Computing the owner-operator business — Part 2

| September 21, 2012

Part 1 looked at business management software tailored mostly to leased owner-operators, though many of the programs mentioned in that story also have more fully functional versions for independents and small fleets. Click through the chart image above for quick-glance comparisons.

Software for independents/small fleets
Former small fleet owner-operator Eddie Gichuhi launched his Trip Sheet Central online trucking management solution after working briefly as a Swift company driver, then as an independent owner-operator expanding to multiple trucks over time. Leveraging a longer-term background in IT management, Gichuhi says, he  initially built his accounting systems to track his own business.

Going mobile
A majority of the owner-operator business software developers are pursuing some kind of mobile integration for their products (see the Mobile column in the chart above for the basics). That means trucking can take advantage of the Internet’s efficiency benefits in new ways, enjoying the simplicity that accompanies mobile device programming, noted XRS (formerly Xata) Chairman and CEO Jay Coughlan in his opening presentation at the company’s user event in August.
For XRS, maker of the Xata Turnpike RouteTracker electronic onboard recorder, its new mobile-centric platform is evolving to offer features well beyond hours recording for owner-operators.Among today’s EOBRs, RouteTracker has long been recognized as a low-cost alternative to the more expensive devices. A “black box” – offered free of charge – interfaces with operators’ cell phones as the input tool. A “$30 to low-$40s” monthly subscription fee, says company rep Christian Schenk, will include, increasingly, accounting and business management tools. Via a smartphone app as well as an online portal, where applicable, “you’ll have the hours of service if the owner-operator wants to have that service,” Schenk says, as well as inspection report capabilities. “What we did differently is the ability for the driver to have the maintenance facility and/or mechanics interface with the app, authorizing repairs on the tablet and/or smartphone,” among other features. 

“I couldn’t keep up with the paperwork,” he says. “We basically had a bottomless hole and were pumping money into it without really progressing.”

Gichuhi took opportunities on the road to quiz longtime operators about their business strategy. One small fleet owner told him the importance of knowing “where your money is coming from and where it’s going out,” Gichuhi says. “I didn’t understand how much I was making or how much I was losing. When I put the numbers together and had an accountant to whom I was reporting everything, then it all started making sense.”

He came to realize he was running with too much deadhead, no ability to negotiate good rates with brokers, no accounting for fixed costs like truck payments and difficulty paying his drivers. He tried QuickBooks and other general accounting software, but found it more suited to larger fleets with deeper pockets.

Today, his Trip Sheet Central software and other programs like it allow for that one- to five-truck owner-operator to manage all his trucks and customers while on the road. Because many of them are Web-based and can handle multiple users, a spouse or other employee in the back office can also use the program to input and analyze data.

Since its introduction in 2008, Trip Sheet Central has added a document-management tool for scanning and storing receipts, invoices and other hard docs,  Gichuhi says.

With ITS Dispatch’s carrier software, which has a target market of one to 35 trucks and brokerages of all sizes, similar functionality has been available since 2006, says company Sales and Marketing Manager Ian MacDougall. Users are “able to track their customers and create invoices. They can get detailed statistics where they’re able to see their growth in revenues” and profits.

MacDougall says the invoicing is exportable into QuickBooks for bookkeeping management, and the company has talked about future integration of the uDrove app for document and hours management with ITS’ business accounting and management tools (regardless, he adds, the software system is working on some smartphone integration of its own).

If you’re already using QuickBooks, importing existing data into the program is also possible, as it is in Trip Sheet Central (working closely with Gichuhi) and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies’ MYSTC software.

Operators using the Web-based MYSTC also have access to a marketing tool. “We have the ability for you to advertise your trucks’ availability in front of” NASTC’s Best Broker group of hand-picked honest brokerages. If they see a NASTC truck will be available in Oshkosh at 10 o’clock on Wednesday,” Owen adds, “it may well give you a little help keeping that truck loaded.”