Paul has been in the trucking industry for twelve years. He worked as an over-the-road driver, a local driver and acted as a CDL instructor. He started at ATS as a flatbed specialized driver before moving into a driver consultant role.
Picture this: you’ve been driving for a new trucking carrier for just under one month. Your driver manager sends you a load that requires you to take a route on unfamiliar roads and to drop off at a location you’ve never been to before.
You’re a few hours from your destination when you come across road construction. You have to find an alternate route.
It’s frustrating, but it’s okay. You have time.
You end up at the customer’s construction site an hour later than you’d hoped. But there’s a problem now: no one is there. No one met you at the gate and you can’t see anyone nearby. If you’re any later dropping this load off, you’re going to be really late picking up your next load.
Yikes. Has this ever happened to you?
If you would’ve taken the time to trip plan before you started driving for the day, you would’ve seen the construction and planned accordingly.
If you would’ve called the customer, you would’ve found out that had you entered at the gate on the north side of the property, there was a foreman waiting to let you in and help you unload.
Instead, you’re late for your next load, the customer is upset and your dispatcher is calling you to ask what happened.
And it’s only your first month with this new carrier.
As a driver on the road for more than eleven years who switched carriers a few times, I learned countless tips and tricks the hard way over the years. I’m here to teach you everything you need to know during your first year at a new trucking carrier so you can have the best experience possible. Learn from my mistakes and you’ll be a lot less stressed — trust me.
If you’ve ever started a new job outside of the trucking industry, you know that it’s difficult adjusting to a new job no matter where you go. You’re trying to understand the lingo, you’re trying to adjust to your new coworkers and understand how they communicate, you’re trying to figure out all the aspects of a new position. Just like this happens at any new job, it happens in the trucking industry — you’re just in the truck as you’re trying to adjust.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about adjusting to new freight lanes, a new dispatcher and more in your first year with a new carrier. Once you finish reading, you’ll understand exactly what you need to do to have a great first year at your new carrier.
1. Find Out How Your Trucking Salary Will Be Paid
One of the first things you should ask about in your first week at a new company is how you will be paid.
First, you need to understand if you’ll be paid based on percentage of the load or cents per mile (CPM). Companies typically make you choose one or the other. However, some companies offer programs for company drivers that automatically pay you whichever option is greater on a load-by-load basis.
Percentage pay works to your advantage when freight costs are high, while CPM provides stable, steady income when freight prices are low.
Then you need to learn about when you can expect your first paycheck. Your first few checks may be lean as you get your bearings, but that’s to be expected.
To account for this, some companies offer drivers guaranteed pay for their first few weeks or months as new drivers. You are guaranteed to take home a certain amount of money per week.
If your loads don’t rake in that much money during that period of time, you’ll be paid the difference. If you make more than the guaranteed pay each week, great!
Guaranteed pay allows you, as the driver, to take the time to learn the freight lanes and customers without feeling pressure to earn.
If you want to get paid on time, you need to know when your paperwork is due each week. For instance, if your paperwork detailing your loads is due on Sunday evening and you don’t turn it in until Monday morning, you can be sure that you will not get paid that week.
You’ll receive your pay on the next check, but a week without pay can be problematic if you aren’t financially prepared for it. It’s always a good reminder to set money aside from each check to account for emergencies (i.e. a breakdown).
If you’re working with a carrier that provides a bonus — whether a referral bonus or a bonus for signing up to lease a truck — make sure you find out when you’ll receive that payout, too.
2. Study Your New Freight Lanes and Customers
Hopefully, when you were being recruited, you asked about the company’s customer base and its freight lanes. Ideally, you chose a company that runs in an area you’re comfortable driving through and that will route you through the house regularly.
Now that you’re not just talking about freight lanes and you’re actually hauling freight to new customers, you need to learn everything you can about both the freight lanes and the customers.
Driving new freight lanes is great because you’ll see new parts of the country, but it also requires you to remember your safety training and slow down. You never know what’s around the next corner. Use extreme caution and watch for signs indicating if you can legally drive on that road.
It’s crucial that you plan your trips as a driver in your first year at a new company. A GPS system like Google Maps is routing a car, not a semi-truck. It’ll get you there, but it will not get you where your truck needs to be. Google Maps might take you through a town with low bridges or roads with weight restrictions that you cannot be on.
This is the time when you need to pick up the phone and call the customer. Ask the customer how the building is set up, what street you need to turn down and how you need to pull up.
Depending on whether you’re driving a flatbed trailer or a van, you will have a specific spot you need to be. They will have specific requirements for you dependent upon the type of freight you’re hauling and the type of trailer it’s on.
Look at a satellite view of the customer site and compare it to their notes. Make notes on the map.
If you’re a specialized driver, you may be routed to the middle of a cornfield or to a busy construction site in a huge city. Without calling the customer first, you can end up waiting at the site for hours for someone to turn up (like in the scenario we mentioned earlier).
Failing to make a customer happy has the potential to get you removed from delivering to them ever again. You can be banned from a customer for being late for a delivery or by being disrespectful. As a driver, it’s your job to treat the customer with respect and to cater to them. They should treat you with equal respect.
If you’re banned from a customer, you may even lose your job.
3. Develop a Strong Relationship with your Dispatcher
Building a strong relationship with your dispatcher based on a foundation of honesty and communication should be one of your top priorities when you start driving for a new trucking carrier.
Try to understand how they tick and let them in on anything they should know about you. On day one, you should have a conversation with them about your intentions. Do you plan on pushing hard? Or do you plan on working slow and steady to get the job done? How often do you want to go home?
Respect and honesty make for a strong relationship on both sides. You’re part of one larger team — dispatchers, operations and safety included — and once you begin to realize that, you will find success.
It’s your dispatcher's job to help you; use them as a resource. Your first few months you can rely on them and the company’s safety team to help you secure your loads. If you’re new to flatbed and don’t have a trainer with you, you can send your dispatcher and safety team photos of your loads. They’ll give you guidance on securement best practices.
4. Set a New Schedule
You should start making a new routine as soon as possible. Get a good schedule going so that you are set up for success.
Learn which truck stops you like because they have plenty of parking, clean showers, working washing machines and the best coffee. Know when you are getting paid and when you need to have your paperwork turned in.
You may be placed on new routes that take you farther away from home; be mindful about scheduling home time.
Keep On Trucking!
Within your first six to eight months, you should feel comfortable at your new carrier.
As long as you communicate with your customers, deliver your loads on time, complete your paperwork and effectively communicate your needs with your new driver manager, it should be smooth sailing (er, driving).
If you want to learn more about the common mistakes you could be making as a driver, download our guide.
If you’re looking for a new trucking carrier to call home, check out Anderson Trucking Service’s hiring areas. You’ll get an idea of where our customer base lives and where you’ll be hauling loads as a valued ATS driver.