One of the most difficult concepts I have tried to grasp over the past number of years and the one I have cherished the most is this one, “I am in this position because I chose to be here. I take 100% responsibility for me”.

I am not trying to get too heavy on you here but think about it. The situation you are in with your family, friends and your carrier are because you choose to be in those situations, good or bad.

There are no chains that keep you where you’re at. You are in charge of you. Simple concept right? Well, if this is true then why do we seem to be so hell bent on sticking with the ordinary in our lives when the extraordinary is within our grasp? We all have the power to change if we are motivated to do so.

So if you are not happy with your current carrier and you are contemplating making a change what do you do now? Many drivers will simply look through the ads and make a short list of carriers to call and see what they have to say. They might listen to what their buddies have to say about where they’re working, listen to the CB rumor mill etc. Each of these little bits of reconnaissance has some limited value.

What I am asking is what have you done to make the place you are at now a success and why is it bad? Ask yourself, what can I control in this situation and what can I do to minimize my cost of operation and maximize my profit? If you haven’t done this exercise then you haven’t given yourself the opportunity to succeed and feel good about the quality of job you do.

So what can you control as an Owner Operator? You control many significant operating expenses such as your MPG. Is it as high as you can possibly get it? You control your maintenance cost. Are you doing everything necessary to minimize this expense?

Do you have a good relationship with the shop that does your work? Do you handle as many roadside minimal breakdowns as you can by yourself by carrying your own tools, grease etc.? Do you have a good accountant and financial support staffs that knows trucking and can offer advice when needed? Is your finance cost in line with what it should be? How is your relationship with your dispatcher? Is it cooperative or aggressive? Are your living expenses outside your truck operating cost reasonable?

Now look at what you can’t control. You cannot control the amount of miles you are offered – if there aren’t enough for you to make a living you will need to move on ASAP. You can’t control certain cost the carrier is probably going to pass on to you that might include your base plates, insurance cost etc.

Let’s try doing it this way. Grab a piece of paper and draw a line vertically down the middle of the page. On one side list all of your fixed expenses – your truck payment, base plate and insurance if it is a set amount. On the other side list all your variable expenses; fuel, maintenance, on road meals, cell bills, tolls etc. When you have finished collecting all the items that you pay to run your business, fill in the dollars that each one of these cost you each month. Try not to go into shock as you see the numbers all in one spot. It can be shocking but please be honest with each entry. After you have done this, look at each item.

On the fixed side try and see if everything listed is in line with what you know about the industry. Although these items might have a fixed payment schedule attached to them you should still feel comfortable that they are reasonable. If you’re not sure then your financial advisor should be able to help you here.

On the variable side, this is quite often where the savings can be found. These items are within your control and every opportunity should be explored to ensure that these items are minimized. Obviously you don’t want to go cheap on your maintenance cost and bring on a big expense later. So when I say minimize I mean don’t be penny cheap and dollar stupid. What I also mean is that you have to be comfortable that all the expenses involved in what it costs to run your truck (business) are in line and that you are doing your best at all times to keep these under control. Plus you always have an eye on how to further reduce them.

I am not trying to talk anyone out of leaving the carrier that they are currently at. What I am trying to do is slow down the Owner Operators who have had 5 jobs in 5 years and cannot understand why everyone’s always picking on them. Look in the mirror.

One of the reasons you became an Owner Operator is for the independence. When you made that decision you became a small business person. Are you sure you are acting like one?

One of the miracles of trucking is the maze of different pay packages that exist in this business. No two are alike and they all have their own little nuances that can make or break the Owner Operator. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to believe that bigger is better. It may very well be that the carrier that advertises the highest gross will not be the carrier that will put the most in your pocket. Shop wisely and investigate what processes and offerings each carrier has available to the Owner Operator that might help you reduce your variable cost. Some carriers offer reduced shop rates. Some might offer discount group offerings on cell phones, fuel, health benefits. Whatever, it will be helpful to investigate it all and see what might be available to you that you can leverage off to help you succeed.

So do your homework driver and make a solid decision!

About Ray J. Haight

Areas of Focus: Operations, Recruiting & Retention, Human Resources With a career spanning four decades, Ray has been involved in all facets of the North American Trucking Industry.