Rise Transportation with Chris Wilson

At 3PL systems, we enjoy highlighting entrepreneurs in the supply chain and their founding stories through our podcast 3PL Live. 

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In this episode of 3PL Live, Chris Wilson from Rise Transportation shares his entrepreneurship story about bootstrapping a 3PL right before the pandemic hit!

Chris shut down his freight brokerage for two whole months during the pandemic but weathered the storm. Rise Transportation is expecting a strong Q4 with several hundred shipments in the books.

We talk about entrepreneurship, marketing, and running a small business.

If you’re in the freight brokerage business, having a reliable partner in Transportation Management Software (TMS) can increase your revenue potential.

Carrier Selection — Attracting Ecommerce Customers Through Better Carrier Selection Abilities

For the savvy broker, attracting ecommerce customers makes all the sense in the world — and carrier selection plays an outsized role in that.

You see, the problem that most brokers run into is this — most of your customers and potential customers, including potential ecommerce customers — view you as a commodity.

Being viewed as a commodity is a serious problem. It basically means that your customers and potential customers can’t differentiate you from your competition.

Basically, as long as you don’t mess up, most of your customers view one broker like another. They have this idea in their head that all shipping is equal, that all brokers are equal, that all carriers are equal.

Now, you and I both know that this is far from the truth — but it doesn’t matter. What matters is the perception in the heads of your customers.

There are a few ways to deal with that.

One Way to Deal With This Problem Is to Be Enormously Efficient

Efficiency is critical when it’s hard for you to differentiate yourself from the competition, especially for a new broker.  Ecommerce businesses are absolutely spoiled for choice, and they’ll be looking for the most efficient broker possible to help them handle their fulfillment.

If you’re just getting into the game, there’s one area where you actually may have an advantage here compared to an established broker. By getting a powerful TMS early in your career, you’re able to keep operational costs low.  This is because modern TMSs are able to automatically handle tasks that used to take a team of humans to complete.

And much of your competition is using a TMS anyway, so it only makes sense to get one and, at the very least, keep up.

A TMS can help you to reach a high level of efficiency. Even if you’re an established broker, an updated, modern TMS can be a huge asset in increasing efficiency within your organization.  And in ecommerce, efficiency is essential.

But efficiency only takes you so far. One of the biggest problems with shooting for efficiency is that everyone is doing it — a TMS provides substantial ROI, and as the years go by, having a TMS becomes something of a baseline.  Smaller ecommerce businesses aren’t necessarily going to expect access to a customer portal to track their shipments, but the larger businesses you’ll target absolutely will.

Which means that, first, you need to get the best TMS you can afford, but second, you’re still going to have a tough time competing on price because everyone is going to be racing toward efficiency, just to keep margins up.

That’s a race to the bottom.

The smarter thing to do when attracting ecommerce customers is to focus on customer service married to efficiency.  For brokers, one of the biggest things you can do to provide excellent customer service is to give your customers as many carrier options as possible.

Excellent Customer Service Includes Wide Carrier Selection

You’re probably pretty used to thinking about customer service in a pretty traditional way — the interactions you have with your customer through the process of a transaction, either face-to-face, over the phone, via email, over fax, or through a variety of communication mediums.

Now, I just want to step back a bit here and say that this kind of stuff is important.

When the ecommerce businesses you target view you as a commodity, that generally means that your customers are comparing you and the competition not on the value of what you do, but on price.

Customer service helps you circumvent that — if you’re nice and easy to work with, if you always do what you say you’re going to do, and do it fast and efficiently, if you go out of your way to make sure your customers got exactly the service they were looking for, if you’re taking care of problems when a shipment goes awry or a carrier does something strange…

Well, your customers are going to choose you over the competition, as well as recommend you to their colleagues. On top of that, they’ll likely be willing to pay a little extra for the ease of working with someone who isn’t a pain in the butt and who can get the job done.

That is, as long as you can provide them with what they’re asking for — and for freight brokers, that means having as many carrier options as possible. Even if the price isn’t always right, your customers are going to appreciate the additional options.

That’s part of customer service — providing customers the service or products that they want regardless of what you would prefer (and even if you don’t always make a large profit on the deal).

Wider Carrier Selection Abilities Set You Apart From the Competition, but You Need a Quality TMS to Get Those Additional Options

Wider carrier selection abilities give your customers more options — which means they’re more likely to choose you to manage their logistics.

Because if you don’t have a carrier available to meet their needs, they have no choice but to choose someone else.

And, in the mind of the customer, a lack of selection or options often seems like poor customer service. When you walk into a store, if they have what you want, but not in the right color or right size, you don’t view it as a quality or price problem — you view it as a service problem.

It goes something like this:

“Why can’t they provide the exact item I need? They must not care about me that much if they can’t be bothered to get a few extra sizes and colors for this item.”

But, if you have carriers available to get your customer’s goods wherever they need to go, suddenly you seem like a great broker to work with — “why bother with the broker who has limited options when I can work with the broker who can send anything, anywhere, at any time?”

Learn How RateShare™ Can Give You Greater Access to More Carriers

RateShare™ is one of the advanced features of our TMS BrokerWare™. It will help you get access to a broader range of carriers, including carriers you don’t currently have contracts with.

This allows you to provide more options to your ecommerce customers, which means you’re providing better customer service than the other guys.

Click here to learn more about RateShare™.

OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE: WHAT THAT MEANS FOR FREIGHT BROKERS

Let me paint you a picture.

You’re in your office – maybe it’s a home office, maybe you have a business location with a handful of team members, or you’re big enough for a full scale office building.

Regardless, you’re at the office, and you’re scrambling.  A customer – big or small – called and they want to know about their bill of lading.  Or maybe they’re asking about the invoice for their shipment.  Or they want the documentation about their specialty shipment.

Whatever it is they want, you have a problem.

You can’t find it.

Someone filed it somewhere, you’re pretty sure, but where they filed it and how you can find it right now is the big worry on your mind.  You might have kept the customer on the phone while you looked, but if you don’t find that document soon, you’ll have to tell them you’ll call them back or email it to them when you get it.

You probably won’t tell them the reason you don’t have an immediate answer for them is because you can’t find one pesky piece of paper, but they’ll know anyway.

Small or large, all freight brokers run into the same growing pains.  Systems that worked when the brokerage was small (or just smaller) don’t scale with your business as it grows.  A one or two (wo)man team can take care of a handful of shipments with plain old pen and paper tracking, but to grow, you need something more sophisticated.

YOUR TRANSPORTATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM SHOULD BE DOING THE WORK FOR YOU.

Imagine a different scenario.

That same customer calls, wanting to know some details about a specific document.

Instead of hunting through your filing cabinets, or emailing your assistant, Carol, you can just click in to your BrokerWare™ portal, search for the customer’s name, and find the exact document they’re asking about.

In a matter of seconds, you’ve found the document, answered their question, and the customer has left the call feeling confident about their choice to use you for their freight shipment needs.

That’s what a transportation management system should do for your brokerage.

There’s plenty of day to day needs that your brokerage has that a TMS should be able to handle for your business without a hitch.

But it’s that moment when you really, really need a piece of information right now that differentiates the software that gets you by, and the software that helps set you apart.

You’ll still need to manage the filing of physical documents, but why worry about where they are once they’re filed when you could have digital copies right at your finger tips?

Why print out each document, each time, for each customer, when you could generate them digitally and email them to the customer for each shipment?

Save time, save paper, save that ridiculously expensive printer ink.

Plus, your customers feel informed about their shipment, which builds trust in your freight brokerage – meaning more repeat business.

OPERATIONAL EXCELLENCE STARTS WITH EXCELLENT ORGANIZATION.

When you first started your brokerage, it was fine to have stacks of papers on your desk that were related to all of the shipments you managed.

Maybe you were a bit more technologically sophisticated, and scanned in or created digital copies of the documents you needed, sorting them on your computer into tidy folders.  Maybe those tidy folders are covering your entire desktop wallpaper, because the good intentions you had for organization went out the window as your business grew.

There’s a better way.

Stop cluttering your desktop with folders for each of the customers you manage, and actually see that nice picture of your family that you set as the background two years ago.

Instead, let your TMS organize it all for you.  Assign documents to shipments or customers, and let the software do the heavy organizational lifting for you.

Manage a team that needs access to all of these things?  No problem.  Each user you grant access to within your BrokerWare™ portal gets access to exactly what you allow them to – so they can manage the documentation they need to, and you can still see it all at a high level.

MORE THAN JUST MAKING YOUR ADMIN TASKS MORE EFFICIENT, YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE HAPPIER, TOO.

Organizing documentation for your brokerage in an efficient, easy to access way that’s accessible online, anywhere, does more than just make your office more efficient.

Your customers are able to access the information relevant to them, too.

When you use a TMS such as BrokerWare™, you can provide a customer portal for your clients to log in to and check on their shipments.

That scenario from earlier?  It never had to happen at all.  The customer could have logged in and checked for the document they needed themselves, saving you the time of taking the call and looking it up.

Sure, they can still call and ask you to do it, and it’ll still be a matter of seconds to find the document you need.

But giving your customers the option to find the information they need, when they need it, is something they’ll appreciate in a major way.

ARE YOU READY FOR A BETTER WAY TO MANAGE THE ADMINISTRATIVE SIDE OF YOUR FREIGHT BROKERAGE?

There’s a reason our customers rate us as the #1 software for transportation management.

See it for yourself – request a demo by entering your information below:

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THE BEST LEAN TMS FOR YOUR LOGISTICS COMPANY:

A transportation management system is more than just a piece of software that lets you manage all of your shipments in one place.

It’s a way to streamline your logistics company.

It allows you to be more efficient, more effective, and ultimately, make your end clients happier with the services you provide.

But which system is going to be the most comprehensive – and ultimately, the one that allows you to be as lean as possible?

In order to figure this out, we need to discuss what lean methodology is in the first place.

LEAN METHODOLOGY AND LOGISTICS

Lean thinking got its start with manufacturing, thanks to Toyota in the 1980s.  It focuses on customer value as a way to improve efficiency.

Simply put, if the customer doesn’t get value from the activity, the activity needs to be minimized or eliminated.

Lean focuses on minimizing waste by ensuring the entire process, rather than specific steps, are as efficient as possible.  By emphasizing overall efficiency, rather than the efficiency of a single point, it improves the customer’s value by allowing faster production times and decreasing the cost of having inventory waiting at each step of a manufacturing process.

This focus on efficiency naturally made its way to the supply chain, as there was little point in having an incredibly efficient production process if the materials weren’t making it to shelves at an equally rapid pace.

PROVIDING THE EXPERIENCED, EFFICIENT SERVICE THAT DISTRIBUTORS AND MANUFACTURERS REQUIRE IS THE BEST WAY TO GAIN MORE CUSTOMERS.

Lean methodology is no longer just one option that might be considered by the businesses you’d like to acquire as customers – it’s a leading practice used by the most successful businesses out there.

And to gain their business, you need to provide service that’s just as lean as their production processes are.

That’s where the transportation management system you use comes in handy.

Gone are the days when clients want to call you up for every shipment they want to book.  They want to be able to log in online, review their options, and book a shipment on their own when they need it.

The modern shipper wants an easy, efficient process where they can see for themselves what the best options are for their shipments.

They still want your expertise in selecting the carriers they work with, and they still want the rates you’re able to negotiate on their behalf.

But once that framework is established, they don’t want to have to keep calling you for shipments.  That’s inefficient, and doesn’t provide the flexibility or speed they desire now.

A transportation management system like BrokerWare™ allows you to provide customer portals for your clients – giving them the option of booking their own shipments.

A LEAN-FRIENDLY TMS HAS MORE CAPABILITIES THAN SIMPLY MANAGING SHIPMENTS.

The low cost or “free” transportation management systems out there rarely offer the capability to integrate with warehouse management systems, requiring more man-hours to manage both systems.

In addition, integrations with accounting software may be nonexistent, or require purchasing add-ons that quickly make that low cost option into an expensive option.

Is it really cheaper to pay your staff to double-enter your invoices and paperwork, or would it be more effective to simply integrate your systems – and not worry about errors or time spent on administrative tasks?

Providing a lean shipping experience is about more than simply getting shipments from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible.  It’s about minimizing or eliminating activities that don’t provide value to your customers.

A lean TMS allows you to improve your customer’s experience – and allows you the increased bandwidth to take on more of them without increasing your own overhead at the same time.

Request a demo of BrokerWare™ by entering your information below to see just how much we can help you improve the efficiency of your processes.

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FREIGHT BROKERAGE SOFTWARE — EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO MANAGE YOUR FREIGHT BROKERAGE

Freight brokerage isn’t what it used to be — thankfully, neither is freight brokerage software.

One major thing that has changed is simply the way the term “broker” is used. I’ve seen how a lot of shippers refer to brokers, especially in comments online — it’s not always very nice.

That being said, there is definitely a difference between what a broker does and what a full-on third party logistics provider is able to do. It’s one thing to be able to manage random shipments for random companies — it’s quite another to offer an entire suite of services and basically take over supply chain management for entire businesses.

That, of course, should be the ultimate aim — if you’re a broker and you want to set yourself apart from all the brokers out there flooding the market, you can’t just be lean, or efficient (although that should absolutely be a major goal of yours) — you have to be more than that.

The right tools and software, like BrokerWare™ with RateShare™, can be the difference between you being a small team scraping by week to week…

And growing into a full-fledged 3PL.

BROKERWARE™ IS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO MANAGE YOUR FREIGHT BROKERAGE

A freight brokerage has a lot of moving pieces — freight brokerage software is what keeps those pieces moving together harmoniously.

And the best part about it is its ability to reduce overhead: you simply need less people because you’re no longer wasting incredible amounts of time on repetitive, low-value tasks like data entry or document creation.

Now I don’t want to take jobs away from someone any more than anyone else, but, the truth is, automation is very much a fact of life — it’s here, it works, and it’s extremely efficient…

Most importantly, everyone else is using it.

Frankly, most freight brokerage businesses don’t have a choice. They can either adopt a TMS (transportation management system) somewhere along the line…

Or they can get run out of business by the other brokerages that invested in the software.

FREIGHT BROKERAGE SOFTWARE — LOAD BOARD INTEGRATIONS AND CUSTOMER PORTALS ARE JUST THE BEGINNING

One of the major wastes of time in freight brokerage is the time spent researching carriers and rates.

Not only can this take up a large amount of time, but every minute that passes brings with it a danger — that a carrier offering a particular rate is going to be snatched up by someone else (or that a load is going to get picked up by someone else).

Time is critical, and anything that can reduce research times is a gift. A robust piece of freight brokerage software is going to be able to display a large number of rates along with other pertinent data to you simultaneously. It will also integrate with load boards and pulling in those carriers as well.

Having a customer portal where your repeat customers can login and create orders, orders that go directly to you and are ready to go without the hassle of emails or phone calls back and forth, is something most customers love.  This is especially true if they can easily track shipments, but it’s really just the beginning.

A robust TMS is also going to have a sales portal, allowing sales reps to create quotes, dispatch loads, and track shipments for their own accounts. Not to mention – their commissions can be automated as well.

Well, you can start to see the value.

Freight brokerage software like BrokerWare™ does all of this and more – and it can take you from broker to top-tier third party logistics provider more quickly than you can imagine.

IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY, SIGN UP TO HEAR IT FIRST — WE HAVE SOMETHING COMING OUT SOON FOR NEW BROKERS

Want to hear more about it?  Enter your information below, and we’ll tell you:

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3PL SOFTWARE — GROW YOUR BUSINESS AND SET YOURSELF APART FROM THE CROWD

A Transportation Management System is an integral part of the freight brokerage business. More often than not, a good TMS is the deciding factor of who wins and who loses in this industry.

Tools have been essential to humanity since the dawn of time. Unsurprisingly, that is no different in today’s business world. TMS is the essential tool for our industry.

WHETHER YOU’RE A NEW FREIGHT BROKER OR YOU’VE BEEN ESTABLISHED FOR A WHILE, TMS SOFTWARE CAN IMPROVE YOUR BUSINESS

TMS software like BrokerWare™ isn’t an add-on to your business or a bonus like it used to be — it’s a necessity to work efficiently in this industry.

For freight brokers who are just starting out,getting a quality piece of TMS software is probably the only way they’re going to be able to achieve a high level of efficiency without having to hire a whole bunch of people.

It’s a key to growth in a variety of ways. First, because it is going to automate many different tasks, you simply need less employees, which means that overhead costs stay low from the beginning.

Any freight broker with any sort of experience in the industry understands the value of this. Brokers run on razor-thin margins, margins that can often turn into losses when something goes awry on a shipment. Choosing carriers and matching them with shippers can be a hazardous undertaking, and when things don’t go the way they should, a high overhead can suddenly become a very large problem.

By keeping business processes slim and efficient from day one, the new freight broker can establish themselves as someone who can get the job done without having to worry immediately about paying a truckload of salaries every few weeks.

BUT BUSINESS GROWTH IS ONLY THE TIP OF THIS ICEBERG

Another really important (vital, really) benefit of working with a TMS isn’t a benefit to you — it’s a benefit to your customers!

Gone are the days when the only way to make any sort of order was to pick up the phone and make a call. Even the days of sending a series of emails are gone.

As a population, we’ve been spoiled by large shippers of consumer goods like Amazon. Many shippers these days want the ability to schedule a shipment entirely online without ever once having to send you an email or make a phone call or send a fax.

They want you to pair them with the right carrier at the right time (which is usually right now), and they want to do so from the comfort of their own computer.

Practically speaking, most 3PL software should be able to do this, but it’s not always the case — not every TMS includes API integrations, and not every TMS is able to connect to all the major load boards (let alone sort through them all to find you the best carrier with the best rate for the shipment and lane). Without something like RateShare™, you’re relying solely on the integrity of your contacts to make sure you can offer the best rates to shippers — and without a customer portal, it’s like you’re operating back in the 1980s.

Being able to offer a customer portal — a website where your customers can login and schedule a shipment, especially repeat shipments, quickly and easily – can be an incredible way to set yourself apart from the crowd of brokers who all claim to be doing basically the same thing that you do.

Shippers today just don’t want the hassle of having to call or fax or send an email every time they want to schedule a shipment — and there are a lot of brokers out there who are willing to remove that hassle for customers in order to get their business.

You probably should try to be one of those brokers.

INVEST IN THE RIGHT TOOLS, AND YOUR BUSINESS WILL THRIVE

BrokerWare™ is one of the top-performing pieces of 3PL software in the brokerage industry.

Contact us today to see how we can help you set yourself apart from the competition.

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STARTING A FREIGHT BROKERAGE BUSINESS — KEEPING COSTS DOWN IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS

Starting a freight brokerage business can certainly seem like a mountain of a task—and it is.

Look, I’m not going to pretend that starting and running your own business is simple, straightforward, or in any way easy. It’s hard. It takes time, discipline, effort, great ideas, greater people, and a willingness to bend over backwards for clients and carriers.

We’ve written before about how to be a freight broker, how to set yourself apart from the crowd, how to convince shippers that you’re not like the other guys, how to make a name for yourself (and keep your reputation squeaky clean) …

How to differentiate yourself from the competition, basically.

It requires a certain type of person, but it can be done—and the modern freight broker has access to tools that allow them to do things that just weren’t possible ten or twenty years ago.

STARTING A FREIGHT BROKERAGE BUSINESS REQUIRES DISCIPLINE, HARD WORK, STRONG MARKETING AND BRANDING, AND A DEEP KNOWLEDGE OF THE INDUSTRY

Now, marketing and branding play a role in this, specialization plays a role in this (if you can focus tightly on a specific niche industry that you serve, you’re set for success down the road), working hard and hiring the right people plays a role, picking the right customers (and turning down the wrong customers) plays a role, carefully choosing which carriers you will and won’t work with plays a role…

But, as someone who’s starting a freight brokerage business, you have a unique opportunity that brokers who’ve been in this business for a while would do just about anything to have:

You have the opportunity to build an extraordinarily lean business from day one, a business that doesn’t rely on outmoded ways of doing business, that doesn’t rely on a large staff to be successful.

Someone who’s been in the business for years, or even decades, has a lot of baggage. They might have employees whom they know don’t pull their weight but whom they can’t quite seem to get rid of. They might have old processes in place that would require extensive retraining of already-overworked staff to replace (not to mention a staggering cost to boot). They might have customers who just aren’t interested in new technology, who are never going to want to do things any differently than they’ve always done them.

YOU HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO AVOID A GREAT DEAL OF THIS—ALL YOU NEED IS A POWERFUL TMS ON YOUR SIDE.

We live in the age of robotics, and TMS software (transportation management system) is the robotic helper that old-school freight brokers always dreamed of

Except, for an established broker to bring a new technology to their team, they’re facing an uphill battle.

You’re not.

If you’re starting a freight brokerage business, you get to call the shots from day one. You get to decide if you want to put out an ad for an assistant and start your business with the monthly recurring cost and stress of providing someone else’s livelihood…

Or if you want to bring on a powerful software platform for a fraction of the cost.

You get to decide if you want to rely solely on your knowledge of the industry, of shippers, of carriers, of lanes, of fluctuating prices, of shipping requirements, of transit times (and how they vary from carrier to carrier) … You get to decide if you want to rely on your steel-clad memory and luck.

Or if you want to have a powerful tool on your side.  One who can look at load boards and carrier websites at once, help you find a quality carrier with decent pricing and transit times quickly.  One that can quickly pick a solution that makes your client happy and guarantees you a higher profit margin.

Imagine a solution that can auto-generate a great deal of paperwork and emails that would normally have to be created by hand. You get to decide if you want to make things easier on both you and your customer by providing a customized customer portal where they can track and rate shipments based on tariffs you’ve designated.

You get to decide if you want to hire a team and dig a hole in your nonexistent-currently-but-it’s-definitely-coming revenue, or if you want to take on a TMS at a fraction of the cost and see how far you can go before ever having to even consider hiring staff.

IF YOU’RE STARTING A FREIGHT BROKERAGE BUSINESS, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO IS TO GET A TMS—BECAUSE IT AMPLIFIES YOUR EFFORTS, INCREASES EFFICIENCY, AND KEEPS YOU FROM HAVING TO HIRE FOR A WHILE

There are a variety of features a good TMS needs to have to really be as beneficial as I just described. It will take a little time to learn how to wield this powerful tool appropriately, but it’s nothing compared to trying to implement one down the road with a large staff who’s not interested in learning new things.

You eliminate a lot of the busywork, you make things easier on both shippers and carriers, and you give yourself the ability to seem like 1 person doing the job of 10.

BrokerWare™ can help you do just that.

Not sure you’re ready for software as comprehensive and robust as BrokerWare™?

We’ve got you covered there, too.

Enter your information below and let us know if you’re interested in hearing about the next big thing to happen with transportation management systems.

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EFFICIENCY, MARGINS, AND PROFIT: WHAT YOUR THIRD PARTY LOGISTICS COMPANY NEEDS FROM ITS TMS

In the less than truckload world, businesses succeed on razor thin margins.

As Jeff Bezos once said, “Your margin is my opportunity.”

To prevent your competitors from seizing the opportunities in your margins, you need an efficient, effective system for running your third party logistics business.

You need insight into those margins for each LTL shipment you manage, and you need a way to review all the information in manageable reports.

What you need is a transportation management system.

That’s not news, though.  You probably already have a TMS that you use.  The real question is what else could your TMS be doing for your business to improve your profit margins?

improving profit margins freight broker

MORE INSIGHT INTO YOUR DATA MEANS INCREASED REVENUE

Before you can determine where your business could be more efficient, you need data to review.  Reporting capabilities are essential to seeing both a big picture view of your business, as well as getting into the granular details that offer those margins of improvement.

So first off: your TMS needs to offer the ability to generate a report from any data within the system.

Additionally, it shouldn’t place limits on those reports. You should be able to generate any customizable report you need, at any time, without having to pay extra for each report that’s not a standard offering.  BrokerWare™ even allows you to drag and drop the fields for your reports – a seemingly simple feature, but one that means you can arrange data in the exact way that makes sense for you.

We’re not talking about just insights into past activities – real time insights are just as valuable.

Every day, your loads generate points of data that you need to be able to review.

Each time a load is processed, you should be able to see that data.

You should be able to track your loads as they pass through checkpoints – the same level of insight that Amazon provides for single packages.  LTL shipments aren’t stuck in the dark ages, and the TMS you use should be capable of offering the same insights as your load is scanned.  It’s all digitally handled, after all, so why wouldn’t that information be accessible by your TMS?

CUSTOM-BUILT TMS, OR AN ADAPTABLE SOFTWARE THAT’S READY TO USE?

In order to know what’s most essential to your business, and where you could be making more money, you need both the big picture view of your LTL shipments as well as a more granular view into each load.

This also all needs to integrate with the necessary tools for managing your entire company.  From the WMS to QuickBooks – your TMS should be capable of integrating with everything.

These integrations and configuring of your reports at the heart of what differentiates a modern TMS (and a modern 3PL) from the laggards: they’re adaptable.  You don’t need to fully customize your TMS anymore.  That’s an option best left to the enterprise sized companies, who manage complete supply chains and hundreds of loads each month.

For the small to mid-sized 3PL provider, an adaptable tool that’s customizable where it counts (like for the customer’s login portal) is all that you really need.  Trying to customize the back end is an exercise in futility when trying to keep up with the breakneck pace of technology.

Attempting to build or order a completely customized version of a TMS is almost a guarantee that by the time it’s completed, the software will already be outdated.

On top of that, a completely customized TMS makes it incredibly difficult to hire for and train staff members to use it.  You can’t create a job listing on LinkedIn with a request for someone already versed in using your particular software – because unless they work at your company, they’ve probably never been exposed to it.

The software also needs to be easy enough to use that your team actually uses it. 

In the end, what’s the point of an expensive piece of software that no one actually uses?

IMPROVING YOUR PROFIT MARGINS:

While you’re committed to a TMS purely for the management aspects (how would you keep your business organized otherwise?), it also should enable you to improve your profits.

An effective TMS offers you multiple ways to increase revenue, optimally without excessive effort on your part.

BrokerWare™, for example, offers RateShare – a way for you to find competitive rates with carriers you don’t already have a contract with.  You can learn more about it by clicking here.

On top of that, BrokerWare™ enables you to provide your customers with their own portals to log in and request shipments.

When you’re competing in an industry as cutthroat as LTL, you need to offer something to your customers that differentiates you in a major way.  That can be the portal you offer your customers: one that lets them log in, get quotes, and book shipments all online.

BrokerWare™, and this blog post, are for the LTL shippers out there – but the point remains the same.

Many (or even most) of your competitors aren’t offering this capability to their customers.

What better way for you to swoop in and gain that business for yourself than by offering a service they can’t replicate?

Rather than worrying about your competitors stealing the business from your margins, find opportunities in their margins instead.

Enter your information below to get started:

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HOW TO FIX THE WASTE YOU DIDN’T REALIZE WAS IN YOUR TMS

Anyone in supply chain management, manufacturing, or hospitals is probably already aware of the principles I’ll be reviewing here: Lean Systems.  Alternatively, Lean methodology is referred to as Kaizen, referencing where it was first pioneered as a part of Toyota’s manufacturing in Japan.

A brief background of Lean manufacturing (where the methodology got its start) will help you understand the concepts I’ll be suggesting you apply to your transportation management systems.

LEAN CONCEPTS, FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T HEARD OF IT BEFORE:

The core concept behind Lean manufacturing (alternatively referred to as Lean production, or just “lean”) is to make it extremely obvious what adds value by reducing anything that doesn’t.  It was first pioneered by Toyota, who implemented it as a management philosophy back in the 80s.

The primary goal of lean is reducing waste, plain and simple.  Different schools of thought emphasize waste reduction or the ‘flow’ of work, but the end result is generally the same: drastic improvements in the speed at which products are manufactured, the efficiency of producing those products, and a decrease in the cost needed to make the products.

The main focus, above all else, is on the value the customer or client finds in your product. 

There are three types of waste that the Toyota system identifies: non value adding work, overburden, and unevenness.

Non value adding work is busy work, to put it another way.

For TMS, that would be the need to double-enter your data, copy documents multiple times, or otherwise do tasks that don’t really add any value to your end client, as far what your end client sees.

Your end client doesn’t care about your administrative needs – so administrative tasks are non-value adding tasks, and should be reduced as much as possible.

Overburden is when too much is required of a single step, such that it becomes too complicated to identify areas of improvement.  Does generating a quote require clicking through 20 different screens and entering in information that isn’t directly relevant at that stage?

You can avoid overburden by simplifying your steps, making it clear and obvious what each step of your process is, how long each step should take, and how to make the process efficient and repeatable.  Generating invoices, bills of lading, or simply managing the accounting – it should be simple to move from one step to the next.  You shouldn’t have to hunt for documents, data, or resources at every stage.

Finally, there’s unevenness, which can also be referred to as production bottlenecks.  This happens often in systems where there’s an expensive or unwieldy tool, so managers will pause production or wait until they have a lot to process, before actually using the tool.

They’ll place undue emphasis on a single point of production, which in turn, slows the entire process down.  That unevenness, while it seems to make sense to try and get the most out of a single tool, actually costs more than it saves by slowing down production.

Is your process uneven because you’re trying to get more out of a single tool?  You might be able to become more efficient by evening out the process – improving the “flow” of work and streamlining your system.

WHAT’S LEAN GOT TO DO WITH TRANSPORTATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS?

When a company’s manufacturing process becomes Lean, and there’s been a heavy focus on efficiency and waste reduction in their manufacturing, the next logical step is to Lean their supply chain.  It’s no use having Lean manufacturing if your supply chain isn’t equally as efficient, right?

That’s where the transportation management system used needs to keep up.

We’ve discussed wasted time and the impact that has on your bottom line before, but the ramifications of how much all of the waste in your freight management can add up become excruciatingly clear when you view it from a Lean methodology perspective.

One cent of wasted money (in time, personnel resources, or materials) isn’t much on its own, but when you add up one cent of waste in each step, for each client, for each truckload… that becomes a lot of dough.  And when you’re working in slim margins to begin with, you (and your clients) don’t want to lose a single cent you don’t have to.

One of the aspects that Lean really excels in is finding tiny improvements (often sourced directly from your employees) that add up to big savings.

One major source of savings is having an all-in-one transportation management system, rather than piecing together several solutions for all of your needs.  It seems like a simple thing to have just a single window for inputting all the necessary data, rather than clicking through window.

After window.

After window.

After window.

You or your employees might just be used to clicking through 5, 10, or 20 windows to generate an invoice, shipment, or bill of lading, but once they experience a single window to do it all, they’re never going to want to go back.

Another waste-eliminating ability is having the relevant documents get pulled into each customer record, allowing you to view all the necessary information in one place.  The same with accounting – just eliminating double entry alone reduces the risk of errors and saves time.  It’s the idea of that single penny that adds up every single time you have to change windows, look for data, or copy and paste data fields.

While a Lean evangelist will tell you that you can’t get the full benefits of a Lean system without embracing it fully, you can still see significant improvements in your bottom line, your efficiency, and employee satisfaction by implementing certain Lean concepts.

WHERE TO START?

The Lean concepts you’ll want to implement are practical, actionable ideas that you can start using today.

The first step is to take a moment to actually sit down and document your entire process of generating a quote or booking a shipment.

How many steps does it take?  What, exactly, are those steps?  They should be clear, simple, and easy enough to follow that someone who’s never seen your system before should be able to follow along.

Once you do that, you may already see areas that can be improved.  Things like organizing the tariffs that need to be applied to certain shipping areas, how much information is needed for a shipping quote, or just what information is needed in reports generated for clients – these are all potential areas for improvement.  Above all else, keep in mind the value your customer sees in the process: what can you eliminate, reduce, or make more efficient that would make them see your services as more valuable?

There’s an easy way to simplify large amounts of work – and that’s with an integrated, efficient TMS.  Any step that involves finding documents, copy pasting information, or duplicate screens can and should be possible to turn into a single step or eliminate entirely with a more advanced TMS.

The use of APIs in the more advanced TMS systems means that much of the data you need can be pulled directly from your carrier’s websites.  This decreases waste in the form of time spent looking for that data, and increases value by providing your clients real time information about their shipments.

The (hopefully) easy part that you can start today is identifying your shipment booking or quote generating process.  It may seem simple, or a bit mundane, or obvious, but it’s important to think about it from the perspective of your client.

How much value do they really see in the process?  Is it something that they see as an asset to their business, or are you just a necessary evil they have to deal with?

The way to increasing your profits is through making your customers happier.

And a smoother, more efficient shipping process is the best way to do that.

See how you could improve your shipping process – enter your information below for a personalized demo of BrokerWare:

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WHAT, EXACTLY, IS TRANSPORTATION MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE ANYWAY?

We might think we can easily identify what transportation management software is, but as was pointed out in a recent discussion on LinkedIn, it’s often confusing what actually makes up TMS.

To the point, JP Wiggins pointed out in a LinkedIn group discussion –

“The issue is qualifying ‘what’ a TMS is. It can mean anything from parcel labeling software to fleet management to global multi-country fulfillment.  Our research is showing that buyers of TMS are getting lost when trying to find solutions for them.” 

So what, exactly, is a TMS?

STARTING SIMPLE:

A TMS, as the acronym is commonly used, is a transportation management system.  It’s usually the subset of your supply chain that handles most aspects of your transportation operations, and is often part of an enterprise resource planning system.

The system for transportation management, due to how varied the supply chain for any industry can be, needs to adaptable.  It needs to be able to assist with procurement, shipping, and all the details to ensure both routes in the supply chain take place smoothly and as cost effectively as possible.

That’s where transportation management software comes into play, and due to the integral nature of an effective software solution to any transportation management system, the acronym is often used interchangeably for both.

Transportation management software, however, isn’t necessarily your entire system.  Some software options are limited, only allowing a certain number of shipments, or syncing only with certain carriers, or lacking the option to connect with essential programs like Quickbooks.  When using these limited management software options, your system will include multiple software tools to help you manage the entire shipping process.

The system includes everything – every piece of software, every tool, every method you use to manage all aspects of your shipping lanes, your shipments, and how they get from point A to point B.

That’s a transportation management system.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE

Often, to cut costs, companies will use a free or low cost transportation management software, which doesn’t sync with load boards, utilize the web services of carriers, or offer document collection or management within the software.

More comprehensive software options allow for syncing with various load boards, accounting tools, and also provide a way to manage documents and contacts.

Ultimately, your system is made up of all the software and tools you use to make it work.  That’s common sense, right?

While a system encompasses the whole, software is typically meeting a specific need.  Organization, ease of booking, collecting all carrier data into one place, or accounting – often, there’s a single software solution that’s available to help you manage these things.  When using multiple tools to manage your system, you often need a system to manage the system.  It gets extremely complicated, extremely fast.

This is where free or low cost options become more trouble than they’re worth.  Are you really saving that much when you have to spend additional hours of your own time, or your employees’ time, to make the software work within your system?

There are software options, however, that are comprehensive enough to become your entire system.

Software that doubles as a solution for a system integrates with your warehouse management tools, your carrier web services, your accounting software, load boards, document organization, your address book, not to mention the basic needs of generating labels.

Software handles a few of the tasks your supply chain needs to keep running.

A system is what makes the entire thing run smoothly.

THE FOUR FUNCTIONS OF AN EFFECTIVE TRANSPORTATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

There’s four main functionalities any effective transportation management system needs to manage in order to be productive.

  • They need to aid in planning and decision making: finding the best shipping route based on various needs – fewer stops, transport costs, lead time, partial or full load, and so on. An effective system makes this kind of planning and decision making as easy as selecting your priorities as you book a shipment or request a quote.
  • Actually executing the transportation plan: Once you’ve chosen the shipping plan that best fits the needs for that shipment, an effective software solution should allow you to actually book the shipment. This means checking and confirming the carrier’s rate acceptance, dispatching the carrier, and generating any needed labels or bills of lading.
  • Tracking and following up the shipment: You don’t just click “ship” and wait for the package to show up – shipments need to be tracked (preferably in real time), notifications sent when the shipment is received, invoices generated or updated, and alerts sent to you or to your client of any delays or problems along the way.
  • Measuring effectiveness: Any system needs to be checked and monitored to ensure it’s really as effective as it can be. Generating custom reports to review the key performance indicators that you’ve decided on for your business is essential to monitoring if your transportation management system is as efficient as it should be.

These are all the functionalities a system needs to have – not all software offers all of these features (Pro Tip: Brokerware™ does).

In order to determine what software solution, or solutions, you need to utilize to improve the management of your transportation system, you’ll need to sit down with your business managers and clients to determine what their priorities are.

There’s a few essential features that even a basic transportation management software should offer, and you can read more about those here.

SO WHICH IS IT?  SOFTWARE OR SYSTEM?

It’s important to distinguish between your entire system and the software you use to manage it.  No software can replace the human element of your system – it can help identify smart decisions, and improve on your process, but it’s no replacement for experience and knowledge of the industry.

That’s why you need a software that works with you and your team to make your system work as efficiently as possible.

The most effective transportation management software allows you to manage your entire system within a single portal.

The best transportation management software allows you to manage the system within a single portal – without having to open multiple windows, copy and paste information into each field, or double enter information.

An ideal software solution integrates seamlessly with your other systems, without requiring complex navigation to do so.

You should be able to easily update information for tariffs, shipping lanes, contacts, and labels, as well as track your shipments in real time.

In addition, it should integrate with your accounting software – if you’re using QuickBooks, your transportation management software should allow the ability to sync the necessary data to keep your books accurate and up to date.

Software helps you manage your system, plain and simple.  That’s why we designed BrokerWare™ the way we did – because we’ve actually worked in the freight broker industry, and we know what a freight broker is looking for in their software.

It’s important to choose the software that’s the best fits the needs of your system.  Software that can be customized as needed for your business needs, or a combination of software solutions that accomplish the same thing.

See why our customers love BrokerWare so much – see a demo by entering your information below:

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