The number one question I’ve been getting lately is where to get loads when you’re first starting out. This is a tricky subject, particularly for aspiring hotshots, since, as I’ve said innumerable times before, hotshotting is all about moving oil field cargo, and is not about hauling anything non-oilfield related.
That said, a small truck can make a person money in the non-hotshot arena if they can just hook up with the right source for loads.
To be specific, by small truck I mean a 1-2 ton truck with a flat bed. Some people want to start up with a pickup but that is so limiting that I don’t recommend it. You can’t forklift pallets over the sides of a pickup bed, and a pickup isn’t going to last long hauling heavy trailers.
I can’t give you a specific company to hit up for work, but I can give you ideas to try to shake some loads loose that should work no matter where you are geographically. If you have the truck and trailer you obviously have more options to get loads than with the truck alone.
Some people apparently do well using load boards and putting together LTL (less than truckload) bits and pieces to build a load. I’m not one of them, as I don’t want to drag a trailer across America running here and there to pick up little stuff then have to make a dozen stops a hundred miles apart just to make a run. So I’ll leave that out there as a possible option, but strongly advise anyone interested in this form of trucking to talk to someone who does it on a regular basis to get the facts on how to do it profitably.
I stay far away from load boards and never had much luck with them when I did try to use them. It wasn’t something I was really interested in doing as my focus was on getting into the hotshot world and not in building multiple-shipper non-hotshot loads.
What did work for me getting started was getting leads on loads from my friends in the trucking business and hitting up local manufacturers.
Friends are one of the absolute best sources of work in trucking. If you’re getting started, get yourself out there and start getting to know folks who are already in the business. If they hear of a load they don’t want or can’t haul, and they know you’re looking, they’ll point you in the right direction. It’s good for them to solve a problem for one of their customers by recommending a good alternative when they can’t take a load themselves.
As far as hitting up local manufacturers, I sent out dozens of flyers and knocked on dozens of doors, and one of the first companies that I talked to is my best and most frequent hotshot customer three years later. I’m in an area where oil and gas exploration is a big part of the economy, and there are a lot of companies in this area who build specialty parts. These are always excellent businesses to talk to.
Another route to getting something that pays on or behind the truck is trailer and truck bed manufacturers. No, it’s not hotshot work, but it is fairly decent pay and profitable as long as you don’t have to travel too far to do your pickups. I’m about two hours from the factory I used to haul for which cut into my profit, so those weeks when it was busy over there I would stay in a reasonably priced motel in that particular area rather than drive home and back out for the next load.
Trailer hauling can be fun, it’s far more fun than hauling truck beds on my trailer. At the time I had my 40′ trailer and they would put 4 stacks of 4 truck beds on the thing which I would then tie down and haul off, mostly to south Texas. It didn’t take too many trips to figure out I was better off pulling trailers instead of hauling my own trailer, so I got my doubles endorsement on my CDL and started pulling tie-together horse trailers. I did that for the better part of a year, and got to see a lot of country doing it.
Once in a while this particular trailer maker would do a special order, and I got to haul two custom-built medic trailers out to South Carolina. They were big and heavy things and it took two trips, but it was far more profitable than hauling the truck beds. I got those trailers strictly because I had the bigger truck and could handle them, which is one of the reasons I recommend strongly that you get the biggest truck you can when you first get started. Anything less than my 2-ton Dodge would not have been able to haul those things very far…
Another good source of work is a good load broker. Note that I say “good” load broker. Some brokers are worthless, a good one is worth their weight in gold. I have one very good broker who doesn’t call too often, but when he does it always results in a good load going to a good area, and his company pays fast (less than a week) which is an amazing thing in the trucking world.
Now brokers are funny critters, and the best one I work with called me out of the blue looking for trucks in my area, and it’s worked out well. I also have a couple pretty good ones that call once in a great while, but their loads a pretty few and far between.
Be aware that even with a signed broker agreement you may or may not get any work from a broker. I’ve found a few brokers in my area who said they needed hotshot trucks, and got them to sign me on, but no loads ever materialized. This could be for a lot of reasons, they just don’t have the work they thought they would, they don’t have loads to fit a hotshot truck, or they just don’t know what they’re doing to start with and they disappear into thin air. It happens.
When you’re getting started, just try to figure out what there is moving in your area, if, and how that cargo can fit on your equipment, and what the need is for speedy deliveries. Some manufacturers will pay a premium to get their parts to other facilities in a hurry. Some will send you out to fetch them something back that they need to keep their production moving. It’s all about learning what is in your area and figuring out how to approach those businesses with a plan that will help them out when they get in a bind.
One of the trickier parts of running a one-truck hotshot operation is not getting spread too thin while still getting enough work to be profitable enough to stay in the game. Nobody wants to turn down a good hotshot load, and luckily, so far I’ve only had a couple of scheduling conflicts.
It takes a while to figure out how often any specific customer might call you out, and if you’re out on a lower paying load when your hotshot customer calls, I promise you’ll be kicking yourself all the way home if you can’t get back in time to take it.
Because hotshotting is so sporadic, it’s hard to plan so you have to be adaptable and just go with the flow. I could probably get myself in with another couple of companies locally, and may do just that this spring, but I still don’t want to get so busy that I have to turn down work from the customers I already have an established relationship with.
There’s a delicate balance there that just takes time to figure out. The point is to get enough customers to be profitable, but not to get so many customers that you can’t do the work they call you out to do. If you have to turn a customer down too many times, they’ll cross you off their list and get someone who is available.
One last point… if you get out there knocking on doors, drive your work truck, park it where they’ll be able to see it, and make sure it’s sparkling clean and everything is neat and tidy so your potential customer will be impressed.
Put your best foot forward, dress decently, (as in clean jeans, clean wrinkle-free shirt, and decent work boots, NO sweats, shorts, pants around your knees with undershorts showing, or other non-work outfits please…) bring a handful of flyers and business cards, and introduce yourself to the shipping manager.
Nothing shouts “unprofessional and unreliable” as loudly as showing up in a dirty truck with junk all over the dash, and wearing inappropriate non-work type clothes when you’re looking for hotshot or little truck loads.
You have one chance to make a great first impression on your potential customers, so make the most of it! Now get out there and book yourself some work!