Owner-operator evolution in 'Partners in Business' -- on Red Eye Radio's 'Extra Mile' podcast

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Updated Jun 29, 2023

"Owner-op business, start to finish" -- that could be the motto to describe Overdrive's annual coproduction with business services firm ATBS of the Partners in Business manual.

And it was the broader topic of this talk with the great Red Eye Radio host Eric Harley at the Mid-America Trucking Show two months back, on the occasion of the 2023 PIB book's release (now available for download here).

The talk includes myself and longtime Overdrive contributor and owner-operator coach Gary Buchs, along with PIB collaborator Mike Hosted from ATBS. It originally aired in its full form as part of the Red Eye Radio “Extra Mile” podcast extra series. 

Overdrive’s also released a series of short video excerpts of the talk via the YouTube channel and below. 

Howes logoFind more information on Overdrive Radio sponsor Howes' warm-weather Diesel Defender fuel treatment, as well as Howes' well-known winter anti-gel formulas, via HowesProducts.com.It’s a wide-ranging discussion focused on vital aspects of owner-operator business practice, from basic task management from Harley, spinning out the metaphors to put things in perspective; Mike Hosted letting you know what you might well be giving up if you’re not paying close attention to the tax code; and Gary Buchs ever mindful of the absolute necessity of cost/revenue awareness, and real engagement with the numbers in as close to real time as possible.

Hopefully it's an engaging back and forth for some new ideas for the long haul this weekend, this coming week, whatever the case may be. Here's wishing you a great Memorial Day -- take time to honor, to remember. Take a listen: 

[Related: From wildcatting to deregulation, a 'Brief History of Trucking in America']

The 2023 edition of the Overdrive/ATBS owner-operator business book is a whopping 120-plus pages' worth of information running all the way from the basics of business planning before start-up to going independent, growing a small fleet and prepping adequately for a comfortable retirement. Download it via this link.The 2023 edition of the Overdrive/ATBS owner-operator business book is a whopping 120-plus pages' worth of information running all the way from the basics of business planning before start-up to going independent, growing a small fleet and prepping adequately for a comfortable retirement. Download it via this link.


Gary Buchs: Come back to some of those basics of, when you're looking for a load, print your name and put your cell phone number on your bills of lading. Point it out to the customer and say, "Hey, if I pull out of the dock and there's a problem or a question, you call me directly."

Todd Dills: Just a small tactic there you heard at the top from none other than Overdrive's own contributing writer and an independent owner-operator coach now after decades behind the wheel of his own one-truck business. That'd be Gary Buchs. A familiar voice, no doubt, to many in the audience. Bucks was laying out a simple way to be more in tune with what the trucking business truly is at bottom, a customer service business. And as was emphasized earlier this week in Overdrive's work-life balance seminar with past small fleet champ Jason Cowan, and the Innovative Logistics Group owner-operator services firm's Adam Wingfield, anything you can do to strengthen your relationships with those who feed you freight is of the utmost importance in a time like the present.

I'm Todd Dills, and there's a lot more about that and what follows in today's edition of Overdrive Radio, dropping in the podcast feed Friday, May 26th, heading into the Memorial Day weekend. If you're coming to us from the world-famous overdriveonline.com you're probably seeing this on Memorial Day itself. And here's hoping you're able to take the time out to pay respects with memory for the fallen of our nation's long history.

This edition features a talk headed up by the great Eric Harley, longtime Red Eye Radio host, following in the footsteps of radio legend Bill Mack from earlier in his career. Harley invited myself and Gary Bucks, along with our partner and business collaborator Mike Hosted from ATBS, to sit in with him for a round table discussion tied to the new edition of the Partners in Business owner-operator manual. The conversation was recorded at the Mid America Trucking Show just a couple months back, and originally aired in its full form as part of the Red Eye Radio Extra Mile podcast series available at redeyeradioshow.com. Overdrive's also released a series of short video excerpts of the talk via the YouTube channel youtube.com/overdrivemag. You can also find them via the partners in business section at overdriveonline.com. It's a wide ranging talk focused on vital aspects of owner-operator business practice, from basic task management from Harley, spinning out the metaphors to put things in perspective.

Eric Harley: I don't have to climb the Everest, I can break it down into small hills along the way and say, okay, I can take a week or two with us and say, "These are the hours I'm going to dedicate to that."

Todd Dills: ATBS's Mike Hosted letting you know what you might well be giving up if you're not paying very close attention to the tax code.

Mike Hosted: And we look at their past tax return and they didn't even claim the per diem deduction, which is a daily food allowance when you're on the road. It's $69 a day right now. So the average independent contractor's getting 14 to $16,000 in deductions just for their food allowance. And we see that missed constantly.

Todd Dills: And Gary Buchs, of course, ever mindful of the absolute necessity of cost and revenue awareness, real engagement with numbers.

Gary Buchs: Realtime information is a motivator. It has meaning, it's touching those numbers.

Todd Dills: On the other side of our break we'll dive right in and let the tape roll. Hopefully an engaging back-and-forth with long haul this weekend, this coming week, whatever the case may be. Keep tuned.

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Here's Eric Harley, setting things up with an anecdote about the pace of change in trucking, and a question directed to me about the annual continual updating Overdrive does to its start-to-finish business manual for owner-operators, released at MATS on the occasion of the talk. That's Partners in Business of course, which you can find and download free of charge via overdriveonline.com/pib. Here's Eric.

Eric Harley: I've been doing the all-night show for 27 years. And I remember coming on board, cell phones were new and drivers didn't want cell phones because they were like... A lot of drivers were reluctant. "I don't want to be called 24/7 and I don't want to be tracked down 24/7." And then that quickly evolved to everybody having a cell phone, and then smartphones. And then it was, "Oh man, look at this app, look at that app and look at what I can do here." And the great efficiencies that came along with that technology.

When you go back a couple of decades here with Partners in Business, I'm guessing it's the same kind of perspective of that evolution of everything. And it must require some tremendous partners like ATBS in order to get this out in a year. Because if you think about all that can happen in just one year, my simple mind is going to that thinking, "Wow, how did they get it done in a year?" Because there's so many changes. But what has that been like over the years for Overdrive with this manual coming out every year, with all the changes that are constantly in play?

Todd Dills: Yeah, I mean, there's constantly new inputs, new tools. And over that long term, like you mentioned, things have really evolved from the amount of tools that are available. And one of the things we like to do with the manual and with the coverage that we provide daily and at the overdriveonline.com website is help people really know how to use these tools. That's a big thing that I think gets overlooked a lot.

And I know ATBS has, through the years, done much the same with access to their platform. And Mike might be able to talk a little bit about the evolution of the tools that are available through them and the speed at which owner-operators can use their service, and others, to really get a close handle on costs. I think that's one of the biggest issues going over the last year and a little bit more now. And it's just a constant frustration, I know, for folks out there trying to keep a daily handle on how costs are fluctuating for them. Seems obvious when you look up at the fuel pump, but there's a lot more to it, right?

Eric Harley: There is a lot more to it. And that's a great transition. Mike Hosted from ATBS. We go back, man, I remember with the Amens and the advent of ATBS, and this idea of the business side of trucking. And Todd just hit on something, and that is those costs. One of the things that has been preached in the business, and I know you guys talk about this quite a bit, is that cost-per-mile. But man, the fluctuations can be so great. So what do you guys experience there at ATBS and that very fundamental, I guess, starting point of that cost-per-mile? And how to stay on top of being able to calculate that and maintain your knowledge of your cost-per-mile?

Mike Hosted: Yeah, great question. I think we've evolved a lot in terms of the speed, as Todd had mentioned, in getting that information to owner-operators. I think there are a number of owner-operators that don't even know their cost-per-mile, and really need to get a handle on it because it's such an important tool when you are trying to decide which load to take or how you're going to get home and cover your fixed costs and things like that. So you really need to understand it, and really starting day one. Or starting over if you're an experienced owner-operator now, and really getting a budget in place to say, "What are my fixed costs per day? But most importantly, what are my costs per mile?"

So we've made it very easy with an app, with technology, to just get us information and we can spit it back to you in a profit-and-loss statement in real time almost. Almost a business day, so you don't have to worry about it. When I started at ATBS almost 15 years ago, we would get boxes of receipts and settlement statements and things like that, and then we would have to input it all, turn it around and then print a profit-and-loss statement and mail it to somebody that's out on the road. Today you take a picture of something on our app, usually the next business day we have it posted on your profit-and-loss statement. So it's updated realtime so you can really track and monitor your changing cost-per-mile, different variables like that, so you can change your business overnight and make decisions overnight instead of in arrears.

Eric Harley: You know, that's part of the advancement of technology that I talked about. 'Cause I think I was talking to Matt Amen years ago about that process of keeping your receipts, keeping those paper receipts. And obviously if you're still getting those paper receipts that's a critical part of it, but now there's so much to that about, in technology, being able to integrate even the paper receipts into that technology and keep track of it.

One thing I've learned about keeping receipts is by the time it comes around to tax time, even if you're filing quarterly, some of the ink on those receipts will fade. So the great benefit from that technology is being able to upload those receipts if you're using those paper receipts, and being able to integrate that into the technology to make sure you're keeping track of it. Through ATBS, have you seen those practices improve with owner-operators out there, in terms of tracking their costs along the way?

Mike Hosted: We have, definitely. It's something that we push every day for our clients, to make sure that they're checking on that. We monitor it, we reach out, we do everything we can. But yes, when we put out our app, gosh, it's been five years ago now. When we put it out it was a slow integration, similar to cell phones like we were talking about, where people were reluctant to change what they're doing. It's what they're used to. And so when we started we maybe got 2% of paperwork through the app. Now it's almost 98%. So it's completely reversed where, hey, just take a picture and get it over with. That way you don't lose it. Like you said, the ink fades. If you lose it we can't count it, so let's get it over with. And we've really got that built into the process now, like you said, similar to cell phones where it's just second nature.

Eric Harley: Absolutely. And that's it, developing those practices, those habits of getting it. I had a boss one time that said, "Well I've got the touch-it-once theory, and I put that into practice. And if something comes across my desk I'm going to deal with it now, get it out of the way, make sure that it's handled and then move on. That way that pile on my desk doesn't accumulate." But developing those practices along the way is something that is critical to that. Developing new habits, is that happening, you think, overall at a greater level with owner-operators today?

Mike Hosted: I believe so, yes. I would say overall, there's still some that struggle with organizational skills, like any part of life.

Eric Harley: I'm raising my hand right now, yeah.

Mike Hosted: But again, it's just constantly reminding yourself and having that tool available to do it. So if you just do it seven, eight days in a row, then it's just second nature and you don't even think about it anymore. Similar to tracking your per diem days and things like that that are important for owner-operators, those are important deductions and important things to track and have account of because at the end of the year we need that number. And if it's already done, it's done.

Eric Harley: It's done. Absolutely. Gary Buchs, you are an owner-operator coach, you're a contributor to Overdrive. So your experience, first of all, give us some background. You were an owner-operator at one time?

Gary Buchs: Yes, I was an owner-operator leased with Landstar 17 years, and very proud of the success and the plan... Retired as planned, successfully. Transitioned into what I'm doing now because I've done so much mentoring, and it's moved beyond mentoring as you call it. And just the great humbling opportunity through Overdrive to be asked to contribute to business writing, and ideas and simple to use practices. Behavioral things.

Eric Harley: Yeah. You hit something. And when you said retired as planned, planning requires developing those practices and having the discipline to maintain those practices.

Gary Buchs: It's hard to maintain a plan. It's hard. One of the things we find a lot, and I find this as I get older, we'll say things like, "Well, you need a budget. You need..." It's easy to say. "You need to save." It's easy to say, it's hard to practice. So how do you develop those practices? And what I've found are some tools through working with them through simulation, interactive things where they... I don't tell people how to run their business, I guide them and I have them do the practices back to me.

Like on these apps. There are a lot of people that still struggle. They don't understand how that works. I get on with them and I show them firsthand. I've had people come to me and say, "I bought a bookkeeping program, I don't even know how to use it and I can't get anybody to teach me." So that's what I do is that kind of thing.

Eric Harley: Yeah, okay. You just hit on something. Those are the things that... At times I'll find something, I'll come across it and the ad looks great and it's like, "Okay, this is useful in this way." And then I'll get it and then it'll be delivered to my house. And then I open it out of the box and then I'm like, "Oh, okay. I'm not sure about this." Now I know that if I walk through, and my wife will always tell me, "Well you could start by reading the instructions," but eh. But honestly and seriously, I kind of feel intimidated in implementing that, whatever, if it's a device or a program, whatever it is. And that level of intimidation then brings on that procrastination. And I'm guessing that's what you're finding with a lot of owner-operators.

Gary Buchs: Exactly, they give up. What you're experiencing is the IKEA effect. You buy... And there are a number of people who have businesses now that will put together your IKEA purchase, because people try to do it, they don't know how. So they hire someone to put it together.

That's very close to what I do. People ask me, "Well how many clients do you have?" I said, "I focus on quality, not quantity." And they graduate through. I don't want too many. I want to help them move beyond needing what we do, to be self-sustaining, that independent owner that they want to become. One of the things is we have to be careful with technology. We love technology, it's easy, but when we lose focus, when we don't touch the numbers, as I call it, sometimes we don't know what the numbers are as well because we haven't had that interaction. It's like talking to someone on the phone versus a Zoom versus in person shaking their hand, for example. So yeah.

Todd Dills: I have an example of something that Gary just talked about, and it relates right back to the cost evaluation, basically. And the notion of touching the numbers that you're dealing with and things of that nature. And the apps are great, speed is great, assistance with programs like ATBS, it's great. But it doesn't always have to be that complicated.

We ran a story about our Trucker of the Month for January. His name's Kelvin Schmidt based in Minnesota. Anyway, he analyzes his profit and loss per every trip, but it's not a profit-and-loss statement necessarily. All it is is a series of boxes on the back of a piece of notebook papers that shows all of its costs minus... or all of his revenue for that trip and his miles and all of his costs, and then computes the cost per mile for everything that he spent. And it shows his fixed costs as well. But he's got folders full of these things and he uses when he's working with his accountant later. But it doesn't have to be snazzy, it's not rocket science really. But by writing these things down he feels... I mean, he talked about it this way. He feels like he makes it a part of his daily life. It's just his thing.

Eric Harley: Yeah. Well okay, that makes a lot of sense because they always say, "If you want to remember something, write it down." But what you're doing is you're going through that process of, first of all, that very basic training that we learn early on in life, of writing. And so you're engaging so many motor skills and everything else, but that process of, "All right, I'm going to make these notes." And I would equate it to my type of organization. You look at it and it's not going to be the neatest. And so if you have OCD about organization, don't look at my pile. But it is organized in my fashion and I can go straight to whatever it is you're looking for. And those are the things, but because you've... And he's created his own process.

One of the things that I learned, I don't know, years ago, and I learned it from a nephew actually who's in business, very successful, and he said, "I have to develop a process for everything." And so that process is, "All right, if I need to do something..." It's just like a project around the home. Grab the tools. What tools am I going to need? All right, maybe I need to make the list. Maybe I need to actually write it down, not just go into my tool closet and grab things. Write it down, what am I going to need? And then lay them out and make sure they're all here, and then start the project. And accomplishing that, whatever you're going to do, is going to be much smoother than running back and forth to the tool closet over and over again.

That process part of it has been, I think, critical for some of the things that I practice in any of the side businesses that my wife and I have. And also, again, just my daily routine for this job. And I think that's part of it. And those are the things that I think, Gary, that we can all benefit from. I mean, I'm not perfect at it. I learned it much later in life than probably a lot of people. Again, my nephew shared it with me.

Gary Buchs: I'll give you a quick example of something that I find. You find a lot of truckers, they're behind on bookkeeping. Whether they don't send it in or they're trying to do it in a different system than ATBS or whatever. And they'll say, "I got to catch up my bookkeeping." What I've learned is, and this is through my own personal experience, playing catch up doesn't work real well because what do we do when we catch up? We go back to, "Man, I got to do last January." Okay, you do last January. Does that really give you anything you can use today, this week in your truck? Not really.

So what I teach them is do last week first and work backwards in your bookkeeping, rather than catch up from the oldest work. And then when you complete this week you do last week. Then you go back where you left off and you do another. Set an example of do three weeks or four weeks at a time maybe. And make those entries or get those in. If you do it that way you gain a reward psychologically because you are looking at current numbers, if that makes sense. Like Mike talked about the realtime... Realtime information is a motivator. It has meaning, it's touching those numbers. And that's a big, big part of the problem. So there's a business tip, whatever you want to call it, for someone. If they're struggling with the motivation, that's a self-motivating tool.

Eric Harley: Sure. And in going through that, too, one thing that I've learned is that I don't have to climb the Everest. I can break it down into small hills along the way and say, okay, I can take a week or two with this and say, "These are the hours I'm going to dedicate to that." And then do it like it's my job, because it really is. But at my job I'm expected to show up on time.

So then I'm going to dedicate some time to it. When am I going to do that? What times are best? When am I best suited for that and when is my mindset best in the day? All right, 10:00 AM on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I'm going to go into the home office, I'm going to sit down and these are the steps I'm going to take on each day. That you don't have to climb that Everest, because I think that's part of the procrastination is that it does grow into an Everest in your mind. It's not really an Everest 'cause you can get it done, but it becomes something where people put it off because it's getting bigger and bigger.

Gary Buchs: You get that anxiety and that's a shutdown effect.

Eric Harley: Yep. Right. Yep. And that that creates the bigger mountain to climb, the bigger hurdle. And one thing, Mike, I know that you folks at ATBS see, and that is the cost-benefit analysis, return on investment ideas. But there are so many things here that we talk about, that if you're not taking advantage of all of it and you're not, again, starting with your cost-per-mile, but going on also to knowing the tax code. I mean, my gosh. I mean, I don't know how many thousands, hundreds of thousands of pages there are in tax code. But I mean, truckers should know the benefits of having that knowledge. And it's just like negotiating rates, it's just like anything else. When you are in business you need to know what those advantages are.

What can you share with drivers from an ATBS standpoint on that part of it, of being knowledgeable about those outside items like tax code and what you can benefit from?

Mike Hosted: Yeah, great question. That's something that we do every day, is put out content to help drivers stay aware of what's happening with current tax code. We see so often that owner-operators go to someone local, their friend, their spouse, who might not know anything about the trucking industry. And as you said, especially over the last few years, let's call it the COVID era, there's been many stimulus packages, benefits that you could get, changes to per diem, changes in filing days, things of that nature that are almost impossible to keep up with. I mean, it's all we do and it's still hard for us to keep up with. And so you just have to have that knowledge base or that resource, which we can be for you, to make sure that you're keeping up with these changes daily, weekly. When it comes out, you need to understand it.

I'll give you a good example is the per diem deduction. We see so many new clients that went to an H and R Block or a Jackson Hewitt, and we look at their past tax return and they didn't even claim the diem deduction, which is a daily food allowance when you're on the road. It's $69 a day right now. So the average independent contractor's getting 14 to $16,000 in deductions just for their food allowance. And we see that missed constantly.

Eric Harley: Wow. Wow. And again, when you're taking advantage of those deductions, that is money in your pocket. That's money you are keeping in your business. And you hear it all the time. I know you folks hear it, but trucking is that feast or famine thing. But with the planning it doesn't have to be feast or famine. You can plan because you know the famine's coming back around, that you stock up your business pantry, I guess, to make sure that, as you're taking advantage of all of those benefits and that knowledge, that you are prepared for those leaner times in trucking, which are inevitable. They come around.

Mike Hosted: They are. What we've seen, and especially for newer owner-operators that came in during the COVID stimulus freight boom I would call it, where freight was on fire for two years, the longest we've ever seen it be on fire, the highest rates we've ever seen. So people came in to being an owner-operator during that boom time, and that's all they ever knew, and that's how they think things have always been. But like the economy, like everything, it's a very cyclical business. And so we've seen a lot of bad habits come out of that great time, where people aren't looking at their numbers because they didn't have to. Things were so good they didn't have to care about their cost-per-mile, they didn't have to care about their fuel mileage. And now they do, but they never learned how to do it.

Eric Harley: Yeah, yeah. Todd, in putting together Partners in Business, is there anything in this edition this year or in recent years that stands out to you? As Overdrive has covered the industry for so many years and the changes in the industry, is there anything that stands out with that owner-operator and some of those stories that you guys hear in covering those stories, but also as it relates to the focus in Partners in Business, is there anything in particular that stands out about today's owner-operator?

Todd Dills: Well, in terms of the content that's in the manual I think a lot of what Mike was just talking about is in there. And we have a full chapter on understanding fuel costs, how to improve them, myriad ways to do that, of course. And in terms of in recent times, a lot of what we utilized to update the manual this year, it runs the gamut, really. I mean, it's hard to...

Eric Harley: Pin down one thing.

Todd Dills: It's hard to pin down one thing. We've got a big new section on spotting the double brokers that work the load boards, which over the last year or so there's been just an explosion of it. And that's an interesting issue. It's not one that everyone contends with, but...

Eric Harley: Right, but it does come up every once in a while.

Todd Dills: Oh yeah, it comes up a good bit for sure. And it's easier for carriers to miss it than it is for brokers who are always on these boards and they see it happening in real time. But anyway, that's a side issue.

I guess today's owner-operator, I would agree with what Mike said, a lot of new people in the business and it's getting to be kind of a tough time particularly for them. And I mean, we just really hope that folks that are particularly new who haven't taken advantage of this resource would do so, and then feel free to contact us anytime for any questions that anybody has. If I can't answer something I can shoot something to Mike, I can shoot it to Gary. I've got tons of other people that I can send you to. But seriously though, that's a principle message I would have for anybody listening to this, for sure.

Eric Harley: Right. Take advantage of everything that's available to you.

Todd Dills: Yeah. This is a free resource.

Eric Harley: Exactly. And those are the things... Because I think especially as we sit here at the Mid America Trucking Show, I've said for years, drivers, if you can, if you can afford it, stay all three days, spend some quality time. First thing you do is grab a bag and go get the freebies, take those out to your truck and then come back in. Sit in on the seminars. And then go to a booth and ask a question. Find somebody that can answer your question. And those are the things that the free information that that's out there will help you make those better decisions along the way.

Because if you've got a million questions then that could get back to the very simple thing of writing them down. I'm getting to where I'm doing that now. Okay, I want to write down some bullet points of things that I'm curious about, if I am doing an interview or anything like that. But if you've got those questions, write them down, take them with you and approach that at a show like this. But at any time, there's so much availability of that kind of information, especially with technology. It's easy to find and easy to get those answers.

Gary, if you're talking to an owner-operator today, 'cause Todd touched on it, we are in leaner times right now. The industry has seen much better. We came out of a very hot pandemic era for the trucking industry. And so there's a lot that is relative, but also there's a lot that is these headwinds that we're facing, inflation, fuel prices and everything in between. How do we prepare for that storm on a daily basis? What do we need to do in our operation?

Gary Buchs: That's great. Here's what I suggest, and I give it as suggestions because you have to modify it to your situation. First of all, we tend to all want to rush the process. We want to speed things up, especially with technology. You have to take time, identify what is real, what is true. It's that fixed cost we talk about. Know what's real, what's true, what are you speculating on?

My little grandson who's 11, he said, "I study in algebra." I said, "What's algebra?" He says, "Oh, grandpa, that's when you're searching for a number that you don't know exists." And I go, "Man, that's trucking if I ever heard anything." And that's what we do. But you begin to identify that, those lists of what's true, what are you speculating on? What's important and what's critical?

But I wrote an article about... And I did some research and I read a book, and it talked about it takes 10,000 hours to become a world expert. And they studied people that became pro athletes or musicians or writers, and the amount of time. And I think about when we come into this business, it's like, you go to driving school, you go with a trainer then you get in a truck, you might drive for six months and then they say, "Hey, lease a truck. You're an owner." That isn't even close to 10,000 hours.

And here's the other part, 10,000 hours of doing what? Driving or business? Business is separate from driving. You got to change hats, folks. The business, when you shut that key off, learn to use that time as a business asset and a personal asset. Stop worrying about what the ELD does, it just records you. That time off is an asset that you can use to do the things that ATBS, Mike's crew, they support you if you use their services. But we see people paying for services but not taking advantage of the service. And that's part of what I'm trying to help encourage and teach people, to help Mike and the owner. Because Mike's there to help you if you'll let him. So...

Eric Harley: Mike, it was like Gary was just reading my mind because that was going to be basically my transition to you. And that is, you guys offer so much at ATBS, and over the years have developed and progressed along with that technology. The app is out there, and you were talking about now the functionality of that app and how many users, percentage wise, are creating those great practices and habits every single day. But it does require taking advantage of that so that you can leverage ATBS in the best possible way.

And so what would you add to what Gary was just talking about, in making sure that you do take full advantage of the offerings of an ATBs?

Mike Hosted: Yeah. Yeah, great question. Honestly, it's like Gary said, it's repetition. So when you sign on with ATBS you get your own business consultant that's there just to help you understand those type of deals. Just like Gary does, maybe not on the crazy scale that Gary uses, because Gary is so in the weeds. We are too, and we are there to help. And so that consultant can help you on a limited basis. So when you get your P and L each month, or each week when you see it update, or each day when you see it update, that consultant is there for you to talk about it with, to look at the numbers to help you understand it. And so our best clients, the ones that really succeed and move up in the world and add trucks, and get it to corporation and have payroll and things like that, they start as a first-day trucking company and they do call in, they do ask those questions. And they review it with somebody who understands it, because you don't understand it when you first start. It looks like hieroglyphics.

Eric Harley: Like algebra to me.

Mike Hosted: Yeah, exactly. And so the people that call and the people that use the resources and look at those numbers, if you do that for six months, a year, and get help, next thing you know you're reading it by yourself and you didn't even realize it. And you know what's going on a daily basis.

Eric Harley: And it's exactly what Gary touched on, the 10,000 hours. Because one thing he also did is divide that. All right, 10,000 hours on which side of it? And we've been talking for years, and with help from you guys and Overdrive, and talking about, all right, the business side of trucking. But those are two different jobs, two different roles that go into the same operation. And you've got to be able to wear both hats. But with those practices along the way, you also hit on something there. And that is, as you are doing that more and more you understand then... Next thing you know you've been using the app for five years and you've been doing this part of it for five years. And you changed those habits five years ago, and now all of a sudden you've got that knowledge. Not just the practices, but you've got that experience in knowing what you're looking at, in knowing the benefit of taking that and parlaying that into, again, a profitable business.

Todd Dills: And again, the important part of that too, or an important part of that, is just knowing... Once you've got that down you develop the ability to adjust and to know when you really need to. That's one of the things that a lot of the folks that have been doing this for a long time, as owners or moving up, adding trucks, doing things like this, that's one of the things they always stress. It's like, whether it's a crisis or whether it's just noticing something that has changed in a small way, it's knowing what to do and when to do it, and just following through successfully and adjusting.

Eric Harley: Yeah. You know, I started broadcasting at the age of 18 right out of high school. And again, I try and keep my open mind of, "All right, what is it I'm not learning? What am I not practicing in what I'm doing? What are the processes that I'm not implementing that could help me? Is there time for a change in that process?" And to add on what you were saying, and I actually went through that, it was a few years ago, but I was filling in at our flagship station as a morning anchor. And things move very quickly on morning shows. On the all night show we get some time to hang out, it's a lot like a podcast, but on a morning show it's very quick and stories are coming across and everything else. And there was just this, I would say, logistical issue that I was having in balancing my sources of information that we follow and having them readily available in front of me

So I thought right then and there, it was just one moment that I had on the air, and then right then and there I redeveloped the process. And that's just the way my mind thinks. And okay, now my process is going to be this and the laptop is going to be over here, the PC's going to be over here and my hard copy is going to be right in front of me and organized. So it was about that reorganization. And again, this is something that I'm learning much later in my career, probably would've helped me years ago, but I think that's part of it too. And I would say, Gary, that one of the lessons that I've learned and something I would tell others, don't believe you can't learn those new tricks because those new tricks can be the key.

Gary Buchs: Yeah. Curiosity is a wonderful... Think like a grade school child. I have a six-year-old granddaughter. Think like her. And one of the things that will really help people is, find yourself an accountability partner. We all have someone in our life that holds us accountable. Mine's my wife, I guarantee it.

Eric Harley: Yeah, amen to that.

Gary Buchs: But in business, often the spouse is not the best accountability partner for your business. You need someone who's going to be honest with you. I describe what I do as, I'm a sheep dog, I'll guide you. The only time I'm going to try to really stop you is if you're going to get eaten by the wolf. I'm going to...

Eric Harley: Step in front of you.

Gary Buchs: I'm going to step in front of you. But I'm going to let you learn. I'm going to guide you to try to help you not hurt yourself. But if we protect people too much in this business as they learn, they don't learn and they revert backwards. And that's part of what happens so often.

We had the great event here the last couple years, the profits were so great. Now it's like, "Shoot, I got to work now to get a load. I don't know how to get a customer." I described to you some owners yesterday, some tips how to go in or how... I said, "Who have you hauled for repeatedly? Are you contacting them?" "Well no." I go, "Why not? Why aren't you contacting the people you've worked with?"

Eric Harley: Okay. Let's stop and talk to that owner-operator, because it was last summer I was at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree. And I walked up on a driver that I know, Tony Snow, and he had just booked a load and was worried about fuel prices 'cause he was trying to factor everything in. And he just got off the phone as I was walking up to him. "Man, I was trying to book a load, and with fuel prices..." And he's trying to work everything out there. And I felt so helpless for him, but I could see that he was like, "All right, man, it's tough booking that."

So if you're talking to an owner-operator in these lean times of booking that load, you started with something, those relationships you've built already. Those are people that trust you, they've worked with you before. You have somewhat of a reputation with them. What else would you add to that? Where do they go next? What do they need to do in terms of finding those loads, finding that freight in those lean times?

Gary Buchs: It begins with best practices on customer service. We are in the customer service business. We're not in the driving business, we're not in the driving fast business. We are in it to make a profit and a return for our families. And so when we go into a customer, don't be the problem, be the solution to their problem. Help them recognize that. When they have other truckers there that are causing trouble, when you get a chance to check in, say, "Look, it looks like you're having a rough day. Let me know how I can help you."

Eric Harley: That's a great way to start. Right there, a great phrase to use. "How can I help you?"

Gary Buchs: Here's another thing, never ever mention to a customer, "Hey, can you hurry up? I got to get to another customer." They will slow down on you. They aren't worried about your next customer, they want you to be worried about them. You never mention your next load. I've had them say, I'll be in the waiting room and they'll go... grumbling about waiting. And the clerk could hear us and I said, "Well I'm not really worried, I'm getting $100 an hour to sit here." The clerk would go like that. 15 minutes later they'd have me in a door out of there 'cause they didn't want me to get $100 an hour.

Now, whether I got 100 or not, they didn't know. But I knew how to work the system. But I often did get $100 an hour, being an owner I negotiated that ahead of time. That's the thing. All these things factor in. You price your whole day on the load. You don't just price the mile because you don't know what's going to happen after that. You may have to sit the rest of the day. You've got to pay for the whole day.

But we come back to some of those basics of, when you're looking for a load, print your name and put your cell phone number on your bills of lading. Point it out to the customer and say, "Hey, if I pull out of the dock and there's a problem or a question, you call me directly." I've been in the parking lot, had them call and say, "We forgot a pallet. Where are you?" Said, "Well I'm right outside." "Oh my gosh." It was maybe 30 minutes but I was still getting ready to go. If we wouldn't have still been there, if they wouldn't have had my number, they would've had to get an expedite. It would've cost them thousands of dollars to complete that load. I mean, those little things they remember.

Eric Harley: Yeah. Wow. This is just a amazing to think about. And Todd, Gary hit something and that's the customer service part of it. Because drivers deal with so much on the road. I mean, the traffic, maybe any equipment issues, so many things on a day-to-day basis. But treating that customer in that moment like they're the only customer, and servicing that, we call it super-serving your customer, is something that is a real key in the industry, I think. And the best of them practice that every day.

Todd Dills: Yeah. And it can be difficult to muster the will to...

Eric Harley: Yes, and the patience.

Todd Dills: Yeah, and the patience to sometimes really commit to that. But that whole conversation there that you guys were having made me think of another icebreaker for guys that have contacts with logistics managers or brokers. Logistics managers, shippers I mean. Or brokers, this can work too. But this is one from owner-operator Henry Albert, who I think most of the people in here already know. He and I go back a long ways, but back in probably around the time I met him in 2007 he said, "One thing I actually..." And I actually did this, but I always tell this to somebody. If you want to go after a direct customer, or you can do this with your broker as well, just ask them what their toughest load to cover is. Ask them what nobody in their right mind ever wants to do for them. And there's a chance that you can, and if you can you're going to have that guy for life. So that's just one little thing that came to mind when I was thinking about it and...

Eric Harley: Yeah. But I love that. And having talked to Henry so many times over the years, that is truly a Henry Albert approach.

Todd Dills: And that's service, right?

Eric Harley: Yeah, that's it. Because Gary, it would be so easy... And there are so many things I know that test the patience. I was just having a conversation with my wife saying, "I'm working on my patience skills." After 32 years plus marriage, and it wasn't even anything involving her. She was just hearing me go, "Blah-blah-blah," and moan and groan about something. But with drivers, I know that at times you do get impatient because things aren't going as planned or whatever. But if we do change that, if we make a positive move in a positive direction in our mindset and say, "All right, this is the way I'm going to deal with this. I'm going to lean into it. I can't change anything about what's going on right now, so let me see if I can change it for the better and ask them, "Hey, what do you need? Can I help you out here? Just let me know.""

Gary Buchs: It's that first-day-on-the-job attitude. If you ever watch, I would go to a lot of orientations in the Landstar System, for example, and I would sit in and evaluate for them. And when people are new to a company they want to help everybody. They don't complain about anything, they want to do everything they can to be liked. A month later they're growling and...

But here's the thing to remember, if you're an owner, every time you finish a load you're fired. You're unemployed. If you are an independent or a lease operator picking your own loads, you have to get rehired. And that is a big part of, again, this mindset. That's that 10,000 hours of things we talk about. There are so many and you don't run across them every day. That's the other part. So you got to work on those habits of recognition when they trigger you to what to do. You got to know the right responses when you're triggered.

Eric Harley: Yeah. One thing that I hear from drivers, and I know Todd, Mike, Gary, you've all heard it, and from drivers we get that feedback. We're kind of the sounding board a lot. But it's, "I want to be treated as a person, not a number." I think if we take that on then we have to have that practice in how we treat others, that if there's somebody there and they're struggling, and maybe they're impatient because something's going on there. But if we can offer that solution, if we can be the solution, it's like you said, Todd, friends for life. And once you do that then they're going to be thinking of you in that way and they're going to look to you for that solution.

Mike Hosted: Yeah. And that's what I think and how I'm going to teach my kids is, you have to be the bigger person in every instance. You think about driving, you're stuck in traffic. You're getting cut off by cars constantly. It takes you all day to get to somewhere that should have taken you half the day. You get to the shipper and there's not enough staff there in the post-pandemic world, so you're sitting there waiting for staff to unload you. Not only that but they won't let you in to use the bathroom, right? And so there's so many trigger points along the way where it's like, "I am being treated terribly," but you have to be the bigger person and deliver that customer service like we've been talking about. Because you've been beat up the whole way, but you still have to be the bigger person.

Eric Harley: Yeah. And I think we could put Gary and we could put Henry Albert in this category of those guys that, man, those guys are... Oh, he'll do anything for you. That guy's a lovely guy, man. He's always got a great attitude. If your customer is thinking of you that way you're at the top of their list, every day, all day. That's what it's all about.

Gentlemen, this has been just a tremendous honor to have you all here in this room to do this podcast. We want to thank Shell Rotella for making this podcast possible, and Overdrive for all that they do. And ATBS, thank you guys for being so generous with your time over the years and once again here, Mike, because it is critical.

One of the things that is the hardest thing to hear from a driver, and I do remember it was right around '99, 2000, we were starting to get calls about drivers having to park their truck. They couldn't afford the spike in fuel. And things were different back then, but it was like, going from $1.29 to $1.59. And wow, to have $1.59 again would be just a dream. But that jump at that time was crippling for them. And it just became, I think, something that was personal for me, thinking about both my of my grandfathers, thinking about my dad and others, and what it's like to be out there on the road. And then applying it to a small business owner for owner-operators, and knowing that, my gosh, there's this whole other side to it that is absolutely critical. So I think these conversations are critical. I'd love to do this again sometime, but I want to thank you all for being here.

Todd Dills: And a big thanks to you, Eric, for having us. It's the great Eric Harley, everyone. Find the Red Eye Radio Extra Mile podcast via redeyeradioshow.com. And like I said at the top, catch a bevy of short videos from this talk via a playlist on our YouTube channel. I'll post a link to it in the show notes and in the post that houses the podcast at the world-famous overdriveonline.com, when it goes live Memorial Day, Monday, May 29th, 2023.

Thanks to the Howes Company for their support of Overdrive Radio. You can find them at Howes, that's H-O-W-E-S, howesproducts.com. Any feedback for us? Leave a message on our podcast line at 615-852-8530. Always love to hear from you.

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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