The success of going global with your business lies in its ability to deliver goods and materials in a timely manner.
Failing to deliver when you say you will can be frustrating and embarrassing. Delays in international shipments can result in negative perceptions of your brand’s capabilities and reputation. It can also lead to diminished consumer trust.
But managing the complexities of the international logistics processes is a challenging task at the best of times.
Unlike domestic shipping, there are many elements to consider such as import and/or export rules, international regulations, compliance with international shipping, and documentation requirements.
The best way to navigate through these foreign waters is with the right international freight forwarder. But this is far from a simple proposition.
Finding the right freight forwarder for your business can feel Herculean as there is no shortage of freight forwarders to sort through. When choosing a freight forwarder, the top company is not necessarily the best company.
The right freight forwarder for your company is one that understands your shipping needs and adds value to your business. If you’re not sure where to start to or are unfamiliar with the international freight shipping process, this article is for you.
7 Tips to Selecting the Right Global Shipping and Logistics Partner
Below, we’ll break down the essential facts and top tips you need to know to find a trusted partner for your logistics needs.
1. Know your needs
Freight forwarders are a lot like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors: there’s a whole lot of variety available. While you can sample all the new flavor trends available at Ben and Jerry’s, you can’t do the same when it comes to freight forwarding.
Remember, it’s your brand’s reputation and future success on the line. There’s zero wiggle room for failure.
When determining the right freight forwarder for your business, know what type of goods and materials you’ll be shipping internationally. If your products or materials have specific transport, storage, and shipping requirements, you’ll need to partner with a specialized forwarder.
Things like fresh produce, refrigerated items, and hazardous materials will need to be managed by a specialized freight forwarder. General freight forwarders will not have the capacity or service offerings required to ensure the right levels of support.
2. Go with experience
When it comes to finding the right freight forwarding partner, few things matter as much as experience. Experience cannot be stressed enough when dealing with the international logistics process.
Experience will determine how your freight forwarding partner will deal with problems like warehousing issues, dockworker strikes, cargo reroutes, port shutdowns, and a whole host of other shipping problems.
An inexperienced freight forwarder can exacerbate shipping problems and become a logistics nightmare in its own right. What’s more, they may not have a network of agents in your destination country.
Experience will know how to deal with these issues. But most importantly, an experienced freight forwarder will have spent many years cultivating the right professional relations to ensure that your shipments successfully navigate tumultuous waters.
3. Assess their financial stability
Experience aside, it’s important that your international logistics partner is financially stable.
A freight forwarder with weak financial fluidity can cause delays due to non-payments. While this headache is not your fault, your brand will face the brunt of the backlash from your customer base.
This doesn’t even factor in the additional fees such as fines and charges due to demurrage and detention you will have to pay out of pocket to ensure your cargo gets released.
When assessing a freight forwarder, confirm they have the required freight broker bond. This bond is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and is only issued to freight forwarders that show financial responsibility.
4. Evaluate their services
International shipping can take on many modes. To reach its destination country in a timely and safe manner, your goods might be shipped by ocean, air, rail, and/or ground.
The freight forwarder you choose should be able to effectively manage all modes of transportation, not just ocean and air freight. The best way to ensure they can effectively manage your shipping needs is by looking at their service offerings.
Common services offered by many international freight forwarders include:
- Air freight transportation
- Ocean freight transportation
- Domestic trucking
- Customs brokerage
- International export and import documentation
- Inventory management
At times, freight forwarders provide additional services. These extra services can range from anything like warehousing and distribution to cargo insurance and cargo tracking. Some can even offer specialized transport handling for things like dangerous goods.
While you evaluate their forwarding services, get acquainted with their terms and conditions as well as their legal framework.
This information is crucial in ensuring the forwarder has the ability to meet (and exceed) your shipping requirements.
5. Don’t settle for what’s cheap
While it’s easy to be tempted by cheap freight rates, special offers, and limited time discounts, don’t let these financial incentives be the sole reason you partner with a certain freight forwarder.
While these incentives may seem like a good deal at the time, they often hide the true cost of managing your shipping needs.
Often, these underhanded tactics are done by unethical forwarding companies looking to rope you in, only to charge you with hidden, added costs later. These extra costs can include things like weight levies, taxes, and customs charges.
Always remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
6. Don’t overlook the importance of communication
When there is a problem with your shipping, who can you turn to? How quickly does the freight forwarder respond to your inquiries? How often does your freight forwarder communicate updates on issues like shipping delays or warehousing issues?
If this is your first venture into international shipping, you need to work with a freight forwarder who has the ability to effectively communicate professionally to ensure your individual shipping needs are met.
Even those who have been involved in international shipping for a while can benefit from a freight forwarder partner with good customer service.
Poor customer service can result in significant losses in both time and money.
Your selected freight forwarder must have the right business technology and connectivity tools (phone, email, social media, etc.) to communicate easily with you should any questions or any issues arise.
A great way to determine how effective a freight forwarder is at communication is through their references. Reach out to a few of their previous or current customers to confirm whether or not customer service is a priority.
7. Other considerations
As tempting as it is to forgo the services of a freight forwarder to save on costs, this is a risky maneuver that can have some serious consequences.
If you’re new to international import and export, a trusted freight forwarder will make the transition from domestic distribution to international shipping as simple and headache-free as possible.
Having an experienced guide helping you navigate the complex logistics of international shipping is almost as invaluable as your cargo making its delivery on time.
The peace of mind you get from working with a trusted freight forwarding partner is not something you should trade for any price.
Criteria for global shipping success
Your company’s success on the international stage is directly linked to your freight forwarder’s quality and reliability. While cost is an important factor, it should not be the sole determinant in partnering with a freight forwarder.
Your company may soon find that such low costs come at a price, namely: delays, poor customer services, additional costs, and a lack of necessary contacts and network to ensure your products ship safely and in a timely manner.
Rather than using costs as a basis, use the criteria listed above to find the right freight forwarder for your international endeavors.
Toby Edwards is the CEO of Shipa Freight, a new online platform powered by Agility that makes it easy to get air and ocean freight quotes, book, pay and track shipments online. Shipa Freight takes the complexity out of International Freight Forwarding, making it easy to manage legal, regulatory and compliance issues, while offering convenient ways to pay.