The Guide to Starting Your Own Trucking Business

We had a reader that started his own successful trucking business tell us what it takes to start your own company.

by P. Rivers
on October 23, 2018

What it takes to start a trucking company

It has long been forecast that there will be a massive shortage of truck drivers, and today’s booming economy has made it a harsh reality for those with shipping needs. There are many companies out there that are desperately seeking drivers, and they are willing to give even the newest drivers an opportunity. For those who have often thought they would like to have their own trucking company, now is the time to begin seriously working towards it as an achievable goal. While success in any business is never guaranteed, today’s market will give the right person with ambition and ability a good chance to be a successful small trucking company owner.

Get a License

For those who believe it takes decades to start a trucking company from scratch, today’s need for drivers has opened up opportunities that have not been seen in years. Becoming a driver is an excellent doorway to owning a small trucking company as an owner/operator, and it can be done in as little as two years. Getting a Class A CDL is the first step, and there are now an abundance of companies that offer complete training. Shop around for the best price, but keep in mind that not all training is equal. Look for a company that offers as much as possible for each dollar spent, and remember to inquire about job placement. This is the first step on the road, and it can take as little as two months before a person has their license.

Shipping yard

Many states have their own requirements for earning a license to drive a rig, but most of them publish the information online. Just like a regular license to drive a car, there is a written test to pass first. Drivers who can pass the written portion will then be given a driving test, and many states have handed this portion over to companies that teach driving. It will not be any easier to go through a private company than a state license bureau, but many companies offer limited classes for those who might need a bit of extra instruction so they can pass the driving portion of the test.

Shopping for a Company

Learning the business from the bottom up is generally the best way to become an owner, and the trucking industry is no different. Not all owners were drivers first, but it does help to know the conditions out on the road and at customer locations. Shopping for a company that will provide a new or experienced driver with the opportunity to buy and operate their own rig is a good step toward the goal of ownership.

Girl sitting in front of truck

When looking, ask drivers how long they have been with their current company and why they like it. Remember that people love to complain, so only ask what they do not like if it sounds too good to be true. A good company is one that offers advanced training, a reasonable amount of time at home and benefits for company drivers. Those that offer good drivers a program to become owner/operators are generally the ones that will be the most advantageous. Ask them how many miles per day the average driver makes in a similar position. Is it a company focuses more on cross country trips with coast to coast routes?Check into their success rate of drivers who have made the leap from company driver to operator, and this will be a good indicator of whether or not they are worth further consideration.

Signing On

Many companies today are offering bonuses for new drivers, but some of them have restrictive clauses that can make eventual ownership an issue. It is a smart move to talk to them about what they are offering, ask for a copy of the contract, and then take it to a good lawyer. An attorney has the training needed to comb the contract for unreasonable clauses, and they can point out issues that might arise. If all is well and the company has a program for becoming an owner/operator, they will likely be the best choice.

If the eventual goal is to become an owner, it is important to save or invest any signing bonus. While many companies are willing to co-sign for a loan to get a rig, few of them will make the down payment. Saving during the average two years it takes to complete this type of program is also expected, so make sure the company will provide enough work to pay the bills and allow for a reasonable savings program.

Personable and Professional

Businesses are run by people, and making a good impression on them is one of the best ways to be remembered. A customer will have an easy time bringing forth the memory of the late driver who showed up with a bad attitude, but they would rather work with someone who is neat, professional and willing to go the extra distance to make the experience a good one. Each contact with a customer is important for ensuring future business, and they might just become the gateway to being a successful owner. The trick is to always look neat and professional in appearance, have a ready smile and good hand shake for the customer, and then get the work done.

Man operating forklift

Many people believe that good business requires them to push for more bookings from a customer, but it can be counterproductive. Those who provide excellent service with a smile will often find the customer is ready to speak to them about expanding their shipping needs. Be prepared to discuss it if necessary, and be willing to call in one of the company’s professional sales staff if necessary. It might not lead to being able to collect a booking commission, but it can be a good recommendation from the customer for future bookings.

Learn the Business

There are many different parts that combine to create a successful trucking company, and hauling freight down the road is just one facet. Sales are where the business really begins, and they must be supported by drivers and those who plan and dispatch the loads. Paperwork is a major part of any business, and learning all the different forms and information can be critical. It could take time to get to know all areas, but it is essential for those who eventually want to go out on their own.

Sales in the trucking industry vary due to the types of loads, and some are booked by weight while others are booked on space. Learning how to book sales can be an opening to earning more money, but it can also be a way to start earning customers that will become the main source of a driver’s income.

Paperwork might seem dull and boring, but doing it right ensures regular payment for loads hauled. Those who make the effort to ensure every form is filled out correctly will find they get better support from office staff when there are issues, and they can often expect expedited service when they have the need to straighten out an issue for a customer. Even planners and dispatches tend to make life easier for drivers who are appreciated by the company’s support staff. The best truck GPS units on the market will store most routes, logs and data electronically; so if your company reimburses for them we highly suggest investing in one.

Few drivers are eager to deal with unpleasant dispatchers, and it helps to understand how their job really works. Most dispatches are nothing more than messengers between drivers and planners. Planners are the people who look at all the freight that must be moved, and their job is to ensure the available fleet can make all the pickups and deliveries on time. Learning how they do their work can help a driver understand how to choose the best routes and make on-time deliveries that will earn them a good reputation with dispatchers and planners when the better paying loads are available.

Owner/Operator Programs

The majority of drivers start off as either company drivers or co-drivers, and they work their way up the ladder to owning a rig. Both are acceptable ways to start, and they each provide the opportunity to move up while learning the business. Company drivers work directly for a trucking company, and co-drivers work for owner/operators who have a contract with a company. Each of them might offer the chance for a good driver who works hard to buy their own rig, so it is important to inquire if they have such a program available. Companies are generally more willing to offer these programs, and they will often take co-drivers who have been recommended by operators.

Learn to succeed in this program, and it could take a great deal of time off getting started with owning that first truck. Drivers are taught how to do all required paperwork, they learn how to maintain a rig, and they are eventually given an opportunity to run on their own. Success comes from doing an excellent job when picking up and delivering, and the driver must also get their paperwork done correctly and submitted on time. Depending on the industry, it can take quite a bit of learning to be ready for becoming an owner/operator. When the program is finished, the driver should be completely prepared for running their own rig as a small company. Some tow truck companies will hire owner/operators because owning their own fleet becomes too expensive. Being a contractor for a tow company can be quite lucrative, but long hours are often the tradeoff.

Buying a Truck

Many companies today supply even their owner/operators with trailers that are made to their specifications, so buying the tractor is the biggest necessity for those who want to become owner/operators. It takes a lot of work to save up the down payment for today’s commercial trucks, and the loans can be daunting. Owner/operator programs will help a driver find financing, but they must generally come up with the money for their own down payment. Saving at least a fourth of each paycheck is a good way to accumulate the money quickly, and it can make financing easier. If a company offers to cover the entire cost of the rig, it could be they are in the business of selling trucks instead of moving freight. Remember to have a lawyer look over any contract before making a commitment.

Earning as a Small Company

For those who have managed to buy their own truck, it is time to begin operating as a small company. The transition should be relatively easy for those who have made it a goal, but it is now time to work harder to ensure success. Many successful owners have their own customers who request them on a regular basis, but others have found that finding new customers is their way to create a business that works. Being an owner/operator is actually considered owning a small business, but there are more ways to make it successful for those with ambition.

Driving for Sales

Most drivers who have been working for a while will make a great impression at a delivery, listen as the potential customer asks about shipping with the company, and they will hand them a business card so they can contact a company sales person. Ambitious drivers will have their own business cards ready, and they will have already learned how to write up their own bookings. Many companies will allow drivers an opportunity to make their own bookings, but they must first learn the rules. It can be a lucrative way to earn income while planning for a future business with customers already on board.

Moving Past Driving

It can be a great adventure to travel the country in a big rig, but many people tire of it after only a few years. Those who want to remain in the industry can consider a future working for an existing agency, or they might want to open their own. It takes a lot of money for a warehouse location with attached offices, several rigs and drivers and support staff to handle customer needs. Those who feel this is the mark of success in the trucking industry will need to have money to invest, or they will have to find investors. It helps if they have their own group of customers they can take with them, and they will need to have a few excellent drivers or owner/operators who are ready to sign on with them before they can break away from their current company.

Agency Ownership

Just like being an owner/operator, agencies are generally contracted to work with a national trucking company. Van lines are set up this way, and they have small trucking companies from coast to coast that book their own customers. While most agencies handle the majority of their own bookings, they can depend upon the national company to help them find drivers and rigs to help with their overflow. Licensing for trucks is handled locally, but the branding is generally part of what the national company supplies. It can take years before an agent has enough customers and bookings to become a national company, but it can be done by those with time, money and the ambition to succeed.

The consumer driven markets of today are translating into the future success of those who want to become trucking company owners, and success is much more likely as the need continues to grow. Shippers are desperate for transportation, and people who can supply it on a regular basis will find they have more customers than they can handle. It will still take work to become an owner of at least one rig, but there is training and work readily available. For those determined to go further than being just an owner/operator, becoming an agent takes the same skills and dedication on a slightly larger scale.