Five Tips to Help You Succeed in an Uncertain Freight Market
Updated: Feb 15
During the months of March, April, and May, the U.S. has experienced an increase in inflation, and that increase has not spared the trucking industry. While most fleets are still experiencing great rates and success, the spot market hasn’t been so nice to independent contractors. Rates have dropped and fuel has skyrocketed. No one is sure how long it will take for fuel to drop and for spending to ramp back up. We are in an uncertain time.
In this article, we want to share some ways for you to manage your trucking business during an uncertain freight market. Now would be the best time to start looking at your operation and identify areas where you can generate and save money. By following these tips, you can help make sure you get yourself and your trucking operation through the uncertain times. In addition, by getting into the habit of managing your business for times like these, you’ll reap the benefits in the future when the market gets steadier.
Be Flexible With Your Operation
If you have been an owner-operator for a while, you know that the market goes through its ups and downs. You might also know that the best way for your business to operate during good times might be different than how it needs to operate during bad times. With freight rates being uncertain, it’s time to look into how your business will operate best right now. This means looking into different types of freight or areas of the country that you may not usually operate in but might have higher demand during the current trucking market.
On the flip side, if you found a market that is helping you stay successful, there is a chance that operating like this isn’t going to stay profitable forever. You may have to be flexible and look ahead to different markets if the one you are operating in looks like it isn’t going to continue to work out for you based on changing conditions. Don’t allow yourself to get trapped in a situation that was once profitable, but is now a place where you won’t be able to make enough money to keep your business afloat.
Most importantly, you have to stay informed and understand the market changes as they are happening. You can do this by; talking to other drivers about what is working for them, listening to trucking-specific satellite radio shows to stay informed, asking the fleet you may be leased to about freight changes, reading trucking blogs, and looking at data from Truckstop.com and DAT.com.
Overall, be flexible and know that what’s working in the present may not be what works best for you in the future.
Understand Your Financial Situation
During uncertain times, it will be more important than ever that you are completely aware of your finances. This means keeping an accurate and up-to-date profit and loss statement and knowing your break-even point. If you don’t already do these things, now would be the best time to start. Your profit and loss statement will allow you to see areas where your business is operating well and areas where you can improve. From your profit and loss statement, you will be able to come up with your breakeven point, which is how much money you need to make to at least cover your costs. With that breakeven point, you can look at it on a per day, week, month, and yearly basis.
With that breakeven point in mind, you need to be realistic with your revenue expectations and know that you may not earn as much as you would during a really strong economy. This means you can't be picky with your load selection. You aren’t going to be able to choose loads based on whether or not you think it’s “cheap freight.” You need to use your break-even point as your guide in deciding what loads to take. Your decisions will have to be made by looking at the big picture and deciding whether or not you’re earning a profit on this load, and if not, is it getting you to another area or to another load where you will be making a profit.
After you have looked at your financial situation and analyzed your profit and loss statement, you will know areas of your business where you are able to reduce costs. One number that will surely jump out at you is fuel, as it’s one of your biggest expenses. Luckily, fuel is one of the biggest expenses that you actually have some control over. Even though you can’t control the price of fuel, which is very high right now, you will be able to have some control over how much you are using. We have an entire article dedicated to the top 20 ways for truck drivers to improve their fuel efficiency. These are changes that you will be able to make immediately in order to save money on fuel.