Getting Hotshot and Little Truck Loads…

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!



26 thoughts on “Getting Hotshot and Little Truck Loads…

    • Getting Hotshot and Little Truck Loads… This reading is spot on.
      I started a small courier service in Nashville Tn in 1993 out of the back of a 1988 Toyota Van that had 160,000 miles on it all I could offer was dependable service I started growing leaps and bounds then came the dock high trucks having AT&T, W.W. Grainger, American Paper & Twine, Emerson Motor, Ford Motor Glass , Many printing company’s, and a big part of the lost luggage at BNA airport. Today I no longer have the business that I truly miss so much having sold out however, I will always have the satisfaction of knowing I built My Courier business from the ground up from taking the same steps that are outlined on this web page. I will always Love the courier business simply because I love working with people and making a great living driving around seeing the country side.

      • I’ve retired from the hotshot game and miss it too, so I can understand how you feel. It takes a lot of tender love and care, not to mention blood, sweat, & tears to grow a company from nothing, and it’s hard to let it go, but it’s definitely an accomplishment to look back on fondly!

  1. I’d like to help you out Homer, but this isn’t a load board… it may be a year before anyone else sees that. I’d give you a price though if I had a truck in your area, but, sadly, I don’t.

  2. The info you give is really good. Right now I’m looking into buying a straight truck under 26000lbs don’t want the dot hassle anymore. I live in Statesville NC about 30min from Charlotte NC. I’m. 40min away from 3 major cities in this area so I feel I’m in a good spot to do his kinda work. I’ve been checking into a few companies but I’m not sure if I wanna do it all for myself or lease on to a company an try to learn the busy for a few months. I just sold my tractor trailer so I’ve been in the trucking world for 6yrs as a owner opp. But I’m sure this side of transportation is a lot different. I don’t know anyone that is in this kinda of world. So I don’t have anyone to ask questions. S I’m reaching out to those who are in the buiness. Any info would help

    • Hi Antwan,

      Unless I’m missing something, just getting into a smaller truck won’t get you out from under the thumb of the DOT, even pickups used for hire fall under their jurisdiction, just so you know.

      As far as hotshotting in NC, unless there’s drilling going on there, you’ll probably be looking more at some type of specialty hauling. Definitely check all your options before you fork over cash for equipment and see if you can line up potential customers and see what they need for their cargo first.

      Fire away with any questions, it may take me a couple of days to answer you but answer I will. Hope this helps!

    • Straight trucks are not too functional in this world. I have never seen a straight truck hotshot (but Im in West Texas, everything here is Flatbed). I started out with a 1/2 ton pickup. Added a 16 Ft. Trailer. Added a 1 ton truck. Added a 40 Ft. trailer. If I were you, I’d get after manufacturers of specialized parts for machinery used in dominant industries in your area. Mining? Who makes the motors for the conveyor belts? Where is the closest manufacturer of replacement parts for their machinery? Whatever industry in predominant in your area, that is what you support. If I were you, I’d buy a nice little pickup and buddy up with someone with heavier equipment. Advertise the shit out of yourself. Build your network. People in my neck of the woods are sick of seeing me walk in their door. But when they need something moved fast, I stick out in their minds like a sore thumb. Every gas station within 50 miles has a stack of business cards. ( will print 250 free business cards). People will call you asking you to move too much with your little pickup, and thats where your buddy with bigger equipment can help, you send them too large of orders, and they can send you small loads and teach you some lessons. It’s a long slow process of building your network.

    • I have a full time job and I own a land scape and maintenance business on the side. We own a 2500 diesel Chevy truck with a 20 ft flat bed trailer. My wife and I have been talking a lot about getting into doing some hot shot type stuff and maybe just hauling whatever we can for different businesses. Shes a stay at home mom and really wants to get out sometime . After reading some of the post it makes me realize she may enjoy this. We live in Slidell Louisiana witch is about 20 miles from new Orleans. Any info anyone may have on how we can get into hot shots are even just hauling loads for businesses would help. I’m not looking for leads just info on what avenues I should probably take. Thank you for your info.

  3. Jonathan, your best bet to get started is give any Acme office a call in your area, there are several close to you. They can put you on the right track and explain what you need to get started hauling hotshot as a leased unit. Unless you want to go with the whole licensing, insurance, and independent hotshot route they’re about the only option. If you’re more interested in running independent, go back and read my older posts on getting started. It’s a lot of work and takes cash, footwork, and patience. And in your area where Acme holds most of the oilfield contracts, it’s a long difficult road. Having said that, knock on doors and talk to folks in the business and see if they have any little loads your equipment would handle. Keep in mind most hotshots run minimum 3/4 ton trucks and 40′ trailers, and 1-2 ton trucks are better. Hope this helps.

    SM Burns

  4. I looking to start a hotshot set use 3/4 ton n trailer i want to stay under 26000 for plate n insurance reason i am located in Fort Worth i want to find load going to san antonio n back … please reply back i need load

    • Sorry, but it’s a little hard to direct you to a specific potential market considering I’m not in your area. Generally though,look around locally and see if there’s a niche for your services and make contact with the shipping managers in those businesses. Make sure when you go your truck is clean and have some business cards in hand, try to make the best first impression possible.

  5. SMBURNS,I like your info,spoken like a person that had hard times as well as good times,I married into a trucking family,never did like driving a semi,Business shut down due to deaths in family,I live in southern tip of Indiana,retired and yes it cost money and some aggrivating times with the dot offices to make me legal,I have my own DOT/MC/INSURANCE,now run a dodge dually with a 30 foot gooseneck trailer with ramps and a winch,I may upgrade to a 40 foot trailer this spring.I travel with my wife and see lots of country,I have one company I have been hauling for over 3 years,satified customers,I am always looking for back hauls etc,I would send you my email if you could hook me up with loads,One bit of information for the new hotshot drivers,dot has stopped me more times this year than ever before,I had one warning ,so it is easier to run legal than pay tickets.they have the right to stop any vehicle,so be prepared,One little bit of information a dot officer told me was,when they pull you over and your vehicle is clean then they think your papers etc is clean.Well just thought I would put in a few notes to say hi,I also like the masonic emblems you have on this write up.BJB

  6. Thanks Billy Joe. I’m always glad to get feedback, and I completely agree with you that having a clean truck is one of the ways to keep the DOT happy. It’s a great psychological point that some folks don’t think about.
    Sorry, I don’t have any contacts for loads any more, I’ve been out of the game a while. And what Masonic emblems? 😀

  7. SMBurns,
    My name is David and I live in the Tri Cities in Washington. That is the SE part of WA. I’m thinking of buying a full size pickup with a v6 engine and a 12′ or 15′ trailer. The max towing weight of the truck is about 5,000 lbs including trailer weight. I would REALLY like to start a delivery business,But I only want to deliver within 1,000 miles from home. I am thinking maybe 4 wheelers,Dirt bikes,Motorcycles,Light loads etc. I want to do deliveries that does not deal with a lot of hands on,such as furniture or appliances. Do you have any suggestion on what other light load items I can haul or what kind of companies I should contact for small loads. I don’t know what HotShot is,Could you also tell me a little about that also.

    Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

    Good day to you.


  8. Hi David,
    I’m no expert on general non-oilfield light loads, so unfortunately I am afraid I can’t help you much there. About all I can tell you is to knock on doors and talk to any and everyone who has items that might need to be hauled and see if you can get the job of hauling them.

    What I can tell you about trucks is that I would not haul anything even lightweight with any less than a 3/4 to 1 ton pickup with a diesel engine, and that is due to stress that hauling puts on the truck. In my humble opinion, even an 8 cylinder gasoline engine just isn’t going to hold up as well as a diesel, and a little six cylinder is not going to have the bang for the buck that you need in hauling.

    You also have to think about the capability of the truck brakes to stop whatever load you have on the truck as well. Its far better to have more truck than you actually need when doing any hauling. So I would go for as big a truck that is specifically set up for hauling as I could afford if it was me doing the shopping…

    As to hotshotting, it’s a specific type of hauling in the oilfield, carting parts and such to oil rigs on an emergency basis. I have written several posts about it here if you want more info, just browse through them when you get the chance.

    Good luck, I hope you get it all figured out.

  9. Thank you burns,

    I appreciate your response and I don’t think there are any oil fields around my area.

    What I really need to know is for example: Someone lives here in Pasco, WA (same as me) and they purchased a brand new 4 wheeler in Spokane, WA. What do I charge ? Of course I would be going up there empty and coming back loaded. As far as a bigger truck,I don’t believe I will need one for I will be hauling super light things.
    I was also thinking of going door to door in residential areas and handing out fliers and see what happens that way also.
    Please tell what you think about that also,because I’m sure not only businesses need items delivered.
    Just a thought.

    Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.
    Good day to you and yours.


    • Sorry for the delayed answer, I just now saw your post… It all depends on the going rate for cars I would say. If the locals are charging $1.50 a mile for example to haul a car, then that would be the same rate for a 4 wheeler IMO. It’s basically the same idea, drive it onto the trailer, tie it down, etc.

      I think handing out fliers is always a great idea. Not sure about residential stuff since people are a lot tighter with their own cash than businesses are, but that’s just how I feel about it and not necessarily a guide for what you decide to do. In your area it may be a great idea, in my area everyone and their dog owns a trailer of some type for small hauling.

      Good luck with your hauling,


  10. Looking for a 20 ft straight truck (flatbed not van) for a load. We are a TPL. Please call Amy at 406-552-4044 if you have this. thanks.

    • Nelson, This is a bad time to try to start hotshotting as the oilfield is in a huge slump. Maybe check into moving some type of ltl freight, it all depends on what is happening in your area. If there are manufacturers in your area, you might start knocking on doors and talking to other drivers in your area to see if there is work available.

  11. SMBurns you have some nice posts!!! My name is James and I’m in the NC area. Im looking to start a hotshot delivery business as a Independent Contractor. Do you know of any air freight companies that might be willing to offer me work?

    • Thanks you, and I’m sorry James, I do not. I’d suggest go knocking on doors and introduce yourself to your local shippers and see if you can get something started that way with them. Good luck!

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