Online resources are only a click away.
THIS ARTICLE IS FROM the 2007 edition of the Partners in Business manual for owner-operators. The next Partners in Business seminar will be during the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., March 27-29. To order a manual, call (800) 633-5953, Ext. 1135. Visit www.PIBlive.com for more excerpts and program information. The seminars and the manual are brought to you by Overdrive, ATBS, Freightliner Trucks and Castrol.
With a connection to the Internet, you can find virtually anything you need to know concerning technology and your business. Many owner-operators now use the Internet to:
- Check traffic reports, weather and fuel prices.
- Find and book loads.
- Send bills of lading.
- Keep in touch with family and friends.
- Contact dispatch and carriers.
- Manage their bank accounts and finances.
- Stay updated on trucking news.
- Find directions and plan routes.
- Conduct extensive research.
- Shop for the best prices on equipment.
- Send receipts and settlement statements to their business services providers.
Internet connections are either land-based or wireless. Each method has its benefits and drawbacks.
LAND-BASED CONNECTIONS rely on extensive telephone and cable networks. If you choose to use land-based connection services, you will be limited mostly to truck stops, hotels and your home. You will have access only when your laptop or handheld computer is attached to an available land line.
WIRELESS CONNECTIONS allow you to connect from most any remote location where wireless service is provided. To use the service, you must have a certain card in your computer; newer laptops come with them. Several hotels, rest stops and coffee shops offer a free wireless network. The wireless services offered at truck stops charge a fee.
Another alternative is to link your laptop to your cell phone to sign up for a cellular-based wireless service. Using a standard cell phone connection can quickly become expensive if you spend a lot of time online. It’s also slow, and the service is unreliable.
Owner-operators who choose not to invest in computer technology still should look at opportunities available through the Internet. Most truck stops have commercial kiosks where you can access it.
Here’s a closer look at some of the most helpful owner-operator applications:
The Internet has delivered truckers a fantastic gift with online load matching. What used to be scraps of paper on truck-stop bulletin boards or scrolling lines on a TV monitor are now real-time online load boards that link owner-operators to hundreds of opportunities. Most services offer a monthly subscription for $35 or less.
For that amount, smart drivers can maximize their loaded miles, reduce layover times and dramatically increase their number of clients. In addition to loads, most boards provide information about a shipper’s credit history. The major services offer various advantages:
All major truck and engine makers have websites where visitors can see the latest products and look up warranty and dealer information.
Truck sites include:
Engine and engine oil sites include:
Dozens of sites provide other information tailored to truckers. One of the oldest trucking websites, eTrucker.com, home of Overdrive, provides up-to-the-minute news on trucking and a bevy of services, such as loads, fuel prices by state, weather reports, street-level truck routing, job openings and ads for used equipment.
TruckNet (www.truck.net) provides a forum for thousands of truck drivers through dozens of specialized bulletin boards, including one for owner-operators and others dedicated to topics important to owner-operators, such as business, equipment and taxes. Through these discussions, truckers and industry experts share vital information and offer solutions to problems.
Truck stop chains such as Flying J (www.flyingj.com) and Petro (www.petrotruckstops .com) list their amenities, provide important links and directions, and even list their diesel fuel prices daily. Companies such as ProMiles (www.promiles.com) provide routes and mileage.
Federal and state governments have websites that allow you to pay taxes online, research regulations and report possible violations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration site (www.fmcsa.dot.gov) has links to all trucking regulations as well as pending rulemakings.
Trucking associations such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (www.ooida.com) and the American Trucking Associations (www.truckline.com) also have their own websites, as do state trucking groups.
Because of their lifestyle, over-the-road truckers are prime candidates to benefit from online financial services.
The convenience of being able to bank 24/7 appeals to drivers who often lack access to their mail or a branch of their bank. Truckers with online bank accounts can check them anywhere they have Internet access. Online banking has a number of advantages over traditional banking:
- It gives you the ability to keep day-to-day tabs on your account, making sure you have sufficient money so that checks will clear.
- You can make sure a check has cleared or a deposit has been posted for the correct amount right away.
- The ability to monitor your account allows you to immediately spot if anyone’s been pilfering money from your account, which increases the chances of catching the culprit and stopping him before any serious damage is done.
- Depending on the service you use for online access, checking your balance and making transactions via computer can be cheaper than doing so via an ATM, which can cost from $1.50 to $3.50 per transaction.
Some online banks have no traditional building for customers to visit. These banks, with minimal overhead costs in buildings, utilities and employees, usually offer better interest rates on checking and savings accounts.
A novice to online banking, however, might be more comfortable exploring the online services of a traditional bank first. The nation’s largest financial institutions, and most of the smaller ones, offer online access.
Many who are reluctant to try online banking cite the threat of identity theft. But the threat of identity theft is present every time you hand a clerk your credit card, check or CDL. In fact, most identity theft takes place through low-tech means, such as stealing wallets or swiping mail from unattended mailboxes.
As with all banking services, the pricing for online banking varies widely. But as banks compete for online customers, more and more services are being offered for free. Shop around for the best deal.