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Should I Be An Owner-Operator? 4 Things You Must Consider First

May 23rd, 2022

Samantha Dwyer

Samantha Dwyer

Samantha joined the Anderson Trucking Family in November of 2012 as a specialized driver manager and managed a fleet of mixed company and contractor drivers. In the spring of 2014, she transitioned to the driver administration department and began working in contractor services. While in contractor services, Samantha familiarized herself with all processes, procedures and information in regards to driver contracts, pay and settlements. She is currently the operations support manager and oversees both the contractor services department as well as the driver settlement department and leads both of her teams to ensure our drivers receive the highest level of service required to help navigate their accounts and settlements on a daily basis.

So you want to own your truck. 

You dream of driving down the road with your business name on the side of your truck. Maybe you even want to see your business name on the side of multiple trucks. Getting there isn’t as impossible as it seems. There are lease-purchase programs that can help you get into a truck with little money down and no credit check. The question is: Is becoming an owner-operator truly what you want? Are you cut out for it?

You harbor a lot of financial responsibility when you own a truck. The investment can be steep — as much as $100,000 to $250,000. Are you financially prepared for that expense, as well as the maintenance costs to upkeep it? 

My job is all about making sure that drivers like you feel supported financially. In this article, I’ll help you understand if being an owner-operator is not only a financially responsible decision for you, but I’ll also help you determine if you have the desire to operate your own business. 

When you’re finished reading, you’ll know if it’s time to start planning to buy a truck or if you’d rather stay a company or lease driver. 

4 Questions You Must Ask Before Becoming a Truck Owner-Operator

Before jumping into anything, run through this list of questions first. Owning your own truck certainly comes with a lot of freedom and pride, but it’s a lot of work. If you aren’t ready for it, it can come as a shock. 

With more work comes bigger payoffs, so you have the opportunity to make a lot of money if you do it right. 

A blue truck and a yellow truck parked side-by-side.

1. Can You Handle the Financial Responsibility? 

As an owner-operator, you need to shoulder a lot of financial responsibility. Considering the cost of buying a truck should be top of mind. It’s also the number one thing that may prevent you from becoming an owner-operator in the first place. 

Buying a semi is the equivalent of purchasing a small home. It’s a very expensive purchase and a large business expense. And the more equipment you buy — including a trailer, tarps and tools — the more responsibility you have. 

While it’ll be nice to own your truck and not need to worry about a weekly payment coming out of your paychecks, you’ll still be spending money on your truck. You have to keep your truck in good working order, which means you need to consistently set money aside for preventative maintenance as well as unforeseen breakdowns. 

You won’t have anyone pushing you to save your money, so it’s up to you to take on that responsibility and to be vigilant about saving. You can’t be a paycheck to paycheck sort of person and succeed as an owner-operator. 

Taxes are also a bit more intimidating as an owner-operator. It’s your responsibility to keep careful track of your expenses and to work with a tax preparer who is familiar with the trucking industry. Because you won’t have taxes taken out of your checks, you have to be vigilant about setting money aside regularly to pay in when tax time rolls around. Conversely, you can make quarterly tax payments. 

You also need to factor in insurance. It’s your responsibility as an owner-operator to source the open market for not just truck insurance, but medical insurance, life insurance and more. You also won’t have anyone encouraging you to set up and contribute to retirement accounts. 

Plan to run under your own authority? You’ll have even more fees to worry about, from licensing and insurance fees to truck plating. 

If you’d rather just clock in for the day, drive for a few hours, clock out and be done for the day, being an owner-operator probably isn’t the right path for you.

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2. Are You Good at Booking Your Own Freight?

When you book your own loads, you take a risk as an owner-operator. 

Choosing your own loads might be unexpectedly tough for you. You have to have a lot of discipline. It’s one thing to make a choice between a few load offers your dispatcher provides when you’re a lease operator. It’s another entirely to search for that freight, negotiate a rate and book it yourself. You’ll also need to plan a few loads in advance and make sure you’re getting paid. Some drivers need that push from a dispatcher and encouragement to keep running.

You not only need to stay on top of your schedule, but you also have to pay attention to the market. Your decisions should be based on freight rates across the country. You can’t just pick the highest paying load — you have to make sure that load gets you into a good market so you can find freight out of that area and keep moving. You need to have a good strategy in order to succeed.

Sure, you might be great at booking your own loads and planning in advance, but when you’re running under your own authority you have no company support. That means a customer can cancel a load when you’re already on your way to pick up. 

When you arrive, there could be unexpected delays and there’s no guarantee that the load will be there for you to haul. If you were working with a company, they would track down the load for you. They could charge the customer for a truck order not used (TONU) and pay you. Without a company, unless you have the time to chase down the load, you lose out on all that money. 

You could also be forced to deal with changing loads without compensation. For instance, maybe you’re booked on a load that had one stop. When you pick up the freight, the customer could tell you that you have another stop that’s completely out of the way, and they’re not going to pay you extra for it. A company could help advocate for you. Companies build trusting relationships with customers — relationships that may be difficult to build when you’re running on your own.

A man standing at the front of his big rig.

3. What Kind of Owner-Operator Will You Be? 

What kind of owner-operator do you aspire to be? There are a few different paths that you can take. 

You can be an asset-based owner-operator and lease your truck on with a trucking company to haul freight for them. You’ll be provided a dispatcher and they’ll give you load offers. It offers the opportunity to work in a controlled environment with the reliability of consistent freight offers. 

This is a good first step as a new owner-operator, but keep in mind that you’ll be subject to the policies the company sets forth. That means you may have to utilize their technology and safety equipment and your truck will need to meet their requirements. It’s similar to being a lease driver but not having to make a truck payment.

Some companies also offer a program where you can sign on under their authority but you can choose the freight you want to haul on load boards. The company will set you up with a team that can provide support when needed, but you’ll ultimately be on your own and they’ll just assist with paperwork and payment. In many ways, this provides you with the best of both worlds. You can find your own freight but still run under another company’s authority. 

Because you’re running under their authority, you may need to follow certain company regulations. 

You can also choose to run under your own authority. This gives you complete autonomy. You won’t have any affiliation with a company and you can choose to run your business how you like. You’ll still be subject to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, of course, but you don’t need to use specific equipment or follow the rules of a company. 

You will, however, have to maintain your own authority and pay all the fees associated with it. You have to be the safety department, the accounting department, the dispatcher and the truck driver all in one. This can take up a lot of your time. 

As they say, time is money. As an owner-operator running under your own authority, you’ll be spending a lot of your time behind a mound of paperwork — not the steering wheel. 

It can also take a lot longer for you to get paid than it would if you were running with a company.

4. Do You Work Well Independently? 

We all like to think that we can succeed without any direction. For instance, I’ve worked with plenty of team members who insist they work well independently and don’t need a supervisor to keep them on track — to varying degrees of success. 

I’ve also worked with people who do very well with a hands-off supervisor. They’re self-starters, they’re innovative and they’re great at getting things done with little to no direction. 

As an owner-operator, you need to be in that latter category. You need to be driven. You need to be motivated to succeed, and you need to do it without anyone guiding you. You’ll be carving your own path. 

There’s a difference between craving freedom and working for it. You may want freedom, but are you willing to work for it? 

When you own your truck, you can choose to do what you want to do when you want to do it. You only have to answer to yourself. This is the best feeling in the world for many drivers and it’s something they strive to achieve in their careers. 

When you run under your own authority, you don’t have to follow the policies you’re used to following when you were leasing a truck. You can take your truck to any shop you want or fix your truck yourself. Add chrome accessories, paint it and add decals. Make your truck your home away from home with a custom-designed interior. Put your business name on the side of the cab. Bring your child or your partner on the road with you or bring a pet. Enjoy the freedom that you’ve earned. Be your own boss and continue to build your legacy. 

But as you do so, remember that you also need to make responsible decisions. It’s the ultimate business owner experience, but you have to be strict with yourself. You can choose to run freight two days per week or choose your loads based on where you want to vacation. You can take a month off. But you also need to make sure you can make your insurance payments and pay for fuel. 

A dry van truck driving down an empty road.

Is Being an Owner-Operator Your Next Move?

Being an owner-operator certainly comes with a learning curve. Ask yourself if you’re willing to juggle all the tasks it takes to be successful. 

Remember, there’s no shame in never owning your truck. There’s an idea out there that owner-operators are at the top of the food chain, but it’s not true. You don’t have to follow the same path every other driver follows. Your own goals and accomplishments are enough.

Owning a business isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a lot of work. It’s not just about owning your own business, it’s about maintaining it to working order so that your business continues to thrive.

To be a successful owner-operator, you have to think very long-term. 

If you’re ready to take the next step, ATS is looking for owner-operators that want to run under our authority. Enjoy the freedom to choose your own freight but get the support you need from a company. To learn more about the truck specs required and what we’re looking for, reach out to one of our driver consultants to contract with us as an asset driver. 


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