From the May 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

When you're shopping for a courier service, chances are one of your primary concerns will be the rates. But even though that's certainly important, you have to consider more than price. Otherwise, you could end up throwing money away on a service that doesn't fit your needs.

If it's your first time selecting a courier, a good starting point is to pinpoint the type of service you need, says Bob DeCaprio, executive director of the Messenger Courier Association of the Americas. For example, you may want scheduled service, where something is picked up and delivered every day. Or perhaps you require routed service, where, for instance, a courier picks up payroll checks and delivers them to various locations. Or you may need on-demand service, which means calling for a pickup on an as-needed basis.

Next step: Define your terms. "There's really no standardization in the industry as to what terms like 'priority' or 'rush' mean," he says. So make sure the courier understands exactly what you mean when you say "rush."

Also, do you want to use services with uniformed drivers and marked vehicles? DeCaprio says many couriers use independent contractors, who are prevented by law from driving marked vehicles or wearing the courier company's uniform, but who still provide excellent service. If uniformed drivers and marked vehicles are important to you, ask about this.

As with anything, do some research: How long has the courier service been in business, what areas does it serve, how many vehicles and drivers does it have, and what services does it offer? Take the time to check references. And if the items you're shipping require insurance, find out if the courier can provide it. DeCaprio suggests asking companies if they let customers order over the Internet and track shipments online. These are relatively new services for the industry, but are becoming increasingly available, even at smaller companies.

DeCaprio says many courier companies were started by people who worked for someone else as drivers, and they're still small enough that the owners have regular contact with customers. Talking to the owner will help you determine his or her experience and level of commitment not only to his or her own business, but to yours.