Monday, 7 April 2014

How To Be A Private Hire Driver - Southampton Chauffeur Hire After Two Years

So what have I learnt after two years of trading?
Am I 'on track' to achieving my goals?
More importantly - Mistakes I have made and changes adopted.

Regrets - None at all!
Frustration - A few!
Happy - Yes, very!

My previous blogs amounted to covering the whole subject of Chauffeur Driven Car Hire
so it seems a good idea to revisit the important aspects.

Equipment -From Car To Sat Nav

As I gained experience with a variety of customers and hire scenarios I began to add to my equipment to cater for planned and unexpected situations.

Mercedes S or E Class revisited. After 18 months I seriously considered upgrading the Mercedes E Class from the old shape (58 plate) to remain competitive with the top-end chauffeur service providers and attract the more discerning client.

I was happy to commit to a serious amount of money as I felt that I had reached a sustainable income level. My goal has always been an S Class due to it's status being recognized as at the top of the chauffeur car tree. A long wheel base cancels out any issues with leg room and is ideal for wedding parties and executives alike.
So, why didn't I buy an S Class and merely upgraded the E Class? Cost was the biggest consideration as I just couldn't stretch to an outlay of £35,000 for a three year old, low mileage, lwb model. Secondly, I was worried that I had not developed a customer base who would pay a higher rate to finance an S Class.
I invested in a three year old E350 (V6 3ltr) with 8,000 on the clock. Very happy with every aspect of the new Mercedes except the continuing rear leg room problem.
Maybe the next change of car will be an S Class if a 5 year trading customer base would allow.

Sat Nav has been impressive and invaluable. Tom Tom Go Live was a good choice with Live Services estimating the best route and providing alternative routes according to any traffic information.

Mobile phone and iPad hot spot. Using the iphone hotspot I can connect to the iPad and dispense with a £7.50 a month tablet simcard.

Sick bags were purchased on the internet as there were two occasions which prompted the idea. The first was unfortunate due to illness. The second was a paralytic groom who ruined his wedding night.

A cool bag was a welcome addition to carry bottled water with some snack cereal bars.

I'm considering a dash camera as, with the miles I'm travelling, I am witnessing some questionable driving and want to have some corroborative camera evidence if I am involved in an incident.

Website Development

Any new website will take time to be recognized by search engines. Building a website is more than having professional looking pages. Search Engine Optimization is a critical part of any website. Gradually I have identified valuable and popular keywords and erased general weak ones. I have built on links, blogs and registered with relevant websites. Continuing to gather photos for each webpage from Stonehenge to Twickenham rugby stadium.
I would offer a piece of advice - Don't succumb to the tidal wave of emails that you receive offering to get you on page one of search results. You can do it yourself for nothing. If you are creative and patient, having a professional looking website that has good search engine prominence is easily within your grasp for a fraction of the cost. Plus you have total and immediate control and don't have to pay every time you want to add a photo or change anything.

Licencing And Fees

You can't escape the bureaucracy, annual form filling and rising fees. You just have to take it on the chin and pay-up. Not impressed when Southampton decided to raise the Operators' Licence from £100 to £360. No warning or explanatory letter. Not one visit or personal contact. I suppose I should be glad that I have been left alone. I wish that all councils charged the same and played by the same rules.

Planning And Preparation

It is always important to plan and prepare. There are always variables to consider with several tools to aide you. Google Maps with Street View is a must for new journeys. Don't shy away from phoning your destination address for advise (hotels to stadiums). Their knowledge will help with all sorts of queries from disabled access to local parking.
Keep your car in immaculate condition inside and out and routinely carry out maintenance checks. Importantly give yourself plenty of time prior to any 'job'.
If you are well prepared for your forthcoming job any stress will be reduced to unforeseen situations that are out of your control.
Be 100% accurate with your records. Keep emails until the job has been completed and paid for. My diary is my bible and travels everywhere with me. I was subcontracted to collect a customer from his home to take to Heathrow. After 15 minutes I rang him to discover that he was at the airport waiting to return home! A voicemail and email confirmed that the mistake was not mine.
Always allow plenty of time to arrive early and prepare for your customer. Open the windows, spray air freshener and set the Sat Nav. Pull up at the customer's address at the correct time - not before or after, unless previously arranged.
Golden Rule - Don't leave anything to the last minute!


Image & Service

Chauffeur driven car hire is a highly competitive market and everyone claiming to offer a top quality service.
Websites just give the prospective customer a choice from a search engine result page. Private Hire companies are not graded or awarded stars like hotels etc. However, you could join a recognized reputed trade organisation like Buy With Confidence or local Chamber of Commerce, LinkedIn etc. Put these badges/button on your website to raise your company profile.
Provide the best service you can for your customer whether a single experience or a repeat customer. Reputation and 'word of mouth' is so important for both customers and other chauffeur companies who may subcontract to you. Encourage customer feedback and reviews to promote and raise the company image.   
Be aware and adapt to each individual customer. Give your customer the service he/she requires. Your customer may start a conversation or you can try yourself. However, if you get single word answers, take the hint and let them talk or remain quiet. Provide a relaxed comfortable ride without sudden braking or excessive steering.
Vehicle and driver to be immaculate. Many customers won't remember the make of your car but they will take note of how clean and fresh smelling your car is and how smart you are.


Pricing A Job

Is a job priced on distance alone or time taken for the journey or both? 
I wish it was as simple as this but there are so many considerations to result in a competitive and accurate quote. Too high and it has been a pointless exercise and you probably won't hear from them again. Too low and your profit margin will be affected and the customer will expect the same price again.
This has been the most taxing aspect of being self employed and has only got easier with time and experience.
Variables include distance, journey time, collection address and destination, additional charges like parking and London Congestion Charge. Sporting and other events can result in traffic congestion and delays which have to be considered within the quote.
I would say that this is my biggest struggle and provides constant questions that are slowly being answered.
Payment caution. Taking a bank card payment, over the phone, that was approved would make you think that all was in order. I thought the same until two months later when I was informed that the card holder was disputing payment. After a further two months I was told that the payment was being withdrawn as the card holder's name and address did not match the customer! I had been given genuine card details by someone giving a false name and address. Next time I will see the card and some ID.

Rewards

Self employed. A breath of fresh air compared to being smothered in a public sector organisation as a tiny cog in a big wheel. Red tape, bureaucracy, Health and Safety, political correctness etc. etc.
Being totally responsible is refreshing, inspiring and empowering.
Customers. I enjoy meeting people and have found this part thoroughly enjoyable and I hope reciprocated by those I chauffeur.
Destinations. While airport runs are the bread and butter there have been numerous locations that have been a new experience and add variety and interest.

Onward And Upwards.


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