5x as much to replace a customer as it does to retain one. Depending on who you ask, that number can be almost anything, but it’s always at least a few times more. Of course, if you’re a freight broker agent, you’re really looking for how you can make more money, more reliably. Simply put, it’s easier to run a business if you have a baseline of recurring or relatively easy to close sales each month. As an example, picture this: you reach out and try to make a sale with 20 contacts, 10 are existing customers, 10 are new leads – how many sales do you make to each group? If you’re an average company, you make 6 or 7 sales to the existing customers and 1 or 2 at best to the new leads. New leads are critically important, but when you’re planning out your day, you may want to focus a little more on deals that are very likely to land. There’s no better lead than a prior sale.

More reliable business is nice, but how much does this really hit the bottom line? One study showed that “increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.” If you own your own business, that’s probably all you needed to hear.

How to Retain Customers

Business meeting in a booth

Develop a relationship with your customer

You’re going to find a lot of overlap between retaining and maximizing customers, and for good reason. Retaining a customer without maximizing them means that you’ve landed a recurring deal, and now you’re leaving a lot of money on the table by failing to do anything more with that customer. Maximizing a customer without retaining them means you’re either got great profit margins or a high percentage of the customer’s business, and now they no longer do business with you. Either way, you and your customer probably don’t interact much, and are indifferent toward each other at best.

We would all love to discuss a brilliant new strategy for this, but the bottom line is that you need to build a relationship with your customers. If you run a Google search any time for how to retain customers, you’ll get article after article full of great ideas. Honestly, it’s a great idea to run a search and read new articles often. Each of those articles is going to give you ideas on how to build and maintain relationships. In freight brokering, your customer stays with you because they’re confident that you know their needs, you’re reliable, and they’re comfortable working with you. Bottom line: handle their shipments well, and then make sure they know you can do that for more of their shipments.

That last part is also huge when we are discussing automation and technology companies that are working to get some space in the freight brokerage market. No matter how good their technology gets, there’s one thing they can never offer your customers: you. If your customer feels a sense of confidence knowing that you are available to them, then there’s nothing anyone else can offer that replaces that.

Maximizing Customers

Online shopper

Maximizing sales to a customer doesn’t have to look like this.

Just like retention, there’s no magic formula or big secret to maximizing your sales to each customer. Maybe the most important thing is that you keep this fact in mind: you should be maximizing sales to your existing customers. That has to be one of your goals. It’s a shame not to do it, but it’s easy to get so caught up in prospecting for new clients and handling customer service for existing ones that we forget that a current customer is also a sales opportunity. When it comes down to it, the best lead you’ll ever have is a prior sale.

There are a lot of great ways for any small business to maximize customers. This article breaks them down into three categories: increasing penetration, developing a plan of action, and building credibility and trust. So, what does that mean for a freight broker? It’s a good idea to read the article and think about that for yourself, but let’s quickly summarize each part.

  • Increasing Penetration: Are you currently handling a small part of your customer’s freight, or most of it? Talk to your main contact at your customer’s company and see if you can find out if they have any lanes or types of freight you’re not currently handling. See if you can find out if there is anyone else at the company that purchases logistics services, and if you can make contact with that person.
  • Developing a Plan of Action: Work with your customer to make sure you know exactly how they want their freight handled and make it clear to them that you understand. Consider combining this step with LDI’s CRM blog to give yourself an advantage in tracking and executing that plan.
  • Building Credibility and Trust: Do what you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, and when that goes wrong, make sure your customer hears from you that you know it went wrong and you’re on it. The last thing you want is your customer hearing from their customer that there was a problem with their shipment. Do your best to be in front of any problems and honest with your customer.

If you take nothing else away from this post, just take some time to think about whether you focus enough of your time and energy on retaining your customers and maximizing your sales to them. There are a lot of ways to do that, but the first and most important step is to make it a priority.

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The March 2020 edition of Business In Focus magazine covered our awesome organization. Read our article and feel free to share with all your customers! Let them know that we don’t just toot our own horn, but our accolades catch the attention of others. Check it out now! Business In Focus March 2020

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