The decision to buy a truck is a big one. It can be far more significant than simply deciding to own the truck you’ll be driving.
You’re actually starting a new trucking company — and you are now responsible for managing it. The simplest way to do this is to lease your truck to an established carrier, which will handle many of the tasks associated with the business; you’ll be paid either a percentage of the load revenue or a rate per mile.
Some owner-operators, however, prefer to be fully independent, finding their own freight and operating under their own authority. Some can contract with customers for enough freight to keep the truck (or trucks) running, but most depend on freight brokers or load boards to stay busy. In fact, some owner-ops that are leased to carriers use load boards to find return loads or supplement work they do for the carrier.
The load board concept is a simple one: Shippers with available loads, or brokers who are arranging transport for them, post information about the loads to one or more load boards. Truckers choose the load they want, contact the shipper or broker, and finalize arrangements.
In reality, however, there are more variables to consider. Many load boards also allow you to post the availability of your truck. You can list the date and time your equipment will be available and where, plus your contact information.
Some load boards are free, while others charge a subscription price. Some boards provide tools and services that help you make the best choices for your business. Before booking the first load, it’s best to understand how the load board works and what services are available so you can make intelligent choices.
One consideration is the volume of freight the load board handles. DAT, for example, claims to handle 357,000 exclusive daily loads and is the largest load board by volume. A basic subscription is $45 per month, while the most expensive, which offers more services, is $135. The load board at TruckStop.com is quite popular and offers subscriptions ranging from $39 to $149 per month. Another board, TruckerPath, offers plans priced from $30 to $110 per month.
An internet search for “free load boards” will also provide results. The services provided, however, may not be as robust as the paid ones. Some large brokerages, such as CH Robinson, have their own load boards. The advantage in this is that you’ll always be dealing with the same broker, while the disadvantage is you won’t see as large a variety of freight.
When choosing a load board, consider the services offered. You’ll want to know if the broker or customer offering a load you’re interested in is creditworthy. Many load boards allow you to request a credit check, either as a part of your subscription fee or for an extra charge. Some allow you to check credentials, such as FMCSA authority or a valid surety bond. Some allow drivers to provide carrier reviews, so you’ll be able to see what others have said about their experiences with a particular customer. Some load boards offer fuel cards or discounts on other products, some don’t.
If you decide to use a load board, you’ll need to be ready to provide documentation to each new customer or broker you deal with. You should have electronic copies of your authority (MC or DOT number), proof of liability insurance and your (IRS) W-9 that you can fax, email or text when you make first contact. Not being able to provide paperwork will quickly kill your chance to haul a load.
Selecting a load is a little more complicated than just picking out the load that pays the most to a destination you want. There are several things you can do to benefit your bottom line.
Start by understanding the rate you see. Does it include a fuel surcharge? Is any accessorial pay, such as tarping or loading, included in the rate? How will any detention time be paid, if it occurs? What about timeliness of payment — does the customer or broker pay immediately, or is there a delay? If delayed, will it be 30, 60, 90 days or even longer? All too often, a truck owner finds out after delivery that something isn’t covered.
Some load boards provide a lane average rate over a specific time period that you can check. Some offer highest, lowest and average rates. For example, if your lane is from Dallas to Philadelphia, you’ll be able to see the average rate of other loads that have moved on that route in the past 15 to 30 days. If the rate offered is below average, you can negotiate with the shipper or broker for a higher rate.
Another helpful tool is an inbound/outbound ratio for your potential destination. Some destinations get a lot of loads in but don’t send many out. This means there will be a lot of trucks looking for outbound loads after they deliver. When competition for freight is high, rates are low. Too many drivers have accepted a good-paying load — to Miami, for example — only to find that loads going the other way don’t generally pay well. Smart operators think about the NEXT load before they accept the current one.
Since load availability can change depending on seasons, weather and other factors, a destination with plenty of outbound loads last time may not be so good this time around, so it pays to check before every load.
When you’re ready to book a load, some load boards allow you to do it online. For most loads, however, you’ll need to call the shipper or broker. Once you book, it’s always best to follow specific instructions for the load. Show up on time, with a clean trailer, ready to run. Communicate any issues promptly. Deliver on time, with undamaged freight. The service you provide is your calling card.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.