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How to Become a Shipping Agent

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A shipping agent is the conduit between customers who need to move cargo and between carriers looking for additional goods to add to their shipping load. The U.S. relies on fast access to products and shipping agents help to make this happen. As a shipping agent, you’re in business for yourself. In addition to learning about the shipping industry, you’ll need to develop business savvy. Survey the local competition and research everything that you need to acquire, before you set up shop.

Cargo Representative Job Description

A shipping agent spends his work day negotiating affordable rates for transporting goods from one place to another. Working with customers and shipping companies is a mainstay of this job. As a broker, a shipping agent must understand the customer's needs, must be aware of the shipping laws and regulations and must use the power of persuasion to acquire low prices from transportation companies. From start to finish, a shipping agent is responsible for ensuring that goods are delivered safely to their final destination. When something goes awry, a shipping agent must use creative problem solving skills to rectify the situation. For example, if weather threatens to impede the delivery of a shipment, a shipping agent may need to find a different route or carrier.

Learn the Industry

Success as a shipping agent is predicated upon understanding how the industry works. Consider shadowing an established professional to learn the practical skills of the day-to-day bustle of the industry. You can also read books about becoming a freight broker or take freight broker classes. You can expect freight broker school to take three weeks of classroom time and an additional week for observation and hands-on experience.

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Obtain Required Certifications

Before you can begin moving goods, you’ll need to acquire official government authorization. Apply for a U.S. Department of Transportation number and then register for a freight broker license or Motor Carrier Operating Authority. You can do all of this online by filling out the application and paying a fee. Expect to wait four to six weeks to receive the application approval. Once you have the license, there’s a 10 day waiting period that allows for people to post concerns about your application. You’ll also need a freight broker bond. This provides assurance to customers that your business is legitimate. The cost of the bond is based upon your credit score. The bond cost varies between $937 and $3750. It’s also wise to buy cargo and liability insurance.

Network With Carriers

Making money as a shipping agent is based upon your people skills. If you’re an expert negotiator, you can arrange deals that will cut the shipping costs and make your business the prime option for customers. Similarly, if you bring in a lot of business, shipping companies will be more likely to give you lower prices. Developing relationships and following through with your business deals is paramount to success in the shipping business.

Choose a Location and Supplies

You may not need a physical location for your business. If you market your services and meet with the right people, you can start a shipping business from your home. You will need a computer, printer that can copy and FAX, phone and basic office supplies. There are software programs that are designed for freight brokering that may be useful to you, with your internet connection.

Get the Word Out

Once you’ve everything in place, it’s time to market your shipping business. Start with free or low cost options. Social media and face to face conversations is key to your success. Most large-scale deals are executed because of personal relationships. Set up meetings with companies that use external shipping entities, and meet with various transportation businesses, too. Once you land your first successful deal, you’ll have an instant reference that will help you develop your business further.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.

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