How to Survive Your First Year in the Trucking Business
Many new trucking companies close their doors within the first year of operation. Why? There are a few of the common mistakes that I’ve seen owner-operators and small carriers make, and as a result I’ve seen a huge number of them close their doors before their first anniversary.
Below are four of the most common mistakes a trucking company might make – plus ways you can avoid them.
1. Growing Too Quickly
Running a small fleet is a daily challenge that requires patience, organization and hard work. However, some owners jump out and hire too many people to help them through this process. Hiring people is often the single largest expense for a company – in trucking, it’s usually only surpassed by fuel costs.
Outsourcing simple tasks will allow you to focus on what you’re best at: hauling freight. Good examples of items that can be outsourced: back-office functions, payroll processing, human resources and marketing. You can also use a load board or a dispatch service instead of hiring a salesperson. Most of these services can be handled by experts at a much cheaper rate, while also ensuring that you meet all state and federal guidelines related to these functions.
Before hiring staff members, see if your current staff is overwhelmed and often working overtime. Ask them to outline all of their tasks for the week, plus how much time they spend on each task. Ask yourself: Are these tasks essential to meeting our goals? Can we eliminate this task? Can we outsource this task? You’ll need to answer these questions, so that you don’t outspend your revenue.
2. Not Meeting “New Entrant” CSA Guidelines
The “new entrant” guidelines state that all new fleets filing for DOT registration will be audited WITHIN the first 18 months. Many new entrants assume this means that they have 18 months to meet all of the guidelines before they are audited, but I’ve known many fleets that were audited on month 3 and were shut down for 30 days until they met all of the requirements. This temporary shut-down almost always results in bankruptcy.
New entrants will AUTOMATICALLY FAIL the CSA Safety audit for the following violations:
Alcohol and Drug Violations
- No alcohol and/or drug testing program
- No RANDOM alcohol and/or drug testing program
- Using a driver who refused a required alcohol or drug test
- Using a driver the company knows had a blood alcohol content of 0.04 or greater
- Using a driver who failed to complete required follow-up procedures after testing positive for drugs
- Using a driver without a valid CDL
- Using a disqualified driver
- Using a driver with a revoked, suspended, or cancelled CDL
- Using a medically unqualified driver
- Operating a motor vehicle without having the required level of insurance
- Failing to require drivers to make hours-of-service records
Repairs and Inspections Violations
- Operating a vehicle declared Out-of-Service for safety deficiencies before repairs are made
- Not performing OOS repairs reported in driver-vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs)
- Operating a CMV not periodically inspected
3. Not Having Enough Insurance Coverage
Most fleets realize that they need liability and cargo insurance, and most fleets generally meet the base guidelines. However, it’s also important to have coverage for physical damage of non-owned trailers and general liability protecting your drivers or others when the truck is not involved. Some examples: customers slipping or falling on your premises, erroneous delivery of products resulting in damage, actions of a driver at loading docks, truck stops, etc. Some fleets, based on size and type, may also need Workers Compensation coverage – too many fleets are not carrying enough in this area.
Not having enough insurance has left many fleets with the inability to pay for damages. They just purchased enough to meet the minimum requirements and didn’t fully understand the long-term effects of their decisions.
4. Not Understanding Your True Costs per Mile
You need to know both the fixed and variable costs to operate your business. Fixed costs are the expenses you incur even if your truck isn’t running, like truck payments, insurance, building rent, etc. Variable costs are what you spend to move a load: fuel, tires, maintenance, etc. Starting out, you should have enough cash on hand to cover your expenses for 3-6 months, since you’ll need to cover these costs before money starts coming in. Plus, your business might not grow as fast as you expected at the beginning. Knowing your costs per mile will help you manage that cash flow.
The cost per mile and other financial reports are also a good barometer for the financial health of your business. It’s best to understand your basic cost per mile based on the annual mileage and annual expenses for all of your vehicles. The simplest way to do it is divide the annual costs by the number of miles run that year. The challenge is to accurately allocate ALL of the expenses – the key reason many fleets don’t survive. All too often, new fleets do NOT take the time to understand their expenses, document their expenses, and then fully understand their cost per mile. They then accept nearly any rate just to get a load. Over time, this model gets them upside down with their cash flow. Before long, bills aren’t getting paid, drivers aren’t making the amount of money they need, and the entire business starts to collapse from within.