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What it takes to become an international freight forwarder

As more people shop online and our economy and communities grow, the need for global shipping options will increase. Perhaps you’ve thought about starting an international freight forwarding company to help meet this growing demand.

Here are the eight steps to start an international freight forwarding business.

Step 1: Research the industry

Before you start your business, you must take the time to research the industry, even if you’ve already been working in the industry for years. Working in freight forwarding and owning a freight forwarding business require different skill sets and knowledge. 

Some things you research may include: 

  • Possible regions to set up your headquarters
  • Potential niche offerings (medical supplies, perishables, food products, consumer products…etc.)
  • Potential partners for shipping and logistics
  • A deep dive into potential competitors 
  • Looking into your potential customers
  • Pricing options, business budgets, and financial projections
  • Current and future (predicted) landscape of the industry and any related vertical markets
  • General business ownership information and requirements for your region. 

Once you’re satisfied that you have an in-depth knowledge of what your commitments and challenges will be in operating a freight forwarding business, you can move to the next step. 

Step 2: Choose a business legal structure

To legally operate a business anywhere in the world, you have legal requirements to pick a legal structure. This could include a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability business, or corporation. Your business structure will impact everything from licensing to reporting requirements to tax rules. We always suggest consulting a lawyer to see which structure is best for the business you plan to create. 

Step 3: Understand permitting and licensing requirements

In addition to your chosen business structure, you must also get other permits and licenses. These will likely depend on three things:

  • What do you plan to ship (if you require any special permits to move certain products)
  • Where your business operates (local, state, or country law may require specific or general business permits and licenses). 
  • If you have any employees (law may dictate special registration and liability requirements if you have staff)

Consult a lawyer specializing in logistics businesses to help determine what permits and licenses are required. 

Step 4: Network to find reliable partners

As a freight forwarder, your relationships and partnerships with related businesses in the industry are pivotal to your success. You’ll need to form partnerships with shipping companies and other logistics companies. Look for partners with a long history of reliability so you can partner with companies that are invested in your success because it helps them meet their business goals too. 

You can meet reliable partners by joining exclusive networking associations specifically for those in the freight forwarding or logistics industry. RW Solutions has several networks that can serve this purpose for you. 

Step 5: Write a business plan

Once you have most of your business researched and planned, put it together into a professional business plan. This business plan outlines your research, business goals, and operational information. If you’re seeking any investors or loans for your new business, they’ll require a copy of your business plan. It can also serve as a guidepost to ensure your business stays on its planned trajectory. 

Your business plan should be detailed and include the following sections:

  • Cover Page
  • Executive summary
  • Business summary
  • Description of business
  • Mission, vision, values
  • Milestones
  • Operational plans
  • Customer profiles
  • Marketing and sales plans
  • SWOT analysis (of company)
  • SWOT analysis for at least the top 3 competitors
  • Profiles of company owners, founders, and key management 
  • Financial calculations and projections

Step 6: Set-up business operations infrastructure

Your next step is to set up your headquarters or office. This includes purchasing equipment like desks and computers and software to help you operate your business. Choose a reliable client management and invoicing platform to streamline your operations. 

Step 7: Market and advertise your services

Once your business is set up, you can start seeking customers. Work with a marketing or advertising agency to help set up campaigns and reach out to find clients. For the greatest business success when working as a B2B freight forwarder, focus on getting regular or repeat clients as much as possible. The reliability of having “regulars” can help with cash flow predictions because they provide a predictable stream of income so you can budget accordingly. 

Step 8: Keep networking and maintaining business relationships

We recommend continuing your memberships in logistics business networks, even after establishing your market presence. Maintaining relationships with network members is important because you may need their advice or support in the future. They may also be a potential business partner one day.

Tip: Follow these tips for maintaining relationships in freight forwarding networks.

Where to find the best global logistics networking associations

RW Solutions hosts several safe and reliable networks with over 1000 international independent freight forwarders from over ten countries. You can find partners and allies from all corners of the globe!

Each network has many in-person and virtual networking opportunities as well as resources and support to help you start, establish, and scale your international freight forwarding business. 

All members must undergo a screening process to ensure the company’s financial stability, market reputation, sales strength, and years in operation. All members are subject to a standard Code of Ethics and Guidelines that must be followed and adhered to at all times. 

Learn more about the RW Solutions logistics networks and apply to join one today. 

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