So, you've been thinking about becoming an owner-operator. You've probably heard many stories about owner-operators; everything from fairy tales to nightmares.
- The industry doesn't favor owner-operators.
- There's no money to be made.
- Fuel prices are too high to survive and freight levels are diminishing.
Or, conversely, you may have heard:
- There's plenty of work.
- Rates have come back up and fuel prices have gone back down.
- Now's the time to make your move and buy your own truck because prices are low and large carriers are always looking for owner-operators to lease on with them.
These are among the many topics swirling around truck stops, service shops and virtually any location where more than two truck drivers gather. It seems owning and running a rig is the brass ring company drivers are always reaching for. Turning that fairy tale into reality may be easier than you think, so don't let negative chatter keep you from grabbing the bull by the horns and going for an exhilarating ride.
There are actually quite a few steps involved in the process of becoming an owner-operator, and I will cover those in another post. But right now, I want to make sure your head is in the right place. Making the transition from a company driver to an owner-operator is very doable. I'm sure you already know people who've done it and have even met drivers who are successful. So what do they have that sets them apart from the rest of the steering wheel holders in the industry? They have the mindset of an entrepreneur. They decided to take a risk, albeit a typically well thought out one, to craft their own future. They have passion. They focus on goals. They have an innate ability to turn problems into learning opportunities. They know that the "get rich quick" scenario isn't realistic and that slow and steady work and dogged determination will get them where they want to go. They're not afraid to ask the "old timers" questions and are open to learning from others. They're different.
As an owner-operator, you'll be working for yourself. The amount of money you'll make and the free time you'll have will be completely in your control. But that puts a lot of onus on you. You have to learn to be proactive. You have to kick your own ass. Getting yourself in gear and staying motivated is a big part of being an owner-operator. You're not going to have the incessant beeping of a Qualcomm to remind you it's time to get up and go to work. It'll also be up to you to build relationships with agents and brokers, find your loads, make your pickups and deliveries on time, and keep an eye on what's going to make you a profit. The success of your business will be in your own hands.
That level of personal responsibility can be a scary thought to some, so you better make sure you're cut out for it. If you're not ready to be completely responsible for your own success or failure, then you're probably not ready to become an owner-operator. You know why I say this? Because not only do I come from a family of entrepreneurs, but I am one half of an owner-operator team and my boyfriend's been that company driver. He has the mindset of an owner-operator because he's been doing it successfully for the past seven years. Before you get started you have to ask yourself if you have that mindset. Before you say yes, try asking yourself these four questions. And be honest. Your answers are going to go a long way in telling you whether you're ready to make that leap from worker bee to Queen Bee - you guys know what I mean – the head of the hive!
1. Are you ready to operate a trucking business on your own?
Becoming independent means taking responsibility for everything that happens, and that responsibility starts on day one. You will be making all of the decisions and dealing with the outcome of those decisions, good or bad. The success or failure of your business is in your hands.
2. Are you disciplined enough to motivate yourself on a daily basis?
Can you sit in front of that computer and look for a load? Do you feel comfortable planning trips and doing paperwork? Are you able to manage your time effectively? You have to be confident in your abilities and know that you have the self-discipline to make this happen.
3. Are you willing to work hard? Really hard sometimes?
Being an owner-operator takes a lot of extra effort and time, more than you may be used to in your current situation. Every owner operator falls into a groove eventually and you need to have the patience to get there. Can you plod along steadily until you get the lay of the land and learn the ropes? Can you stick with it until it pays off? NOTE: In a future blog I'll delve into the capitol requirements of starting an owner-operator business.
4. Do you have a basic working knowledge of the mechanics of the vehicle you'll be driving?
Can you change an alternator? Do you know how to fix an a/c compressor? Can you read an electrical schematic to find a short in your wiring system? Are you able to change hoses, belts and filters? These are all things that will save you money and make you "one" with your truck. The better you know your equipment the less your maintenance costs will be, greatly improving your bottom line.
The answers to these questions will provide you with some valuable insight into whether or not you're cut out to be an owner-operator. And the more you research your decision, the better equipped you'll be to make your transition. The trucking industry always offers up surprises and unexpected turns, but being prepared and being confident in the knowledge that you can handle whatever comes your way will make it easier to step into the owner-operator arena.
In my next blog post, I'll explain some of the steps you'll need to take to start on the road to becoming your own boss. The path you choose is up to you.