Properly plan and prepare BEFORE buying equipment, hiring drivers or growing your company.
Once I overcame my setbacks and began enjoying success as an Independent Owner/Operator, I was convinced I was ready to be a successful small carrier with a fleet of 5, 10 or more trucks. I did not remain on that path for long. I quickly discovered that the nominal ROI (return on investment) compared to the added stress and headaches of having that small fleet simply wasn’t something I was going to be financially able or willing to continue. I’ll share the conclusion of my experience shortly. Before that, let’s look at some of the challenges we face when growing from and Independent Owner/Operator to a small carrier and/or fleet.
The 3 most common methods of growing our trucking businesses is by purchasing trucks and hiring drivers, leasing trucks to our authority that are either owned by the driver or by a fleet owner and lastly by purchasing trucks and selling them to an entrepreneur using a method known as lease purchase agreements. For the purposes of this article we will focus on those who purchase trucks and hire drivers.
When planning to grow our company, the impact to our commercial auto insurance (trucking insurance) is the easiest to prepare for. There are some fundamentals that make it fairly simple to estimate the increase in our insurance premiums when we are considering to add a truck, trailer and driver to our policy. All things being even (same truck type, year and value, same trailer type, year and value and same or similar driver age and MVR) our insurance will be double when we increase from a one truck operation to a two truck operation. The biggest variant to that way of estimating our premium increase is always the driver. As drivers, our MVR’s are seldom similar for a variety of reasons. More often than not, company drivers looking for a new job tend to have more infractions on their MVR then us owner operators will typically have. Generally speaking, us owner operators make a conscience effort to be more diligent to protect our MVR for obvious reasons. If we do not it will negatively impact our insurance premium costs as well as risking our business itself. I always advise my insurance customers to use an MVR service to check any driver they may be considering to hire prior to purchasing the equipment. That will help avoid the potential hazard of making the biggest mistake of all – hiring a driver that isn’t acceptable to the insurance company or a hiring driver who causes our insurance to increase to an un-affordable annual premium.
Hiring and retaining drivers is the most challenging concern with growing a company. The first mistake I made was believing the drivers I hired, some of whom were friends I had known for years, were going to stick around for a long time to come. I was seriously mistaken. Driver turn over is financially devastating for multiple reasons.
The immediate dilemma when we lose a driver is the truck is not generating any revenue to pay for its fixed costs such as loan payments, insurance premiums and registration. The longer the truck sits idle the more desperate we become to hire a new driver. Frequently that results in us hiring the first available driver our insurance carrier is willing to allow us to add to our policy. More often than not this new driver will have a less than stellar MVR and will result in an increase to our insurance premium. As an example, recently one of my insurance customers added a driver that had several infractions on their MVR. Adding that driver increased their policy premium from approximately $13,000.00 a year to about $28,000.00 a year!
Keep in mind we are discussing truck owners who purchase trucks and hire drivers – The next challenge we face with our drivers is proper classification. If we get it wrong we have a serious risk of running afoul with compliance. I’m not referring to compliance with the FMCSA, IFTA, UCR, IRP, etc. Rather I’m referring to agencies that few of us would ever want to cross sabers with.… the IRS and each state’s Departments of Labor. Being out of compliance with either or both of these can, and has many times over, lead to some of the most devastating consequences I have ever seen a truck owner experience. Unfortunately many truck owners have been incorrectly lead to believe that they can classify drivers as “Independent Contractors” and issue them an IRS form 1099 instead of the correct IRS form W-2. Both the IRS and all the states I am aware of state’s Departments of Labor have very clear and defined conditions in which an individual can be classified as an independent contractor. There is no gray area. A driver we hire to drive trucks we own or lease is an employee and not an independent contractor. As such when we hire drivers we are required to have both Workers Compensation and Unemployment insurance as well as collect the social security from the driver’s wages and pay the matching amount as required by the IRS. As a general rule of thumb if we hire a driver for a salary of $1,500.00 a week, as employers, it will cost us an estimated additional $1,500.00 a week for Workers Compensation insurance, Unemployment insurance, matching social security and any additional benefits such as medical benefits or a 401K. These additional costs brings our total cost of hiring a single driver to an estimated $3,000.00 a week.
For me, to grow my trucking business, I elected to buy and sell trucks using the lease purchase method. It was a disaster. The drivers who signed the lease purchase agreements discovered that it was a lot harder being an owner operator than it was being a company driver. They all elected to return to being a company driver. That resulted in my having trucks I was paying for that were not generating any revenue to be able to pay for them. So I considered hiring employee drivers. I crunched the numbers and considered the risk. It was painfully obvious to me that I would be better off accepting my losses and returning to being an Independent Owner Operator. I sold the extra trucks and trailers and returned to a one truck operation with myself as the only driver I had to worry about. It was the best personal, business and financial decision I ever made owning trucks.
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