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, - 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:


  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.



  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.


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