It’s a good time to be working in the trucking industry. Not only is the economy firing on all cylinders, but the American Trucking Associations (ATA) is predicting steady growth to continue through, at least, 2023. Plus, nearly 70 percent of all freight that’s shipped in the United States gets to its final destination via truck delivery at some point.
It’s conditions like these that can prove to be alluring for newcomers to the world of trucking. If you’re just getting started in this business, you may be wondering what to expect in your first year. While every situation is different, there are some experiences that are pretty much universal for first-time truckers, especially if you’re just getting started as an owner-operator.
The first adjustment you’ll have to make is with your work-home balance. Your days off the road (hometime) may not be as frequent as you’d expect as you’re getting established. Based on the 70-hour maximum hour restriction over eight days, the average trucker travels anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 hours per week. Technology has made this burden easier to bear with things like video chatting and text messaging, but it will still be an adjustment. Keep in mind that you’ll likely be able to balance your time better as you become established enough to set schedules according to your preferences.
Your money management skills will steer your success during your first year as an owner-operator. It’s good to have ambitious goals. But be realistic. Prepare your budget based on year-long averages, not just what you hope to be earning. According to an estimate by Indeed, owner-operators make about $140,000 per year, on average. Expect to be on the lower end of this average until you become established. Additionally, there are several factors that can affect first-year earnings, including:
• Insurance fees
• Vehicle-related expenses (fuel, repairs, routine maintenance and inspections, required equipment to track hours)
• Slow periods when cash flow is low
You’ll eventually get to the point where you can be more choosy about your loads. But in the first year, expect to be in the habit of taking just about anything you can get. This doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to whatever you find on load boards. You can also start reaching out to desired clients via email or potential clients you may come across in-person to build up a contact list.
In the meantime, be prepared to have loads and trips that involve out-of-the-way locations or evening, weekend, and even holiday hours. The silver lining here is that by keeping schedules and making contacts within your first year, you’ll be able to develop a good reputation and reach a point where you’ll get better loads and mutually beneficial long-term contracts.
Ultimately, the best way to really understand what to expect during your first year is to ask seasoned truckers working as owner-operators who’ve already gone through the ups and downs of that initial period when starting out. There are many online forums where you can post questions and get feedback. Or you could do some networking and connect with other owner-operators with a foot in the door to get some real-world insights.
Another valuable asset for first-time truckers is Pay4Freight. We provide access to money-saving programs and other resources that can drive your success in the trucking industry. Contact us if you want to speak to someone who can give you advice on what to look for in a factoring program.