How to not just survive, but thrive, through the bottom of the freight markets

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Updated Nov 28, 2023

"If you do what you've always done, you will only get what you've always gotten." --Kevin Rutherford

Reluctance to change has been the downfall of many a life, and many a business. Small fleets and owner-operators aren’t exempt, of course. If you recognize the name after the quote above, you’re probably not alone among Overdrive Radio listeners and Overdrive readers who’ve taken motivation from Kevin Rutherford in the past. Rutherford's a past contributor to Overdrive who found his particular, singular talent for motivating and helping owner-operators in part through appearances in early installments of the Partners in Business seminar series at the Mid-America Trucking Show and, later, the Great American Trucking Show -- he tells that story in part in this week's podcast, featuring parts of his keynote address to attendees of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies' annual conference early this month. 

Overdrive Radio's sponsor is Howes, longtime provider of fuel treatments like its Howes Diesel Treat anti-gel and Lifeline rescue treatment to get your ready for winter, likewise its all-weather Diesel Defender, among other products.Overdrive Radio's sponsor is Howes, longtime provider of fuel treatments like its Howes Diesel Treat anti-gel and Lifeline rescue treatment to get your ready for winter, likewise its all-weather Diesel Defender, among other products.Rutherford’s done quite a lot over the years. In addition to speaking engagements past and more recent, he hosted a satellite radio program, and built a fitness and wellness coaching program for truckers. He's been a writer, owner-operator and a business advice man in a variety of venues.

[Related: How the Small Fleet Champs beat the down market in 2023]

But he started back in the 1980s just like so many here: one man, with one truck, and an ability to learn from mistakes. He tells that story, too, here. His address at NASTC walked conference attendees through a plan to solidify the business base to take advantage of opportunities at the markets' bottom, and to excel for long-term trucking at the top.

The basic steps of the plan sound simple. 

  1. Get your mind-set right. Don't fall into the trap of blaming all of your difficulties on things you don't have control over.
  2. Get healthy. Healthy people have 100 wishes, possibilities in front of them, Rutherford said. The unhealthy have only one -- to get healthy.
  3. Build a winning team. Down to your outside service providers -- mechanics, accountant -- and customers. 
  4. Know your numbers inside and out.
  5. Develop a customer-driven mentality. "It just doesn’t exist down at the bottom of our industry," said Rutherford. The secret to success in business? "Serve your customer better" than the competition, simply, he added. 
  6. Network more than you do currently.
  7. Never stop learning. Rutherford invoked this old adage of sorts. If you give me four hours to cut down a big tree, I'll spend three of them sharpening the ax. In the learning context, he said, "You’re the ax."
  8. Finally, give back. 

    Overdrive Radio logoSubscribe to the podcast on your listening platform of choice for early access to the weekly Overdrive Radio series -- it drops typically every Friday to the feed and follows here at and in Overdrive's Youtube and Facebook feeds the following week. You can subscribe for first access via Apple and Google podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn, most anywhere you listen.Though it all may be simple-sounding indeed, it's plenty complicated and variable in the execution. And Rutherford's a real pro at delivering it and making any trucking business owner think hard about how, and why, you do what you do.

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    [Related: 15 ways to eliminate trucking's 'parasitic costs' and save, build value as an owner-operator]

    Bonus: How the give-back example of Small Fleet Champ and Butterfly Xpress owner Bill Barhite changed Kevin Rutherford’s speech that night at NASTC.

    Our Small Fleet Champ awards presentation preceded Rutherford's address, and when Barhite and Rutherford spoke briefly before the keynote, Barhite revealed the influence Rutherford had on his own business, which he now works hard to impart to the owner-operators leased to Butterfly Xpress. "Bill and his crew" Rutherford held up as an example of an owner-operator who "learned something," then "taught it to somebody else. That’s how we make this industry better than we found it."

    [Related: The top 5 diesel fault codes, and emissions issues you can do something about

    Find more information on the ins and out of trucking business, including savings/cost-reduction strategies, in the Overdrive/ATBS-coproduced "Partners in Business" manual for new and established owner-operators, a comprehensive guide to running a small trucking business. Click here to download the 2023 edition of the Partners in Business manual free of charge. 


    Kevin Rutherford: If you do what you've always done, you will only get what you've always gotten.

    Todd Dills: Reticence to change has been the downfall of many a life. And many a business, small fleets and owner operators aren't exempt, of course. if you recognize the voice up top, you're probably not alone among Overdrive Radio listeners who've taken motivation from it in the past. It was Kevin Rutherford, longtime radio host and the past contributor to Overdrive who found his particular, singular talent for motivating and helping owner-operators in part through decades-past appearances in our early Partners in Business seminars at the Mid-America Trucking Show. That all predated my time here at the magazine. And since, Rutherford's been a lot -- radio host, fitness and wellness coach, owner operator business coach, no doubt, but he started back in the 1980s like so many here, one man with one truck and an ability to learn from mistakes made.

    I'm Todd Dills, and today on the Overdrive Radio podcast we'll drop into Rutherford's story. He told it several weeks back now to attendees of the great National Association of Small Trucking Companies' annual conference here in Nashville as part of his keynote address following a variety of evening events including our Small Fleet Champ final round. Rutherford's mission that particular evening?

    Kevin Rutherford: My plan in the journey is how you not only survive the bottom of the freight market, but how you thrive and how you find the opportunities.

    Todd Dills: He echoed owner-operator Matthew Karr whom regular readers will know is among this year's contenders for Overdrive's 2023 Trucker of the Year award. Among advice for owners considering getting into business with authority, he reckoned they would do well to approach it like he's been doing just this year. After a great year leased in 2022, he extend the same advice to drivers thinking of buying the first truck too. A kind of strike when the market's cold approach as Karr put it. If you want to buy a truck and you want to get started as an owner-operator, do it when times are bad. Now things have slowed down a bit, interest rates are going up. If you can make it in slow times, it'll really flourish when cycles turn upward, here's how rougher put it.

    Kevin Rutherford: The best opportunities are always at the bottom, but you've got to be ready for them. You've got to be prepared.

    Todd Dills: So on the other side of a break, we'll hear how the give-back example of Small Fleet Champ and Butterfly Xpress Owner Bill Barhite changed Kevin Rutherford's speech that night at NASTC and Rutherford's simple sounding yet plenty complicated and variable in the execution, no doubt. ... Rutherford's plan for positioning at the bottom to take advantage of opportunities to excel for long-term trucking at the top. Keep tuned.

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    Todd Dills: And that's H-O-W-E-S Now onto Rutherford from the NASTC stage again, just after we recognized K&D Transport, Wallace and Sons Transport, LNL Trucking, and most importantly for what you're about to hear, owner Bill Barhite of Colorado headquartered Butterfly Xpress winner in our three to 10 truck category this year.

    Kevin Rutherford: Good evening you beautiful bunch of FOKRs, and welcome to my world. I promise I didn't just call you a bad name. We refer to our customers as our tribe. One of our tribe members came up with that. It's FOKR stands for Friends of Kevin Rutherford.

    I can't believe how blessed I am to have customers that think that way. They're not customers. They really are part of our family and part of our tribe. I had an open all worked out and I was out wandering around up front trying to work it out in my head. I'm always nervous before I get up on stage. Believe it or not, my biggest fear in life is public speaking. I have no idea how I spent so much time on stage while I was out there, Bill Barhite and his crew walked out, winner of the Small Fleet award, and I shook his hand and congratulated him and he said, you probably don't remember me, but I called your show a long time ago. Dave was saying 15 hours of radio a week for 15 or 16 years. I've spent a lot of time talking to drivers owner-operators.

    And he said, I really bugged you a lot at the time. He said, I had one truck that I paid $4,000 for and I bugged you and it's never a bother. And then he said something that changed my whole open. He said, you taught me how to do this and I hear that a lot, but it always has an impact and especially at a time like this, I'm glad that I was a small part of that and now Bill pays that forward by teaching his owner-operators how to be better at business. This doesn't get any better than that. That's how we improve this industry and I feel like I owe a lot to this industry. It's really been my whole life. Third generation owner-operator. My grandfather was an operator when the seat was a wooden bench and you measured a trip from the east coast to the west coast in weeks, not hours, there weren't any interstates, there weren't any truck stops.

    My grandfather was leased to a moving company. My father started driving a milk truck when he was 13. That's all he ever did in his life. But what I watched growing up was I watched my father struggle. He had a ninth grade education and he loved to work on things and he loved trucks, so he wanted to own trucks, just to own trucks, not to own a business. And he really struggled with the business side of it. What I watched growing up was I watched my father take a union driving job that he hated. He loved to drive, he hated all the rules, he just didn't like the environment and he would do it to pay the bills and when he could save up enough money to go buy an own ragged truck, he would. And kind of like the how do you make a fortune in trucking a small fortune, start with a big one.

    He would just run that truck till he ran out of money and eventually go back and get a driving job again and do it all over. I really grew up thinking, I don't know if I want to be in that industry. So I thought I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. So I did join the army and I was a helicopter crew chief and I did get accepted to flight school, but my enlistment ran out before I got a date. I was a big waiting list. So I realized I don't like rules much and as much as I loved one tour in the military, that was enough. So I got out. The problem was I had no plan for life. I was pretty broke and I thought, well, I might as well drive a truck. And I've done a lot of things in the trucking industry.

    The one thing I've never been was a company driver. I managed to somehow get an $8,000 truck even though I was broke and I got started that way. So like I said, I had an open and I'm calling an audible here. I changed it on the fly. One of the things you're going to notice in my keynote tonight, two themes, gratitude and service to others. And with that in mind, I want to thank David Owen and the team here at NASTC. They've been fantastic to work with and they've made everything easy and I can tell you they know how to serve their customers. David talked about our parallel paths and it's pretty incredible. We've had our head down all these years working and doing our thing. We did a lot of the same things. We have a lot of the same ideas. We have a slightly different audience.

    My sweet spot is really that one truck owner-operator. I just love those guys. It's where I want to spend my time. It's where I always spend my now a lot of those guys over the years have grown. Bill's a great example of that and I love that David worked with a slightly larger group, still small trucking and there was a lot of crossover there, but it's interesting that we stayed in our lane and then just recently David reached out to me and we started talking. We haven't stopped since, and I hope we don't. I think a lot of good things are going to come out of this. So I'm really grateful for that little story. David said, I did warn him, I said, I'm really not a keynote speaker. I was telling him that it came up because I did get an invitation to speak.

    It was the wrong crowd. I really didn't even know why they were inviting me. It was an insurance group and weren't going to be any owner-operators in the room. And I found out later the reason they invited me, the guy who was in charge of speakers listened to my show and he loved my show. And he said, just get up and say whatever you want, it'll be fine. Okay? So I told David, I said, I really didn't want to do it. It wasn't my crowd. I said, so instead of just saying No, I just gave him a big price. If they pay it, I'll show up and I'll provide value. And if they don't, it's no big deal. And David said, just kind of nonchalantly. He said, so what's a big price?

    And I told him, and I thought there's probably a reason he asked that. And there was later on in another conversation, he said, so if I offered you X, you'll be our keynote speaker. And I said, David, I really don't like to do keynotes. And he said something along the lines of, you're the right guy for this. And I said, all right, I'll do it. So now you're stuck with me. Come on. Now I can tell you this. You are in for a fantastic keynote speech. It might not be mine though. There is another keynote speaker. What I want to do today, I'll walk you through a little journey. Journeys sound like fun. They, it's just like a journey. It doesn't sound nearly as much fun though. It sounds like a lot of work goals, kind of just like a journey. So both goals and journey of something in common.

    You need three things for a journey or a goal. You need an origin and a destination. Origin and destination kind of sounds familiar. Isn't that what we do as a truck driver? When you pick something up, you have an origin, you have a destination, and it's your job to create a set of directions on how to get there. I've said forever truck drivers and owner-operators should be masters at setting goals. It's the same process. They use it every day. So I'm going to talk a little bit about my journey in the trucking industry and what I've learned, and then I'm going to do what I'm better at, I think than keynotes. I'm going to do a little bit of teaching. That's what I really do. So I want to teach what I've learned about small business, specifically owner-operators, but really these principles apply to every business. So with that in mind, the plan that I'm going to give you.

    Is a plan to survive what we're about to go through. I said I changed my open, my original open, I was going to spend a little bit of time talking about what a mess our country is right now. What a mess things are geopolitically. We know we're having a tough time in the industry. And I thought, you know what? I don't need to spend any time on that. We all know that we can't control it. I really like to focus on the things we can control. So my plan in the journey is how you not only survive the bottom of the freight market, but how you thrive and how you find the opportunities. I've been through about three of these pretty good downturns in a couple small ones and I realized that the best opportunities are always at the bottom. But you've got to be ready for 'em. You've got to be prepared. And that's what we're going to talk about tonight.

    We already know that a lot of owner-operators, small brokers and a lot of others in the trucking industry are going to lose their business. It's already happening. They're going to go bankrupt and it has to happen. It's just part of the cycle. We know there's too much supply. I want to make sure that the people who want to survive have what they need. Now, a lot of people believe that just work hard enough and it'll work out. Unfortunately, that's not even close to being true. It's a given. You've got to work hard in business. It's why most probably shouldn't be in business because they're not willing to work that hard and sacrifice that much. And that's fine. But when you do the hard work, then working hard will pay off. Now you're probably wondering what is the hard work? I'll give you a clue. It's usually the one thing you don't want to do. It's usually the thing we know we should be doing, but we put off.

    Here's an example. I don't know if this number is going to shock anybody in the audience or not. When I look at one truck owner-operators, and I've been speaking to them from the stage since about 1999, and that very first seminar I did, I asked a question. I said, how many of you that own a truck in this room right now could tell me what your profit and loss statement looks like right now without opening it up and without looking at it? And my thought was, I just wanted to know if they really knew their numbers without looking at their numbers. But I was shocked because with a couple more questions, what I found out was over 90% of that room did not have numbers. Their accounting system was throw their receipts in a Walmart bag and take it to their accountant at the end of the year to get a tax return done.

    And I was shocked, how do you run a business like that? So I realized then we had a lot of work to do for those owner-operators. Sometimes the hard work is just taking the time to get those numbers together. So I have a book recommendation. I'm a big reader. I read about two books a week and I have for most of my life, and I still keep that pace up today. So I've got a book recommendation. I got a question for you, David. You're a golf pro. Have you ever seen the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance? So the man who wrote that screenplay also wrote one of my favorite books ever. And I would've never read this book except somebody else recommended it. The first bestselling author I ever had on my show was Larry Wingett. What an amazing guy, very colorful Larry was on my show and we became good friends.

    We've done some programs together over the years. But on that first show, when Larry was all done, when the interview was just about over, I said, Larry, I know you're a big reader. I said, what should I be reading right now? And he said, you should be reading the War of Art. And I said, I read that The military manual. And he said, no, listen closely. You should be reading the War of Art. And I said, what? That's backwards. The book's called The Art of War. And he said, no, look it up. And I went to get the book and the book was about writing. I thought I would Larry recommend this to me. I'm not writing anything, but I read it. And that's where this concept of the hard work comes from. And it was just an incredible book for me. It really changed my life. I highly recommend that. Before I get started on our plan, how many of you in the room owned trucks prior to 2010? Oh boy. Not many. Okay, here's why I say that. If you didn't own a truck prior to 2010, you really don't know what's coming.

    We haven't had a significant downturn in trucking since the 07, 08.W e started to climb out of that pretty well in 10 and 11 and it's been pretty smooth sailing ever since. Just in the last couple of years, we were setting records. I had owner-operators making more money than I had ever seen, more money than I had ever dreamed they would make.

    And I started saying in about 2017 after I attended an event and listened to an analyst speak, Noel Perry, who's also become a good friend of mine, and he said, it's coming. We're going to have a downturn. We know we will. It always happens. He said he thought it was probably going to be deeper than the last and that was logical. But the only thing he got wrong was the timing. He thought it was probably going to happen around the end of 2019, 2020. But we know the world changed. And because of that, we got another couple of really good years in trucking. I'm a real optimist, but we also have to face reality that that party's over.

    And the hangover's here for a lot of people. I want to make sure you don't feel that pain. So where did my journey start? Like I told you, I had a plan, wanted to be a pilot. It didn't work out, ended up buying a truck. But before I did and I grew up around trucking, I could drive a truck. There was a local truck driving school, two week program. I didn't have any money, but the VA paid for it for me. So I went to it. Here's how bad things were. You know what I was thinking? I was living in my brother's basement, a small family at the time, and I had to borrow a car because mine was broke down to get back and forth to the truck driving school. And the car I borrowed had a leak in the gas tank. Now it wouldn't have been that hard for me to fix it. For some reason I didn't. And I knew it was costing me more money. And on the last day, the leak got worse, all leaks do they never get better. And I came out at the end, the class is over. I actually have a driving interview set up already,

    And I walked out and I got in the car and turned on the key and the gauge was just about dead empty. And I thought, I certainly can't make it to the interview. I hope I can make it to the gas station. I didn't have any money.

    I had to go back in and borrow $10 from the owner of the truck driving school to get to the interview. And it worked out. It was my first driving job, but I had to rent their truck until I could figure out how to buy one. I was running local, which is an awesome introduction to trucking. You do 30 to 35 stops a day, learn an awful lot about how to drive a truck and how to back up in traffic. And I had a great time doing that, but that was a rough start. I would not recommend starting a business in those conditions. It's a long way out of that hole. So the next big lesson for me in trucking was I thought I hit the lottery. I thought I had the magic beans and the golden goose because what I was doing, I bought that first truck totally broke before a year was up. I bought a second truck. Somebody actually gave me some money and let me buy a second truck and I put a driver in it. And at first I thought, well, that really works. Now I've got more money. Why don't I just do it again? So I did went bought another truck and they let me

    And I looked at my wallet. That was about the only thing I was judging things on. And I said, boy, seems like I even have more money now. Let's just keep doing this. So I did, and then I combined my trucks with my brothers and I think we had about 15 trucks. We were running a small brokerage. I put together a service truck because we had our trucks scattered all over the place doing all kinds of goofy stuff. So I put together a service truck that could do the washes and the oil changes, and then I started realizing I'm having a hard time covering the bills in the business. Where'd all that money go? And at home, I was living on credit cards to try to pay the bills and I thought something happened to this plan. It's not working very well. It got to the point I was about $60,000 in debt, hadn't paid my taxes in a couple of years, didn't even know how much that was going to be,

    And I thought, well, something's got to change. And really at that point I thought, I'm not sure what to do. I actually consulted with a bankruptcy attorney and being a bankruptcy attorney, of course, he told me, well, yes, you need to file bankruptcy. That's exactly what it's for. You need a fresh start. And I said, but what happens to that money that I owe everybody? And he said, well, they won't get it. They'll just write it off. I said, well, something doesn't sound right about that. I said, isn't there a way we can do that? I can pay 'em back.

    And he said, no, you should just file bankruptcy. Just start over. I went home and I thought about it and I thought, there's got to be another way to do this. I just couldn't stand the fact that I just was going to walk away from that and not pay those people back. So I started reading more business books. I had said I read two books a week, but up until that point in my life, most of those books were just novels. So I started reading some business books and they talked about numbers and I had a computer at the time, and this is late eighties, and I taught myself how to write spreadsheets and I wrote these spreadsheets and I put all the numbers from my operation into those spreadsheets and I looked at it and I said, well, no wonder why I'm going broke. I was spending more money than I was making. You can't run a business like that. I know that old saying, we're losing a little money on every sale, but we'll make it up in volume. That's kind of what I was trying to do. The math doesn't work. Then I went one step further. I took each individual truck and I broke out all the receipts in the revenue and I calculated a profit and loss statement for each individual truck, and that's where I found the solution.

    At that point, we had already dropped down to 11 trucks by necessity, and I looked at those 11 trucks and I said, nine of these are losing money and two are profitable. I can make this work. I can sell the nine. Not going to get a whole lot out of 'em, but I at least get rid of the expenses and I can run these two trucks. And I went back to driving myself and I went back. I took the job that I had a local overnight run so I could run overnight and I went back to school during the day. I became a certified financial planner to learn numbers and business and money and I was able to with those two trucks and I added another one not long after once I knew how to do it right and I was able, it took me about four years, but I paid off every penny of that debt and it was the best lesson I've ever had. That is what taught me how to teach all the things I've been teaching over the years. So sometimes those worst moments turn out to be our best. Those spreadsheets, by the way, turned into an accounting program that is really designed for one truck, one owner, and that's probably the way it will always be and it's something I'm proud of. That's

    Todd Dills:  Rutherford's ProfitGauges program housed on his site today.

    Kevin Rutherford: The other thing I learned throughout that process, like I said, I was driving at night, was going to school in the day, had another truck and a driver to take care of, and I learned about audio books and back then there were actually these audio programs on tape, like seminars on tape. These things were like three and $400 I think. I haven't paid a thousand dollars for one of those programs once, but it was all I did. Every minute I was in that truck, I was listening and learning. I've been saying for years, truck drivers and owner-operators should be the most well-informed, knowledgeable people in our industry. They should have a PhD in something thing and they could do it for next to nothing. Who else has that ability 60 hours a week for them to listen and learn? What a great thing that was probably the best lesson I ever learned.

    Now, one of the things I like to talk about, I may mention this several times throughout this plan. This is a bonus by the way. I am about to give you the secret to success in every business, any business. And here it is. It's really, really simple. By the way, I'm not sure why we call this a secret. I went to Amazon once and I looked up books with secret to success. There's like 18,000. Not much of a secret, but I read a lot of those books and I never really read this one thing. I honestly don't remember where I learned this. I'm sure I didn't make it up myself. The secret to success in any business is so simple. You simply serve your customer better than anybody else can. That's all there is to it. Now figuring out how to do that might be a little more difficult, but that's all it is.

    You serve your customer better than anybody else can. Here's one of the things that makes me crazy about my world in the industry, the one truck guys, the small fleets, I am shocked and I tell 'em all the time, you don't use the word customer. I mean, I don't think we use it enough in this business. We just don't use the word customer enough. I actually had, I spent a lot of time on social media unfortunately, and I had somebody arguing with me about something, which is about what happens on social media most of the time. And I said to them, you have to serve your customer. And in this case, the particular case I was talking about, the customer was freight broker. And I tell people all the time, if you're confused about who your customer is, and we seem to be sometimes in this industry, it's really simple. Whose check did you cash? That's it. Who paid you? They are your customer. And he said, those damn brokers are not my customer. What did you cash their check? I did, but they're not my customer. And I said, oh, really? Who is them? And honestly, he didn't have an answer. And then he said, well, the shipper and the receiver. I said, well, you've got a problem. You don't have a relationship with any of those guys. They don't pay you. They paid that broker. The broker serves them. You serve the broker. That's who pays you.

    I love this industry, but there's some things about it that make me a little crazy and this is one of 'em. I don't know of any other industry that calls their customers assholes, but we seem to have no problem doing that in this industry. I hear it all the time. It just makes me a little crazy. David, I love what you've done with that broker program. It's an idea I've had for years. You and I have talked about it. You've been doing it all this time. It's fantastic.

    Todd Dills: Kevin Rutherford's making reference there to David Owen and NASTC's Best Brokers group, which has been the association's way of highlighting the honest among brokerages with a vetted group for the NASTC membership. Owen, earlier that day, detailed some work put into a load board-like system called LODESTAR, that's L-O-D-E-S-T-A-R. It's an acronym that stands for Load Operations Data Exchange Shipper Terms and Rates. It aims to turn the best brokers directory into a database and website for load opportunities for members. Also hoping within that to standardize items like detention pay for brokered loads, likewise fuel surcharges as a line item. Fairly uncommon in spot broker freight today of course.

    Kevin Rutherford: Alright, before we get started on the plan, one of the things you have to have, and I'm not so sure how to teach this, I wish I was better at teaching this, but it really comes down to just mindset and attitude and that attitude that I just had to deal with that broker's not my customer. I don't know how you survive in business if that's how you think, but it gets worse. I was talking to somebody else on social media and I was talking about cutting costs. It's really where I focus most of my time when I train on our operators in small fleets, cutting costs, we have way more opportunity and control over our costs than we do our rates. I tell people this isn't any kind of scientific number, but I tell people all the time about 90% of that rate, I just made that number up. By the way, about 90% of that rate is just supply and demand. I mean that's just how this works. And it's supply and demand in whatever lane you happen to be in at the moment, the other 10%. It's a combination of your ability to understand those rates in length and negotiate a better deal. But more importantly, it's about how well you serve customer. So if your attitude is I don't have a customer, I don't think about a customer, you've already lost 10%. Right off the top,

    We were talking about cutting costs and this person actually looked at me. I'm not speechless very often, but I was kind of speechless after he said this. He said, why the hell should I have to work hard to cut costs? The rate should just cover it. How do you even respond to that? I don't know how. That's just insane to me. Here's what I started thinking and I realized that I see this attitude a lot

    Not just in trucking, but I see it a lot in the owner-operator world. Here's what it is. They really believe some of them, clearly we've got a lot of great owner-operators that because they started a business, they're entitled to a profit. What a crazy way to think. So when I talk about mindset, I just want to ask you a couple of questions. Do you ever, anybody in business, did you ever think that you deserved a profit just because you got up that day? I hope not. Here's another one that makes me crazy. When they say the rate should cover it, the next thing that'll come out of their mind or their mouth will be, well, I won't pull freight for under X. Some random number that they just pulled out of nowhere. I don't even know where they come up with these numbers. Well, the rate needs to be that. Well, how do you think that's going to happen? You have almost zero control over that, but they spend so much time focused on it. Another attitude I've seen a lot lately, well, the brokers are controlling the rates. I don't know how to deal with that either, but there's a big belief. I actually had somebody accuse me of working with them to control the rates.

    My god, what a compliment. I wish I was that smart. And then the final one in this mindset is that everything about their operation that was going wrong was somebody else's fault. And I don't care if it is somebody else's fault, look in the mirror and take responsibility anyway because then you can change something. But if you believe that your problems are somebody else's fault, you just lost all control.

    The only attitude I've ever been able to adopt that seems to work well for me and seems to work well for others is this, I will do whatever it takes to succeed. Now, I don't mean cheating people, I don't mean being corrupt. I don't mean neglecting my family, but within reason, I will do whatever it takes to succeed and how long will I do it until it works. I also realize that when you're struggling or when you're trying to build things you should stay away from, I won't, and I don't statements, and I hear this all the time in the trucking world from the owner-operators, I don't go to New York City. I don't pull that. I won't pull freight for less than X. Again, I don't even know where they come up with the number.

    At some point in your business, if you're successful, you can do those kinds of things. You can then get a little pick about what you want to do. But in the beginning, I think you should avoid those kinds of statements. The idea of well, I'm not going to pull cheap freight. First off, every time I ask somebody the question, can you define cheap freight for me? They have all kinds of answers. None of 'em ever make any sense. We actually have an organization in this industry that promotes that idea. They have a slogan, say no to cheap freight. What a horrible mindset. It just doesn't make sense to me. I was willing, in fact, I wouldn't be here right now today if I wasn't willing to work for free. How much cheaper does it get? I knew if I wanted to reach people and help people, I needed to get up on a stage and do this as much as I didn't want to do it.

    And the first seminar I did, not only did I do it for free, I paid my way to get to the Louisville Truck Show to do that seminar. And then eventually that same seminar, by the way, that started in 1999 by Overdrive Magazine, Partners in Business. I was there the first year. I still do that one once in a while, still around. It's a great program. After a while, I got paid pretty well to do that. But that happened because I was willing, I had to go up and do it for free. Nobody was going to pay me. I didn't have any credibility. Nobody knew who I was. I knew I had a message and I was willing to take a chance. So let's talk about the plan since I changed my open, and I'm known to get wordy sometimes, so we're only going to be here for another two or three hours or so. It'll be all right.

    I was going to do something with this crowd that I do at my events and I'm going to skip it, but I'll tell you what it is. And boy did I catch hell the first couple times I did this. And I just stood up onstage and said, I don't care, do it. Don't do it Doesn't matter to me. I actually walked up on stage and I said, all right, before we get started this morning, Larry Wingett was with me at the time, by the way, the bestselling author. And Larry was getting ready to come up on stage, do some things with me, and I said, before we start, we're going to meditate. And Larry looked at me and he said, what did you just say? And I said, we're going to meditate. And he said, you're going to get a bunch of truck drivers to meditate.

    Are you kidding me? So we did. Look, if I came up here and I said, going to clear our mind and focus, nobody would think any big deal, but that's all the meditation is. So the plan itself, we can make business really, really simple in business. You should have money coming in and you have money going out, and all we really need to do is make sure there's more coming in than going out. It's really that simple. It's in the execution that it can get a little more complicated. So here's the outline of the plan and then I'm going to come back and we're going to talk a little bit about each step. So step number one, it's that mindset I'm talking about. If you find yourself falling into any of those traps like that and your attitude kind of sucks, you got to work on that mindset.

    It really does control the rest of everything you're going to do. The second one, I'm going to say, I know I'm people are going to groan. Nobody wants to hear this. I've got a big history of this with my show. Now you've got to get healthy. I am a big believer in living healthy. So much so that I went back to school again about eight years ago and became a functional nutritional therapy practitioner. Is that a mouthful or what? And I did it because my tribe came to me and said, you help us with our money. You help us with our business and we're really sick. And truck drivers are. It is a horrible profession for your health. Everything about it, the hours, the food or lack of food, the vibration all day long, the diesel fumes, the diesel fuel sitting all day long. So I said, look, I get it.

    I know you need help with that, but I don't do health. I do business and I do numbers. And some of 'em knew my story because I tell my story on the air all the time and they said, but you owned a gym once and you coached high school wrestling and you got to be able to help us. And I said, but I don't really know what I'm talking about. And I had an employee who kind of took it up and she just kept bugging me and she said, you got to do this. And I said, well, no, I don't really have to, but if you feel that strong about it, why don't you do it? Why don't you start a podcast? I'll help you get it started, but why don't you do it? And she did and she proved to me that it really was needed and our tribe really wanted it.

    And she did that podcast for about a year and then we started doing it together and then it became day of my show. Wednesday's our Destination Health Day on our show. They have been for about eight years now, and the success stories are just incredible. I've got driver. It is not unusual, you'll hear it almost every week, at least once or twice, A truck driver who lost a hundred pounds or more got off multiple prescriptions, was in danger of losing their medical card and had to go back every three months for a physical, and we now have them healthy and back to a two year medical card. It really is one of the most gratifying things I do. What finally convinced me was when my employee said, if they don't have their health, why would any of this other stuff that you helped 'em with matter? And I said, you're absolutely right. A healthy human being has thousands of wishes. An unhealthy human being only has one. Step number three, build a winning team.

    Step number four, talked about a little bit already. Know your numbers. Step number five, develop that customer driven mentality and it just doesn't exist much down at the bottom of our industry. It's just not talked about a whole lot and I'm going to keep pushing it. Number six, kind of like preaching to the choir for the people here. Network more. Seven, this is a big one for me. Never stop learning.

    I've got another book recommendation. How many of you have read the book? It's a classic. I think I read it 30 years ago. I read it again when the 25th anniversary of the book came out, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. How many people have read that book? Wow, you got to read it. I actually have two book recommendation. I'm going to do 'em right now.

    I will tell you this, if you're not a reader, that's a tough book. That's not one of the easier books to get through, but I would encourage you to just work on it. It's a book I still go back to. I still use those processes all the time. The other one is the exact opposite. It's a really quick easy read. It's almost a cartoon. It's a parable. Anybody ever read the book? Who Moved My Cheese? Yeah, I love that book. What a great lesson. And I'll tell you what, that book has become so much more important because the book, there's cartoon characters in it, there's a couple little mice and there's some people, and one day somebody moves their cheese and for some of 'em it just throws their whole world off. And the parable is about being able to adapt to change. And I know a lot of people struggle. I thrive on change. I'm glad that I do. If things don't change, I'll probably change 'em. But a lot of people don't deal with change. Well, and unfortunately the only thing that's changing about changing is it's coming faster and faster all the time. I don't know how we're ever going to slow that down so you better figure out how to adapt to it, and that's a wonderful book for that.

    Seven was Never Stop Learning and I brought up the seven habits. It's actually why I put that number seven to remind me. The seventh habit in that book is called Sharpen the Saw. There's a quote that says, if you give me four hours to cut down a tree, I'll spend the first three sharpening my ex. I love that quote. That's what sharpening the saw is all about, except in this context, you are the X. It's sharpening you that is constant and never ending learning. There's a phrase, can I-C-A-N-I constant and never ending improvement? Number eight, give back. And I loved the example of that from Bill and his crew. He learned something from me, he taught it to somebody else. That's how we make this industry better from the bottom up. Now let's talk about these in just a little more detail and then I want to tell you one of my favorite stories to end tonight.

    Number one, make gratitude a habit. If you want to improve your attitude and your mindset, make gratitude a habit. And here's one of the ways I could teach an entire seminar on habits. They're powerful things. We all have them. We're not very good at creating habits that serve us well. One of the things you need for a habit is a trigger. So you remember to do it until it becomes a habit. So for gratitude, I came up with a trigger. When I down in bed at night, I think of three things that I'm really grateful for. It's a great way to fall asleep and then when I wake up in the morning, I do it again before I get out of bed and start the day, I think of three things that I'm really grateful for. And you know what? It doesn't matter if you use the same three things every time.

    It's not the things, it's the gratitude. It's a really great way to start and end the day, and it's a great habit to develop, get healthy. I do lots and lots of talks and seminars on, I could talk for weeks about this. I'm not going to tonight, but I will say it is really important for drivers or really anybody, but I am going to be doing this for drivers. I will be launching a group health coaching in the next couple of weeks and it will just be an ongoing program for me for now on. We're kind of in the middle of a little bit of a revamp on our business and I'm doing it this time so that I start spending all of my time doing what I love to do and it's not running the company. My wife does that. I have a business partner.

    This is what I love to do. I love to talk to people and help people, and I like to spend time with owner-operators and I will be spending almost all of my time doing that going forward. I'll be launching a group health coaching and I'll be launching a group business and money coaching program as well shortly after that. So there's lots of resources out there to get healthy. It is important. It's really important for our drivers. Develop a winning team. I have a list of people that I always want on my team, whether it's a business, a project, whatever it might be. First off, if we're going to run a business, we've got to have a customer. We've talked about customers, we're going to talk about customers a lot until I start hearing it being talked about more on this end of the industry, figure out who you want your customer to be.

    Many times that's the first step they miss. They buy a truck and then they just do whatever pops up and it's not that hard. You can go lease it to all kinds of people. You can go get on a loan board and get a load, but they don't have a plan. Maybe that's why they don't see these people as customers and they don't appreciate them as customers. They never really chose them. This is one of the few businesses I know in my world with single truck owner-operators that you really don't have to do any kind of sales or marketing whatsoever. Every other. I've started a lot of businesses in my time and one of the biggest challenges, how do you get people to pay you? That's not that difficult in this world. You buy a truck and there's a load somewhere, somebody's willing to pay you. You just log on, say, I'll take that load.

    That seems easy, but I think that's a bad thing. I think that's how we got to this place where we don't think about the customer. The freight's just there. I'll just go grab some and somebody will pay me. But I try to get people to choose their customers. Chew. Do you want to be leased to a carrier? I had trucks leased to a carrier for a long, long time. I did really well like that and then sold the contract for quite a profit when I left. I've heard this phrase over and over. If you're a lease a carrier, you're not a real owner-operator. I don't even know what that means. Of course you are. And if that's your choice, it's a good one. If you want to have your own authority, your customers could be direct shippers. It's a tough way to go, but I've seen people do it and I've seen people be really successful at it. Your other customers are going to be brokers and that may be your only customer. I've got some thoughts on that. And again, David's been doing this. I've been telling people forever. Here's how I came across this one. I've done thousands of tax returns for owner-operators. It's one of the ways I really learned the ins and outs of all the numbers and all kinds of different operations. I worked with those numbers every day.

    I got a tax return once and there was a hundred and forty two 1099s. And I thought, what is it? That was how many brokers that one truck owner-operator had worked with in a single year even. I couldn't even figure out how that was possible. What a horrible idea. I can't even imagine all the work, the onboarding, the trying to figure out somebody's system. No communications, no relationship whatsoever. And this is one of the guys that was always complaining to me that he couldn't make any money and the brokers were screwing him. And I came up with a strategy and I teach owner-operators, find yourself three to five. The number might be a little different, but three to five good brokers, and you should be able to get about 90 or 95% of your freight from those three to five businesses, your customers, and then use a load board to fill in the other stuff. It's a great strategy. It works well. So a couple other relationships you should build. Customers are important. You should have a good accountant, a good tax preparer, a good financial planner. When I did that, I was all three. I would do their accounting, I would do their tax return. I could help 'em with financial planning. Find somebody

    You need that help. You really do. It gets more and more complicated every year. Focus on what you do best, which is driving the truck and moving freight and serving your customers. Let somebody else do your numbers for you, but make sure you have that relationship and you know your numbers. Another really important relationship that I've been talking about for years is a relationship with a good shop.

    When you own one truck and that truck goes down, your business is on the sidelines. The repairs are outrageously expensive Now it's gotten a lot worse in the last couple of years and you can't afford the downtime. And I get calls on my show constantly about maintenance. It's a big issue. Tuesdays, I said Wednesdays are destination health. Tuesdays we call the Power Hour. Actually my co-host the whole team of them. There's a dozen of us on that show sometimes. I think they're here in the room. Pittsburgh Power stop in and talk to 'em. Best diesel shop in the country. The only shop I know of that only works with owner-operators and always has. That is their sweet spot. It always has been. They've been doing it for about a hundred years. I think you've got to have a good shop. People call me all the time and they tell me, I had my truck in and as soon as I got it out to check, engine light came on and I went back and they fixed something else.

    And I went back and I say, stop. But who do you deal with at this dealer? Well, I don't know. There's the problem right there. You've got to have a relationship. Then the pushback I get is, well, I'm all over the country. What do I know? You're someplace most of the time, home, somewhere along your route. Wherever it is, build that relationship and give them the majority of your business. They will become your best asset and resource. And I will tell you, if you work with them and you actually are partners with them and you ask them how to maintain your truck better, they will get you to the point where you will almost never have to use anybody else. You should not be breaking down all that often on the road that you just have to go to some random shop. If you maintain the truck, well, that really doesn't happen, and you will be able to get most of your work done where you have a relationship.

    That doesn't mean things aren't going to go wrong. They will. When things go wrong and you have a relationship, there's a way to fix it. You've got to know your numbers. It's number four. I talked about it. It is what's saved me from bankruptcy. It's what I focus on more than anything in business. You've got to know the numbers first. The good news is, as a single truck owner-operator, it shouldn't take you long to know those numbers inside and out without looking at anything. When I ran trucks, three trucks there at the end, I wasn't driving. You could have woken me up at two o'clock in the morning and asked me any question about my profit loss and I would've been able to answer it. I talked earlier about the secret to success in business. Who's your customer? Identify your customer and serve that customer well.

    Six, let's network more. I love events like this. David, you've done an awesome job. There aren't that many events in the trucking industry for this crowd. There just isn't. When I decided I needed to learn more about being an owner-operator, I thought I would just go out and find some events and some programs, they didn't exist. There was nothing as far as helping owner-operators and I committed to created. I've created, I've written a book. I have some online courses. I had a program for about, let's see, I started at 2005. I was kind of like David. I rented a little hotel room and at one point I had five people in my class and I was one of 'em. And then at the end of that program, we did our last event, 2018, and it had become too successful. It became a monster. And we're a small company. We just couldn't handle it. Five full days for 400 people and we went long days. It was a great program. We need more of that in the industry. We really do. Now, I want to echo somebody else set up here earlier, and it was get involved in your state trucking association,

    Todd Dills: And that happened to be me, quoting 11 to 30 truck Small Fleet Champ and LNL Trucking owner Larry Limp, who served in 2022 as chairman of the Indiana State Association. As Larry put it when it comes to policy and regulation, quote, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu.

    Kevin Rutherford: And a lot of single truck guys just think, well, look. Why would they want me there? Well, of course they want you there and you should be there. I have spoken at a lot of state associations. I will tell you some of 'em, they're okay. Some of 'em are really fantastic, but it's worth your time to get involved. I was involved in the Florida State Trucking Association. I ran my trucks out of Orlando and I also, one of the ways I was able to overcome my fear of getting up here on the stage I applied for and when won a spot on Florida's road team. It's a lot like the ATA a's road team, but it was run by the Florida Trucking Association. So my job when I was on the team for two years was to go speak to people outside of the trucking industry to tell everybody else what we do.

    And it was an image thing, and I had a lot of fun and I met a lot of people and I got over my fear of standing up here on stage. So network more, attend more events, join your trucking associations and other associations in the industry. The other way, I've got mixed feelings about this one. I have been on social media since the late eighties when I tell people that, they're like, ah, social media didn't exist in the late eighties. Absolutely did. There were bulletin boards. There were chat rooms. There was a service called Prodigy and CompuServe. I was on those early. I have spent a lot of time on social media and like I said, I have mixed feelings about it. It's gotten worse over the years in some ways, but something recently happened and I'm a little more encouraged about it. I went back to Twitter. I had been off Twitter for years, but social media is a big tool for me. It helps me reach a lot of people and teach. So I had been off Twitter. We ended up off Facebook because David said, I'm pretty outspoken. I say what I think and I believe what I say, and I was being deleted and censored just about everywhere. YouTube would take down our videos. Facebook would censor our posts. So I quit all of those. We actually went and created our own social media site.

    We call it our tribe, so that we could get away from all that. So I could say whatever I wanted to say and not worry about being censored. I went back to Twitter for one reason, Elon Musk bought it and said, I'm going to make free speech free again, and I don't know if he'll pull it off or not, but he's done a fairly good job so far. We've got a community now. We refer to it on Twitter as freight X. Twitter's not Twitter anymore. Now it's X. I know if anybody's ever going to get used to saying that or not. So we call it Freight X, and it's a really robust freight community that's actually growing. We have a little bit of fun and we share a lot of ideas and it's made up of people from all walks of this industry. You might want to check it out. And again, we do have our own social media site as well. Seven, never stop learning. And this should be the easiest one of all of these steps. You have 60 hours a week if you still drive that truck to listen and learn. And when I used to have to pay a thousand dollars for a program on cassette, there is so much available now that you can learn from that doesn't cost you a penny. There is so much information out there. Take advantage of all that windshield time you've got and learn.

    I gave you my books already. So step number eight, give back. This was a lesson that I learned in basic training.

    I learned that the best way to learn something was to teach it. What sounds kind of goofy? If you haven't learned it yet, how are you going to teach it? Well, you don't need a whole lot. The lesson I learned in basic training, they try to teach you an awful lot of new stuff in a very short period of time. There's all kinds of weird military stuff and there's things you have to learn how to do. And we had all these things and it was kind of overwhelming and one of 'em that just wasn't, it seems simple, but we had so much going on. We had to learn CPR, it just wasn't clicking with me. And one day they just said, you're going to have to work at this station here where they're going to do their CPR thing. So I was kind of there teaching it and that's all it took. By the end of that day, I had it. I'm like, well, that was easy. And I realized that all I have to do is teach something and you learn it so well. That was my first way to start to give back. I wanted to teach. Say it. I read all the time. I pick up all these great ideas and immediately when I learn something, I want to go teach it to somebody else, and that way I know I'll really know it. There's so many ways in this industry we can give back.

    One of the things that I learned about giving back, I went through a really intensive mentor program with Anthony Robbins. Anybody know Anthony Robbins? He's that big guy that used to be on your TV about two o'clock in the morning selling cassette tapes. He might be one of the most incredible human beings I've ever met. The guy's a giant too. He's like seven feet tall or something. He's got some thyroid condition. I went through a really intensive program with him, cost me $25,000. I didn't have $25,000. I borrowed it. It was over two years. It was like 26 days of seminars over two years in all kinds of crazy places. I learned a lot. The finale was 11 days on the big island of Hawaii. I didn't get to see much of the big island. We got up at six in the morning for breakfast at seven, and there was one night we were still outside at two o'clock in the morning.

    That's how intensive this was. And you know what we were doing? At two o'clock in the morning, I did a 45 foot fire walk, so did about a thousand other people. I still can't explain it to this day. I have no idea how this works. There is a line of 45 feet long of deep blowing red hot coals and you walked across. I have no idea how it works. I didn't feel anything. I had no burns on my feet. I don't get it. Another part of that seminar was, and I paid a lot of money to be there. One of our days. We had to go volunteer for the entire day. They had set up four or five different volunteer operations and you didn't have to, and a lot of people chose not to. I chose to go do it, and what I learned and what taught them was when you give back, you should give away the thing you have the least of. He said, if you've got a lot of money and you're donating money, it's a nice thing. It really doesn't do all that much, not for you. Anyway, that was kind of where I was at the time. Money wasn't as big of a deal for me, even though I borrowed the money to be there. What I really felt like I didn't have enough of was time.

    So then what I was supposed to do is donate time, and it turned out to be a great experience. I had three boys. They were all teenagers and for several years, we woke up twice a week at about five in the morning. They had school usually, and we went and picked up food that grocery stores were donating and we took it to a food bank. And the kids really, really learned a lot from that. I did too, but it was hard to give away the thing I felt like I had the least of. But what it does, I think it does something in your brain. I think what happens is your brain says, if you've got enough of this to give away, you've got enough. And I never felt like I really never had enough time after that, even though my schedule is just as busy, I didn't feel like I was, it just wasn't that big of a deal. I had enough time that I could give some away,

    Todd Dills:  As was noted up top. It's that giving back that shines through among our small fleet champ winners and finalists, perhaps even above all their business' success. Kudos to all who've made a home for the next generation of trucking leaders. As Rutherford notes, many of them are behind the wheel today and tomorrow, well, time will tell. Here's a happy Thanksgiving this week to all of you.