Like all business owners, truckers need to sell their services and find customers. Many drivers prefer contracted work with known shippers on familiar routes, but building these relationships takes time. Fortunately, truckers can turn to online load boards and apps to search through thousands of loads that need to be moved. Most are infrequent, transactional spot market jobs that are posted by shippers and freight brokers in real-time. Still, they help drivers make more money by keeping trucks filled throughout each leg of a trip. Using a load board can also lead to regular, more profitable routes and relationships in the long run.
What is a load board?
Load boards, sometimes called freight boards, are free or subscription resources that enable drivers to search for loads meeting a specific set of criteria. Since each empty or underfilled mile traveled cuts into profitability, even contracted drivers on regular lanes should be prepared to use them when space is available. When setting up an account on a load board, the more details provided about locations, truck specifications and personal preferences, the better the search results. These may include truck length and weight, types and amounts of freight that can be carried, preferred destinations, etc.
As described in a FreightWaves SONAR blog entry titled How do truckers find loads?, after finding a load, traditionally truckers speak to the freight broker or shipper directly to negotiate terms. If an agreement is reached, the two parties exchange authority and insurance information before a rate confirmation is signed.
How to choose a load board
Picking a load board from a sea of options may seem difficult. Aside from cost considerations, there’s nothing preventing drivers from using more than one. In fact, diversification is a smart strategy. Some drivers use free load boards while also paying for monthly access to a subscription service.
To help identify the best fit, consider the following:
- User reviews – Load board reviews written by actual users often provide valuable, real-world insights into specific pros and cons.
- Technological ease of use – Note which load boards others deem easy to implement and use, and find out what kind of support they offer. Some platforms are easily integrated with technologies already in place, like a TMS. Others may offer new benefits.
- Features – Sophisticated tools and automation can make life much easier… or they can cost a premium and never be used. Be realistic about which bells and whistles are needed. (Hint: rating calculators and insights shouldn’t be considered ‘bells and whistles.’ Learn how to use them for success in the long run!)
Look for features that help minimize the risks of working with unfamiliar entities. These may include credit check functionality, mechanisms for reporting bad-faith actors, reviewing capabilities, integrated factoring services, etc. Also, people who don’t think they need a mobile-accessible app will eventually need a mobile-accessible app.
- Specialization – Some load boards focus in an industry niche, or are known to meet specific driver needs particularly well. For example, a board might cater to brokers and drivers of dry-bulk freight, heavy hauls or cross-border shipments.
- Update frequency – Freight boards should be updated frequently to avoid the frustration of working with out-of-date info.
- Cost – Some say you get what you pay for when it comes to freight boards. Many drivers, however, find all the functionality they need among the best free ones.
4 considerations before using a load board
After registering for load boards, the search for profitable jobs begins. It’s worth noting that freight brokers don’t want to pay drivers any more than is necessary. Some of the jobs posted on load boards barely cover costs once all expenses are factored in. “Knowing that the average margin for a broker is around 10%-15%, you can reasonably expect some level of haggling,” according to FreightWaves Enterprise Trucking Carrier Expert Thomas Wasson. “But depending on market conditions and pricing power, you might have to settle for the posted rate.”
With this in mind, making money from load board bookings entails knowing when to walk away from an opportunity. Taking the following four considerations into account will help:
1) Average per-mile operating costs
An understanding of average per-mile operating costs is essential to profitability. The number is calculated by dividing total monthly expenses by the average number of miles driven each month. Read How to calculate total cost per mile for detailed instructions on how to reach an accurate number. Here are a few examples of inputs.
- Truck payments
- Health and truck insurance
- Licenses and permits
- Subscriptions fees (phone, ELD, load boards)
- Truck repairs
- Food and lodging requirements
- Fuel costs, tolls
2) Current spot market rates
As already mentioned, drivers should take advantage of load board rate calculators and market insights. They help make sure truckers don’t sell themselves short when accepting a job. According to the FreightWaves Insider’s guide to booking spot market loads, four key questions to ask are:
- What is the spot market rate?
- What direction is this rate moving?
- What is the high, low and median price?
- Do I have pricing power?
3) Commodity type
Depending on personal preferences and past experiences, some types of loads may not be worth the headache for the offered compensation. Some drivers, for example, may want to avoid or increase rates for goods that:
- Require clean-up, such as baled garbage/recycling, nursery products and grains
- Entail waiting during detailed inventory counts, for instance shipments to beer and grocery distribution centers
- Increase safety risks, including heavy items like coils, bricks and sand
- Require live load/unload appointment windows
Load board scams, as highlighted in a FreightWaves investigative report, have become a big enough issue that the FMCSA is debating intervention. Criminals vary in levels of sophistication, meaning some efforts are easier to detect than others. Here are a few red flags to watch out for:
- Jobs that seem too good to be true – If a broker’s offering a crazy rate for the world’s easiest haul, shenanigans may be afoot.
- Spelling and grammatical offenses – Scammers are often revealed by a conspicuous disregard for rules governing punctuation, sentence structure, etc.
- Suspicious websites – Businesses that use free domains (.wix, .weebly or .hubspot, for instance), or send users to pages with an unprofessional appearance are suspect.
The FMCSA offers a free search tool that can help confirm the legitimacy of freight brokerages.
Increase profits with load board bookings
Accepting the right load board jobs can help any driver become more profitable. Truckers just starting out benefit from introductions to freight brokers who may eventually have regular routes to offer. Established drivers can rely on them to minimize miles traveled with an empty trailer. It is necessary, of course, to do some research on the right tools, and take precautions to avoid scams. Based on the hundreds of thousands of registered freight board users, though, it appears that the potential earnings are worth the effort.
A free or subscription resource that enables truck drivers to search for loads meeting a specific set of criteria.
New drivers can use them to earn a living and build relationships that lead to regular routes, and experienced drivers who already have regular routes can use them to keep trucks filled along each leg of a trip.
It depends on the driver. Preferred features, trailer type, budget and comfort with technology factor into load board selection, and drivers often use more than one.
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