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Resource Guide

How to Make More Money as an Owner-Operator

Maybe you chose trucking because you love the freedom of the open road, the freedom of choosing your own path, and the freedom to be your own boss. Maybe you were born into the freight business and trucking chose you.

Whatever your case, you’re in it to win it. You’re here to make money, plain and simple. What’s not so simple are the challenges you face, many that are out of your control and unpredictable, like market trends, government regulations, and operating costs, for example. When you’re faced with even one obstacle, let alone a number of them all at once, it becomes clear that to make more money, the smartest move you can make is to take advantage of every tool and strategy available.

We’ve put together this guide to help you reach your financial potential as an owner-operator. While it’s true that many things are out of your control, plenty of things are within your control. The key is to do what you do best: Get in the driver’s seat, choose the fastest, most direct route, and run your business like you run your truck—a well-oiled machine that requires attention to detail, regular maintenance, and solid “know-how.”
Here are five areas to focus on:

Make more money per mile.

Maybe you put in 12-hour days, 6 days a week, 49 weeks a year. You take any and every load you can find. You give it your all. Yet, somehow, you’re missing the mark and not bringing in the amount of money relative to the hours and the blood, sweat, and tears you’re putting in. It doesn’t have to be this way. Once you’re equipped with some tools and strategies that help you work smarter, not harder, you can start enjoying the job you signed up for and the freedom and flexibility that comes along with it. The key is not to work more hours, but to make more money per mile. It basically boils down to finding the best loads out there, getting the best possible rates for every load, and keeping your cost-per-mile as low as possible. When you get these things dialed in and working together, you will make a higher profit as an owner-operator.

Let’s take a look at how truckers find loads. Many owner-operators go out of business because they don’t know how to find good loads. Many rely solely on free load boards or they bounce from load board to load board. Some jump from broker to broker, which only gets you so far for so long. Brokers come and go, and if you’re trying to build and grow your operation, the last thing you want to do is start from Square One after you’ve put all your eggs in one basket, especially if the basket’s a little shaky. While a free load board might be a good place for a beginner, it’s like anything else: you get what you pay for. In general, free load boards turn up low-paying loads, and they lack the technology you need to keep up with today’s fast-paced freight demands. Your goal is to avoid this timewasting approach and focus on how to find more truck loads, the best truck loads, and high-paying truck loads.

The best way to make more money as an owner-operator is to use the best load board you can, one with a high volume of legitimate loads that pay you what you’re worth. Our definition of “best” is a load board that goes way beyond the old-school notion of a load board that just finds loads. It screens out scammers and protects you from fraudulent activity. It only allows reputable, professional brokers to post loads, brokers who pay well and pay on time. It gives you valuable information and decision tools that help you make a solid game plan and save precious time. Ideally, it helps you perform every aspect of your business with speed and ease. When evaluating load boards, ask yourself the following:

Is it comprehensive?

There’s really no reason you should have to bounce around from load board to load board, website to website, to find loads and keep track of all the details. If you take this approach, by the time you decide on a load, chances are high that it’s gone when you’re ready to book it. The ideal load board should be the only tool you need to find all the quality, good-paying loads you could possibly haul.

Is it innovative?

Fast and easy to use? Nothing’s more frustrating than fussing with clunky technology, the very thing that’s supposed to simplify your job and make it easier. It’s one thing to find a good load, quite another to book it before someone beats you to the punch. The best load board is one that helps you be fast and first. What if you could book loads instantly on your schedule, from the road, maybe even outside broker business hours?

Does it include other tools to help you make more money?

Look for a load board that goes the extra mile to help you choose brokers to work with and other important information, like broker credit score, experience level, and how long it takes them to pay you. Truckstop.com employs a whole team that checks every broker on the load board regularly, so broker data is relevant and up to date.

The best trucking load board lets you drill down to find loads that are right for you. Look for tools that sort loads by rate, origin, and broker ratings. Some include heat maps and search options that serve up the best-paying loads. The most innovative, established load boards help you find backhauls, let you post your truck and your specialty so brokers can find you, and have an instant load-booking feature, just to name a few. It will let you get as detailed as you want, saving you tons of time to make more money.

Now let’s look at rates.

You obviously want the highest rate possible. But how do you get it? Look for a load board that provides insight into rate trends so you can negotiate better with brokers to get fair pay that offsets your expenses and returns a profit. The best load board gives you visibility into spot market rates (a one-time rate for hauling a load), which vary widely depending on many factors, like seasonality (winter loads during the holiday season could command higher spot market rates, for example), supply and demand, and loads-to-truck ratio, to name a few. When you understand spot market rates, you can back up your negotiations with solid, current data and push for a higher rate when the broker is holding out for a lower one. Ideally, your load board should have a rates tool that arms you with this and other information critical to helping you make more money as an owner-operator.

Take control of getting paid.

Once you’re well-equipped to find and book good-paying loads, what now? Get paid! If that sounds like a no-brainer, consider the roadblocks that could make your ultimate goal go awry: Wading through paperwork, finding the time to create and send professional invoices to your broker partners, and waiting for long periods of time between paychecks.

Getting paid should be something you can count on like clockwork. For that to happen, you either have to be highly organized or hire a bookkeeper that knows the ins and outs of the business.

If you choose to invoice on your own with DIY invoices, make sure your invoices are professional and thorough. Take care to include detailed and accurate information, clearly communicated, so the broker can pay your invoice without time-consuming inquiries that could delay your pay.

Make sure you invoice on time as well, ideally as soon as you’ve finished the job. A mobile app, like Truckstop.com Mobile (iPhone | Android), can help with this, even while you’re on the road. Consistent and timely invoicing will help ensure you receive steady pay and avoid cash flow problems. You must also be diligent about making sure you’ve been paid by each broker for every job. It’s easy to lose track of late payments, especially when you’re navigating long hours on the road and all the other duties that come with the job. Chances are, you’d rather spend your downtime at home with friends and family or enjoying your favorite hobby instead of doing office work.

Or, you might find that the time you spend manually invoicing and billing brokers—and keeping it all organized—might be better spent hauling loads and making more money. Consider investing in a software program that automatically generates invoices and tracks payments. Specialty software can do all this and more in just a few clicks, saving you countless hours a week. In one study, Truckstop.com’s TMS tool saved carriers up to 18 hours a week and helped them earn up to 12% more profits.

If cash flow challenges are a constant worry, factoring might be a good option for you. Factoring (also called accounts receivables financing) means you (the carrier) use a third-party finance company to get paid faster than the 30 to 60 days it usually takes for an invoice to work its way through a broker’s accounts payable department. Factoring allows you to get paid on the invoice right away, so you have cash on hand to cover expenses and keep moving.

When choosing a factoring company, make sure you read the fine print. Not all factoring solutions are created equal. Avoid ones with application fees, long contracts, and cancellation penalties. Look for a factoring solution that offers you more than it requires of you. The last thing you need when you’re in a cash crunch are loopholes you were unaware of when you thought you were covered.

Understand your numbers.

If you’re serious about making more money, you need to master a bit of math. You need to know your cost per mile. In fact, it’s a fundamental calculation every owner-operator should know, arguably the single most important number you need to get a clear view of your profit margins. Once you’ve established your cost per mile, you can start making adjustments to get this number down, so more money goes into your pocket. It’s a must-know when looking at rates, so you make money on every load and don’t operate at a loss.

To get to this number, group your expenses into three categories: fixed costs, variable costs, and salary.

Fixed costs are exactly what they sound like: expenses that, for the most part, don’t change and that you have to pay whether or not your truck is hauling loads and earning money for you. Some examples of fixed costs include insurance, truck lease or loan payments, permits, accounting services, and load board subscriptions.

Variable costs are the costs associated with operating a truck and being on the road. These costs vary monthly, like the term implies, and are subject to market conditions; fuel, food, and lodging prices; and how many miles you’re running your truck that month.

Your biggest expense should be your monthly salary and what you pay your drivers.

Calculating your cost per mile is the single most important calculation you can do for your trucking business.

Download our “Cost Per Mile” worksheet to see spending patterns and areas you can cut costs.

Download

To calculate your cost per mile, download the Cost Per Mile worksheet above. Gather a specific month’s worth of receipts (fuel, food, lodging, etc.), your fixed-cost bills for a month (insurance, truck payment, phone, etc.), salaries for a month, and truck odometer readings for a month. Add the fixed, variable, and salary costs, then divide that total by the total number of miles traveled that month. The resulting number is your cost per mile.

In general, your cost per mile decreases as your miles increase. If your cost per mile is too high, you may need to find a way to get more loads to drive it down.

Fixed costs are exactly what they sound like: expenses that, for the most part, don’t change and that you have to pay whether or not your truck is hauling loads and earning money for you. Some examples of fixed costs include insurance, truck lease or loan payments, permits, accounting services, and load board subscriptions.

Variable costs are the costs associated with operating a truck and being on the road. These costs vary monthly, like the term implies, and are subject to market conditions; fuel, food, and lodging prices; and how many miles you’re running your truck that month.

Your biggest expense should be your monthly salary and what you pay your drivers.

Control your costs.

If taking on more loads isn’t an option, look for ways to cut costs and control expenses. Limit restaurant meals, negotiate to get your cell phone bill lowered, limit time spent idling, and drive slower to save on fuel in addition to seeking out the least expensive fuel stops. Since one of your biggest expenses as an owner-operator is fuel, seek out other ways to save on fuel, like choosing the right tires and keeping them properly maintained to get more profit per load, too. For example, single-wide tires can improve fuel efficiency by as much as 8%.

Look for a load board with tools that help you cut costs and maximize profit-per-mile. Our Advanced and Pro Load Board Fuel Desk feature helps you optimize fuel savings and plan fuel stops route by route according to miles per gallon. It even helps you calculate IFTA taxes as you go, which is a major bonus come tax time, which leads us to our next money-saving tip.

Truckstop.com's Load Board Pro Fuel Desk example.

Be prepared at tax time.

Among the biggest challenges in operating your trucking business is understanding how you are taxed. Good planning, recordkeeping, and basic bookkeeping will help you avoid any big surprises in April. You want to be able to deduct as many legitimate costs as possible. Save every single receipt, no matter how small the amount. Come tax time, every deduction you can claim will make a difference to your bottom line.

To keep things organized and accurate without rifling through stacks of paperwork every time you need a crucial piece of information, consider using a TMS. A small investment in an all-encompassing technology solution could end up saving you priceless time and thousands of dollars. Our TMS saves countless hours a week and increases profits measurably for owner-operator just like you who are looking to put more money in their pockets and take the worry out of managing their operations.

Our TMS has proven to be especially valuable when it comes to the task of IFTA filing every three months. If you’re like most carriers, the last thing you want to think about is the chore that seems to come around faster every quarter. The TMS tool automates IFTA reporting and does 99% of the work for you. One carrier estimated that it saves him 700 hours a year. That’s a lot of time you could spend getting loads and making more money.

Wrap-up

The role you play in America’s economy can’t be over-emphasized. You literally deliver the goods to this great country to keep her going forward, regardless of what’s going on in the world. That’s something to take great pride in. But your economic situation is not to be overlooked just because your work is meaningful and critical to millions of Americans. You deserve to make money. Good money. More money.

Truckstop.com can help. It’s our sole purpose. Check out our load boards today, browse our trucking technology tools designed especially for carriers like you, and start making more money today.

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