How to prep for the downturn as an owner -- it's always right around the corner

Updated May 26, 2023

Recent analyses have suggested a 10,000-hours threshold for becoming a world-class expert in any subject, process or practice.

"When you shut that key off" as a truck operator, "learn to use that time as an asset" to focus on your business acumen as the owner, noted Gary Buchs in the video up top -- a key piece of preparation for the inevitable difficulties that will come from the business cycles, almost entirely out of your control. With enough practice, it will become almost second nature for an expert owner-operator to know exactly what to do -- and when -- to adjust before the worst happens.

In the video -- part of a talk with Eric Harley of Red Eye Radio, ATBS' Mike Hosted and Overdrive contributor and trucking business coach Buchs at the 2023 Mid-America Trucking Show -- Hosted added that it's all about repetition when it comes to mastering the owner-operator business.

When owners first start with ATBS, he said, they're typically assigned a business consultant who's available to help understand numbers and other aspects of the business and ATBS' service. After working with the consultant for a while -- calling in, asking questions, really trying to understand the business -- it's often the case that owners no longer need that sounding board in the same way, another big step on the way to that world-class expert status. 

Catch more in the video. The full talk can be heard via Red Eye Radio's "Extra Mile" podcast. Find brief excerpts from the talk in the eight-video playlist below..

Owners looking for additional management tips, among a myriad of other topics, can find more 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 2023 edition of the Partners in Business manual free of charge


Eric Harley: 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: Here's what I suggest, and I give it a suggestion 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? I wrote an article about, and I did some research, and I read a book and it talked about how it takes 10,000 hours to become a world expert. And they studied people that became like 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. 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.

Eric Harley: Yeah. So 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 and making sure that you do take full advantage of the offerings of an ATBS?

Mike Hosted: Yeah, great question. Honestly, it's like Gary said, it's repetition. 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&L each month, or each week when you see an update, or each day when you see an 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 at corporation and have payroll and things like that, they start as a first day trucking company. And they do call in, 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: It looks like algebra to me.

Gary Buchs: There you go, great.

Mike Hosted: 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're reading it by yourself and you didn't even realize it and what's going on a daily basis.

Eric Harley: And it's those, it's exactly what Gary touched on. The 10,000 hours. Because one thing he also did is divide that, 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, 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: An important part of that is just knowing once you've got that down, it's like knowing you sort of develop the ability to adjust and to know when you really need to. It's one of the things that a lot of the folks that have been doing this for a long time, as owners or as moving up, adding trucks, doing things like this, that's one of the things they always stress. Whether it's a crisis or whether it's just noticing something that has changed in a small way, it's like knowing what to do and when to do it and just following through successfully and adjusting.

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