Guide

How to start a thriving transportation business

Person driving a truck for a transportation company.

Starting a transportation business doesn’t come with a simple recipe for success. But you can pave the way for your own thriving company by stepping through each of the steps below. The transportation industry is popular, but it has complex rules and regulations. Moving goods or people (or both) from one location to another is in high demand, so it can be a worthwhile venture.

Why start a transportation business?

Owning your own transportation business comes with benefits such as flexibility in your work schedule, being your own boss, and the potential for high profits. But it isn’t without stress. You’ll face important business decisions and could have trouble finding and keeping qualified employees. Due to the cost of vehicles, you’re likely to have high startup costs as well.

Types of transportation business

Some transportation services require special licensing, permits, training, or experience. If you already have the qualifications, you might want to open your own business rather than work for someone else. Some types of service to consider are:

  • Limousine service: Transporting people to special occasions like weddings or proms
  • Courier services: Transporting packages and documents
  • Trucking: Transporting goods from one location to another using your own or a leased truck; drivers may need a commercial driver’s license (CDL)
  • Moving companies: Transporting household or commercial goods for relocation

Eight steps for starting a transportation business

Regardless of the type of transportation business you decide to start, you’ll need to plan extensively. Opening any business is hard work, but with the proper knowledge, you can prepare yourself for the challenges. Follow these eight steps to begin your transportation company journey:

1. Research and develop a solid business plan

Do some introductory market research into transportation services in the area to establish what is needed. See if specialized licensing or permits are required. Also, consider the types of vehicles you’ll need. Since most transportation businesses need special-purpose vehicles as opposed to regular cars, you’ll need to buy or lease anything you don't already have.

Once your preliminary research is done, you can move onto writing your business plan. Like any business,transportation companies need a business plan. Here are the key sections of a business plans and the things to consider in your planning:

  • Executive summary: A summary of the entire business plan, capturing its key points.
  • Company overview: A description that provides an overview of your transportation business.
  • Industry analysis: An evaluation of the transportation industry as a whole, examining its dynamics and trends.
  • Customer analysis: A description of your target market, including their characteristics and preferences.
  • Competitive analysis: An assessment of your competitors in the transportation industry offering similar services.
  • Marketing plan: A strategic plan outlining how you’ll reach and attract your target customers.
  • Operations plan: A comprehensive outline of your business goals and the specific steps to achieve them.
  • Management team: Identification of key managers and partners, along with a summary of their qualifications.
  • Financial plan: An overview of your expenses and financial goals and how you’ll fund your business, providing a roadmap for financial success. See the Government of Canada website for business grants and financing.

Your financial plan requires you to determine your startup costs. Your expenses can vary drastically, depending on which transportation service you offer. But common expenses include a business license, permits and registration, insurance coverage, special purpose vehicle purchase, vehicle maintenance, fuel, tolls, and employee salaries.

Before you can legally register your business, you must decide on a business structure. It is wise to do your research on each type of business entity before choosing one. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Here are common business structures for transportation companies:

  • Sole proprietorship: Frequently preferred by single owners for its simplicity in ownership and management. You may work under your own name or file for a DBA (doing business as) if you want to name your company something else.
  • Partnership: This is a business with ownership shared by at least two people. In a partnership agreement, it’s important to define profit share and startup contributions (money, assets, time) to avoid future conflicts.
  • Corporation: This type of entity provides legal separation from its owner, providing some protection from financial and legal issues. In most cases, incorporation is done through the province where a business is based, though larger national or international companies typically incorporate federally, which is more expensive. Corporations pay less tax, and you can raise money by selling shares. However, your operational costs will be higher than a partnership or sole proprietorship, and you will have to submit regular paperwork to the authorities.

3. Register your business and apply for permits

You’ll probably need to register your business name with each province you do business in. Some provinces let you do this online, but you can register in person or via mail, depending on the province’s requirements. You’ll need to have a business number and set up a tax account which you can get from CRA. If you need to collect sales tax or pay employees, you’ll need to register with your province for each of these, too.

The transportation and logistics industry is regulated by the federal government, so you may need to apply for licenses or permits. The Transport Canada website provides information that can help you apply for the correct permits. Additionally, ensuring your employees have the required qualifications is essential. You or your staff might need:

  • a commercial driver’s license (CDL)
  • commercial vehicle registration
  • permits and licenses issued by provincial authorities

Your province may have specific licensing, permit, or other requirements. For example, vehicles exceeding a specific size must obtain a daily oversized vehicles permit in Ontario. Oversize permits are valid for Ontario’s King’s highways only. Check with your province to see if you need to follow similar guidelines.

4. Set up a business bank account

It is important to set up a business bank account for your transportation company. A separate account keeps your business expenses separate from your personal ones.

With a business bank account, may also open up other opportunities. For example, you could apply for a business credit card, take out a small business loan, and/or establish online methods for accepting payments from customers.

5. Get business insurance

Business insurance is necessary to protect your operations and assets, safeguarding them from risks. The insurance policies you need depend on the type of transportation business you start. When buying cover, read the policy to make sure it covers all regions you do business in. Common insurance policies for transportation companies include:

  • Liability insurance: Shield yourself against unexpected accidents and protect your customers' property from damages.
  • Workers’ compensation: Cover your workers in the event of job-related accidents or injuries.
  • Commercial auto insurance: Protect your business from financial losses due to accidents involving your commercial vehicles.
  • Specialty insurance: Depending upon what state you do business in, you may need additional insurance for your transportation company.

6. Establish clear systems for your small business

Many small businesses have similar growing pains, as a Xero survey of small business startups showed. It’s important to have a clear understanding of what it takes to run your business.

7. Purchase vehicles

After selecting your transportation industry niche, the next crucial step is getting the appropriate vehicles and equipment. The right vehicles are essential. You’ll need to consider factors such as the purpose of transportation, distance, weight, terrain, wear and tear, fuel efficiency, and the anticipated demand for your services.

Additionally, you may need specialized equipment tailored to the specific niche, such as packing materials and dollies if you start a moving business.

8. Build your brand and marketing strategy

Part of starting a transportation business is building your brand. People need to know what your business is and what you offer before they can become customers. To begin with, narrow down the options by deciding which transportation services you’ll offer, come up with a company name, create a logo, build a website to establish your online presence, and set up a Google business profile.

You’ll also need a good marketing strategy to convince your target market that your business is better than that of your competitors. To reach your target market, consider these popular marketing channels:

  • Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter (now X) and other social media platforms
  • Trade shows and networking events
  • Traditional advertising through business cards and newspaper ads
  • Word-of-mouth and customer referrals
  • Digital marketing through newsletters and digital ads

Disclaimer

Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.

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