If you want to start a business as an owner-operator, be aware you'll be responsible for freight to keep the trucks rolling.
In the beginning, you need to work hard to put your foot in the door of the trucking industry.
In the end, those who hustle and do more cold calls get the most loads.
Find below a list of ways for an owner-operator to get freight to haul.
1. Use load boards
For owner-operators, load boards are the easiest way to find loads. To use them, you need a computer and an internet connection.
Load board platforms provide access to hundreds or even thousands of available loads.
You also can filter through the entire list of loads to find the ones that fit your needs. Set your requirements, and the system will pull up available freight. Each load describes where it needs to go, its weight, its size, and any other services it requires.
All this information is available online with the load boards. You can compare rates from shippers and brokers, which allows you to make faster decisions.
After gathering all the data about the available loads, owner-operators can call the brokers and shippers to negotiate the best rates possible.
2. Work for a freight broker
If you can't connect with shippers, consider working with a freight broker.
Freight brokers work with both shippers and carriers, but they don't represent either of them.
They serve as a middle man between the shipping companies and owner-operators.
Freight brokers pick up their profit by keeping the difference of negotiating rates with shippers first and, after that, negotiating a lower rate with an owner-operator.
As a result, freight brokers encourage shippers to pay high rates while offering owner-operators a rate that helps them make a profit.
Shipper A has an open load and reaches out to Broker B to find them a carrier. Shipper A and Broker B agree on a rate of $2200.
Broker B then reaches out to Owner-Operator XYZ about the open load. The Owner-Operator XYZ agrees to haul this load for $1700. That means that the freight broker keeps $500.
3. Hire a dispatcher
When negotiating the freight with brokers, dispatchers represent the carrier.
They take a percentage off the carrier's negotiated rate, which means that a dispatcher is motivated to negotiate the highest paying rate for the owner-operator. The higher rate they can get, the more money they can make of the owner-operator.
Shipper A and Broker B agreed on a rate of $2200. However, this time, instead of using Broker B directly, the Owner-Operator XYZ uses the Dispatcher D to find freight.
Dispatcher D knows that Owner-Operator XYZ needs to make at least $1700 to stay in business.
Dispatcher D contacts Broker B about the load. Broker B offers the load at $1700 but the Dispatcher D declines the offer. The two parties negotiate until they agree on a $1900 rate.
Dispatcher D charges a fee of 5% from the gross rate of the load.
4. Source directly from local shippers
Sourcing directly from shippers in your area isn’t always possible. But it is an option to find loads.
If you can form relationships with shippers, you won’t have to split your profits with a broker or pay anyone else to find loads for you.
Who doesn't want that?
The problem is that finding shippers in your local area who contract out consistently is difficult, especially if you are not an established carrier.
However, to put your foot in the door, you might need to do some effort.
Do some cold calling trying to figure out shippers that might be willing to offer private hauling contracts.
5. Lease on with a company
Leasing on with a trucking company that needs additional capacity can be an excellent way to keep your truck rolling.
Leasing to a company means that the trucking company is responsible for finding the owner-operator's truck the next load while keeping his authority.
They may even cover some owner operator expenses for you such as fuel or insurance.
The downside of this arrangement is that:
You as an owner-operator, don't have as much independence because the company will dictate the working schedule.
You have to take loads from the company that limits your ability to earn money elsewhere.
You need to agree to their payment terms.
It can still be a more reliable way to find loads, especially if you’re starting as an owner-operator.
6. Register as a government contractor
Local, state, and federal governments often outsource their transportation needs.
Opting to haul government freight can open more load opportunities for you as an owner-operator.
To haul freight for the government, try registering as a government contractor under your owner-operator authority.
For more information about becoming a government contractor or acquiring government trucking contracts, visit the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) website.
Either way, you should contact your state or city government for more details if you are interested in fulfilling government trucking contracts.
7. Networking at industry events
Start by getting involved with industry associations and events that shippers or trucking associations attend.
While being at these trucking events, meet people and shake hands. You can find opportunities to get referrals from people who work in the trucking industry.