Sharpen your saw, then expand

Updated Jul 31, 2012

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Every business owner thinks about expansion at one time or another. As an owner-operator, you have two options: If you are leased to a carrier, you can get your own authority and your own customers, possibly adding trucks and drivers. Or you can remain leased and still expand by adding trucks and drivers.

Either way, take advantage of resources that will help you develop great business skills. I’ve found these two books most helpful in this transition.

“Strengths Finder 2.0,” by Tom Rath, will guide you through discovering your strengths and weaknesses. Purchase of the book includes a code that enables you to take an online test to analyze your pluses and minuses. For example, some people are great at details and organization; others are more creative and focused on the big picture. Some people are great at customer service and interaction with other people. Some are great with their hands and prefer to work alone.

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Know your goal before taking the first steps to reach it. If you’re expanding your business, don’t start looking for new equipment until you have determined which market you’ll serve.

 All those traits are useful in an expanding owner-operator business. You probably have some of them, but can you develop others? Do you have a spouse or other partner to complement your skills? Can you afford to pay professionals to fill in where you lack?

The number one lesson I took take away from Rath’s book was that we spend too much time focusing on our weaknesses, rather than trying to capitalize on our strengths. I learned how to focus on the areas where I can be the most effective. I used to struggle with details and paperwork. I always thought that I just needed to buckle down and get better at it. I finally realized it was much more effective to pay somebody to do the accounting data entry. My strength was in analyzing the numbers and then creating solutions to improve the business.

The other book is the classic “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey. I’m outlining the habits here, but don’t skip the book. The details are necessary to really drive home the lessons.

1. Be proactive. It means you are taking the initiative. You are not living reactively, but are taking a proactive stance in your life. No more blaming your dispatcher or your mechanic for problems.

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2. Begin with the end in mind. Effectiveness is not just a matter of reaching a goal, but of achieving the right goal. You won’t get there unless you get started with sensible steps. Don’t waste time looking at tandem axle sleepers when you really want to create a local cartage company.

3. Do first things first. This means to focus on your priorities. If you are planning on getting your own authority, it is much more effective to make sales calls to potential customers than it is to spend six hours reading trucking forum complaints about brokers.

4. Think win-win. In personal or business relationships, resolve problems with a mindset that benefits both sides. This is also the cornerstone of good negotiation skills, which are critical to the new relationships that develop as you expand your owner-operator business.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. To develop win-win relationships, find out what winning means to the other parties.

6. Synergize. Foster relationships that add to your effectiveness. For example, for a particular load your customer needs a specialized trailer that you don’t have. Create contacts you can refer work to and add value for your customer.

7. Sharpen the saw. There’s an old story about a man sawing a log. The more he saws, the less he cuts. A passerby suggests he take a break to sharpen the saw. The man says he can’t stop to sharpen the saw because he is too busy sawing. Highly effective people take the time they need to sharpen their professional and personal tools, knowing it pays dividends in the long run.

Kevin Rutherford is an accountant, small-fleet owner and the host of “Trucking Business & Beyond,” which airs on Sirius XM Radio’s Road Dog Trucking Radio. Contact Rutherford through his website,



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