When we reinvented One Horn from being an asset-based carrier to being a brokerage in 2007, it was the start of the Great Recession. At this time we had not yet embarked on the freight agent model, I was responsible for sales, my business partner/husband Louis was responsible for operations, and we had another employee who did dispatch and back office functions. As sales went down, we realized we had to let our one employee go. We felt terrible for her, but we could no longer afford her. But it really impacted our freedom and lifestyle…we felt like we had bought a job and not a business, that now we could never leave the office.
Then we read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss* and decided to apply his ideas to work remotely and create a virtual office. We had a friend who is a financial advisor who took her family to the beach in North Carolina for a couple weeks, rented a condo, and ran her business from that location. So eight months later, free of trucks and drivers and only responsible for sales, dispatch, and back office, we decided we could do it, too!
Technology was on our side back then, and now there are so many more tools that can help freight agents who are not responsible for any back office functions to run their businesses from wherever they want to be. Here is a list of the technologies that we currently use to run our virtual company:
- Smart phones and tablets are essential, as they are mini-computers almost replacing laptops, that can access our proprietary TMS software StrateboTM from anywhere. So when customers or drivers call, our agents can click on their loads easily on our tablets and access all the information needed to service them.
- Cloud-based computing: All our software is in the cloud, so using our smartphones and tablets, our agents have access to our computer desktops from anywhere in the world.
- Personal hotspots: Instead of being dependent on available wifi or cellular data, personal hotspots like MiFi can be rented or purchased and work in systems around the world. Cell phones, too, can function as personal hotspots, as ours did during Hurricane Sandy.
- Go Paperless: Back in 2007, we developed our own proprietary software package and went paperless, so carrier contracts and rate confirmations were all sent by eFax and now more and more by email, no more standing by physical fax machines. When customers don’t need originals, PODs can also come in right at time of delivery.
- Automated electronic load posting: By linking our TMS to the load boards, when our freight agents don’t have one of our regular carriers available to do the job, they can automatically post their loads with the click of a button.
- Virtual meeting sites can be used to do sales presentations with potential clients. Examples are gotomeeting.com and join.me. No more borders or sales regions, the possibilities are endless.
Through all of this technology, when we were doing all the functions of a freight agent ourselves, we freed ourselves from the office. Now we just run the back office and our agents avail themselves of our technology, so they have the freedom to run their businesses from wherever they want.
In my next blog, I will share some ideas on how we improved our profitability by assessing our customer list and firing customers who were not profitable.
– By Cheryl Biron, President
*Click through for full references on books that inspired us: http://onehorn.com/agents/get-inspired