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:
- Assume that the warranty on a new truck will result in near zero maintenance costs.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.