Monday, March 05, 2012

Click Mouse, Make Money

I got an email recently from a woman who just started driving team with her husband - they're nine months in - she was curious about how we find loads, that I must have written about it, and which posts should she look at to get the information? It wasn't until she asked that question that I realized I never had written about it.

Until now.

Most of you know we're owner-operators and pull a flatbed trailer. Our freight ranges from building materials, to containers, to military equipment, to aircraft parts to honeybees. We'll haul just about anything they can put on a flatbed if the price is right.

Although finding freight isn't hard, it is a little bit of an art. Knowing where the freight is, knowing how much time is involved loading, knowing if it's going to a good area, deciding whether deadheading (driving empty to pick up) is going to be worth it; these are all learned. Ed is a master at this - you can throw a load and a rate at him and he'll know immediately if it's worth doing. Me? I'm not as quick with the figuring, but I've gotten pretty good at determining whether a load is worth our time.

We have a few agents who will call us outright if we're in the area to offer us a load before they post it. They know us, they've worked with us before, and they know we deliver - no pun intended. Most of the time though, we find our loads on the board. "The Board" is the load board where the company we're leased to posts their loads. If you enlarge the photo below (click to enlarge), you'll see a real example of freight that's available to us.
In this particular example, I searched a two-hundred mile radius from Columbus, Ohio. That's how it typically works - wherever you are, you look to see what kinds of loads are available and you do it by searching a radius of the area. Two hundred miles is about a four hour drive, not the most ideal distance to go for a load unless it pays well. Typically we don't like to go further than two to three hours (120-150 miles) away, but we've gone as far as seven or eight hours (400-500 miles) to pick up if the load paid well.

You'll see in the photo how the loads are listed beginning with columns that detail the pickup and delivery dates, the origin and destination of the load, how far away the load is from where we are, what kind of trailer is needed, what the total revenue of the load is, how many miles the total trip is, what the rate per mile is, how much it weighs and the commodity. The commodity column is useless in my opinion because it's not useful, so I just ignore it.

If we see a load that we're interested in, we click on the agency code (not shown in photo) and see the details on the load. This is where we find out more - things like the dimensions of the load, what it is, if it needs to be tarped, if there are any stop-offs (we don't like doing stop-offs), and any notes the agent thinks might be pertinent. If we're interested in finding out more information, we call the agent directly to get the details and then decide if we want to do it or not.

To me, that's the best part - deciding how much we want to make and going where we want to go - I really enjoy being an owner-operator for that very reason. There is no dispatcher telling us where to go and when to be there, and there's no one calling us fifty times a day to find out where we are. We don't have a Qualcomm (which is a system that uses GPS to track where the truck is, and to send and receive messages with the driver) so no one ever knows if we're rolling or not, where we are on the route, how fast we're driving (even though Grandpa Ed keeps it at 58 at all times!) or what we're doing. They can't bother us with messages and we don't have to check in with anyone. That said, it doesn't mean we're not responsible to someone. Once we accept a load, we are expected to deliver as requested, and in the time frame agreed to, but we don't have to check in during transit.

Once you get some experience out here, you start to know where the freight is, and isn't. There are places we rarely go to because although there's freight in, there's nothing coming out. Arizona is one of those places. Unfortunately it's where we live, so sometimes we have no choice but to take a load out there. Usually we wind up deadheading to California to get something out when we're ready to get back on the road because it's very rare to find a load anywhere in the state that pays enough. We don't go to Florida very often either for the same reason, lots going in, but nothing coming out. A few of our best areas for freight are Ohio, Illinois, and North Carolina. There are other areas we like for certain reasons - some places have high paying military freight, some places have freight that doesn't need to be tarped, some places have lightweight aircraft parts - it's all something you learn as the years pass.

It's different for different segments of the industry too - where a van trailer might have an abundance of freight to choose from, there won't be anything for a flatbedder. The same is true in reverse. But the great thing about flatbedding is, we don't have to sit in a dock all day long. Hell, half the time we don't even have to back up - we just pull into a yard, untarp the load and they take the freight off the trailer right there, with a forklift. There are usually no appointment times for a flatbed, and we like the flexibility of that.

So controlling your own time and how much you'll be bringing in each week, or every couple of days is part of the draw of being an owner-operator. If you look at some of the loads in this example, you'll see that you can make $3,000 to $5,000 in as little as two days.

And it's all just a click away.


5 comments:

Willow said...

Thank you, Salena!!! Someone asked me the other day if I had researched being paid by percentage yet. Do you have any thoughts/advice for or against that?

Ed said...

These rates fluctuate constantly. Our company recently had its best year in its complete history in 2011.

2012 looks like another great one in the works. Freight is usually cheap and slow this time of year, but the fact is that companies aren't buying trucks and hiring drivers because they are afraid of overextending themselves.

Right now is a great time to be an owner operator. Next year may be another story, but 2010 and 2011 were definite winners and 2012 is shaping up to be the same.

I am answering this for Salena and I am saying that in the 16 going on 17 years I have been out here, I would only run my truck under either percentage or directly for a group of customers.

The only way I would drive a company truck for a trucking company is if something went terribly wrong, I was extremely well paid with excellent benefits, or I was well taken care of and the job was just to keep me around the house. There are lots of good companies out there and lots of happy company drivers. It really depends on your personal situation.

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