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Linda Longton

These are challenging times. Wall Street is reeling from the collapse in the home mortgage market, investors are in a panic about their plummeting 401(k)s and energy prices remain high. Add to that a 24-7 news cycle guaranteed to make you want to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over your head and a presidential election that’s getting uglier by the minute and it’s easy to understand why many Americans are worried.

Especially truckers. Slow freight driven by a sluggish economy and diesel prices that average 42 percent higher than last year have forced nearly 2,000 fleets with five or more trucks out of business in the first half of this year. It’s safe to say that a good number of owner-operators have also called it quits.

Here’s the good news: Many owner-operators are doing just fine. During a panel discussion at the Truckload Carriers Association Independent Contractor meeting in Chicago last month, three long-time owner-operators talked about surviving in difficult times. They agreed that high fuel prices remain their biggest concern, but each one has taken steps to reduce fuel usage, mainly by slowing down. And all three are leased to carriers that provide good fuel surcharges.

They also agreed that their working lives are better today than they were five years ago, principally because they are driving fewer miles but making more money. In fact, owner-operators who use the financial services firm ATBS drove 17 percent less but made 9 percent more in 2007 compared to four years earlier. Congestion, changes in the hours-of-service rules and, in many cases, desire for increased home time all contributed to the reduction in miles. The boost in net income came primarily from hefty fuel surcharges, ATBS says.

There’s no question that many owner-operators still struggle. But the fact that some are doing well shows success is possible. Those who are thriving in this market have taken control of their businesses and made the changes necessary to ensure they remain viable.

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They understand that dealing with high costs and a slow economy is simply part of being an independent businessperson. And they insist on maintaining a positive attitude despite the steady diet of gloom and doom peddled by the media.

So next time a “sky is falling” headline catches your eye or a talking head insists that our country is faltering, stop and ask yourself: “Is there anything I can single-handedly do to fix the troubles in our nation’s economy?” If the answer is no, focus instead on the things you can control to help make your business more successful. Waiting for the economy to rebound or for some outside force to bring positive change just might put you out of business.