Someone to Lean On
Mentoring from an experienced adviser can help smooth out the rough patches of developing as an owner-operator
Becoming an owner-operator doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Through trial and error you slowly learn the ropes of how to take advantage of your time on the road and grow a profitable business. A mentor, a trusted adviser who knows the industry, can help you avoid mistakes and guide you to better choices in equipment, operations, maintenance and spending.
Kris Hogg operated under his own authority before leasing on a couple months ago to Greatwide Logistics Services. His contractor adviser, 12-year Greatwide veteran Daryl Rodman, has made a difference in his business and life. “Before I was working sun up to sun down, doing my own paperwork and taxes and keeping up with fuel receipts and the like,” Hogg says. “With Greatwide I can put all my receipts in a packet and keep it separated and still have time for my family.”
Greatwide’s two-year-old mentorship program covers budgeting, financial advice and ways to develop as a businessperson. “Our Greatstart owner-operator is going to have some anxiety about being in a new job, in a new routine at a new company,” says Rob Newell, director of capacity management. “Plus, he’s in a new truck and starting a business.”
Virgil and Briana Bruning became Greatwide owner-operators in May 2009. Full of questions, they turned to ATBS (www.atbsshow.com). The husband-wife team has called for advice countless times on topics from truck purchase to taxes to creating a budget. “Our adviser, Mike Hosted, advised us what we could use for tax deductions and what receipts to keep,” Briana says, “managing our fuel costs and whether we should buy a used truck and what kind to consider.”
ATBS consultant Chris Harrington says the company provides unlimited calling opportunities for its owner-operator clients. “We’ll spend an hour a day with them if they want.”
The firm also monitors operators’ performance and will call those who may be lagging in profit and discuss ways to take more home. If the operator’s fuel spending as a percentage of revenue is too high, a consultant will find out if it’s because of driver habits or something under the hood.
John Christner Trucking chooses its top leased operators to serve as driver mentors as needed. It’s up to the owner-operator if he or she wants mentoring. JCT’s Terry Redding says experienced contractors may need only one conversation to pick up a tip that will help them in their business, while operators just starting may need a few months to understand how to be successful.
“I’ve seen significant changes in drivers who are willing to listen and work with a mentor,” says Laura Watkins, lease purchase/contractor development supervisor at JCT.
Harrington says mentoring can benefit most owner-operators, especially before they make a major business decision. “The industry’s changing,” he says. “There’s always something to learn.”
Greatwide ‘Contractor Advisors’
Greatwide Logistics’ operations staff nominates “top guns” among its owner-operators to be “contractor advisors” at each of its operations centers. The candidates must have at least a year with Greatwide as an independent contractor, though most have three or more years’ experience. “They’re safe, on time, reliable, have a great attitude and are very professional,” says Rob Newell.
The CA takes the newbie operator under his wing. They pull a load together, go over the specifics of working with the client on a dedicated run and discuss the life of an owner-operator. They might pick up a backhaul, return to the Greatwide distribution center and finish the process.
“After all that, that CA becomes the operator’s long-term mentor and is always available via cell phone or on-site,” Newell says. “This is a fairly common process for company drivers, but it’s fairly unique for owner-operators. You have this type of camaraderie that develops. It’s a great first-time experience for the new folks.”
Newell says the company also maintains its Touch Point program to monitor the owner-operator’s progress early on. Eleven different contacts will be made from Greatwide to the new independent contractor during the first six months. He says the goal is to lessen the discomfort of breaking into a new career with a new company.
“It’s like going to a party and not knowing anybody there,” Newell says. “We want to put our arms around these guys.”