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How to Start a Trucking Business

Written by:

Edited by:

Reviewed by: Daniel Javor

Published on November 4, 2021

Updated on September 16, 2022

How to Start a Trucking Business

Disclaimer: Step by Step Business’ content is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional legal or tax advice. All of our articles are thoroughly reviewed and fact-checked by our editorial team. Read our editorial guidelines for more details.

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Fast Facts

Investment range

$25,700 – $203,200

Revenue potential

$115,000 - $942,000 p.a.

Time to build

1 - 3 months

Profit potential

$58,000 - $188,000 p.a.

Industry trend

Recovering post-pandemic shutdown, Growing

Commitment

Full-time

How to Start a Trucking Business

The demand for transporting goods is strong and constant, which makes trucking big business. If you are a truck driver, or even if you’re not yet, you could start a lucrative trucking business of your own. It could be a great opportunity for you to take advantage of the market, and work for yourself.

Of course, starting any kind of business takes a lot of work. The key to success is gaining the requisite knowledge and moving patiently through the development and launch process, as detailed in this step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Starting a trucking business requires significant time, money, and effort. Before you jump in, it’s a good idea to educate yourself so you avoid the most common pitfalls.

Pros and cons

Every business has its pros and cons, which you should weigh to decide whether a trucking business is a good fit for you.

Here are some basic pros and cons of starting and running a trucking business.

Pros

  • Travel to interesting places
  • Work independently and make your own hours
  • Getting started is relatively simple and straightforward
  • Job security is high, as trucking services are always in demand

Cons

  • Marketing will be required to build a reputation
  • It might take a year or two to make significant money
  • Potential for unhealthy lifestyle and fatigue

Trucking industry trends

The trucking industry is highly sensitive to economic fluctuations. When commerce is up, the trucking industry flourishes. During economic downturns when consumers make fewer purchases, there are fewer deliveries and trucking suffers.

Industry size and growth 

trucking industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

Trends in the trucking industry include:

  • Strong consumer spending, industrial production, and imports are driving demand for trucking services
  • New technologies focusing on route optimization, trailer tracking, and more will continue to shape the trucking industry

Challenges in the trucking industry include: 

  • Commercial truck driver shortage
  • Rising fuel prices
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Supply chain disruptions
trucking Trends and Challenges

What kind of people work in trucking?

trucking industry demographics

How much does it cost to start a trucking business?

The startup costs for a single-vehicle trucking business range from about $25,000 to more than $200,000. To start with a fleet of trucks, you would of course need much more capital.

You will need several key items to successfully launch a trucking business, starting with:

  • Semi-truck and trailer
  • Mechanic’s tools for on-the-road repairs
Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$200 - $200$200
Licenses and permits$200 - $300$250
Insurance $5,000 - $10,000$7,500
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup $1,000 - $3,000$2,000
Initial marketing budget$200 - $500$350
Truck and trailer$15,000 - $175,000$95,000
IRP plate$500 - $3,000$1,750
Heavy vehicle use tax and permit$100 - $600$350
US Dot number$300 - $300$300
CDL training and license$3,000 - $10,000$6,500
Total$25,700 - $203,200$114,450

How much can you earn from a trucking business?

Your profit will vary depending on whether your business is a one-person, one-truck operation, or has a fleet of trucks and several drivers.

The average truck business owner-operator makes $1.55 in revenue per mile and drivers average 121,500 miles per year, according to industry advisor American Truck Business Services. But if you can drive 75,000 miles your first year, you should make gross revenue of just over $115,000. Expenses generally take about half of your revenue, and include fuel, maintenance, insurance, food, and lodging. This would leave you with a profit of about $58,000. 

As you build a reputation, you might acquire more trucks and hire drivers, with each driver reaching the industry average of 121,500 annual miles. If you employ five drivers, your gross revenue would be around $942,000, but your profit margin would drop to 20%. You’d still make a profit of $188,000. 

trucking earnings forecast

What barriers to entry are there?

There are some real barriers to entry for a trucking business, including:

  • Expensive to get started, with high ongoing costs
  • Much time and money spent building your brand
  • Adapting to life on the road

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Step 2: Hone Your Idea

Now that you have a good idea of what’s involved in starting a trucking business, you might want to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive marketplace.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research US trucking and look for industry needs and weaknesses. Maybe there’s a certain kind of freight that is short on committed drivers. You could start by calling trucking firms and asking if they’re looking for drivers — this is a good indication that that line of work offers a real opportunity.

Once you have built a proven track record, it will be easier to get new clients and repeat business, which will be key to your business success.

What? Determine your products or services

Determine if you want to specialize in a certain industry or in a certain region of the country. Keep in mind, a bigger driving range will likely mean more opportunities.

How much should you charge for trucking services?

When you are just starting out, you may have to charge a lower-than-average price until you build a reputation. On average, owner-operator drivers make $1.55 per mile. But to command that price you will need to first make a name for yourself through industry experience.

Research trucking services in your area to determine the best prices for your market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be just about any company with goods to transport. A good way to start is to research which businesses transport the most goods and then give them a call offering your services at a discount. If you do a stellar job, you should be able to retain them and gradually increase your price to the market rate.

Where? Choose your business premises

In the early stages, you can operate your business from home to keep costs in check, assuming you have space for your truck. But as your business grows, you may need to hire workers for various job roles and rent out an office. Find commercial space to rent in your area on Loopnet, Craigslist, Crexi, and Commercial Cafe.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these four rules of thumb:

  • Central location accessible via public transport
  • Ventilated and spacious, with good natural light
  • Flexible lease that can be extended as your business grows
  • Ready-to-use space with no major renovations or repairs needed
trucking rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name

Your business name is your business identity, so choose one that encapsulates your objectives, services, and mission in just a few words. You probably want a name that’s short and easy to remember, since much of your business, and your initial business in particular, will come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Here are some ideas for brainstorming your business name:

  • Short, unique, and catchy names tend to stand out
  • Names that are easy to say and spell tend to do better
  • The name should be relevant to your product or service offerings
  • Ask around — family, friends, colleagues, social media — for suggestions
  • Including keywords, such as “trucking” or “transport”, boosts SEO
  • Choose a name that allows for expansion: “Jim’s Bakery” over “Jim’s Cookies”
  • Avoid location-based names that might hinder future expansion
  • Use online tools like the Step by Step business name generator. Just type in a few keywords and hit “generate” and you’ll have dozens of suggestions at your fingertips.

Once you’ve got a list of potential names, visit the website of the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure they are available for registration and check the availability of related domain names using our Domain Name Search tool. Using “.com” or “.org” sharply increases credibility, so it’s best to focus on these. 

Finally, make your choice among the names that pass this screening and go ahead with domain registration and social media account creation. Your business name is one of the key differentiators that set your business apart. Once you pick your company name, and start with the branding, it is hard to change the business name. Therefore, it’s important to carefully consider your choice before you start a business entity.

Step 4: Create a Business Plan

Every business needs a plan, a rough outline that helps guide a startup through the launch process while maintaining focus on key goals. A business plan is also crucial for helping potential partners and investors understand your company and vision:

  • Executive Summary: Brief overview of the entire business plan; should be written after the plan is complete.
  • Business Overview: Overview of the company, vision, mission, ownership, and corporate goals.
  • Product and Services: Describe your shop’s services in detail.
  • Market Analysis: Assess market trends such as variations in demand and prospects for growth, and do a SWOT analysis.
  • Competitive Analysis: Analyze main competitors, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and create a list of the advantages of your services.
  • Sales and Marketing: Examine your companies’ unique selling propositions (USPs) and develop sales, marketing, and promotional strategies.
  • Management Team: Overview of management team, detailing their roles and professional background, along with a corporate hierarchy.
  • Operations Plan: Your company’s operational plan includes procurement, office location, key assets and equipment, and other logistical details.
  • Financial Plan: Three years of financial planning, including startup costs, break-even analysis, profit and loss estimates, cash flow, and balance sheet.
  • Appendix: Include any additional financial or business-related documents.

If you’ve never created a business plan, it can be an intimidating task. You might consider hiring a business plan specialist at Fiverr to create a top-notch business plan for you.

what to include in a business plan

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — a prerequisite to paying taxes, raising capital, opening a bank account, and other guideposts on the road to getting a business up and running.

Plus, registration is exciting because it makes the entire process official. Once it’s done, you have your own business!

Choose where to register your company

Your business location is important because it can affect taxes, legal requirements, and revenue. Most people will register their business in the state where they live, but if you are planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to trucking. 

If you’re willing to move, you could really maximize your business! Keep in mind, it’s relatively easy to transfer your business to another state.

Choose your business structure

Business entities come in several varieties, each with its pros and cons. The legal structure you choose for your trucking business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely.

Here are the main options:

  • Sole Proprietorship – The most common structure for small businesses makes no legal distinction between company and owner. All income goes to the owner, who’s also liable for any debts, losses, or liabilities incurred by the business. The owner pays taxes on business income on his or her personal tax return.
  • General Partnership – Similar to a sole proprietorship, but for two or more people. Again, owners keep the profits and are liable for losses. The partners pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.
  • Limited Liability Company (LLC) – Combines the characteristics of corporations with those of sole proprietorships or partnerships. Again, the owners are not personally liable for debts.
  • C Corp – Under this structure, the business is a distinct legal entity and the owner or owners are not personally liable for its debts. Owners take profits through shareholder dividends, rather than directly. The corporation pays taxes, and owners pay taxes on their dividends, which is sometimes referred to as double taxation.
  • S Corp – An S-Corporation refers to the tax classification of the business but is not a business entity. An S-Corp can be either a corporation or an LLC, which just need to elect to be an S-Corp for tax status. In an S-Corp, income is passed through directly to shareholders, who pay taxes on their share of business income on their personal tax returns.

We recommend that new business owners choose LLC as it offers liability protection and pass-through taxation while being simpler to form than a corporation. You can form an LLC in as little as five minutes using ZenBusiness’s online LLC formation service. They will check that your business name is available before filing, submit your articles of organization, and answer any questions you might have.

types of business structures

Step 6: Register for Taxes

The final step before you’re able to pay taxes is getting an Employer Identification Number, or EIN. You can file for your EIN online or by mail or fax: visit the IRS website to learn more. Keep in mind, if you’ve chosen to be a sole proprietorship you can simply use your social security number as your EIN.

Once you have your EIN, you’ll need to choose your tax year. Financially speaking, your business will operate on a calendar year (January–December) or a fiscal year, a 12-month period that can start in any month. This will determine your tax cycle, while your business structure will determine which taxes you’ll pay.

The IRS website also offers a tax-payers checklist, and taxes can be filed online.

It is important to consult an accountant or other professional to help you with your taxes to ensure you are completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

Securing financing is your next step and there are plenty of ways to raise capital:

  • Bank loans: This is the most common method, but getting approved requires a rock-solid business plan and strong credit history.
  • SBA-guaranteed loans: The Small Business Administration can act as guarantor, helping gain that elusive bank approval via an SBA-guaranteed loan.
  • Government grants: A handful of financial assistance programs help fund entrepreneurs. Visit Grants.gov to learn which might work for you.
  • Friends and Family: Reach out to friends and family to provide a business loan or investment in your concept. It’s a good idea to have legal advice when doing so because SEC regulations apply.
  • Crowdfunding: Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer an increasingly popular low-risk option, in which donors fund your vision. Entrepreneurial crowdfunding sites like Fundable and WeFunder enable multiple investors to fund your business.
  • Personal: Self-fund your business via your savings or the sale of property or other assets.

Bank and SBA loans are probably the best option, other than friends and family, for funding a trucking business.

Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits

Starting a trucking business requires obtaining a number of licenses and permits from local, state, and federal governments.

Federal regulations, licenses, and permits associated with starting your business include doing business as (DBA), health licenses and permits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), trademarks, copyrights, patents, and other intellectual properties, as well as industry-specific licenses and permits. 

You may also need state-level and local county or city-based licenses and permits. The license requirements and how to obtain them vary, so check the websites of your state, city, and county governments or contact the appropriate person to learn more. 

You could also check this SBA guide for your state’s requirements, but we recommend using MyCorporation’s Business License Compliance Package. They will research the exact forms you need for your business and state and provide them to ensure you’re fully compliant.

This is not a step to be taken lightly, as failing to comply with legal requirements can result in hefty penalties.

If you feel overwhelmed by this step or don’t know how to begin, it might be a good idea to hire a professional to help you check all the legal boxes.

Step 9: Open a Business Bank Account

Before you start making money, you’ll need a place to keep it, and that requires opening a bank account.

Keeping your business finances separate from your personal account makes it easy to file taxes and track your company’s income, so it’s worth doing even if you’re running your trucking business as a sole proprietorship. Opening a business bank account is quite simple, and similar to opening a personal one. Most major banks offer accounts tailored for businesses — just inquire at your preferred bank to learn about their rates and features.

Banks vary in terms of offerings, so it’s a good idea to examine your options and select the best plan for you. Once you choose your bank, bring in your EIN (or Social Security Number if you decide on a sole proprietorship), articles of incorporation, and other legal documents and open your new account. 

Step 10: Get Business Insurance

Business insurance is an area that often gets overlooked but is vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business, and your life.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

  • General liability: The most comprehensive type of insurance, acting as a catch-all for many business elements that require coverage. If you get just one kind of insurance, this is it. It even protects against bodily injury and property damage.
  • Business Property: Provides coverage for your equipment and supplies.
  • Equipment Breakdown Insurance: Covers the cost of replacing or repairing equipment that has broken due to mechanical issues.
  • Worker’s compensation: Provides compensation to employees injured on the job.
  • Property: Covers your physical space, whether it is a cart, storefront, or office.
  • Commercial auto: Protection for your company-owned vehicle.
  • Professional liability: Protects against claims from a client who says they suffered a loss due to an error or omission in your work.
  • Business owner’s policy (BOP): This is an insurance plan that acts as an all-in-one insurance policy, a combination of any of the above insurance types.
types of business insurance

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

As opening day nears, prepare for launch by reviewing and improving some key elements of your business.

Essential software and tools

Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many hats, from marketing to sales to accounting, which can be overwhelming. Fortunately, many websites and digital tools are available to help simplify many business tasks. 

You may want to use industry-specific software such as prophesy, ezloads, and tenstreet to find and hire qualified drivers, manage billing and payments, simplify communication, and more. 

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero.
  • If you are unfamiliar with basic accounting, you may want to hire a professional, especially as you begin. The consequences for filing incorrect tax documents can be harsh, so accuracy is crucial.

Marketing

Some of your business will come from the casual passerby or online visitors, but you should still invest in digital marketing! Getting the word out is especially important for new businesses, as it’ll boost customer and brand awareness. 

Once your website is up and running, link it to your social media accounts and vice versa. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business because you can create engaging posts that advertise your products: 

  • Facebook: Great platform for paid advertising, allows you to target specific demographics, like men under age 50 in the Cleveland area. 
  • Instagram: Same benefits as Facebook but with different target audiences.
  • Website: SEO will help your website appear closer to the top in relevant search results, a crucial element for increasing sales. Make sure that you optimize calls to action on your website. Experiment with text, color, size, and position of calls to action such as “Book Now”. This can sharply increase purchases. 
  • Google and Yelp: For businesses that rely on local clientele, getting listed on Yelp and Google My Business can be crucial to generating awareness and customers.

Kickstart Marketing

Take advantage of your website, social media presence, and real-life activities to increase awareness of your offerings and build your brand. Some suggestions include:

  • Signage – Put up eye-catching signage at your store and website. 
  • Flyering – Distribute flyers in your neighborhood and at industry events. 
  • Sponsor events – You can pay to be a sponsor at events that are relevant to your target market
  • Post a video – Post a video about your trucking business. Use humor and maybe it will go viral!
  • Start a blog – Start a blog and post regularly. Change up your content and share on multiple sites.
  • Seek out referrals – Offer incentives to generate customer referrals to new clients. 
  • Paid ads on social media – Choose sites that will reach your target market and do targeted ads.
  • Testimonials – Share customer testimonials about how your services helped them.
  • Create infographics – Post infographics and include them in your content.

Develop your website

Website development is crucial because your site is your online presence and needs to convince prospective clients of your expertise and professionalism. They are unlikely to find your website, however, unless you follow Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices. These are steps that help pages rank higher in the results of top search engines like Google. 

You can create your own website using services like WordPress, Wix, or Squarespace. This route is very affordable, but figuring out how to build a website can be time-consuming. If you lack tech-savvy, you can hire a web designer or developer to create a custom website for your business.

Focus on USPs

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the unique characteristics of a product or service that sets it apart from the competition. Customers today are inundated with buying options, so you’ll have a real advantage if they are able to quickly grasp how your trucking business meets their needs or wishes. It’s wise to do all you can to ensure your USPs stand out on your website and in your marketing and promotional materials, stimulating buyer desire.

Global pizza chain Domino’s is renowned for its USP: “Hot pizza in 30 minutes or less, guaranteed.” Signature USPs for your trucking business could be:

  • Low per-mile rates and a focus on value-based pricing
  • Newer trucks and equipment
  • Family-owned business with great customer service
  • Guaranteed reliability and speed
unique selling proposition

Networking

You may not like to network or use personal connections for business gain. But your personal and professional networks likely offer considerable untapped business potential. Maybe that Facebook friend you met in college is now running a trucking business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working as a truck driver for years and can offer invaluable insight and industry connections. 

The possibilities are endless, so it’s a good idea to review your personal and professional networks and reach out to those with possible links to or interest in trucking. You’ll probably generate new customers or find companies with which you could establish a partnership. Online businesses might also consider affiliate marketing as a way to build relationships with potential partners and boost business.

Step 12: Build Your Team

You may not need to hire any employees straight away if you plan to start small and use your home as your office. But as your business grows, you may add more trucks and find a need to hire staff. Potential employees for a trucking business include:

  • Office Manager – Sets appointments, orders supplies, maintains office
  • Truck Drivers
  • Customer Service Rep – Speak to clients and solve issues
  • Marketing Lead – Social media marketing, SEO

At some point, you may need to hire all of these positions or simply a few, depending on the size and needs of your business. You might also hire multiple workers for a single role or a single worker for multiple roles, again depending on need. 

Free-of-charge methods to recruit employees include posting ads on popular platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Jobs.com. You might also consider a premium recruitment option, such as advertising on Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter. Further, if you have the resources, you could consider hiring a recruitment agency to help you find talent. 

Step 13: Start Making Money!

The trucking industry may have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the long-term trend is still positive, according to the American Trucking Associations. So if you’ve been planning to buy that truck and get into business, act on it now. 

In your first year, it’s a good idea to create a niche for yourself to jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing. But as a trucking business owner, however, you probably will not want to stick with one niche for long. You’ll want to be available for a broad variety of transport services.

You’re now ready to start your entrepreneurial journey in the trucking industry. Good luck!

Trucking Business FAQs

How do I start a trucking business with just one truck?

With one truck, you’ll be an owner-operator and a one-person show. It’s a lot of work — you’ll do your own sales and marketing, manage operations, and drive the truck — but the rewards are all yours.

Are trucking businesses profitable?

The profit potential in trucking is solid, with most owner-operators making at least $58,000 in a year. With five trucks and drivers you could push your profit up to nearly $190,000.

How much money do I need to start a trucking business?

Start-up costs range from $25,000 to $200,000 for a one-truck operation. The key to keeping start-up costs down is to find and buy a reliable used truck.