Article

5 Ways to Succeed or Fail as an Owner-Operator

Your relationship with the carrier or customer is an important factor in determining your ultimate success or failure, but your part in succeeding can't be understated.

June 2013, TruckingInfo.com - WebXclusive

by Jim Park, Equipment Editor - Also by this author

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Take off the rose-colored glasses. Life as an owner-operator is an uphill climb with plenty of curves to keep you on your toes.
Take off the rose-colored glasses. Life as an owner-operator is an uphill climb with plenty of curves to keep you on your toes.

Sometimes owner-operators are their own worst enemy. They too often do things to undermine their business – like budgeting based on the best of times, not year-long averages.

Or they switch carriers to one promising more home time, for example, without checking everything, only to discover they can't make payment with the truck parked in the driveway every night.

A small fleet owner in Eden, Minn., who has had experience with owner-ops who don't look at the big picture, offers these Top 5 ways to sabotage your future:

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  1. Assume that the warranty on a new truck will result in near zero maintenance costs.
  2. Assume that a big horsepower engine hauling light weights will actually get better mileage than the smaller engines, and assume the truck will deliver the fuel economy numbers the sales rep promised, all year round under any load.
  3. When starting a new job, and having checked out trip sheets and income statements for existing drivers, assume your work ethic is at least as good as theirs, and that you'll be happy doing the work required to produce the big income.
  4. Believe whatever a recruiter tells you is involved in the job, and assume that it can all be changed in a heartbeat at your request.     
  5. Assume the work will always be there, and live (and budget) as if you costs and revenue will never change.

That may sound cynical, but his observations are accurate – at least some of the time in almost all cases. It's human nature to be optimistic, but as a business operator, only you can make the right decision. Whether it's running a single-truck operation or a large fleet, you have to do what's best for the business. Good decision-making comes from being informed and knowledgeable.

That's why one of the biggest and most common mistakes both new and seasoned owner-operators make is not asking enough questions. That one's followed closely by looking at the world through rose colored glasses.

Here's my Top 5 list of things you must do to prosper as an owner-operator:

  1. Understand and accept that people will pay you only for the work you do. If you're willing to do more work and take on more responsibility, you'll earn more. Nobody makes $2.50 a mile in a hook-and-drop operation.
  2. Build long-term relationships. Jumping from carrier to carrier only costs money, and the reason you have to jump is probably because you didn't do enough research up front. Rates, costs, customers, safety records, internal relationships all affect your operation. Know what you getting into before you sign on so you won't have to quit and start all over again in three months.
  3. Understand the economy and sector of the business you're getting into. Avoid sectors in a downturn. Search out carriers that serve growth industries, have long-term relationships with good customers and their own drivers. High-turnover carriers aren't the place to build long-term relationships.
  4. Keep your revenue and income expectations realistic, and budget for the slow times. Know your costs, and live within your means. This applies especially when choosing your truck – spec to squeeze every penny of profit out of the thing, and drive it like your life depends on it.
  5. Never lose sight of the fact that trucking is a business and a truck is just a tool. It's easy to be in love with the open road and a big shiny truck. Many successful owner-ops have achieved all of that and more, but it takes years of hard, smart work to get there.

Success in business is not a right. It's a reward for a well-executed business plan.

 

Comments

  1. 1. ed cain [ June 10, 2013 @ 09:38AM ]

    Really liked the article good sound advice

  2. 2. johnny mac [ June 11, 2013 @ 11:59AM ]

    excellent article , thank you .

  3. 3. Randy Munson [ June 13, 2013 @ 10:26AM ]

    The article is right on. I learned early on how much it costs to switch companies. Also I have seen many owner operators with new pickups, boats and bikes,,,financed. Then when the truck falls down, they just arn't making " enough money here" to pay for repairs. Buget for the hard times,you won't be sorry.

  4. 4. Nathanael [ February 24, 2014 @ 11:27PM ]

    To many people are telling me this is not the time to be an owner operator, but I been hearing that for years

  5. 5. francisco [ May 26, 2014 @ 09:31PM ]

    Hey Nathan don't listen that ppl they just want to not do it what u need to do it

  6. 6. Anthony [ October 20, 2014 @ 04:27PM ]

    Hi I've been driving trucks since 2006 I've been thinking of owning a truck for the last year and everyone I talk to said it's a bad time a NY advise on a good company in n.c to wrk fo

  7. 7. Carl [ December 25, 2014 @ 10:21PM ]

    Thank you for advise. I'm just starting out as an owner operator. Need all the help I can get.

  8. 8. arturo zubia [ January 05, 2015 @ 01:45PM ]

    Hi I am going into owner operator I am looking for any help and advice. I am looking into eagle logistics services company. Any info on company?

  9. 9. Tess [ January 13, 2015 @ 01:04PM ]

    I am a owner operator... Eagle is a good company

  10. 10. Yo [ January 29, 2015 @ 11:35AM ]

    Actually I have to disagree with the horsepower/fuel mileage thing.My father was an owner operator for 25 years as I have been a good share of my life.My dad consistently averaged 6.5-7 mpg with Cat engines 450-575 hp set up to run at as close to 1300 rpm as possible at highway speed.Cat engines were never known to be mileage getters but he consistently got good mileage with high horse engines by gearing and running them right.

  11. 11. efrain soriano [ February 04, 2015 @ 06:33PM ]

    i like to hear all kind of coment about trucking . please i need help how to succeed i am and onwner operator any good suport is very wellcome.thanks

  12. 12. Joe [ February 23, 2015 @ 11:16AM ]

    Me and my wife run containers out of port in Sav Ga.We only pull port to yard yard to port. 1.7miles each leg. Pay is not great but with both trucks we net 1,700 to 2,100 per week. The work is super easy and only log 6 to 8 hours a day. Sav port is very well organized and we are in there 45 min to 90 min on the very worst trips. Chassis are pretty easy to get and most of our pulls are paired-up so we may have to swap chassis 4 or 5 times a week.

    I tell ya, if you live within a hour or so of a port, this seems like the best job you can have. Heck, for 30 to 35 boxes a week each we only use $125 in fuel. Total expenses run about $53/day/truck, that's insurance, workers comp, a small maintenance escrow too. We really like the work. This is the second Co we have worked for down there and we have found a good fit for us.

  13. 13. Bhullar [ March 14, 2015 @ 01:55PM ]

    I am looking to get into trucking as well. I have been reading a lot about it since its better to be prepared than not. But mostly I have seen people talking about not being paid enough and all the crap that comes with it.

    I have seen a lot of truck owners who make a lot of money. They started with one and not they have many. I don't understand why is everyone sending a msg across that do not get into it? I have had the same feeling from every single website/video I have visited.

    I want to start off driving for a company for a few months and then buy my own once I get my feet wet. What are some good companies to work for and pay good as well? Also, I don't want to be away from home for too long. I would like to run loads around 600-800 miles each way and then back home. Take a day off and then again hot another 600-800 each way and back home. Is this something realistic and be able to make good money at the same time? More questions to follow once I have these sorted out. Any help shall be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  14. 14. Bhullar [ March 14, 2015 @ 01:56PM ]

    I am looking to get into trucking as well. I have been reading a lot about it since its better to be prepared than not. But mostly I have seen people talking about not being paid enough and all the crap that comes with it.

    I have seen a lot of truck owners who make a lot of money. They started with one and not they have many. I don't understand why is everyone sending a msg across that do not get into it? I have had the same feeling from every single website/video I have visited.

    I want to start off driving for a company for a few months and then buy my own once I get my feet wet. What are some good companies to work for and pay good as well? Also, I don't want to be away from home for too long. I would like to run loads around 600-800 miles each way and then back home. Take a day off and then again hot another 600-800 each way and back home. Is this something realistic and be able to make good money at the same time? More questions to follow once I have these sorted out. Any help shall be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  15. 15. Tim [ March 22, 2015 @ 07:36AM ]

    Appreciate the article.......I'm new in the business....recently retired at 46 y/o and wanted to do this in hopes of starting my own authority and building a fleet.......anymore info would be appreciated......God Bless

  16. 16. Edwin [ March 22, 2015 @ 09:49AM ]

    Iv been driving for 7 years as a company driver I found a company pullin pnuematic trailers which sound promising but incase if all fails which is what I am trying to prepare for any advice on a good website to pull loads from or any good brokers I'm not interested in doing refer loads pref. dry containers I'm not really sure yet please help ? And how do I pick loads...I run hard and work harder this has been a childhood dream every where I read they say stay away good way to go broke ect but I know me and what I could do I just need the right path, anyone willing to point the path ....

  17. 17. Mike [ April 04, 2015 @ 07:42AM ]

    What worked for me was finding a carrier that had several divisions to choose from so the option is there to pull a different commodity when things slow down. Get all the endorsements on your cdl. You will be more valuable to the company. Also i found taking advantage of the carrier's fuel and tire network will cost you less for operating. Lastly chrome and chicken lights do not increase the freight rates so be frugal and set a budget for those things if you have to have them. Also i see too many new o/o go under because they lack financial discipline in their personal life. For example when the big truck is running good, the money is good. Now comes the new vehicles and/or toys at home. Remember to be frugal, set a strict budget, do your own repairs within your abilities and be safe.

  18. 18. pat [ April 20, 2015 @ 08:05AM ]

    Hello, everyone..)
    I have over 30 years in the heavy costruction and trucking industries, am a college graduate, took lots of business courses. It took me 28 years to step into ownership, 10 of those spent saving $ for this step. My Advice? DON'T BUY YOUSELF A JOB. This is a business, do the math. What are your non-business $ obligations? Can I work on my equipement/have the tools, experience, inclination (I do, its one reason for the "delayed" start..) because breakdowns can destroy one? Do I have savings for @ least 6 months of business survival? Because you/we/i are a start-up business (in an extremely competitive/low margin field), just what it takes...lol.
    Estimate revenue low, expenses high, does it make $? If not, then wait, learn more, save. Because its your/ours/my future...lol Remember? "We all have plenty of people willing to lie to us, success comes from being honest (and realistic..) with ourselves"
    We will be the worst enemy to ourselves that we will ever have. So, honestly self-evaluate. It'll be the most challenging step one takes, but building a business can also be spiritually rewarding (or it can crush you..lol).
    Good luck!
    "luck=planning+preparation+dedication"

  19. 19. Terry [ May 23, 2015 @ 08:11PM ]

    My husband has been driving since the 80's . I've been a homemaker the entire time. I agree with all previous comments. My husband has been a owner-operator since 2006 or 07? I would tell everyone don't do it. Not enough loads . It's plenty when you work for company. When you work for yourself it seems the work dries up. Maintenance takes a big chunk out of your paycheck. No more paid vacation or health insurance. My opinion is that you become a slave for the truck. If you are married it may be that your spouse should work. Unless you are working for a big company pulling expensive loads it's not worth it. It's not worth missing time seeing your kids grow up . Just my opinion. I love my husband but I wouldn't want him to do this job all over again. Being a owner operator that is. He can drive truck but I'd rather that be that someone else foots the bill.

  20. 20. Ricky [ May 27, 2015 @ 03:33PM ]

    I will be honest I started Trucking in 1972 work a few years sell my truck and do something else then I would buy another truck do it again I guess it gets in your blood LOL , I made just as much in 1972 as I do now really made more back then due to the fuel. The DOT is so bad fine you if you look at them wrong . I did make a Little money did not get rich by no means freight is so cheep . If I were to do it again and I might dont get me wrong I would lease to a Oil field company pull a tanker I would not haul freight to cheep.

  21. 21. kushtrim [ June 18, 2015 @ 03:52PM ]

    I started debt free and did not make it..I have my own authority and is no good paying loads available but sometimes is no loads at all.I am working on selling everything .I lost 200,000 dollars and destroyed my credit score.Having your own authority is the worst thing u can do .

  22. 22. Mek121988 [ June 24, 2015 @ 02:41PM ]

    Hey kushtrim what are you selling. Email me mek198812@gmail.com

  23. 23. Daniel Ford [ July 15, 2015 @ 02:54PM ]

    I'm a brand new lease/operator advise I was given. DONT DENY ANY LOAD and DO YOUR PRE TRIPS THROUGHLY

  24. 24. bluemule [ July 15, 2015 @ 06:32PM ]

    Like to hear from some o/o's running lb/la port intermodal in socal

  25. 25. gene [ July 22, 2015 @ 12:09AM ]

    I became an owner operator without being a company driver first. To Kushtrim, there are other options. Find a dispatcher online, there's thousands. Lease on to a company. I don't know your full story but there's no reason to throw your money away. I hope all goes well, if you need a dispatcher I have at least 2 that can find you loads starting this week. Email me if you want info, kazakbuilt@gmail.com
    Also, I am a owner OP so I know a little about trucking. What trailer are you pulling? I do flatbed because it's versatile with more loads than dry or reefer all year round.

  26. 26. Tom Bosch [ July 25, 2015 @ 05:46PM ]

    I'm just starting out in CDL school. O/O is where is want to end up after surviving my first 6mos./year and knowing enough of the business. I do want to buy a luxury sleeper cab, one of those mini-RV rigs. (I am not married, no kids, don't own a house. No ties.) Realistically, how much should I be putting away to start as an O/O? Thanks.

  27. 27. Blue cheese [ July 28, 2015 @ 05:54AM ]

    I just quiet my company driving job after six years of driving . I believe it's time to become and O/o any advice.. I can't take it anymore ..

  28. 28. moffet man [ July 29, 2015 @ 06:12PM ]

    Blue cheese, I'd recommend working for an o/o and see how they run things. See where you thinkimprovements can be made, and make em Tons of research and enjoy hauling whatever it is that you're hauling.

 

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