Moving freight can be a stressful time for any mining or resources operation – especially when it comes to major projects involving the transportation of capital equipment worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
Therefore, it’s not only important to partner with a professional freight forwarder; it’s essential that both parties collaborate and communicate to achieve the goal of moving freight on time and on budget and free of injury and damage to freight, property and equipment.
Here are five key factors to a stress free and successful freight forwarding project:
1. Meet the team
A part from the obvious thing of getting to know people, meeting each team is essential to understanding each stakeholders’ perceptions about what’s involved in moving freight.
In my experience there’s often a large void between the client or end user and the freight forwarder on what has to happen.
When engineering companies are buying from a fabrication company they meet with those teams and discuss everything to the nth degree on the angles and the weight of the steel.
But if the freight forwarder never meets the client or only meets an individual that doesn’t know the full scope of what’s required then things can very easily go wrong.
All stakeholders need to understand the full scope of the project and need to be involved right from the outset – especially the financial controller.
The key thing here is to see the freight forwarder as an integral part of YOUR team.
The other key reason for stakeholders to meet is to discuss potential risks and hazards.
Safety is paramount and the sooner potential risks and hazards are identified the better for all concerned.
If the relevant stakeholders don’t meet potential risks and hazards can easily be overlooked. This could result in not just additional costs and delays, but serious injury or fatality.
Damage to public and private property could also land your company in hot water with authorities – notwithstanding the legal ramifications.
Avoid these nightmares by ensuring all relevant stakeholders meet as early as possible.
Good forward planning means great execution; piss poor planning equals piss poor performance.
2. Define roles of forwarder and client
One of the biggest mistakes that stakeholders in a freight forwarding project can make is not clarifying roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.
This can create confusion, tension and frustration between both parties that can easily boil over into conflict.
In many instances end users of freight forwarding services expect that the forwarder’s going to do something and vice versa.
A professional freight forwarder will sit with your team and ask questions about the scope of work and constraints so they fully understand what’s required and who is responsible for each task.
Does the freight forwarder need to provide cranes, labour, quarantine inspection et cetera et cetera?
A key piece of advice I would impart to anyone requiring freight forwarding services is that if you don’t understand something – ask the freight forwarder. This will avoid any ambiguity.
A professional freight forwarder should also have a check sheet that serves as a pro forma to guide both parties through the freight forwarding process. This will assist in clarifying roles and responsibilities.
The check sheet has an export check sheet and an import check sheet.
A professional freight forwarder will review the scope of works for the project and determine whether or not they need to provide lashings, customs clearance or pre‑inspections among many other things.
If the freight forwarder has all that information not only will you get clear and accurate pricing on the job, you’ll get a full and detailed program of what’s involved including who will do X and who will do Y.
3. Develop an accurate work statement
A work statement is a document that basically says what the project will entail and who will provide what.
The work statement should be developed collaboratively between the freight forwarder and the end user.
It doesn’t have to be a lengthy, long-winded document, but it does need to clarify each step of the freight forwarding process and who is responsible for each task or requirement.
A work statement may involve in more detail, say, a transport method statement, a crane method statement or a safety method statement.
It’s important to give due care and consideration to the work statement, as it will also specify responsibilities and accountabilities.
4. Agree and sign off on freight charges well in advance
Freight charges, such as the customs clearance rate, terminal rates, cartage rates and labour rates should be agreed and signed off by both parties before proceeding with any freight forwarding project.
For any unforseen freight charges, the freight forwarder should stipulate in advance a set rate at the cost price of the unforseen charge plus a fixed percentage.
The freight forwarder may agree for instance to provide their client with three quotes for the unforseen service charge then add their fixed percentage to the quote accepted by the client. This is an easy, smart and transparent measure to account for any unforseen costs.
The key message though is that a professional freight forwarder should save you money providing there is agreement and sign off on freight charges in advance.
Once the freight forwarder has agreement and sign off they can then fix freight charges at lower rates.
5. Clear lines of communication
Without clear lines of communication there is the potential for all sorts of mixed messages.
A professional freight forwarder should appoint a project team leader and all communication should be funnelled through that person.
Conversely, the client or end user must nominate a project team leader.
Having multiple people communicating will crate havoc and confusion, so it’s essential that only the freight forwarder’s team leader and the end user’s team leader communicate and collaborate to achieve the project outcomes.
Having a 2IC under each project team leader is also a prudent measure.
Ideally, each project leader should have very good oral and written communication skills and the maturity to take responsibility and accountability for all tasks under their remit.
Contact between both team leaders should only pertain to what is essential and appropriate and third party personnel only brought in if circumstances require.
Importantly, keep information factual and if something is unclear don’t assume that the other party is clear about it or aware of it.
What’s equally important is declaring any problems to the other party as quickly as possible. Things don’t always go according to plan and hiding problems or mistakes from your team and the other party will just exacerbate the problem.
When things go wrong finger pointing from either party will just create conflict and division and won’t solve the problem.
Peter Townley is the managing director and founder of Townley Group International, and has more than 23 years experience in the project forwarding and transport industry.