If you can't make money as a truck driver, all the benefits of the trucking industry are nonsense.
The talks about the sense of the trucker job security or the freedom of a trucker lifestyle won't put the daily food on your plate. It won't support your family or life plans.
Why doing it so?
Trucking is a competitive industry.
Many truck drivers make good money in it. But even more truck drivers don't.
So, why do some truck drivers earn better than others?
Often times, the key is becoming a better truck driver. That means having more driving skills or being more experienced.
The best truck drivers earn the biggest buck while the lazy ones fail.
The bigger value you have - the higher chances are to make $100k per year as a truck driver.
I'll share the roadmap for making money as a truck driver.
What it takes to make money as a truck driver
It all depends on you and how much you want to work.
Successful truck drivers know the factors that impact their career growth and they are pushing hard to pass over the hurdles.
At the beginning of the career, you need to set your expectations right because success measures differently for different drivers. You can't copy other trucker's success story. Though, their story should inspire and teach you to build your own path.
For some truckers being a well-paid company driver would be a success while for others building a thriving trucking business.
The success of your career in trucking depends on understanding the below factors.
1. The payment method may determine the level of your pay
Truck drivers get paid in three ways:
- First payment method - pay per mile
This trucker pay is used for most loads hauled by OTR truck drivers.
That means that anytime you are waiting to pick up or drop a load or fix a break down, you are not making money.
Let's say that you wait 3 hours to pick up a load, drive 5 hours to deliver it, and wait another 3 hours to unload the truck.
From the total of 11 worked hours, you'll get paid only for the 5 hours of driving time.
- Second payment method - pay by the load.
You will be given a certain amount to do the load depending on where you're going.
Most of these types of situations are local or regional runs.
- Third payment method - pay by the hour
LTL drivers often get paid like that.
In this case, truck drivers make more money on the overtime than they do on the 40 hours.
2. Are you ready to accept the lifestyle of a trucker?
Truck driving is not a 9 to 5 job.
Most truck drivers who report making good money are those who spend most of their time over the road.
In trucking, you might need to pick a load at 2300 and deliver it at 1800 the next day.
That means being away from family and having irregulate eating schedules and sleep. That is true especially when you look for side hustles as a trucker in the beginning of the career.
If you want to make money as a truck driver, you have to be ready to do that.
From the trucker's lifestyle point of view, you make more money when you spend more time on the road. You are not paid for staying home with your family.
3. Do you have prior trucking experience?
Experience is another factor that increases the pay of a truck driver.
An experienced truck driver is the one who has driven for a while without issues.
Keeping a clean driving record makes trucking companies interested in having the driver in their team.
For fleet managers, having experienced drivers with clean records in their team means fewer expenses for the company.
In the long run, it pays off to hire experienced drivers.
4. Do you have skills and endorsements to haul specialized loads?
Specialized freight hauling pays well because it requires skilled truck drivers.
To drive car trailers, tankers, flatbeds, or heavy hauling freight, requires more skills, knowledge, and experience than you need to haul dry freight.
Having specialized hauling endorsements on the CDL is a factor that proves that the trucker has the skills to take on this responsibility.
5. Are you ready to become an owner operator or a business owner?
The highest pay level you may get is when you are ready to become an owner-operator or trucking business owner.
In this case, you'll need to take care of the business taxes, repairs, paperwork, and find loads. All that is on you.
At this stage, you'll have more responsibility and you'll take on more risks.
If you know what you are doing, the rewards are great but, if you don't, you'll fail.
Become a company truck driver
So, if you decide that you want to become a successful company driver, here's what you want to do.
1. Become a CDL truck driver
Jobs that require a CDL pay better than non-CDL jobs.
Basically, to make money as a truck driver you need one type of commercial driving license.
You may start with a pay below $35,000 as a fresh company driver but with a couple of years of experience, your pay may increase well over $75,000.
The key here is working for a good trucking company that offers good pay.
2. Pick the right trucking company
Before you apply for a truck driver job with a trucking company, it's recommended to do your research. Especially, if you have a couple of trucking companies in your are.
You want to find out how well are truck drivers paid in that company.
You want to find out about the culture of the company.
You want to find out how are they treating truck drivers.
The best way to find the answers to these question is to talk with driver recruiter from the company. Ask him all your questions. He will give you clear answers because he already works in that company.
Other options are finding information about the trucking company online. Search on the company's website, google search, or forums.
3. Build experience and level up your endorsements
If you were hired by a trucking company, learn to be the best version of a trucker that you can be.
Learn about the truck.
Learn about how to plan your routes to increase your efficiency.
Learn and optimize the process of finding truck stops.
Learn to do as much things by yourself without bothering dispatchers with small issues along the ride.
And there is a lot more.
Experienced truck driver are paid very well.
Another thing is endorsements.
If your company provides you the opportunity to drive Hazmat or Tanker, earning these or other endorsements is a good idea.
4. Position yourself as a reliable trucker
A trucking company manages all kind of loads. Some of them are paid well and some are average.
And because the trucking company wants to build strong relationships with customers that pay well, they'll give their best loads to their most valuable drivers.
Increasing your value as a truck driver requires more than just picking up and dropping off freight.
If you want to score those high-ticket loads, it also requires delivering great communication, flexibility, follow of the procedures, filling the documentation right, etc.
Establish a name of a reliable truck driver who always delivers on time and maintains a positive relationship with customers and fleet managers.
When you gain this level of trust as a truck driver, you are the first to call when there is freight that needs to be hauled.
5. Team up with a trusted driver
The average team truck driver earns $80,674 a year.
Trucking companies want to have good teams on their board because, in that way, they can take long route loads that pay better.
Unfortunately, there are not many drivers who can team up for a long time without issues.
That's why the best teams are couples (husband and wife).
The most important aspect of becoming a team driver is finding a partner you enjoy driving with.
That is important because team drivers spend time together for hours over weeks or even months.
Find out how does team driving work.
6. More technical routes pay more money
Some of the highest paying trucking jobs require more technical knowledge.
Ice road truckers make up to $250,000 in just 3-4 months of work.
Same kind of high paying trucking jobs are Hazmat, machinery, oversized hauling.
To apply for this kind of high pay trucking jobs, you need to have specialized technical endorsements and have at least a 5 year clean driving record.
Begin your career as an owner-operator or as a trucking business owner
1. Use a load board to find work
Load boards are online marketplaces where shippers and brokers can post and find loads in real-time.
For new trucking companies or owner-operators, using a load board to find loads is a good way because it's easy to use. You can post your truck, its current location, and where you want to go, and relevant brokers or shippers might call you.
The competition in getting the best paying loads is fierce. So, make sure you have the best load boards to get to the hottest lanes and loads first.
Great load boards help manage every part of your business with speed and ease.
2. Build relationships with good brokers
Freight brokers are the middlemen between shippers and carriers.
So, proving that you are a reliable carrier directs the broker's attention to you in the first place.
How do you find these brokers?
While booking and delivering loads, figure out the brokers that constantly provide you with the highest-paying loads.
If you figured out a good broker, put him on your VIP list. Make sure the VIP list receives the best services from you.
In the long run, the broker will notice your attitude and may put you on their VIP list as well.
3. Minimize deadhead miles
Deadhead miles occur when your truck drives with no freight on board.
If your truck drives without a load, you spend your money on fuel, lodging, and meals without making any money to offset those expenses.
To prevent deadhead miles, pickup round trips or backhaul loads.
Backhauls are loads taken on your return trip back to or near your home base after completing your original haul.
Backhauls usually pay less than the typical haul because demand is lower so you make less per mile but some pay is better than none. To make more money as a trucker using backhauls, plan your route carefully and know your round-trip rates. If you are making a substantial amount of money with your original haul, the backhaul revenue can be used for maintenance purposes. Backhauls are always better than empty miles.
4. Cut fuel costs
To increase your profits as an owner operator or trucking business owner you need to keep your business management costs down. And one of these costs is fuel costs.
So, it makes sense to learn how to reduce costs on fuel.
- Join a fuel card program
Whether you choose a credit card with rebates or a simple loyalty card that saves money on every fill-up at a specific brand of stations, a fuel card program is an easy way to keep your fuel costs down.
- Carefully plan your route
Taking the scenic highways is a great way to see the country, but every mile out of your way costs you extra money in fuel. Plan the most efficient route to lower your fuel costs.
- Choose your fuel stops wisely
Sometimes stopping just 10 miles early or going an extra 5 miles down the road can result in significantly cheaper fill-ups. So make sure to find the best deals on fuels.