How Do Freight Brokers Find Shippers and Loads?

How do freight brokers find shippers and loads

Last Updated March 1, 2024

Shipping goods from Point A to Point B sounds simple, but it’s usually a complex process, meaning that independent freight brokers have a lot on their plate.

Some of the most common challenges for freight brokers are consistently finding loads to haul, finding shippers for those loads, and forging long-term partnerships with shippers. Yet while establishing and growing your customer base as a broker requires a reasonable amount of time and dedication, brokers who stick with it will find that the reward is worth the effort.

The following guide on how freight brokers find shippers and loads will help you get started with locating potential clients.

First, Understand Your Potential Client’s Needs and Objectives

Prior to putting on your sales hat and attempting to land new clients, it’s imperative that you understand your target client’s needs and objectives.

One of the best ways to obtain insider information on your potential client’s transportation objectives is to connect with other businesses in the same industry. Learning the basic information about the product types, manufacturing processes, and shipping requirements for your client’s field will give you an advantage in securing the new prospect.

If you already have a fundamental understanding of your client’s industry before you approach them, you’ll have a serious advantage over the competition. Most business owners vastly prefer working with people who know what their company is about and how to handle the unique freight challenges of their field. Reaching out to professionals in similar roles and asking detailed questions is a great way to quickly get the information you need.

Finding new clientele means a lot of research and a high potential for rejection. To maximize the success of your freight brokerage while building or expanding your client base, it’s helpful to possess an in-depth knowledge base of your target audience’s desires, goals, and requirements. Knowing your prospect’s needs is the first step to effectively securing new customers.

How Freight Brokers Find Shippers and Loads

The most successful freight brokers utilize a variety of methods to land new contracts, such as using USDA business listings, using shippers lists and calling leads, and even studying their purchase history and calling former customers. Below, we’ll highlight each of these methods to find shippers and loads.

Researching Competition

In addition to researching your potential clients, it is also essential to collect information on any possible competitors in your area. This can help you determine if there is a specific niche that needs to be filled or an overabundance of shipping options for certain industries.

Examining the shipping options used by businesses in the same field as your client’s company, or freight brokers that the client has worked with in the past, are great places to start. When conducting your research on companies in your client’s industry, see if you can find out how their products are shipped. This will give you an inside view of the local freight brokerage options and help you determine the best steps for rising above the competition.

It is also helpful to examine your potential client’s failed working relationships with past freight brokers. Why are they no longer using that company? In what ways did the previous broker fail the client? By learning from your competitions’ mistakes, you’ll be able to avoid their pitfalls and better fulfill your customer’s goals.

Studying Purchase History and Former Customers

Another great source of information for potential leads is your own records. Consider that every product you have purchased has been shipped, from the manufacturer to the store or the warehouse or directly to you. Going through your purchase history can give you some insight into potential brokerage contracts within industries you already have knowledge of, leading to stronger client relationships and customer base growth.

Take a look at the information from your receipts and shipping invoices. Was the product shipped internationally? If so, did it come into the country by plane, boat, truck, or some other method? If the product wasn’t sent directly to your house, did it go to a distribution center? How did this product end up at its final destination? All of these questions can lead to new potential clients, or at the very least, a starting point for your research.

It’s also beneficial to gather feedback from former customers. By analyzing why this client is no longer working with your business, you can find and fix flaws in your brokerage strategy and proactively prevent issues with new clients. Or, if clients no longer need your services because of a career change, you may be able to find a different contact at the company to rebuild your relationship.

Cold Calling

A great way to connect with potential customers– and shippers– is through cold calling. Since emails can be easy to ignore or forget about, a straightforward business call is an often-effective method for establishing contact and collecting the information you need to get started with a new client.

While many argue that cold-calling businesses with a sales pitch can be too impersonal for productive relationship building, you should still have an idea of what to say when contacting a new potential client. Be sure to briefly describe your business, goals, and how your background relates to this contract. It’s also advantageous to conduct your client research through cold calling to ask about their business needs and shipping service requirements.

You can also use a technique called warm calling, which is similar to cold calling but requires a bit more research. For warm calls, you should have a general idea of the shippers in your area and what services they may need before establishing contact. It takes more preparation time, but this can help you establish a working relationship quickly and efficiently.

Using Shipper Lists and Calling Leads

You can also use industry resources, such as shipper and manufacturing lists, to grow your business. There are plenty of lists available online, including the MacRae’s Blue Book website, which provides a wealth of information about shipping, manufacturing, and distribution companies. This site can tell you the location, business type, and product catalog of potential clients– and, most importantly, their contact info.

Shipper lists allow you to narrow down your client search based on your business needs. For example, suppose you have familiarity with a particular type of product or can only transport to and from specific locations. In that case, you can run a search through a shipper list to find the right kinds of potential clients.

Using your competitor research, past purchasing records, and shipper lists will often give you a plethora of opportunities to find clients. Once you have collected the required information and put together your brief phone introduction, it’s time to start calling leads. As mentioned above, phone calls can be the most direct way to reach new business contacts, so using your research to put together a list of leads to call can be very effective for finding loads.

Browsing USDA Business Listings

One of the best industries to find contracts is farming, as no matter the economic state of any particular region, it is always essential to grow and transport food. A valuable resource for securing new clients in agriculture and food/beverage fields is United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) business listings, which contain more than enough product information to get you started with a new shipping contract.

With the USDA’s online tools, you can search for types of food products, farms in the area, local farmers’ markets, and so much more. Often, the website will have information about the farm’s complete inventory range, including fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, and live animals. The USDA also includes essential shipping information, including the businesses’ current delivery options and the number of locations they ship to.

If you have industry knowledge about farm-grown foods, animal products, or other agricultural items, you can search for the product you want to transport on the USDA website. The list of available products is extensive, so if you want to manage the transportation of coffee, pet food, honey, herbs, flowers, or even soap, you can find a client who sells it.

Utilizing Online Search Engines

If you’ve exhausted all of the previous research options and still want to add to your client list, using online search engines is a great way to find shippers. Google can most likely provide you with the basic information you need on almost every large company and many small businesses. A quick search will tell you the types, products, and hopefully contact information of the high-potential customers you’re looking for.

Search engines can also provide a few more unconventional methods to determine the best clients for your business. In many cases, Google has a satellite or street-view option that will allow you to gain useful insight into a company before you establish contact. From the images, you may be able to tell if the business has a large loading dock, or alleyway access, or a parking lot that is too small for semi-trucks.

By considering all the information that search engines will provide, a freight broker can more accurately determine whether they can effectively serve a shipper. This will help you save time by contacting only the customers who you already know can work with your business.


Now that you’ve completed your research, prepared for business calls, and created a list of potential clients, you should feel ready to expand your client base. As a freight broker, gathering this information and putting it to work will establish strong shipper relationships and continue to grow your freight brokerage company.

If you need help with financing, check out our freight broker factoring guide.