Starting Line

Before you dive into independence as an owner-operator, take time to assess your experience, finances, dedication and skills

Look in the mirror. You’ve been thinking about going into business for yourself as an owner-operator, but are you ready? You crave the independence, but do you have what it takes to be successful?

Now may not be the right time to go on your own. Today’s freight environment is a minefield for even experienced owner-operators, so you need to do your homework before you jump into your own truck and business. “Right now, there’s not huge demand because freight is down,” says Sheri Aaberg, general manager of ATBS Leasco, a Denver-based company that works with budding owner-operators. But, she adds, “the want-to is still there.”

Aaberg says the primary reasons a driver wants to be an owner-operator is to call his own shots and make more money. Many imagine being their own boss and having control over their career without thinking about accountability. The reality is that when you’re in business, “you have more accountability than you did when you were an employee,” she says.
When you own your truck and drive for others, you are a small-business owner. Before you commit to buying your own rig, take inventory of your finances, your earning potential and whether your business will support your expenses.

“It’s all about money,” says John Nail, an owner-operator for about 10 years who’s leased to Greatwide and dedicated to a Tyson Foods base at Union City, Tenn. “You figure out your bills and what your base is. I look at what the shipper pays, how many miles I have to run to pay my mortgage, truck payments and everything else.”

In checking out possible income, Aaberg says you need to understand the “entire compensation structure of a potential carrier, because it goes well beyond the pay per mile.”

In sizing up a carrier, you should learn about its terminal operation, how it dispatches and how much time you’ll have to be on the road, Aaberg says. Decide what hauling specialty you want and if you have experience in that segment.

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How do you know if you’re ready? Nail and