We earn commissions if you shop through the links below. Read more

How to Start an Owner-Operator Trucking Business

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

Edited by:

David has been writing and learning about business, finance and globalization for a quarter-century, starting with a small New York consulting firm in the 1990s.

How to Start an Owner-Operator Trucking Business

Fast Facts

Investment range

$14,850 - $28,600

Revenue potential

$100,000 – $220,000 p.a.

Time to build

3-6 months

Profit potential

$60,000 - $132,000p.a.

Industry trend

Growing

Commitment

Flexible

Do you love traveling the open road, watching the landscape change as you cross state lines? If so, an owner-operator trucking business may be just the ticket. Trucking is a $217 billion industry, so why not haul away a piece of that pie? As an owner-operator, you can make a lot more money than you would working for a company, and you can pick and choose the trips you want to take. 

You’ll need to load up on some business intel, though, to be successful. Luckily, this step-by-step guide details all the info you need to get on the road to business ownership.

Step 1: Decide if the Business Is Right for You

Pros and cons

Starting an owner-operator trucking business has pros and cons to consider before deciding if it’s right for you.

Pros

  • Travel – See the country, have new experiences
  • Control – Be the master of your own time and income
  • High Demand – Trucking is an in-demand service

Cons

  • Investment Required – A truck and licensing require time and money
  • Time Away from Family – Homesickness may occur!

Owner-operator trucking industry trends

Industry size and growth

owner-operator trucking industry size and growth

Trends and challenges

owner-operator trucking Trends and Challenges

Trends in the owner-operator trucking industry include:

  • More and more loads are being booked on an app or online, which provides a great way for owner-operators to secure business.
  • The increased number of distribution centers is making the average haul shorter.

Challenges in the owner-operator trucking industry include:

  • Rising fuel prices are cutting into the profit margins of owner-operator truck drivers.
  • Freight rates are constantly fluctuating, impacting the revenue of owner-operators.

Demand hotspots

owner-operator trucking demand hotspots

What kind of people work in Trucking?

owner-operator trucking industry demographics

How much does it cost to start an owner-operator trucking business?

Startup costs for an owner-operator trucking business range from $15,000 to $30,000. The main costs are for a down payment on a truck and truck insurance.

If you need to go to truck driving school, it costs an average of $6,000 and takes between 6 to 8 weeks.

Start-up CostsBallpark RangeAverage
Setting up a business name and corporation$150 - $200$175
Business licenses and permits$100 - $300$200
Insurance$100-$300$200
Business cards and brochures$200 - $300$250
Website setup$1,000 - $3,000$2,000
CDL and other licensing$300 - $500$400
Down payment on a truck rig$10,000 - $20,000$15,000
Truck insurance$3,000 - $4,000$3,500
Total$14,850 - $28,600$21,725

How much can you earn from an owner-operator trucking business?

owner-operator trucking earnings forecast

You should be able to earn about $2 per mile. After the costs of fuel, maintenance, and insurance, your profit margin should be about 60%.

In your first year or two, you could drive 50,000 miles per year, bringing in $100,000 in annual revenue. This would mean $60,000 in profit, assuming that 60% margin. As you grow your business, you could drive 110,000 miles per year. With annual revenue of $220,000, you’d make a tidy profit of $132,000.

What barriers to entry are there?

There are a few barriers to entry for an owner-operator trucking business. Your biggest challenges will be:

  • The relatively high startup costs
  • Meeting licensing requirements

Related Business Ideas

If you’re still not sure whether this business idea is the right choice for you, here are some related business opportunities to help you on your path to entrepreneurial success.
How to Start an Owner-Operator Trucking Business

How to Start a Moving Company

How to Start an Owner-Operator Trucking Business

How to Start a Dump Truck Business

How to Start an Owner-Operator Trucking Business

How to Start a Freight Forwarding Business

Step 2: Hone Your Idea

develop a business idea

Now that you know what’s involved in starting an owner-operator trucking business, it’s a good idea to hone your concept in preparation to enter a competitive market. 

Market research will give you the upper hand, even if you’re already positive that you have a perfect product or service. Conducting market research is important, because it can help you understand your customers better, who your competitors are, and your business landscape.

Why? Identify an opportunity

Research owner-operator trucking businesses in your area to examine their services, price points, and customer reviews. You’re looking for a market gap to fill. For instance, maybe the local market is missing a trucking business that delivers to Canada.

You might consider targeting a niche market by specializing in a certain aspect of your industry, such as long-haul trucking.

This could jumpstart your word-of-mouth marketing and attract clients right away. 

What? Determine your services

You just need to determine how long you want your hauls to be, and if you want to specialize in certain types of loads. Your best bet is to keep your services open to any type of load and any distance.

How much should you charge for owner-operator trucking services?

You should be able to earn about $2 per mile. Your ongoing costs will be for fuel, truck maintenance, and truck insurance. You should aim for a profit margin of about 60%.

Once you know your costs, you can use this Step By Step profit margin calculator to determine your mark-up and final price points. Remember, the prices you use at launch should be subject to change if warranted by the market.

Who? Identify your target market

Your target market will be businesses that need trucking services. You can find business owners on LinkedIn. You can also use online services and apps to find work. An example is truckstop.com

Where? Choose your business premises

You can run your business from home, but if you ever want to have your own trucking company with a fleet of trucks and drivers, you’ll need an office. Find commercial space to rent in your area on sites such as Craigslist, Crexi, and Instant Offices.

When choosing a commercial space, you may want to follow these 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
owner-operator trucking idea rating

Step 3: Brainstorm a Business Name

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 
  • 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 “truck driver”, boosts SEO
  • Name should allow for expansion, for ex: “Road Masters” over “Oversize Freight Solutions” or “Hazmat Solutions”
  • A location-based name can help establish a strong connection with your local community and help with the SEO but might hinder future expansion

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 sets 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

Here are the key components of a business plan:

what to include in a business plan
  • Executive Summary: Provide a brief overview of your business plan, summarizing your goals and approach to the business.
  • Business Overview: Introduce your owner-operator trucking business, outlining the types of freight you’ll transport and the areas you plan to serve.
  • Product and Services: Detail the transportation services you’ll offer, including the types of cargo, equipment, and any specialized services like refrigerated transport or hazmat hauling.
  • Market Analysis: Analyze the trucking industry, identifying demand for transportation services, key routes, and potential customers, and highlight any market trends.
  • Competitive Analysis: Identify competitors in the trucking industry, evaluate their services, pricing, and customer base, and explain how your business will differentiate itself.
  • Sales and Marketing: Describe your strategies for acquiring clients, such as online load boards, networking with shippers, and building relationships with brokers.
  • Management Team: Highlight your qualifications and experience in the trucking industry, emphasizing your knowledge of regulations, safety protocols, and logistics.
  • Operations Plan: Explain how your trucking business will operate, covering maintenance schedules, route planning, compliance with regulations, and safety measures.
  • Financial Plan: Provide financial projections, including revenue estimates, cost breakdowns, profit margins, and startup expenses, demonstrating the business’s financial viability.
  • Appendix: Include necessary documents such as your trucking license, insurance certificates, vehicle inspection records, and contracts with shippers or brokers to build credibility with clients and regulatory agencies.

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

Step 5: Register Your Business

Registering your business is an absolutely crucial step — it’s the 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 complete, you’ll 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’re planning to expand, you might consider looking elsewhere, as some states could offer real advantages when it comes to owner-operator trucking businesses. 

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 owner-operator trucking business will shape your taxes, personal liability, and business registration requirements, so choose wisely. 

Here are the main options:

types of business structures
  • 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 an 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. 

Form Your LLC

Choose Your State

We recommend ZenBusiness as the Best LLC Service for 2024

starts at $0, plus state fees

4.7/5

starts at $0, plus state fees
Visit ZenBusiness

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 in 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’re completing them correctly.

Step 7: Fund your Business

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

types of business financing
  • 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 an owner-operator trucking business. 

Step 8: Apply for Licenses/Permits

Business Licenses and Permits

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

First, you’ll need to obtain a commercial driver’s license from your state DMV. You’ll also need a Department of Transportation number and a Motor Carrier Authority number, both of which you can get by registering with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Finally, you’ll need to complete a unified carrier’s registration, and if you plan to drive to other states or Canada, an International Registration Plan tag and an International Fuel Tax Agreement decal.

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 owner-operator 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 yet it can be vital to your success as an entrepreneur. Insurance protects you from unexpected events that can have a devastating impact on your business.

Here are some types of insurance to consider:

types of business insurance
  • 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 the above insurance types.

Step 11: Prepare to Launch

Launching a Business

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 ShipWell, TruckingOffice, or Truck Logic, to help you manage your scheduling, billing, bookkeeping, and more.

Accounting

  • Popular web-based accounting programs for smaller businesses include Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero
  • If you’re 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. 

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.

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.

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.

Marketing

Here are some powerful marketing strategies for your future business:

  • Specialized Services Offerings: Tailor your services to cater to specific industries or niches, such as refrigerated transport for perishables or hazardous materials transportation, to stand out in the market and attract businesses with unique needs.
  • Local Partnerships: Forge partnerships with local businesses, warehouses, and manufacturers to establish a reliable local clientele, leveraging the advantage of being an owner-operator with a strong understanding of the regional logistics landscape.
  • Social Media Advertising: Utilize targeted social media advertising on platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook to reach decision-makers in logistics and supply chain management, showcasing your reliability, efficiency, and any special offerings you provide.
  • Customer Referral Programs: Implement referral programs that reward current clients for referring new businesses to your services, fostering a word-of-mouth marketing approach that can be particularly effective in the trucking industry.
  • Fleet Branding: Ensure your truck is well-branded with a professional logo and contact information, turning your vehicle into a moving billboard that advertises your services wherever it goes, increasing brand visibility and recognition.
  • Online Reviews Management: Encourage satisfied clients to leave positive reviews on popular review platforms like Google Business and Yelp, building a positive online reputation that can influence potential clients when they research your services.
  • Trade Shows and Industry Events: Attend relevant trade shows and industry events to network with potential clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders, establishing a presence in the industry and staying updated on the latest trends and opportunities.
  • Loyalty Programs: Develop loyalty programs for repeat customers, offering discounts, priority service, or other perks to incentivize clients to continue choosing your services for their transportation needs.
  • Optimized Routing and Efficiency: Highlight your commitment to efficiency and cost-effectiveness by optimizing your routing and delivery processes, emphasizing how your streamlined operations can save clients time and money.
  • Community Involvement: Engage with the local community by sponsoring events, participating in charity drives, or supporting local causes, creating a positive image for your business and enhancing your connection with the community.

Focus on USPs

unique selling proposition

Unique selling propositions, or USPs, are the 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 owner-operator 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 owner-operator trucking business could be:

  • We haul your loads anywhere in the country
  • Ontime load delivery, guaranteed!
  • Transport to anywhere in the US and Canada

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 an owner-operator trucking business, or a LinkedIn contact of yours is connected to dozens of potential clients. Maybe your cousin or neighbor has been working in trucking 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. 

Step 12: Build Your Team

Building a Team for a New Business

Working as a solopreneur owner-operator, you won’t need any employees. But if you decide to grow into a trucking company, you’ll need workers to fill various roles. Potential positions for a trucking business include:

  • Truck Drivers – drive loads
  • Dispatcher – dispatch drivers
  • General Manager – staff management, accounting
  • Marketing Lead – SEO strategies, social media

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!

Running a Business

Ready to get on the road? Starting an owner-operator trucking business takes an investment to get started, but you can make good money in a $200 billion industry. If you love traveling, that’s an added bonus. You’ll get to see places you never knew existed while being an integral part of the all-important supply chain. 

Now that you’ve done your business homework, it’s time to take the next steps and get on the highway to entrepreneurship!

Owner-Operator Trucking Business FAQs

How profitable is owner-operator trucking business?

If you can get consistent work it can be very profitable. Some successful owner operators make well into the six figures.

How do I handle the maintenance and repairs of my trucking equipment?

Establish a regular maintenance schedule, including oil changes, tire inspections, and brake checks, to prevent breakdowns and ensure the longevity of your equipment. Develop relationships with reputable mechanics or maintenance facilities to handle repairs promptly and efficiently. 

What is the hardest part of trucking?

The hardest part of trucking can vary from person to person, but some common challenges include long hours and time away from home, dealing with traffic and road conditions, managing tight schedules, navigating regulatory compliance, and handling the physical demands of the job.

Can I work as an owner-operator while contracting with multiple companies?

Yes, as an owner-operator, you can contract with multiple companies to provide transportation services. This arrangement allows you to diversify your client base, reduce dependency on a single source of income, and potentially increase your earning potential. 

How do I find clients or companies that need transportation services for their goods?

Finding clients or companies in need of transportation services can be accomplished through various strategies: online platforms and load boardscold calling, and direct marketing.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

How to Start an Owner-Operator Trucking Business