Before you play the blame game, slow down, think, understand and ultimately save

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Speed Limit 65

Wow – not yet fully halfway through 2020, and we’ve dealt with pandemic, rising then falling rates, widespread protests, some bona fide riots, truckers finally recognized as essential then one dragged from his truck as if he caused the problems our nation faces. It hurts my heart to see so much pain. It is too sad we cannot see that we are all children of God. Maybe we should take a lesson from the Marines, where everyone is green, because we all bleed the same.

Rising and falling rates are nothing new in trucking, and neither is the blame game – operators worried about going out of business, for instance, and blaming brokers for cheating them. Brokers then blaming operators en masse for accepting their lowball rates.

The reality is plenty more murky than all that. Granted, as with the ongoing conflict over race relations suffered by almost everyone to some degree, there are and will always be bad apples, and definitely among brokers. And yeah, plenty owner-operators are operating with little wiggle room for error, don’t in fact know their own cost numbers, and/or just don’t understand what a broker really does in this industry.

For the most part, though, everyone just wants to make a decent living for their family and do the right thing while working a very tough job. Blaming a big group of proverbial others for your particular problems is never productive. In the end, innocents suffer as a result.

Always begin any evaluation of a difficult situation with Numero Uno. Knowing your operating cost as an owner-operator is essential to the ability to bite the bullet when necessary. While no one enjoys taking a pay cut, at times it is a must to stay in business (though this should be a last resort). Knowing your numbers will show you places you can cut back on expenses before you reach that point.

One of the best and easiest places to cut is in fuel consumption. When rates are good and freight plentiful, we can run the speed limit, make as many miles as possible and try to squeeze one more load a week in under the wire.

When freight falls off the cliff and rates are down, slowing down and conserving as much fuel as possible does actually pay off. With fuel down as low as it’s been, this is not as profitable a tactic as it might otherwise be for those of you who collect surcharges in a leased operation or otherwise. Still, a penny saved is a penny earned.

Case in point for March and April: I averaged more than 12,000 miles for each month and 8.4 miles per gallon — one of the highest averages for the fleet. In fact, that is my 90-day average, and I still get all the miles I need. Because of this my income is up over $4,000 this year compared to the same time last year.

How did I do it? I slowed down. I had been running 70 to 75 everywhere – now I’ve been hauling at 65. I’ve been on a miles-pay contract for years, a good thing in this sort of environment. In tough times, that’s helped me maintain without having to take a pay cut. While contracting as a leased owner-operator is not for everyone, it does offer some security when rates take a dump, and lessens much of the paperwork burden but for personal accounting, taxes and the like.

I also very seldom deal with brokers. I still take the same risk as other operators. I have stayed out throughout the pandemic — spent only two days at home, in fact, since January 1. I have not been confronted with protesting crowds or rioters. I hope I do not face that, because I do not want to be forced to defend myself, my property or the company’s property and load.

I am not holding my breath. I am trusting the Lord and his guidance, but I go where I need to go. I watch my pennies and I mind my own business. My day to day goals: Eliminating stress through my business model, slowing down, providing for my family, treating others the same as I wish to be treated, and staying safe. We can learn from one another if we are willing to listen and at least look at any given situation from the perspective of another. Perhaps even bring healing if we are mindful of our words.

My long-term goal: To finish school, and to ultimately help other drivers do all the above-mentioned things with their businesses while enjoying more time with their families. In the end, that is why we do what we do.

Stay safe, stay profitable and stay healthy, drivers.

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the 2021 edition of Partners in Business.
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