Trucks on the road Photo: Sean Kilcarr

Basic business tips for the independent trucker

Sharp driving skills are a point of pride among owner-operators and independent contractors. But you need sharp business skills, too, to be a success in trucking.

By Robert Lech, AM Trans Expedite Inc.

Handling LTL shipments is the specialty of Robert Lech and AM Trans Expedite Inc. of Addison, IL; particularly where expedited loads are concerned. Yet Lech has also kept a careful tally of what business practices lead to success – and to failure – among the trucking contractors he’s worked with over the years; advice he’s boiled down to six key points.

Maintaining your financial existence in this economy is the number one concern of any entrepreneur in the U.S. today, be it in the business owner or in the consumer point of view.

Building a thriving business – be it in freight transportation, warehousing, etc. – requires you to take every step in the most economically-sound way available.

Regardless in whatever type of freight business you are, what must be at the top of your priority list is how to deliver goods to your customers on time and in the expected condition.

There is always good business to be made when you are able to provide your goods or services at a 110% level of quality and having the right mindset and business direction will guide your company to achieving that goal.

That’s never been truer than in the trucking industry today; an industry that can be very profitable but is also extremely competitive. Though most of the individual contractors I’ve worked with are very good truckers, it’s on the business side of their equation that things are often not very well thought out.

Having a successful trucking business takes a little more than getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL), money to buy or lease a truck, and having an idea of the best route to choose.

To that end, here are some tips for to get the business side of your trucking operation headed in the right direction.

Go the extra mile

“You get what you work for” – the same principle is true in every business venture, including trucking.

Your customer will only pay you for the amount of work you do, so if you are willing to do additional tasks for your client, chances are you’ll earn more and maybe even some of your regulars will be more than willing to give you a tip for your job well done.

Do your research

Having the proper knowledge of the regional economy in the area you are planning to establish your trucking business will give you a leg up over the competition.

You should be able to detect and avoid sectors that are currently in a downturn.

You should also search for growth industries and establish a long-term relationship with good customers who will in return refer you to their circle of business colleagues, thus enabling you to earn more in the long run and expand your customer base without have the additional cost of advertising yourself.

Realistic income expectations

This involves being able to do proper forecasting. Having your overhead cost trimmed according to your earning power is a great way of always coming on top.

The same thing also applies when selecting your truck specifications: choose a truck that you will be able to maximize and squeeze out every single drop of profit from.

Getting the proper equipment with specs matched to your freight needs is like finding the perfect pair of gloves that fits your hands.

Customers for life

Just like any business, forging the proper ties with the proper business partners will go a long way, and you would be able to reap its benefits in the long run.

Knowing what you are getting into gives you an exact perspective of what to expect in a deal, and will save you the trouble of having to quit and start again from scratch three months from now.

Remember; costs, rates, clients, track records, and smooth and cordial business relationships are the major contributors to the success, or failure of your business.

Keep your eye on the prize

Always keep in mind that you are in it for the business side, and your truck is just a tool of your trade. It is natural to be in love with the big open road and all the adventures it has to offer, as well as that big new shiny truck.

In the long run, after you have already established your name in the business, there is always a time for those things.

But remember that all the successful truckers out there have gone through these very same things, and have triumphed over them because they have practiced discipline and self-restraint. 

Don’t be a fuel guzzler

An average commercial truck consumes an average of 20,500 gallons of fuel annually. Rounded off, this equates to $70,000 budget for fuel alone.

Doing small things is critical: minimizing air conditioning use; monitoring optimum PSI [pounds per square inch] air pressure levels for your tires to improve fuel economy and prevent blowouts; and using a fuel card to get discounts and enjoy some loyalty perks.

Keep track of your budget

This does not mean that you would have to cut costs on necessities; it simply means being smart on handling your money.

Keep track of your daily expenditures via pen and paper, or – as a far more convenient option – download a budgeting app to your phone.

Keep a portable refrigerator in your truck and stock it with food and snacks like sandwiches, cold cuts, soft drinks.

You’d be amazed on how much you will save when you won’t have to crash down at that diner just to have a measly burger and be charged $10 for it

Safety first

Though last on this list, it definitely is the main concern above all others. Having a successful ride in trucking ultimately boils down to you being able to keep your machine at optimum condition and making sure that everything is good to go before you hit the road.

There is nothing worse than not meeting a deadline just because you forgot to check your tire’s PSI and suffering a blowout, or you were placed out of service during a roadside inspection for something you forgot to fix.

Keeping your truck safe and reliable is the key to winning and keeping business in the freight world today.

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