Taking the business to the next level

by Mark Lee

I’m getting restless. Not because I’ve yet to pull the trigger on an APU. But I have found a solution that works perfectly.

It’s so simple I wish I had thought of it before. I’ve just stopped worrying about the issue entirely. If it’s too hot to sleep, I run the truck. If it’s nice and cool, I don’t.

Problem solved.

My restlessness now is due to reaching a performance plateau. There isn’t much more I can do with my business now to improve it.

I’ve struck a nice balance between being out there earning a buck and being at home with my family and friends and enjoying the fruits of my labour.

I could micro-manage things and possibly save a little money here and there, but there’s always the danger of spending $10 trying to save $5 when you start doing that.

So I have a few options available to take my business to the next level. I could increase the revenue and profits on my current truck by working it more, either by running team or using a part-time driver to drive it while I am taking my home time.

Running team is not an option for me, which leaves a part-time driver as the only consideration.

I could also increase my revenue by adding another truck or getting my own authority and finding my own work, both of which I have done in the past.

However it’s not that simple. Adding another truck adds a whole lot of headaches too.

First of all, I’d need a truck. I know exactly which one I would go for as I already have one, but the current model is quite a bit more expensive than the one I have due to a combination of increased prices and the disparity between the US and Canadian dollars.

I know the truck would still make money – on paper, at least – but I would need a driver and good ones are thin on the ground.

Back in Britain, when I ran a small fleet, things were different.

I had been in the industry all my working life and as such I knew a lot of drivers from working alongside them. I knew which of them I wanted behind the wheel of my trucks and which I didn’t. Over here, it’s different.

I haven’t been around long enough to know who’s good and who isn’t. I have friends who drive truck, but most of them are themselves owner/operators.

In any case, employing family or friends is not a very good idea in my experience. Been there, done that. So then I’d have to advertise and put the word out there. Been there and done that, too.

One guy had the perfect resume, many years of experience ending as a driver-trainer for a very reputable company and a reference from his previous employer that could only have been better if it had been written by his mum, so I snapped him up. I now believe that the reference was so good because the previous employer wanted to make sure I gave him the job and took him off their hands.

This leaves me with the option of going out on my own and running under my own authority. I’ve done it before.

In fact, in Britain it is the only way you can become an owner/operator; running on another carrier’s authority and insurance is illegal.

I’m quite good at sales, I know how to pick loads, negotiate a good rate and be two or three steps ahead of myself when doing so in order to keep moving with high-paying loads.

All the information needed to do so is readily available if you know how to use the load boards.

However I would need a trailer and a yard to park my truck and trailer. I would need to be responsible for making sure I get paid in full and on time. I’d need a fuel card and everything I had to buy would be a retail prices, as I would no longer get fleet discounts.

I would still be better off financially if I did everything right, but it wouldn’t take much for circumstances beyond my control to throw a rather large wrench in the works – something as simple as a missed appointment due to weather, traffic, delays in loading, a breakdown, illness or family emergency or even a situation like I was recently faced with.

I loaded in Vancouver for delivery into Calgary and when I loaded I phoned the receiver to make a delivery appointment for the next day. It was early afternoon when I was ready to roll and the receiver had already finished for the day.

I arrived in Calgary that night and took my break. When I started again the next day I called the receiver again and was informed that they were making bookings five days in advance.

With my own trailer I would now be stuck with a load for the next week, if you included the weekend.

Yes, I would’ve charged demurrage, but I would’ve already had my next load or two organized and would have to cancel those, which could have cost me a penalty charge on top of harming my reputation for reliability.

None of the above is a factor with the carrier I’m leased to now. If I have a problem and cannot continue with a load, they can easily repower it. If a receiver decides they don’t want their freight, I just take the trailer to the nearest terminal and get another trailer. I don’t have to chase my money or worry about any of the back office stuff.

Considering all this, I suddenly don’t feel so restless anymore.

The only reason I’m in a position to move my business forward is because of the work I’ve done and the payments I’ve received from my carrier for doing so.

The grass may well be greener on the other side of the fence, but only because it has a lot more “fertilizer” shovelled on it.

As soon as I jump the fence it’s going to be me that’s doing the shovelling and this is something any owner/operator needs to think about before taking the next step – because that next step could very easily leave them up to the eyeballs in “fertilizer.”


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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  • I also would buy another truck same issue getting a good driver, if one showed up I would buy another truck as trucks are easy to find and money is cheap.