In recent years, thousands of owner-operators went out of business. High fuel prices, slow freight and a weak economy took their toll, forcing many owner-operators to park their trucks and seek jobs as company drivers or leave trucking altogether.
Chuck McQuerry, Overdrive’s 2003 Trucker of the Year, could easily have been one of them. Like many truckers, McQuerry was confident of his skills as a driver, even serving as a driver-trainer for many years. But when he decided to make the leap from company driver to owner-operator, he quickly learned that being a safe, conscientious driver was only half the battle.
McQuerry bought his first truck on a lease-purchase program. After a couple of years he realized that although he was running hard, he was falling behind on his truck payments. He was, he says, the “perfect example of a guy who knew a lot about driving but not about business.” In desperation, McQuerry returned to U.S. Xpress, a carrier where he’d found success as a company driver.
By working with U.S. Xpress’ contractor services department, McQuerry “quickly found there were resources beyond my knowledge.” He learned to watch costs, increase revenue-producing miles and set enough aside for emergencies. He was able to turn his business around and will add a second truck this spring.
McQuerry recognized the seriousness of his situation and was wise enough to look for help before it was too late. Too many financially troubled owner-operators simply keep running, hoping that will solve their problems, when what they need is more knowledge about running a successful business.
If you find yourself falling behind on truck payments or other obligations, take McQuerry’s advice and seek help now. If the company you’re leased to doesn’t offer business-consulting services, find one that does. Look for an accountant or business consultant who understands trucking. Check with the truck maker who sold you your rig. Some offer owner-operator business programs with services such as tax preparation, bookkeeping and permitting.
One free source that McQuerry found useful is Overdrive’s Partners in Business manual (which you can order by calling (800) 633-5953). It offers tips on budgeting, insurance, taxes, cash flow, financing and even retirement planning.
For McQuerry, getting the help he needed “was like finding a piece of gold in the middle of the sand box.” He wants other owner-operators to know that if he can bounce back to build a successful business and earn the industry’s highest honor, they can, too. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “You’ve just got to keep striving.”