The formula for success as an O/O

by Mark Lee

Over the past couple of years I have helped a few friends transition from company driver to owner/operator. As strange as it may sound, it all started because of an ear infection. I was due to fly to Kenworth in Washington to play around in some new trucks for this magazine.

I had a friend giving me a ride to the airport and on the way up, I started to feel a bit weird, my balance was off and I had a terrible earache and fever.

The girl at the check-in desk advised me not to fly, so I called my friend and he turned around and picked me up.

After a quick visit to a walk-in clinic and a course of antibiotics, we stopped off at a truck dealership and my friend put a holding deposit on a brand new truck.

That was as spontaneous as it gets. Another friend asked about becoming an O/O, but decided against it at first. We had some rather heated conversations about the subject, as I thought he was an excellent candidate to become an owner/operator and that he would be able to make very good money. In fact his wife and I almost forced him into it, but it was a very long process.

It’s been a good decision for them both.

Another half a dozen or so drivers have also asked for and received my advice.

Now I don’t pretend to know it all, far from it. In fact, the first piece of advice I give somebody is to ask other people for their advice. As the saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat. The meaning behind the metaphor is spot on. There is no magic formula.

Or is there?

I think there is, not just in trucking, but in business in general. My philosophy is to keep it simple. You want to build up your savings? Simple, spend less than you earn! Really, it’s as easy as that.

You can come up with all kinds of strategies, but that philosophy will work every time, guaranteed.

It’s the same with everything about owning and operating your own truck. Keep it simple, don’t overthink things.

One friend spent countless hours trying to spec’ the perfect truck. He was even in a dilemma over which starter motor to have. It took every ounce of diplomacy I possessed to deal with those phone calls. In the end, he bought a truck from  stock. I have no idea which starter motor it has, but whichever one it is has worked just fine for the past couple of years.

The same applies to your choice of carrier, or what area of trucking you decide to go into.

If you are happy at your current carrier and they have owner/operator positions available, then why look elsewhere? You know exactly what you can expect and you have the advantage of running your company truck as if it were your own and working out the important numbers (the ones that go into your bank) as you wait for all your ducks to line up in a row.

You may hear of other carriers that pay more, or are better in some other way, but what you hear at the truck stop lunch counter and what really happens are often two very different things.

You will also know that different types of freight pay different rates. For example, flatbed rates are usually higher than dry van, but consider all the extra costs involved in running a flatbed – tarp repairs, replacement straps and bungees, a headache rack and tool boxes – and the difference in rates starts to balance out.

Not only that, but when you’re trying to pull a tarp that has blown off your load and is now covering your cab in -40 C, you’ll question whether that extra 10 cents per mile is worth it and I’m pretty sure your answer will be a resounding NO!

Reefer is the same – you can earn more, but there can be a lot of waiting around for fresh produce, frozen loads often deliver in the middle of the night and can play havoc with your hours-of-service and you have to add the cost of reefer fuel in some cases too.

So again, keep it simple. Do something you’re comfortable with.

The object of being in business is of course to make as much money as you can, but if you’re making yourself miserable and you hate what you’re doing, those extra few bucks are really not worth it.

Keep it simple. Buy the truck you need, which is one that’s reliable and economical. Do a job that you don’t hate and do it at a carrier you feel comfortable with. Oh, and spend less than you earn and you’ll be surprised how easy it is.


A fourth generation trucker and trucking journalist, Mark Lee uses his 25 years of transcontinental trucking in Europe, Asia, North Africa and now North America to provide an alternative view of life on the road.

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