Groundhog says it's time to prep for early Spring for owner-operator business

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Updated Mar 20, 2024

Ever think to yourself, “Man, if I could just get a fresh start with what I know now…”?

You’d be surprised the number of owner-operators who’ve said something similar to me. It goes like this: “Well, now that I’ve figured this out, I’m about to retire.”

For those with hard-won experience and still in the trucking business, it can be really hard to remember the many little baby steps toward getting comfortable enough to relax after making the leap from company driver to truck owner. Whether you made that leap in in the last few months or several years back, owner-operator business basics can never just be put away, forgotten or ignored.

In just the last few months, I’ve had some newer owners talk to me about how much stress they're feeling about the prospects of failure. Here in 2024, takeaways from the decidedly tough 2023 have fed emotional disappointment. But not only that. Difficult circumstances trigger too-fast reactions. You need to get on the brakes fast when someone cuts you off, sure, but the management moves needed to secure the business for the long term are more likely to be slower, deliberate actions to address plans to reach goals.

As I’ve illustrated before: Think it out, set a goal, assign a date for completion, and evaluate the success of your efforts to get there along the way. Be deliberate about change, and your business’s Spring may come sooner than you think. Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania didn’t see his shadow this year, that’s at least certain.

[Related: Truckers' New Year's Resolutions: Get closer to the freight source, and back to basics on costs]

Tap into proven resources

I’m looking forward to seeing many of you at the Mid-America Trucking Show. ATBS’s Mike Hosted and I will again present the annual Overdrive/ATBS Partners in Business seminar, as always with a goal in mind to give you ideas to set yourself up for success.

When the owners I work with fall into emotional-reaction traps, one thing I often recommend is to download and study the Overdrive Partners in Business book. Ground yourself in time-proven basics that too often get skipped in all the excitement around first taking possession of a truck and launching an owner-operator business. Skipped, that is, or forgotten with time, habit, and/or struggle. 

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

Annual PIB updates, ongoing for this year’s release at MATS, provide both new and established owners building blocks for a foundation to stabilize or tune-up the good habits that are essential over the long haul.

Rush Truck Centers logoRush Truck Centers is the 2024 sponsor of Partners in Business. The company operates 150-plus full-service dealership locations in the United States and Canada. They represent industry-leading truck brands and offer parts, service, collision repair, and a range of aftermarket solutions. Download the 2024 PIB book via this link.Re-engaging with business basics can help avoid a drag on success that so many fall into when times get tough. We find ourselves looking around, comparing our own performance unfavorably with our owner-operator peers. I’ll call that a comparison trap. The sooner you stop beating yourself down like this, the better. Your business is only what you make of it -- uniquely yours, and uniquely of your own making.

As I suggested to Overdrive Editor Todd Dills last month, too, faced with the barrage of opinion in economic forecasting, it’s important to keep in mind what’s just that, opinion, and the opposite. There are some solid sources available for learning the average owner-operator’s historical expenses, revenue and profitability. ATBS’s benchmarking data, always a big part of the MATS session as it will be this year, is updated and released every six months, available to any interested person for relatively current and historical trends. 

[Related: If your trucking income's taken a beating this down cycle, you're not alone

While benchmarking data like this offers opportunity for comparison, for sure, I’ll argue it’s not a trap, as such. Studying benchmark averages can bolster your ability to assess your own business, showing long- and short-term trends to aid in decision-making for the years ahead. Can you access an accurate breakdown of your own business numbers for the past year? Even better. To get the absolute most out of the presentation at MATS, I’d suggest even bringing that breakdown with you to seminar.

If you’re not in the habit of near-real-time bookkeeping to crunch the numbers -- cost outlays (fuel, maintenance, fixed costs...), miles, revenue, income -- work on your system for getting there. It will help any owner-operator more quickly evaluate lost opportunities to assess possibilities for change, too. 

Again, beware those emotional reactions

Know the driving force behind your decisions. This is crucial. Is it the desire for independence that moves you? Perhaps the belief that you’ll earn greater income, or the often too-powerful emotion of pride? How about the belief that ownership is the natural leap or progression that every driver is expected to make in trucking?

While it’s impossible to clear out emotion from every decision you make, taking a more analytical approach to the choices before you will serve you better in business than beliefs, suppositions and, yes, those powerful emotions.

They’re hard to keep at bay, that’s for sure. Small business ownership is so much more than the weekly cash-flow crunch -- the reality of a disruption strikes like lightning, and it always seems to occur when you can least afford the problems.

Recently I received a message from a new owner-operator: “I feel so stupid,” he said, asking himself just where all the money went, and not having all the answers. Hearing his honest admission, I realized it was an opportunity for equally honest discussion about just how, and what, to change. 

Join us in the session at MATS for what I hope will be more of the same for all of us. I hope to see you there.

The session at MATS presented by Gary Buchs and ATBS's Mike Hosted, with Todd Dills and others, is slated for 2:45 p.m. in the Pro Talks Theater Friday, March 22, at the expo center in Louisville. 

PIB 2024 session postcardYou can download a pdf of this postcard to share via this link. The newly updated Partners in Business handbook for owners is available now via this link.

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 2022 edition of Partners in Business.
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