The Pre Owner-Operator Checklist
You're looking to become an expedite owner-operator to be your own boss, set your own schedule and gain control over your financial future.
But the reality is that ownership is not for everyone. As an owner, you're taking on more responsibility - and risk. And if you're not prepared, you could be setting yourself up for failure before you even get started.
So, what can you do to prepare for ownership and put yourself in the best position to succeed?
Use this Pre Owner-Operator Checklist with the 3 M's - mindset, mentors and money - as your guide.
1. Thinking like an owner.
When you're an employee, you can depend on steady paychecks, paid vacations, and health benefits. But as an owner-operator, you're the business owner. And that means all those expenses are on you. And you must deal with a lot more uncertainty with cash flow, especially in the early days.
Are you prepared to mentally deal with the financial ups and downs that will come with the business?
2. Taking full responsibility for your successes - and setbacks.
When things aren't going your way, it's easy to fall into the habit of "victim thinking," where you think that events from the outside are controlling your destiny. But, as the owner, you don't have anyone or anything to blame. You're responsible.
Sure...slow freight, long sit times, rude dispatchers represent situations and people outside of your control that can impact your success. But even in those scenarios, you're still responsible for putting yourself in the best position to overcome those challenges.
Do you embrace this responsibility?
3. Keeping calm under pressure.
The initial enthusiasm for ownership will wane over time. It's inevitable. Then you encounter those gut-wrenching challenges where you think, "What did I get myself into?"
You want to quit.
Or, you panic and start making rash decisions that put you in an even worse situation - and, ultimately, put you out of business.
Either way, if you're not mentally prepared to expect hard times in your business, you'll be blindsided and knocked off balance.
Are you ready to confront whatever challenges come your way?
4. Seeking out successful owner-operators.
Why try to reinvent the wheel? Learn from expedite owner-operators who have built successful businesses.
Where do you find them? You can start at ExpeditersOnline.com, where you'll find successful expediters who also write blogs for the site. Also, check out the numerous social media groups that are geared to expediting.
Expedite Expo, held in Fort Wayne, Ind., July 16 and 17, is another good forum to meet experienced owner-operators who would be willing to serve as mentors.
Who are your mentors?
5. Building your business team.
Tap into industry professionals' expertise who can help you navigate the opportunities and potential pitfalls that come with the expedite business. Some of the people to have on your business team might include your bookkeeper/ accountant, insurance agent, and vehicle sales representative.
Who is on your business team?
6. Knowing your numbers.
If you're new to expediting, you most likely won't know what to expect to forecast revenue and expenses accurately. That's why many industry experts recommend that you drive for a fleet owner before purchasing a vehicle. This way, you can get to know the business in a lower-risk environment to help you get a feel for what numbers you might expect if you owned your own truck.
What will it take to run your business profitably as an owner-operator?
7. Reducing personal expenses (and debt).
Your success as an owner-operator largely hinges on cash flow. And the lower your expenses, the more money you get to keep to cover those slow weeks and ultimately invest into your future.
As you evaluate your personal budget, where are the best opportunities to save money? What debts should you pay off before you take on the risks - and expenses - of ownership?
8. Improving your credit score.
Your credit score not only impacts whether or not you get approved for financing to buy your first truck but also several other factors tied to the cost of vehicle ownership, such as the required down payment, interest rate (and, thus, monthly payment), and insurance costs.
In other words, even if you could qualify to buy a truck with a below-average credit score, it could still cost you hundreds of dollars (or more) per month, making it much more challenging to make money with that truck and build a sustainable business.
How is your credit score? Do you need to work on raising it?
9. Preparing for vehicle purchase.
As a general rule of thumb, be prepared to put down about 10 to 20 percent toward purchasing a new straight truck, depending on the lender's requirements and your credit history.
Keep in mind that a large down payment not only helps you secure financing for the truck but also puts you in a stronger equity position in that truck. So, when you're ready to trade it in, you can apply that equity as a down payment toward your next vehicle.
Do you have sufficient cash as a down payment to purchase the vehicle?
10. Setting aside cash reserves.
No matter how well prepared you are, Murphy's Law will kick in: What can go wrong will go wrong.
That's why it's crucial to have cash reserves for:
- Vehicle repairs. Even if the truck you buy is under warranty, you still need to set aside money for preventive maintenance and any unexpected downtime that could impact your income.
- Working capital. This helps you smooth out cash flow and cover bills during slow periods.
- Emergency fund. This covers unexpected medical issues, family emergencies or any event that would put you and your truck out of service for an extended period.
Once you factor in all your business startup costs, how much cash do you have left in reserves to have on-hand for emergencies?
The Bottom Line
As the NFL Hall of Fame coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, once put it, "Hope is not a strategy."
If you're going to succeed as an owner-operator, you can't wing it and hope for the best. You've got to prepare and put yourself in the best position to excel.
So, use this Pre Owner-Operator checklist to help you think through the essential aspects of ownership before taking the plunge.