7 Tips for Becoming a Successful Owner/Operator

by Audrey Beim - Published: 3/24/2017
3.7 3 votes

Just about every person who has taken a truck driving job has dreamed of owning their own big rig and becoming their own boss. The allure of calling the shots and deciding which position and route to accept without being told what to do is appealing for a large number of people.

Being a commercial truck driver in business for yourself offers several benefits including:

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But there are several things to consider before you jump in to owning and operating your own commercial motor vehicle.We encourage you to review these seven tips before coming to any conclusions on ownership.

1. Lifestyle

The number one tip is to understand that working as a commercial truck driver is a major lifestyle choice. You will want to assess your personality and temperament. Ownership requires a disposition that can tolerate hours and often days of solitude or limited contact with others. This profession requires that you be self-sufficient and comfortable being on your own.

It is common for a driver to be away from home for days or weeks at a time. Think about your family situation -  trucking can be hard on families and relationships. This is one of the most difficult evaluations when deciding to own a truck or trucking business.Support of your loved ones is essential to success, so it is best to have an honest and open discussion on how this new venture will impact those around you.

2. Health

The second tip is to maintain a healthy life style since optimum health is a key component of owning a trucking business. To even earn a commercial driver’s license (CDL), a medical card and Department of Transportation (DOT) physical must be passed.

States such as California and Florida may differ in their wellness prerequisites, but there are 13 areas which directly relate to a trucking job that are covered in a medical review. These involve:

Hearing: a driver be able to hear a “forced whisper” in one ear at five feet (with or without the use of a hearing aid)

Vision: an operator must have at least 20/40 vision with a 70-degree field of vision in each eye and possess the ability to distinguish the colors on a traffic light

Heart: the required exam will check for conditions such as heart murmurs, enlarged heart, pacemaker

Blood Pressure: the examination must show that there is no current diagnosis of high blood pressure likely to interfere with the ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely

Not only is good health required for a commercial driver’s license, being on the road for long stretches of time will impact your well-being. Eating on-the-go, the temptation of junk food, sitting for a majority of the day, and lack of consistent exercise can all influence the long-term health of driving and affect the an individual's physical and emotional health.

If your way of life can adapt to this regime, then you’ve passed one of the first tips for becoming a successful owner-operator.

3. Finances

For any job, the business owner must be able to have sufficient financial funds for their endeavor and a cash reserve for any “surprises” or “emergencies” that may arise. Owning and operating a trucking business, even with only one vehicle is no exception. Commercial trucks are an enormous expense, regardless if you finance or lease it. Tractor trailers can cost up to $50,000.

Leasing, rather than buying the equipment can get complicated. Some leases are structured like rentals, where you pay a monthly fee for the use of the equipment. Some leases are designed so that you own the equipment after the last payment. The options for leasing a rig are almost endless, which often makes them confusing.The best advice is to keep it as simple as possible and always have a written contract in place. It is a good idea to have a pair of legal eyes review the paperwork before you sign on the dotted line.

If the plan is to purchase equipment, you’ll be required to put a down payment and likely get a loan for the balance of the cost. As long as you make the payments, you own the equipment.

There are really two options for the down payment:

- Go with a large down payment that will help keep the equipment payments lower and more affordable. This may also help secure a loan.

- Go with a minimum down payment. Although monthly payments are higher, there may be less of a risk. If something goes wrong, you may be able to recover the money if you sell the truck.

4. Leased to a Carrier

One tip that is often forgotten is the option of being leased to a carrier.

If you are a new owner operator, you can choose to be leased to a carrier and obtain experience before you own your own truck. In this situation, the carrier has the responsibility of providing permits, license plates, trailers and freight. Many experts suggest beginning as a driver leased to a carrier to try out the complexities of the work. After getting “real world” knowledge as working, you can decide whether or not take on greater independence.

This is different than being the owner operator when you have your own truck and trailer and take on the all the associated responsibilities such as fuel, insurance, taxes, fees, and a plethora of costs.

5 .Expenses

The cost of the equipment is only the first expense.There is also insurance, maintenance, license, permits, parking, repairs and more. Having a cash reserve with help manage stress you may encounter during down times.

One of the best tips is to understand the importance of budgeting. Budgeting can be time consuming and difficult and not a whole lot of fun. By putting down on paper your projected costs versus income, you’ll reveal a clear picture of your finances and eliminate most surprises.

It would be great if you have the time and resources in your community to enroll in a finance class at your local community college or to take a course online. But not everyone can take this on. There are a number of on-line tools for budgeting specific to the trucking industry. It is a smart, efficient and necessary business practice to review and update costs and income on a regular basis.

6. Load Boards

As an independent contractor you can pretty much pick and choose what you want to haul. But one of the greatest challenges for new owner-operators is actually finding loads. Failing to acquire shipments on a regular basis is one of the most common reasons why OO and small trucking companies go out of business.

When one is new in the trucking business, it is common to look for loads anywhere and everywhere. Newbies act in a “survival mode,” taking any truck driver jobs they can find. This might be necessary at the beginning, but it will never work as a long-term strategy or allow you to become a success.

It is understandable that most new owner-operators get their first shipping customers from load boards (also known as freight boards). These sites are like online matchmakers that allow shippers and freight brokers to post loads and enter into agreements to move freight. They are extremely competitive and usually require the operator to bid at rock bottom prices.

Needless to say, using a load board should not be your major source of freight. These lists do not encourage developing long-term client relationships, so you are continuously looking for new clients. Load boards are also wholly dependent on where one is situated geographically. A driver in Texas, for example, will have more opportunities for freight than a driver in Nebraska

Use a load board only to get started, but start focusing on the future and make sales calls and that allow you to build a reliable customer list.

7. Freight Relationships

One way to form long-term relationships with companies is to actually write down exactly what you are looking for in a customer.You may not find everything you want, but by defining the parameters, you’ll be able to stay focused on the most profitable runs for your business.

For example, you may want to look for:

Large shipper with consistent jobs hauling freight

Stable organization that pays well and on-time

A company that will require your services regularly

Shipments to convenient locations

An outlet that puts a high value on customer service

Not always looking for the cheapest rate all the time

Once you acquire a favorable customer, spend time cultivating the connection. Also, one should stay in touch with friends and associates in this business as they can be a valuable source of leads and information.

The Final Decision

An owner operator job requires patience, determination, time and hard work. But, it can be a successful career with the proper planning and smart decision making.

Even a large amount of driving experience doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily excel at becoming an owner operator. It involves much more than driving. You’ll need to have a head for business as well.

This is a life-changing decision that needs to be carefully considered. It can be a rewarding career, but it’s not for everyone.

Taking these tips into consideration can lead you toward an owner operator career that will be both profitable and satisfying. It just might be the right choice for you!

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