How to make the bid for direct customers as an independent

For owner-operators who choose to go independent rather than leasing on with a carrier, soliciting freight from shippers can be a daunting task, but in normal times it results in the highest net income with consistency. After all, there is no middleman to take a cut.

There are several ways to find small local shippers. You can use business directories online or attend local business functions, such as chamber of commerce events. One easy way to familiarize yourself with business in your area is to drive around industrial parks and take notes. 

List 25 to 50 potential customers, then schedule time off to contact the shipping managers unless you have a spouse or other partner who can handle this. Be ready to hear "no" many, many times. If you generate just one customer, consider it a success. 

As a one-man show, you may find this task awfully time-consuming and difficult. If you’ve never worked in sales, prepare yourself. There are hundreds of great audiobooks on sales and negotiation. Listen to some while working on your plan. 

In any bid to secure a contract with a shipper, make sure you can answer this question: Why you? Why should any particular shipper entrust its freight to you? Setting yourself apart from the crowd, however you do it, will help you find customers that can last throughout your career. 

Some ways to build a customer base include having special equipment, willingness to run a part of the country where many others don’t like to go, or finding your way into a niche market, such as hauling cattle or cars

It’s equally important to vet new customers to minimize the risk of non-payment. Some major load boards and factors closely track payment histories -- and not just of brokers -- and provide this information to their clients.

[Related: No turning back: New era for direct freight

Find more information about going independent, among a myriad of other topics, 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 updated 2022 edition of the Partners in Business manual free of charge.