Insights

9 Tips to stay profitable

Trucksmarter

Jan 18, 2024

A female truck driver standing in front of their big rig truck smiling

How to work smart and make a profit—that’s the theme of the chat we had with Jeanise, a TruckSmarter customer and owner-operator in the trucking business for over 10 years. There’s a lot of general advice out there, and we wanted to get down to the details from truck drivers who really know what it takes. 

“Now I’m learning about what runs in what lane, what to expect from certain markets. I was getting that information as a [young] driver but I just dismissed a lot of it. And I wish I would have paid attention and retained it,” Jeanise said. She shares fresh tips and a lot of wisdom for truck drivers who are just getting in the business or want to optimize their operating costs.

1. Plan for lulls during shipping season.

“The lulls when different shippers take off—it normally hits January and February. The importers stop during those months because that’s Chinese New Year. People get used to that boom of getting a check and then spend 90% of it, then they can’t pay their bills. It’s easy when the money is flowing in to keep bad habits.” Learn which loads pay the most, and when they’re in season, so that you can make the most profit.

2. Know where you’re going.

Jeanise says it’s not easy to negotiate with brokers, so you have to build rapport over time. And some simply are not open to it. “It’s like take it or leave it. You need to be somewhat knowledgeable of the lane and where you’re going. Know what you’re getting into.”

And don’t forget about “dead zones.” “If you’re driving your truck somewhere and you know it’s a dead area, you can demand more money! I would rather drive empty and far than carrying someone’s stuff for cheap. You’re not driving a truck for gas.”

“It is very, very important that you know you’re in a freight desert because you’re not going to have anything around. You’re going to have to search for it. Or they’re not going to pay you well getting out of there. You’re going to have to deadhead far. It may not be favorable freight. You need to know your destination.”

3. Know your numbers.

Especially important for truck drivers starting out and fighting for a higher paying load, Jeanise says you need to know your cost per mile. “Know what it costs you to run your truck, let’s say, on a monthly basis. If the average freight rate is $2.50, know what your overhead is on your trucking business: your insurance, parking, maintenance, permits. If you know what you need to run $2.50 a mile for a 30-day period and you don’t run under that, then you’re running at a deficit.”

“It’s not just a mile rate. You can get paid 20 dollars per mile and the load is just barely 50 miles, but then they want you on it for two days. What’s the point of that? It’s your time as well as distance. Weight matters to me. Some people say it doesn’t matter; it does. I know the difference between a 20 thousand mile load and a 40 thousand mile load when I have to pay for fuel. It matters to me.”

4. Know your commodity.

Always know what it is you’re being asked to haul. “It actually does matter. It could be a truck load of TVs, but then they want you to have 250k insurance. Guess what, if you want me to carry a high value load and I’m using my high value insurance, then you’re going to pay me for high value transit. Because I’m paying for that coverage to cover your freight.”

5. Don’t take scraps—it’s not sustainable.

Jeanise knows, especially when you’re new to the trucking industry, it can be hard to look ahead when you feel like you have to take the job or it’ll go to someone else. But, she says, you have to understand the numbers game, because that’s what it takes to be successful. “If you’re not even paying yourself, you’re only paying bills and you’re breaking your truck down, then it’s better to not run it. If fuel is going to be eaten up at eighty cents a mile, what are you doing taking only a dollar something?” 

Not only is running at a deficit unsustainable for your trucking business, it ultimately brings down rates for everyone. “I know someone’s going to say, ‘Oh someone’s going to take it,’ because they do. Because there’s not a lot of camaraderie, and then [brokers] make you feel like [the load is] going to be gone. But just think about it: you woke up today and there was a load there, you woke up tomorrow and there was a load there. It was not like miraculously there were no more loads ever, you know? So stick it out.”

6. Be professional.

If you do need to turn down a load because it doesn’t make sense for your bottom line, Jeanise reminds truck drivers to not to give up on the relationship. She generally sticks to a simple but polite script. “Don’t be an ass; that’s not going to get you anywhere. Just tell them, ‘Hey, I appreciate your time. I, unfortunately, can’t meet you at that price. But if for any reason you get a little bit more money to cover the load, I’m still available; give me a call back or email me. Keep me on your list. If something else pops up that works for both me and you then we can work together, because I look forward to working with you.’ Just don’t write ‘em off..” Always remember to build a strong relationship with your freight broker, because you never know when it will work out.

7. Hone your listening skills.

Communication is important. “You have to hear what people ARE saying and also what they are NOT saying. There’s a lot that you get when people don’t say anything. There’s something there because they completely tried to avoid that [topic]. If you’re negotiating, start asking: do you pay for tracking, do you pay fuel surcharge? Start asking them questions.” A great tip for negotiating with freight brokers.

8. Calculate your delivery time.

How long are you really going to be carrying your load? “If [brokers] arbitrarily added a layover in there, you need to calculate and adjust your rate for that. They always try to go down to the mile because that’s how we used to talk to them, and we have to really change the way we talk to these brokers.”

“Their safety department is telling you that you can only safely drive 450 miles a day, so they space it out so far. Your truck has lost 1250 dollars because you’re babysitting this load. Sometimes you want that, sometimes you want to take it easy, but not all the time. Sometimes you’re on it too long.”

9. Be mindful of late-day appointments.

Make sure you take into account the fact that a delivery late in the day limits your day. If you have a late appointment and especially if it’s a weekend for deliveries, that kills your day. You’re not going to pick up again [that day]. That can really mess you up.”

Jeanise says as you build your business, it’ll get better. “At the beginning you’re really targeted as a new business. Because they lock you into so many things. That’s why I love TruckSmarter so much. TruckSmarter is so important to us owner-operators, giving us a forum to bounce ideas off of each other, the camaraderie. We’re here for each other.”

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TruckSmarter is a financial technology company, and is not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, Members FDIC. The TruckSmarter Visa Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa is accepted. FDIC insurance is available for funds on deposit up to $250,000 through Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. or Thread Bank, Members FDIC.

*Terms and conditions apply to the TruckSmarter cash back rewards program. Please see Program Terms for details.

TruckSmarter Logo Asphalt Grey Footer

TruckSmarter is a financial technology company, and is not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, Members FDIC. The TruckSmarter Visa Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa is accepted. FDIC insurance is available for funds on deposit up to $250,000 through Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. or Thread Bank, Members FDIC.

*Terms and conditions apply to the TruckSmarter cash back rewards program. Please see Program Terms for details.

TruckSmarter Logo Asphalt Grey Footer

TruckSmarter is a financial technology company, and is not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, Members FDIC. The TruckSmarter Visa Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa is accepted. FDIC insurance is available for funds on deposit up to $250,000 through Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. or Thread Bank, Members FDIC.

*Terms and conditions apply to the TruckSmarter cash back rewards program. Please see Program Terms for details.

TruckSmarter Logo Asphalt Grey Footer

TruckSmarter is a financial technology company, and is not a bank. Banking services provided by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, Members FDIC. The TruckSmarter Visa Debit Card is issued by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. and Thread Bank, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa is accepted. FDIC insurance is available for funds on deposit up to $250,000 through Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. or Thread Bank, Members FDIC.

*Terms and conditions apply to the TruckSmarter cash back rewards program. Please see Program Terms for details.