September 11, 2022


Have you ever started a project only to find that you don’t have the right tool to finish the job? There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to make the wrong tool work in its place, like hammering a nail with the back end of a screwdriver. It simply doesn’t work.

So, how do you go about growing your freight forwarding business? Are you using the right tools? Do you have a full complement of tools? Let’s look at the options.

On the top of the list are direct sales calls. Direct face to face sales is by far the best, when you know what you’re doing, and you have a compelling offering (not necessarily rates alone). Ultimately, as your forwarding company grows, you need to build your sales team. This gets expensive quickly, and brings additional costs and support requirements. Of course, it's all worth it when it works, but finding great salespeople in the logistics industry is very difficult. This effort can be high cost, high risk, but remains one of the key initiatives independent freight forwarders get right if they are going to grow their business. 

Another useful tool is advertising and marketing. There are various channels to promote your cargo business, including social media, digital ads, SEO, and more. While the expense here can be closely managed, the impact is rarely direct. You may also have to hire someone to do this for you, as it can be time consuming and require a steep learning curve. In many cases, these kinds of efforts support your direct sales efforts. Think of this as moderate cost and low risk, since you can regulate this spend.

One of our favorite tools every freight forwarder needs to consider is networking. It can be considered as low cost and low risk when compared to the other approaches. Here, the goal is to build relationships with other forwarders and leverage those relationships into ongoing revenue. There are basically two approaches, one is quite public, the other is more private. 

With the public approach, forwarders reach out all over the internet, contracting just about anyone they can find to try to generate some business. While this can work, it’s high risk, and ultimately low return most of the time. It only takes a bad debt or two to wipe out a big chunk of revenue. You can also waste a fair amount of time spinning your wheels without achieving anything. 

The other, somewhat more private, approach is to join a forwarding network. This is a relatively low cost and low risk, as most forwarding networks provide financial protections. This approach is all about building relationships with other forwarders that have similar values and share similar business growth goals. All this typically takes place within a framework of common guidelines and commitment among all the members. Almost all freight forwarder networks bring their groups together at least once a year for face-to-face networking and relationship building. Given the growth of this segment, it would seem to indicate that this tool should be part of your overall business growth strategy. Not only does it allow you to leverage existing overhead, it doesn’t necessarily demand a high-cost salesperson to generate results too. The key is that it’s a relationship-based model, and those who focus on building relationships with other forwarders in their network typically get a great return on their investment. 

With every month it seems, there is another forwarder network out there contacting you to join. So, we’d like to offer you some help in how to cut through all that noise by asking you some questions.

If building relationships is the key to success in forwarding networks, what kind of model do you think would help achieve this the most? Consider large versus small, and older, more established networks, versus brand new forwarder networks. Bigger is not always better when it comes to building relationships, and quoting rates all day for low profit business can cost you dearly. 

Does the network tell you how they plan to help you succeed, or simply hurl superlatives at you? The word “QUALITY” gets overused a lot. What tools and programs can they point to? Specifically, what can they say that supports their definition of what quality is? Do they have sales support tools? Do they measure the quality of their member services? This should get quite specific. 

Finally, you should ask what is the basic value proposition? Is it operationally based, like NVOCC consolidation networks, or is it more sales based? Keep in mind that there are several networks out there that come awfully close to mimicking the kinds of services much larger companies have been providing for years, from an operational perspective. Ultimately, the question comes down to what is the highest and best use for a forwarding network? If it's anything other than building business, it may be missing the mark.

A successful business growth plan for a freight forwarder requires a multipronged approach. You need to blend the use of many tools. Picking strategies that are lower cost and lower risk is always a prudent choice course. As with most everything, one should boil it down to what seems to be the simplest explanation and let common sense be your guide.


Want to read more interesting posts about freight forwarding? We recently wrote about PROACTIVE NETWORKING DRIVES BUSINESS and HOW MANY SHIPMENTS DOES IT TAKE TO PAY OFF $100,000?

We’ve been in the industry for 20+ years. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re interested in learning more or joining the Globalink or Global Value freight forwarding networks. Email or click here.

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