The Owner Operator Experience

Blue truck on the highway on a cloudy day

Story by Sade T.

For new company drivers, the first delivery is whatever is assigned by the trucking company. Sometimes drivers are given an easy nearby destination, and other times, those drivers are tested by the company with a more challenging delivery. For owner operator trucking, it’s a bit different – you choose your first load.

Choosing the Load

I’m an owner operator of my own trucking company, and – I will tell you – truck driving for owner ops isn’t as simple as getting into your tractor and driving to your next load. There are many things that you have to consider when deciding which load to handle.

You have to consider what’s available in the area you are in, the urgency of the load, if the load has any special handling needs (i.e. hazmat), and a plethora of other factors. Is the load time sensitive? Do you have enough hours on your clock to handle the load? Will the weather affect you during transit? Many small factors play a part in determining whether or not a pickup and delivery is successful or not.

Get Going as an Owner-Operator Truck Driver

For myself, after things were finalized and established with my owner operator trucking company, it was time to start moving. My first time went pretty smoothly for the most part. I decided to choose a load that was fairly simple to ensure that my first time would be easy with only a few bumps, if any at all. I also started my drive on a nice day, so what could possibly go wrong, right?

First, I contacted a third party logistics company about a load I saw on their board and was booked on it rather quickly with little hassle. Typically, third party logistics companies have available loads online. As a trucker, I can look online at what loads are available in what areas when I log into their online portal. You will have to have a username and a password to see what is available.  I try to book loads a day or two in advance, so I can plan my trip accordingly. Planning my trip is a habit that I do personally, but I recommend it to all drivers, whether or not you’re an owner operator or a company driver.

You do not want to book loads back-to-back because it is never guaranteed that things at the shippers or receivers will go smoothly. They are the most unpredictable, especially if the facilities have a small staff or a history of being very busy. You have to take the weather into consideration too. It was the summer time, so the weather wasn’t a huge issue. Winter, on the other hand, can get treacherous for trucking.

Running Late for My First Delivery!

When I was preparing to go and pick up, my tractor would not start. I had a 1 PM appointment at a facility in Chicago on a nice June day, so this was unexpected. I actually lived in Champaign, IL, at the time, and I left my home at about 10 AM that morning. I had planned the trip perfectly. Good weather, good timing, and something still went wrong! I started to panic because I needed to get to this facility on time. Whether owner operator or company driver, being late on your first load isn’t an ideal situation.

Luckily, I wasn’t too far from a mechanic. I called them, and they were able to get me up and rolling in 30 minutes or so. I was on the road by 11:30 AM. I had plenty of time to make it to the shipper, but I then got stuck in heavy traffic. I was already on the road and couldn’t turn around. My new ETA was 1:30 PM, and I wasn’t sure I’d make it.

I called the representative that I spoke with to book the load initially, and I’m glad I did. They made sure that the shipper would take me when I got there, and I sighed a breath of relief because I didn’t want to screw up anything on my first run! Once I finally arrived, I was loaded rather quickly, and I was on my way to the delivery location.

A Smooth Road

The transit to the consignee was pretty smooth. It was wide open road most of the way to Dallas, TX. I was able to actually get to Dallas early and see a few family members down in the area before delivering the load. That’s the great thing about truck driving. When things go smoothly, you have the leisure to do pretty much what you want. As long as the load you have is secure and you pay attention to your time, then you are able to relax and really enjoy what being a truck driver is all about.

At the receiver in Dallas, it was pretty easy to unload, and the staff was friendly and cared about my time enough to take care of me quickly. Once I had an empty trailer, I decided to see what loads were available coming out of Dallas, so I could head back to the Midwest or somewhere close to home in Indiana. I did this for about a few months until I felt comfortable enough to handle bigger and longer hauls.

Looking Back

I’ve now been in this business for almost five years, and I can say that I’m happy with my job so far. As with any job, you will have things go wrong, but it is up to you as the driver to know your capabilities, learn from any mistakes, and make sure you follow directions. Hopefully my advice helps both owner operators and company drivers.

Success in trucking is not always about making the money from the load. It is about making sure that the load is delivered professionally, on time and hassle-free. Quality is definitely better than quantity. The better you are, the better the chances will be for your trucking company to book loads and potentially become a contract carrier for a particular lane. The opportunities are endless. You just have to see the bigger picture from the open road. Drive safely!

Read more about the difference between company drivers and owner-operators here.


About The Author
Contributor: Sade Turner (Logistics for 5+ years and technical writer).