BECOMING AN OWNER OPERATOR - STEP ONE

This post will not be about fuel. It won't be about financing. It won't be about freight rates, maintenance, or taxes. It is about the single most important thing that will prepare you to succeed, or fail, owning and operating your own truck - ATTITUDE.

When I began this journey in 2011, it was my last swing-for-the-fences attempt to make it in trucking as a one-income family. Until December 2010, I was a company driver. I was driving for Landair hauling dedicated for Big Lots. I was home on the weekend and my take home pay was about $750.00 per week. My wife and I had already decided before we even had kids that we would be a one-income family and that she would stay home full-time to care for them. I told her, "If I could start over again at 21, I would lease a truck from someone, learn the business, and buy my own truck." That's where it started. I started researching companies and programs and landed on Anderson Trucking Service out of St. Cloud, Minnesota. I started talking to drivers and gathering as much information as I could, but I really had NO CLUE what I was getting into. The only thing I had on my side was determination and work ethic. I learned all I could and scheduled orientation. I had decided to join their Pad Wrap division rather than Specialized. That turned out to be a HUGE advantage that I'll explain in more detail in an upcoming post on freight rates.

 My first truck with ATS on the day I got it. 

My first truck with ATS on the day I got it. 

I arrived in St. Cloud on January 2, 2011 after a 26 hour bus ride from Columbus, Ohio. (I'll NEVER ride another bus as long as I live.) I started orientation on Monday and got my truck on Thursday. I STILL didn't know what was going to happen. I had the vaguest of ideas, but still no real plan. The only plan I had was that I was not going to be denied. I WILL make this work. My first dispatch was on January 8, 2011. It loaded in New Berlin, WI...396 miles away. A 400 mile deadhead? On the first load? What had I gotten myself into? 

That first load paid the truck $1693.87. (I still know that because I have a spreadsheet with every load I've ever pulled. I am a nerd's nerd, and will cover bookkeeping in another lesson.) I went to the Pilot in St. Cloud and bought my first tank of diesel. $529.26. Remember, I have no context for dropping over $500 on a tank of fuel. I continued. I ran 5 loads from the 8th to the 14th. My gross for the week was $4108.65 which included $500 for orientation pay. After fuel and other deductions I cleared $2217.42. I called my wife and said, "Hang on mama. We are all good."

The next 10 months were a blur. I worked harder than I ever had in my life. Every week wasn't as good as the first. From January through the end of October, my average settlement was $1382.00. I had to go home at some point, so with about 4 weeks off, it skews the average. The average not including the weeks I took off was over $1500. There was over $500 being deducted from my settlement each week to cover truck payments, insurance, PrePass, Qualcomm, maintenance, and road and mileage taxes. The end of October brought the harsh realization that ATS's "good" freight dries up and I found November and December a struggle just to survive back to January. (In 2012, I learned to take six weeks off including two straight from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day.)

The one thing that kept me going was my attitude. I had to stay positive. I could not quit. I had so much to learn and I had to learn it on-the-fly. It took a complete paradigm shift. No longer did I drive for "miles." My new focus was on "revenue." My vocabulary had to change. I had to look at thing from a different point of view. My driving style changed; how I shifted, how hard I pushed the accelerator, when I idled and when I didn't. I was no longer concerned about how quickly I could get to my destination. My new goal was "How efficiently can I get to my destination?'' 

That first year was rough. The second year was easier, but still challenging. The third year was a nightmare, but proved to be my most successful. (More about that in an upcoming lesson on equipment). Over those two years I met and became close to other drivers that shared my passion. We helped to keep each other accountable. We talked each other out of quitting more than once. Those men have become some of my closest confidantes. I know when I call them, I will not be told what I want to hear, but what I need to hear. Make no mistake, there is a HUGE difference. 

I've barely scratched the surface of what it takes to become a successful Owner/Operator. What you have found here in this first lesson is the absolute most important. Without the proper attitude and perspective, you WILL fail. You must change. You will no longer be working to run miles. You will be working to earn REVENUE. It is all about maximizing revenue and minimizing expenses. What is left over is profit. REVENUE. EXPENSES. PROFIT. Nothing else matters. 

In order to help you get started with that shift, allow me to offer some resources to help:

ENTERLEADERSHIP by Dave Ramsey 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches

QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life by John G Miller

Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! By Robert Kiyosaki

In Dr. Thomas J Stanley's book "The Millionaire Next Door," he found that the average millionaire reads one book per month. It's time to spend less time in front of the TV and more time in a book. 

Many of these books are available in audio form so you can listen while driving. I could not have made this transition myself had I not had the positive influence of these great authors and their work.

Deciding to become and Owner/Operator was the single best career decision I've ever made. I've had struggles along the way, and that's why I'm willing to share them with you. I don't want you to have to learn the hard way like I did.