OK kiddos, I’m sorry, but today I’m going to burst some bubbles and spell out the cold, hard truth about hotshot trucking… It’s not all peaches and sunshine.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be a great way to make money if you have the right temperament for this kind of work, enough financial backing, and patience to deal with government paperwork and red tape out the wazoo,…but there are distinct down sides to hotshotting that most of us ignore/deny/reject while we’re in the honeymoon phase of true love with the concept of being our own boss and raking in the cashola with our little truck.
The reality is … this business is tough, competitive, and extremely unpredictable. There is no such thing as a steady paycheck, and you are footing all of the expenses up front. You will also be in direct competition with a thousand other hotshots for every load you try to book. And some days, and weeks, you won’t win the work.
Honestly, if my better half BB was not supportive (both personally and financially) and gainfully self employed, we would not have made it though the first year ourselves. It took both of us working our tails off and making huge sacrifices in time and money just to decide if it was worth starting into year 2. There were days when we didn’t think we wanted to keep it going, and some days we were encouraged just enough to try. It’s that tough.
If you’re not a “self-starter”, thick skinned, good with money management, and able to handle stress well, do yourself a huge favor and keep your day job.
I’m talking about entire weeks that slip by without a single load, when the bills still have to be paid, groceries still have to be bought, and the cash flow is in the negative range.
On top of that, there is the absolute necessity to keep back a little nest egg to finance the next load that might come your way so you don’t have to turn down work for lack of operating cash, the worry that goes along with each and every one of these slow periods, and the uncertainty that goes along with this line of work.
And honestly, this sort of stress is hard on everyone, and can be a real deal-killer for stay at home spouses, especially when there are babies still at home who need to eat on a regular schedule and Papa is sitting at home burning up the cell phone, scrambling for loads that just don’t seem to materialize.
Oh, it happens. It happens a lot. And it’s stressful.
Anyone thinking about starting a hotshot business needs to get a good dose of reality before taking the plunge.
I get questions every day from starry-eyed dreamers (no dis intended, they are just like I was 2 years ago) who want to start their own hotshot business and become independent over night.
Sadly, most ignore (or at least appear oblivious to) the advice I try to give, and I can’t help but shake my head and feel for them. I’m talking from personal experience here, and would like to save them from some of the rude awakenings I had to suffer on the road to hotshot-dom…
So this post is a wake-up call to all of you dreamers out there…
This is a tough business to get into, and tougher still to keep the truck moving consistently. If you (and your spouse!) aren’t fully committed to making it work, don’t burn up the family savings account or go into debt buying equipment that may end up sitting idle in the driveway instead of generating revenue.
Let me put it this way… the truth about driving hotshot is that you will be on-call 24-7, 365. You will never be separated from your cell phone, even during the most inconvenient moments. Whether you run your own show or lease out to a carrier, you need to be prepared to ask “How high?” with a smile when the customer/carrier says, “Jump!”
And they may not call for days, but will still expect you to show up within the hour when they do call. They will require you to be professional and treat people decently when you do get there. No griping or rudeness is ever allowed while either at the shipper or the receiver. It only takes you acting badly one time (criticizing the fork lift operator, pitching a fit over something, being just plain cranky or disagreeable) to get you blackballed from ever setting foot on their property again.
I can attest to this actually happening twice to a driver I know who apparently is grumpy and has some trouble controlling his mouth. If you give anyone a hard time at pick up or delivery, they won’t call you again at all, ever. Worse yet, they will call your company or broker and specifically tell them to never send you out to their location again. And that kills your business. Which makes you even broker than when you started. Get my drift?
You will be called out on weekends, holidays, in the middle of the night, on your anniversary, the day of your baby’s birthday party, the night you have tickets to see George Strait, and just about any other inconvenient time you can think of. Sure, you can turn down loads, but if you turn down too many loads, you get shuffled to the bottom of the heap and will sit idle for days on end. Turn down enough, and you might as well sell your rig and get a day job because you will be starved out of the business.
You need to know ahead of time that the loads you get won’t always be $3 per mile runs. Especially starting out, you have to take what you can get as long as there is some slim profit margin. You will also need to know what it costs you to run and know your bottom line rate. You will have to suck it up and take the bad with the good to keep the truck moving. Some days you’ll make a little profit, some days you’ll make a real good profit, and some days you’ll hit a snag with truck troubles or some other unforeseen problem and not even break even.
Some days you’ll show up for your scheduled load only to be told it’s been cancelled. Nobody is going to pay for the fuel you burn getting there and back home. Your truck can and will have break-downs, and you have to keep it in top shape to stay compliant with DOT rules. That costs money and time. Nobody else is going to pay those costs, or for your down time.
Other days everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy’s Law kicks in and no matter how well you planned, the whole load will turn into a major pain in the neck. It can be as simple getting pulled in for a Level I inspection that puts you half an hour behind schedule, hitting heavy traffic or serious construction zones, or just a combination of a bunch of little things that make a particular load feel like misery on wheels.
Now, I’m not trying to be discouraging to anyone wanting to get into this business, but I am telling it straight and not sugar-coating it a bit. The truth is, you have to be mentally tough, financially prepared, and willing to suffer some for the payoff.
You also need to understand ahead of time that even when there is not a job in sight, the truck still has to be maintained, groceries still need to show up on your table, the lights have to be kept on, and you still have to keep a positive attitude going, or you will make yourself both crazy and miserable.
Now for some free, friendly advice that nobody will heed…
1. Don’t go into this business thinking you can make the big bucks with a little passenger pickup truck, it’s too limiting to what you can load and carry. At minimum a 1-ton flatbed is required, (bigger is better) and there is a reason for this. Loads will be fork lifted onto the bed of the truck and you can’t fork pallets or whatever over the sides of a standard pickup bed. A lot of what we carry won’t fit in a standard bed anyway. And while some loads may be 35 lbs, others will be 3500 lbs. You need the bigger truck to maximize your load capacity and flexibility.
2. Don’t go into this business thinking you can survive the first year without having at least $10K earmarked for operating expenses in the bank in addition to all equipment expenses. Some do, and they’re lucky, but the majority of new independent hotshots go out of business due to lack of operating cash within the first 6-12 months.
3. Don’t go into this business until you do extensive, exacting research on what is required, and if at all possible, actually find someone already established to ride with for at least a couple of loads to see how it all works. This work is not for everyone, and it’s better to find that out up front than after you plunked down 50K+ in start-up costs.
4. Don’t go into this business if your spouse is dead set against you being gone for days at a time, they don’t dig the idea of being in the hotshot business, or they are attached to the idea of having a steady weekly income coming in. At least, don’t do it if you value your marriage…
5. Don’t go into this business thinking it will be easy money. Trust me when I tell you there is no such thing. Anyone who tells you different is blowing smoke up… well, you get it. It truly will take you a long time to recoup your investment. Don’t buy into the line, “Hey, you can make enough in one year to pay off all of your equipment.” Technically, in theory this may be true. But in practice, that money you generate hotshotting still has to cover everything else you already pay from your current job, plus all of your start-up and operation costs.
If you’re still with me and not too discouraged, (a little discouraged is good, it means you’re getting the reality of it and paying attention) then you may just have a chance to succeed at becoming an independent hotshot.
Just know that it’s not an easy, overnight process. The rewards can be very good, but there is also real pain and a lot of time involved in getting there.