Dollars&Sense: When the going gets tough…

You know the next part: The tough get going. Understanding that statement has never been more important. I’ve owned trucks for 23 years and I’ve been through some pretty rough times, but nothing quite like we are seeing now.

I remember when fuel prices spiked and the economy slowed down in the early 1990s. I had been expanding my business and buying trucks, with no real clue to what I was doing. When the dust settled, I was weeks away from filing bankruptcy. I sold nine trucks to get down to my two most profitable.

I started reading everything I could get my hands on about business and success, and started putting it to work in my life and my business. It took me four full years to pay off the debt. It was, by far, the toughest time of my life.

Looking back, it was also the best time of my life because the lessons I learned have served me well and helped me succeed in many ventures since. While I was saving myself and learning how to succeed, I discovered my true passion was to help others succeed. I’ve been doing it ever since.

I’ve often challenged others with this: Somebody is going to move the freight, and somebody is going to make money doing it. Are you a somebody?

If so, here are some of the best practices for success. I’ve experienced them first-hand and I’ve heard over and over again from callers to my radio show that the strategies work for them, too:

· Set clear written goals
· Focus on the bottom line
· Eliminate or minimize debt
· Build cash reserves
· Bring value to your customers

I will expand on these ideas in future columns, but I will clarify the last one now because it often confuses leased owner-operators. Just who is the customer? The customer is always the one who writes the check to you. Your carrier pays you to provide a service, so your carrier is your number one customer.

If your customer rated its contractors, would you be in the top 10 percent? How about the top 30 percent? I’ve found that if you make yourself so valuable that you’re in the top 30 percent of your field, niche or company, you will be recession-proof.

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Do you think things will get bad enough that we will lose 50 percent of the owner-operators before this is all over with? I don’t. So if you can put yourself in your customer’s top 30 percent, you have nothing to worry about, even in the worst of times.

Many owner-operators get fat and happy when times are good and then assume they know how to run the business. Times like that teach us nothing. It’s times like we are facing now that really teach us how to run a successful business.