As an owner operator, you are your own boss. That status brings great freedom, but it can also come with financial insecurity. Fear of running out of work can motivate you to take any job that comes along.
Strategically choosing your loads might lead to a better payoff. Not only could you potentially position yourself to earn more money, but you can also build a solid professional network and develop strong relationships with shippers over time.
We spoke to Chad Boblett, a seasoned owner-operator, to find out how he goes about finding and securing the best loads.
Here’s how he does it.
As an owner-operator, my main goal is to keep myself employed. I need to know the market and track the trends, and I do this in two ways: building relationships and using a load board.
For me, it takes three consecutive loads to build a relationship with a new broker. Once you do a load with someone, try to do another. By the third load, they will know you by name and recognize your number.
The more relationships that you can put in your back pocket, the better off you’ll be. That load is the broker’s main objective, and the more stress you can take off their shoulders, the better.
Communication makes or breaks the relationship
Good communication is key when building any relationship. It’s the number one complaint if done poorly but will get you the most praise when done right. Transportation and logistics are no exception. Shippers need to talk to drivers, and vice versa. As an owner-operator, it’s up to me to make sure good communication happens.
I use technology as much as possible and communicate with brokers by email, phone, and text. I always keep them in the loop and provide updates.
Notify your broker of your status at all stages of the job. The broker will relay your information to the shipper. These details may seem minute to drivers, but for brokers and shippers, they are critical.
I make it a rule to communicate daily. When I’m on a job, first thing every morning, I send an email letting my broker know my current location, what time I plan to leave, and what time I expect to arrive at the receiver. I follow up with an email when the load is complete.
Communication doesn’t stop at delivery. Don’t forget to let your broker know when you’re ready for the next load. A simple question, “Do you have anything else to go?”, can be all it takes to get your next assignment.
Use a load board
Load boards can be extremely helpful in finding loads, but I only resort to them after I’ve exhausted all my established relationships. I often go several weeks without posting my truck on boards because I’m staying busy with jobs gained through my network.
6 ways I find the best loads
Becoming a successful owner-operator is a process that took some time. Here’s what I’ve learned to do over the years.
1. Leverage your network
Work with people you know first. Shift your focus to the load board if no jobs pan out through your contacts.
2. Research market potential
For example, around the holidays, Amazon is going to be doing a lot of shipping. In the spring, growers ship more plants, potting soil, fertilizers, and items associated with gardening.
To me, one of the biggest indicators of a good market is the number of loads in vs. loads out. If more loads are leaving than coming to a location, that may be a good indicator that there will be more loads there for a trucker to choose from. That’s an area I would be inclined to focus on more closely.
Check out the market at your destination, too, in case you can line up the opportunity to pick up more loads when you complete the current job.
3. Have a plan
Drivers who are willing to go anywhere and haul just about anything might be able to make decent money. However, I think having a plan to pick up loads on the drive back is a much more efficient strategy.
4. It’s all about supply and demand
Supply and demand always dictate trucker rates, so be aware of what is being hauled at certain times of the year—to and from the area where you are based.
5. Look for loads in advance
Before Dec. 18, 2017, when the ELD mandate took effect, it was hard to look more than 48 hours out for loads to secure.
Now, demand for truckers has increased, making both shippers and truckers more inclined to make a deal up to a week in advance. Since the ELD mandate, I’ve noticed more efficiency in the industry and better rates on pre-booked loads.
6. Work your area
I live in Central Kentucky, where Toyota is based. Knowing that many automotive factories are nearby, I focus on hauling automotive freight and industrial supplies.
Knowing your area not only helps you build your network but also keeps you informed regarding rates and other trends. Find out what industries operate heavily in your area so you can get to know some of the players.
Driving is solo, but relationships make the job
At this point in my owner-operator career, most of my customers are brokers that I work with consistently. Building and maintaining professional relationships have been crucial to my success.
If you’re a newer owner-operator, I encourage you to make your first order of business connecting for the second time with at least one broker. Then aim for that third load from the same person. Repeat the process with another broker.
Imagine how nice it’ll feel if you’re able to pick up a month’s worth of good loads with quick phone calls rather than by spending time competing with all the other drivers on load boards.
Once your network is big enough, you can be more in control of your own fate as an owner-operator. You’ll have greater power to choose who to work for, what to haul, and where to drive.
If you have any questions about Motive’s fleet management solution that helps owner-operators become more efficient and profitable, call (844) 257-6396 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our 24/7 Customer Support team is always available to help you.