Top 5 Tips for Independent Truckers
Updated: May 25, 2018
It’s no secret why so many drivers want to get their own authority: the money is better! If you hear of truckers consistently getting paid $2, $3 or more per mile, this is how they are doing it. There are just too many links in the chain when leased onto a carrier, too many hands in your pocket, and that affects your bottom line.
So why doesn’t everybody do it? It’s more work, and more responsibility, and that takes time. When you cut out the middle man, you have to do his job too! Cold calling, negotiating rates, and keeping up with all paperwork aspects of the business falls on your shoulders. You have to decide you’re going to be a business owner, not just a truck driver.
So with that in mind, here are our top 5 essential tips to successfully operating under your own authority.
1. Get your finances sorted.
Your biggest investment is your truck. A healthy downpayment can go a long way towards keeping your payments low, and helps to ensure you’ll obtain the loan. But on the other hand, if you can get a loan with little money down, you risk very little in the event that you can’t make the payments. The large payments associated with this strategy can be a killer, though. Think this through carefully to determine the right strategy for you.
If you plan to offload expenses onto credit cards, plan repayment carefully. If left on your balance long term, even small charges can slowly drag your business down. And make sure your credit rating is strong before you get into business, to keep your interest rates low.
A good factoring service can save you a lot of headache and worry. Factoring gets you upfront cash to deal with business expenses for a much smaller fee than a line of credit.
2. Choose an insurer carefully.
You have a lot of options in purchasing insurance, but most have some drawbacks. Going directly to the insurance companies means that you have to do the tedious work of comparing prices. Get ready to spend a lot of your free time on the phone. It also means that you have to deal with the (usually lackluster) customer service that company provides. That may not sound too bad now, but wait until you’re stuck on the side of the road waiting for a certificate that never comes!
A captive agency may seem appealing by comparison. They’ll usually have much better customer service, for one thing. But a captive agency is essentially just a front for one of the big companies. You still have to call all over the place trying to compare rates, or risk overpaying.
An independent agency is the way to go for most independent truckers. Independent agencies will shop your policy to a variety of insurers to ensure the lowest rates without making you do all the legwork. Look for an independent agency with a lot of experience in transportation, because that specific knowledge can save you a world of trouble when a claim comes in.
3. Build relationships.
How many freight brokers do you know on a first name basis? How about shippers? If you said “not many” or “none at all” it’s time to change that. You’ll meet a lot of people in the course of conducting your business. Remember names, and get to know people as much as you can. These relationships will seem insignificant until they are vitally important.
Get to know nearby truck dealers. In particular, keep an eye out for dealers who are mechanically inclined or ex-truckers. These are the people who will be able to help you make informed decisions on which features you’ll need on your truck. Their knowledge will pay big dividends for you. You ought to be able to contact your salesman at any time with questions before placing your order, to change specifications after the order, before it is built on the assembly line, after purchase questions, warranty issues, etc. If you can’t reach him, you should be dealing with someone else.
4. Know when you need help.
Independent truckers tend to be exactly that: independent. And that’s fine as far as it goes, but in certain matters you really need an expert. You should always be able to reach your insurer not just for claims and certificates, but for questions about the nature of your coverage and the restrictions of your policy. If you’re not sure how it affects your coverage to haul a new type of cargo, ask! If they don’t want to help you with those questions, that’s a big red flag.
It may also be worthwhile to have a reliable business banking contact, accountant and legal adviser, to help you with critical decisions concerning business structure, record keeping, income tax returns and various legal issues. Getting legal advice can cost you, but not getting legal advice can be much more expensive.
5. Take care of yourself.
Sun exposure, a sedentary workday, and the constant temptation of fast food are all hazards for truckers. When you’re on a brutal long haul, finding time to exercise or eat right can seem impossible. It takes consistent mental effort, being really tough on yourself, to take care of your health.
As an independent trucker, you will not have access to unemployment insurance or worker’s compensation. That’s why occupational accident insurance is so important. One wrong step or moment of inattention can put you out of commission for longer than you might think. Being able to keep up with equipment payments and living expenses during that time can be a life-saver. That goes double for independents with a family at home that depends on them. For truckers with families, riding without occupational accident insurance is downright irresponsible.
If you think you’ve got what it takes, going independent with your own company is where the money is. If you’re not sure where to start, consider a service that helps you get all the paperwork and fees submitted, so the FMCSA gets all their forms with the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. Most services will even give you a free consultation, so you can get an idea what’s going to be involved and come up with a plan to start your business.
Good luck, independents. Y’all keep trucking!