The Dream Of Being An Owner-Operator
When I was a little boy, the notion of driving a big truck around the country had a certain attraction. The freedom and adventure, being your own boss …and then there was the hit TV show, “B.J. and the Bear”.
As I became an adult, life took me in directions away from being a truck driver. But back in 2006, I got my CDL and began driving big trucks. Almost 3 years ago now, I got my first taste of the owner-operator world as a subcontractor.
The idea of becoming a truck owner-operator was very enticing due to the promise of a significantly higher gross income, more freedom and the concept of being in business for myself.
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So, here and in the next few posts in this series I’ll share with you some of the things I’ve learned the hard way about being an owner-operator. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers and I’m by no means any kind of an expert. I’ve made a ton of mistakes and only hope to help others not make the same ones.
Why I’m Sharing What I’ve Learned
I got into the owner-operator game thinking I would do better at it than some of the other guys out there. Go ahead & laugh – I was just a little more arrogant then than I am now. In some ways I’ve done better, and in others …eh, not so much.
There are so many different factors to be considered when getting a truck and deciding to be your own boss. As with anything else, your mileage will vary. Know now that your owner-op business needs a lot of preparation and planning before it’s time to go test drive new trucks – or even old trucks.
If you’ve been a company driver and don’t feel successful in every aspect of the profession or are not making enough money to get by, you will never make it as an owner-operator. There are times when money is much tighter as an owner-op than as an employee.
If you haven’t been in the trucking business and been a success for at least five years (a number I’m just throwing out there), don’t even consider getting your own operating authority. Stick with contracting under another company who has their operating authority.
Which Companies Teach How To Be An Owner-Operator?
There is absolutely no trucking company out there which will teach you how to become a successful owner-operator. What those companies will teach you is how to get deeply into debt while making that company a lot of money.
Some drivers in their lease-purchase program have made decent money. Problem is, they’re losing a ton of money to make a little decent money. The company is who is really doing well in this deal.
No matter what the company recruiter tells you or what they say in their advertisements, they don’t care about your success – not nearly as much as they care about their own profit margin.
Their programs are designed to get you to make the payments for equipment & maintenance while hauling their freight. The trucks depreciate faster than you can pay them off & you’re typically left with a balloon payment on something not worth what you still owe on it.
How To Learn To Become An Owner-Operator
A tourist stops along a busy New York City sidewalk to ask a man, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
The guy smiles and replies, “Practice, practice, practice!”
The only way to learn how to become an owner-operator is to study, study, study and then practice, practice, practice.
- Learn everything you can about the business side of trucking.
- Learn everything you can about the mechanics of trucking.
- Learn everything you can about safety & regulations.
- Learn how to drive smart to save fuel & help your truck live longer.
- Talk to as many other drivers as possible and file away every tidbit of knowledge you gain.
- Practice safety – every day in every way.
- Practice saving money – from the food you eat on the road to household expenses to fuel planning for the best prices.
- Practice driving smart. Your driving style can make or break your business.
- Practice truck maintenance & repairs.
We all know truck drivers tell stories the same way old fisherman do. A large percentage of what you hear from other drivers can’t be taken as gospel but you will learn something from everyone.
Basically, you have to be willing to do the research about the business for yourself and you can learn a lot of valuable information by talking with other drivers.
You have to know trucks inside & out and be willing to get intimate with whatever truck you buy. Develop a good working relationship with a reputable shop or shop in your area. Learn how to work on your own truck. Invest in good tools. Realize truck parts and repairs cost anywhere from 3-30 times as much as they will cost on a passenger vehicle.
To Be An Owner-Operator, Or Not
Have I sufficiently discouraged you from becoming an owner operator? If you answer “yes”, well, you’re very welcome!
Don’t get me wrong – this country needs good truck drivers. In fact, every country needs good truck drivers. Business, industry, consumers – every single person is completely reliant on commercial transportation to bring in the goods.
My point is, being a truck owner-operator isn’t just about the romance of being on the open road or the freedom of “sticking it to the man”. That’s like a Hollywood-Sons-Of-Anarchy fantasy. Reality is, there’s a lot to being successful in business.
If you are willing to work your ass off, understand that an owner-operator decision will affect your home life, have the financial capital, knowledge and most importantly the motivation to be an owner-operator, then by all means – go for it!
If you have doubts or if any of those ingredients are lacking, stick with driving for a good company. Your situation may change in time. You can always save the money needed, learn what you’ll need to know and develop the discipline & motivation. Just know that being sick of driving for ‘Such & Such Trucking Company’ isn’t any reason to become an owner-operator.
If I Had It To Do Over Again…
In the spring of 2014, I was completely debt-free. I made good money and had more freedom than I do now. Today, I drive a pretty blue Kenworth which belongs to the bank and pay two to four times as much in repairs each month as I do in truck payments. There are days when it really seems too much.
I’ve learned more about trucking and business in the short time of being an owner-op than in the last 4 decades of various business ventures. I don’t regret the experience one bit, but if I had known then what I know now, I can guarantee I wouldn’t be in the truck I’m [buried] in. Actually, I might even still be a company driver somewhere.
At the very least, I would’ve done things much, much differently.[/indeed-social-locker]
Owner-Operator: What I Learned The Hard Way Series Continues…
Stay tuned for the rest of this series. I’m going to cover everything from how to find the right company to contract to, to where and how to get your own truck (and where not to). I’m going to share all the details of how I screwed up and how you can avoid making the same mistakes!
In the mean time, please share your own advice or stories about being a truck owner-operator in the comments area below.