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Courier MBA Day 12: Identifying the best times and places to deliver

One of the toughest things for me to figure out when I got started was, where do I go? Where's the best place to make the most money?

I thought I'll just take what comes along and see where it takes me. Where it took me is EVERYWHERE. I covered the whole Denver metro area. I drove a lot and didn't make much money.

Some of it was because I hadn't figured out which orders to accept or reject. Some of it was because I didn't have any real strategy where exactly I should go.

One of the best ways you can maximize your potential profits is to have a good understanding of where the best places to go and the best times are.

How do you determine the best places?

Happy child with vintage spyglass. Kid having fun on summer vacation. Travel and adventure concept

I can't even tell you the best place for you to deliver if you are in the Denver area. So how do I start telling people where to begin?

I can't. How can I tell you what is best without knowing your market?

What I can do is give you some ideas how to start figuring it out.

Start with what you know.

Your best bet is to begin with the areas you are most familiar with.

Right now, Downtown Denver is the best and most profitable place for me to deliver. Things are faster and quicker there, deliveries are shorter, and I make more profit per hour there than anywhere.

It wouldn't have been a good place for me to begin because I didn't know it.

This is an old map of Denver but still shows the wonky 45 degree layout of Denver downtown streets.
This is an old map of Denver from Wikipedia but still shows how insane the streets downtown are.

Downtown is weird. It sits at a 45 degree angle to all the other streets in town. If you want enter downtown at 15th street, come in at 29th street. Stuff like that. And then there's the parking. Or lack thereof.

The times I would do delivery downtown, I could spend 15-30 minutes trying to get parked. I avoided it like the plague.

My advice is, find the places that are the best combination of your familiarity of the area and the availability of deliveries.

Know where the restaurants are.

Open up the apps you deliver for. Click on Pickup and most of them will give you a map option. You can usually get a pretty good picture of where the restaurants are clustered. Your best bet for staying busy is to set yourself up in an area that has a wide variety of choices.

Don't pay as much attention to hot spots

Some apps will show color coded maps that show you where things are really busy. Those are often referred to as hot spots.

The problem with these is, they're designed to get more couriers into that area so they can get orders covered. Too often, that works too well. Unless things are just crazy busy across the board (such as in bad weather, or major sporting or TV events) you run a higher risk of waiting longer between orders in those areas.

One example I would throw in there is the Peak Pay promotions from Doordash. If there's one zone that has a high peak pay offer (where they offer so many dollars extra per delivery), it usually sucks all the drivers in from area zones, meaning there are more drivers now than there are orders.

I think of it like a vacuum. When all the drivers hoping to cash in on the extra bonus have been sucked out of an area, the surrounding areas are often going to be short of drivers. Usually that means the orders come quicker and I can be more selective.

Start measuring profitability by area.

Here's the thing that swayed me to start spending more time downtown.

I track every delivery. I keep a Google Sheet where I record how long the delivery took, how far I went, and how much I earned. It gives me an instant look at my profit per hour.

Here's a look at the formula that I use. I have it set so it displays the formula rather than the total in case you want to copy it.

Spreadsheet formula used to calculate profit per hour.

This probably only helps you if you're familiar with how to set up a spreadsheet. Here's kind of what it's doing.

  • What the formula does is first calculate your expenses (Miles(A2) times .3). In other words, I'm saying the miles are costing me 30 cents. In this case expenses are $1.50.
  • Now it subtracts the expenses from the pay. $13.20 minus $1.50 equals $11.70.
  • Next it figures out how many hours were involved. The minutes (B2) divided by 60. Twenty divided by 60 is 0.3333
  • Finally it takes that $11.70 (pay minus expenses) and divides by hours. $11.70 divided by .3333 is $35.10 per hour.

You can use that formula on just one delivery, or on totaling up all your pay, miles, and minutes for a day, week, month or year.

My study of zones

I divided the map up into several zones. I used some major streets so I was very clear which zone I was in. Finally, I noted where the restaurant was that I'd pick up at and enter which zone it was in on the spreadsheet.

After several days, I took all of the entries and sorted them by zone. I'd add up all the minutes, miles and pay for each zone and use that formula to figure out my profit per hour.

I was actually pretty surprised at the result. I focused on certain suburbs because it just felt fast and easy. Parking was less of problem, I wasn't slowed down by traffic as much.

Those suburbs were paying the least. That was because I was usually driving a lot further between deliveries. Even though it FELT like it was faster, it wasn't. Average time on deliveries was longer.

And even though I hated downtown, I was making more money downtown than anywhere. That one blew me away. At that point I figured out that if I committed to that area, got to know it really well, and figured out all the places I could rely on parking, then I could earn even more.

Think about lost time.

There's one more thing to consider when figuring out where to deliver.

Think about downtime that can happen as a result of your choice.

I read people commenting all the time in local Doordash groups that they'll drive up to Denver from Colorado Springs or the other way around because it pays better or there are better promotions.

If you are spending three hours to drive to another city to make your money, you have to realize that's three hours you could be delivering in your area. There's also a high vehicle cost when you do that.

Not to mention, if you are driving to another area and are not actively seeking deliveries on the way, those miles are considered commuting miles by the IRS – meaning you cannot technically claim those miles on your taxes (another topic for later).

You need to balance what works best where you are with what you lose by going somewhere else. I find that downtown pays the best, but if I'm only going out for a few hours I'm starting somewhere closer to home.

When you accept a delivery, one thing to think about is where the delivery is going. If a delivery is dropping off in a bad area or somewhere remote, you have to factor into your decision that you will have to take time getting back to where you want to deliver.

Choosing times to deliver

There's one side where I talk about how delivery is fantastic because of the flexibility.

But I'll be honest that there are times where in practice I'm not sure it's as flexible as I think. I pay attention to what times of day and what days of the week work the best. I go out and deliver most weekend nights because they pay well. Then, I deliver on Sundays during football season because they pay well.

Usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays are my weekends. That's because I find them to be the slowest. I don't deliver on mornings because they are the slowest in my area. Mid afternoons are so so.

I've done the same thing with those times. I've tracked deliveries by the time of the day and the day of the week. All to find out which ones tend to be better.

Be aware of events and times where people order more food.

Tuesday night is the slowest and least profitable night of the week by my measurements. I don't go out then. Except for last week because it snowed.

People order out more when the weather is bad. They don't want to go out and get it themselves. I think there's an emotional thing about gloomy days as well, where there's less desire to take the time to fix a meal at home.

So, people order in.

The other thing you want to be aware of is, what are the events that would draw people to order in? Think of things that people gather in front of their TV's for. Sporting events. Awards shows. Major TV finale's. The finale for Game of thrones was an awesome night to be out delivering.

Be aware of events that can slow you down.

One of my worst mistakes was taking a delivery downtown the night before the big holiday parade. Actually, the mistake was not being aware how many people come into downtown to stake out their space the night before the parade, and that the streets are already shut down that night.

I got funneled into these crazy detours around downtown that took me more than an hour to get out of there.

Understand the events that can cause crowds in areas of town. Where do you have major sporting events? Are there common street closures for that big marathon through town? Knowing those things will help you avoid the times and places that will bog you down.

Use your understanding of the relationship of time and money, and your understanding of your area, to choose the times and places that are more profitable for you.

We will usually start off paying attention to what feels right.

I think when starting off, that's not a bad thing. In fact, developing a comfort in what you are doing is critical to being able to stay with it.

But as you go along, you begin to understand that time is money. You have already started going through that process of understanding exactly how much money your time is worth.

Where you choose to deliver can have an impact on how quickly you can get deliveries done. You may find some areas allow you to keep deliveries very short and others require a very long drive.

Sometimes it comes down to trusting your gut. Sometimes you might take the time to start measuring. Use your experience and the numbers to help you determine when and where it is best to deliver.

Could this help someone else? Please share it.