The business section of your favorite bookstore is jammed with titles about navigating hard times, down markets, and “headwinds.” Many such books agree on what white-collar professionals are wise to do when the going gets tough: get back to basics. When there isn’t enough work coming in to keep you busy, use the downtime to build your business up so it runs more smoothly when the activity returns.
That got us thinking: What basics are we supposed to get back to? In trucking, our basics are much different from those on Wall Street. Or are they? Here are the basics according to DAT – or what we like to call The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Carriers.
HABIT 1: Take Care of Your Body
Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we? A 2018 research study on the health of truck drivers found that our average life expectancy is 61 years old. Sixty-one, right around the time some of us will become grandparents or start to think seriously about retirement. As a group, our cholesterol is high, we’re overweight, and the nature of work requires sitting for long periods. These are not conditions where health can thrive; it’s where disease, obesity, and depression can take hold. It is imperative that truckers put a concerted effort into sustaining our own lives by making self-care a part of our jobs. Sleep. Diet. Exercise. Mental health. No job is more important than our lives.
HABIT 2: Know the Pulse of the Market
Knowledge is power. When you’re making decisions that directly affect your income, your company, and your employees, it’s wise to base those decisions on facts, not feelings. The best way we’ve found to keep our finger on the pulse of the market is to invest in great data insight. We’re obviously partial to DAT One, but any platform that can keep you smart about current rates and market conditions is worth your time and money.
HABIT 3: Understand Your Expenses
We’re not suggesting that your business doesn’t know what it’s spending its money on; we’re saying it makes sense to look at the trends and patterns in spending and investigate ways to reduce it. Here’s what we mean: assuming fuel is your largest recurring cost (as it is for most of us), are there ways in which you can lower your fuel costs and redirect the savings to other areas of the business? (The answer to this question is yes, via the usage of fuel cards and other such savings devices.) Maintenance, tolls, fees, salaries…educating ourselves about what’s going out can light the path for new ways to bring money in. The profit estimator function in DAT One is a vital and valuable tool for this pursuit.
HABIT 4: Stay Prepared for Downtime
In his prescription for personal financial stability, guru Dave Ramsey suggests average citizens should have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in an emergency fund. The message there is clear: be prepared for layoffs, illnesses, pandemics, and the like. The principal in business – specifically trucking business – is the same. We’re all aware that our business is cyclical and that the winter months can be a struggle. We have two choices when that struggle arrives: attempt to battle the elements and the dearth of available loads to stay profitable OR plan ahead for the downtime and use it to build up the other aspects of your business.
HABIT 5: Get to Know Each Load
The old cliche in trucking tells us all a carrier needs to know before taking a load is, “What does it weigh and what does it pay?” That kind of haphazard acceptance of any load that pays well may have been acceptable back in the day, but today we have access to SO! MUCH! MORE! information. If you’re willing to invest a little more time getting to know each load, you can separate yourself from the pack and justify higher rates by sharing what you’ve learned and demonstrating expertise.
HABIT 6: Safety First
Maybe this one seems obvious, but we’re not merely suggesting you fasten your seatbelt and keep your hands on the wheel. The need for safety protocols permeates every nook and cranny of your business – from safe driving to cargo securement to safeguarding your business against fraud. Protect what’s yours. Keep yourself and your business alive. Establishing basic security procedures and obtaining the tools to enforce them is as important – if not more so – than any other component of your operation
HABIT 7: Foster Meaningful Relationships
We do this job to make money, but one of the unexpected benefits of moving freight is the community of people with whom you work. Ours is a community of supportive, experienced people who are almost always willing to be there with a kind word, an available load, or a piece of insider knowledge that can make a difference for you. Treasure that. Treasure the people who make your work fun and profitable. Not every industry is lucky enough to enjoy the same sense of togetherness and healthy competition.
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