Are you considering starting a trucking business as an owner-operator, but concerned about the financial challenges? You’re not alone.
As an owner-operator, you’ll face low profit margins, high startup costs, and unpredictable cash flow.
However, with the right tools, technologies, and financial management strategies, you can successfully manage your finances on a budget.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- The main financial challenges for owner-operators
- Financial tools and technologies
- Tax and financial management advice
So, let’s get started.
Main financial challenges for owner-operators
One of the major challenges faced by an owner-operator truck driving business is the fluctuation in income. The income of an owner-operator is dependent upon various factors, like the number of loads moved, client rates, service demands and operating costs. As a result, the income of an owner-operator can be unpredictable and may sometimes experience sharp drops.
Maintenance costs for trucks and other equipment can be considerable, especially for trucking companies that manage older fleets. Proper truck maintenance is essential for safety and compliance, but it can be costly for owner-operators who need to cover all the expenses independently.
Rising fuel costs
Fuel represents a significant proportion of trucking costs. High fuel prices reduce profit margins and can further exacerbate the income inconsistency faced by owner-operators.
Managing finances is a challenge for any business owner, including owner-operators. Limited capital, high start-up costs, and ongoing expenses make financial management a daunting task. Proper financial management, including bookkeeping, cash flow management, and taxes, is essential for the long-term success of an owner-operator trucking business.
The availability of loads is an essential factor that can affect the income of an owner-operator. There are times when the demand for trucking services is low, resulting in drivers being unable to find loads. This leads to idle trucks, which results in a loss of income.
Owner-operators need to ensure that they have adequate insurance coverage to protect their business investments. It is crucial to consider all insurance costs to manage the risks that come with driving a truck. Depending on the coverage required, insurance costs can represent a considerable expense for owner-operators.
Compliance with government regulations
Owner-operators must comply with governmental trucking regulations, including hours-of-service rules, inspection requirements, safety protocols, and other compliance issues. The cost of compliance can put pressure on the finances of smaller owner-operators who may not have the resources to manage the ever-changing guidance. Failure to comply with regulations can result in fines, penalties, and even the loss of operating licenses.
Tools and technologies that can help owner-operators manage finance
There are many tools and technologies with financial solutions that are tailored to the transportation industry.
Fuel cards offer many benefits for trucking companies. They offer discounts and rebates to trucking companies on fuel purchases. These discounts and rebates can help reduce fuel costs and increase profitability. They help you to track fuel consumption and manage fuel expenses by reducing administrative tasks related to fuel expenses.
With fuel cards, companies can eliminate paperwork, streamline reporting, and reduce the time spent on expense management. Check out the best fuel cards for owner-operators.
Load boards provide real-time pricing and market data that can help owner-operators set competitive, demand-responsive rates. Some load boards include built-in credit check, invoicing and reporting capabilities that help streamline financial management activities. These tools can prove invaluable to owner-operators who don’t have dedicated accounting resources — or much time to spare.
Independent trucking companies can use relatively inexpensive owner-operator accounting software or trucking software for small fleets to help track expenses, issue trucking invoices and process payments.
Sometimes these platforms offer budgeting, payroll and business planning capabilities as well, either as included features or optional, add-on modules. These more comprehensive software packages are ideal for businesses that expect to grow, which are better served by scalable solutions. They can, for instance, help ensure tax compliance, monitor cash flow, create financial forecasts, generate income statements, and more.
There are also online or mobile-based apps that can go a long way toward addressing owner-operators’ straightforward financial needs. App-based expense management tools, for example, help with receipt tracking and reimbursement processes.
Payment processing tools can ensure that owner-operators receive payments easily and securely via credit card, e-checks, or online payment. Additionally, free online calculators allow owner-operators to get a snapshot view of the financial health of their business.
5 financial management tips for an owner-operator business
The most important financial management tip is to keep detailed, organized records, including receipts and all expense- or income-related documentation. Doing this on an ongoing basis will help avert last-minute tax season scrambling, and potentially prevent costly mistakes or fines.
With that out of the way, here are more valuable tips to consider:
- Take advantage of trucking tax benefits: Familiarize yourself with the tax code and take advantage of any deductions and credits you may qualify for. Consider contributing to tax-advantaged retirement accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA.
- Create a budget: Creating a budget is an essential step in financial management. Analyze your company income and expenses and create a plan for spending and saving. Remember to allocate funds for savings and emergency expenses (like truck repairs).
- Minimize debt: Reducing debt can greatly improve your financial situation and your ability to manage taxes. Avoid high-interest credit cards and consider consolidating or refinancing existing debt for a lower interest rate.
- Hire a professional: Consider hiring a tax professional or financial advisor to help manage your company finances and navigate tax laws. They can provide valuable advice and assistance in creating a financial plan and minimizing tax liabilities.
Effective financial management is a worthwhile investment
Making money in trucking is directly tied to how well you manage your finances. In fact, it can be a deciding factor in the long term success of your business.
Along with helping you to maintain your cash flow, proper financial oversight can minimize your tax liabilities, and fuel progress toward long-term financial goals. Retirement savings, new equipment and business expansion, for example, are each made more attainable with responsible financial management practices. And it’s never too late to start, so even if you’ve been an owner-operator for years, you can still benefit from these tips.
Read more in our “How to become an owner-operator” series
- How to become an owner-operator truck driver
- How to finance a trucking business
- How to find customers and loads for owner-operators
- Managing your owner-operator business finances
As a truck driver, you can keep track of expenses by using expense tracking apps or software, which allow you to log costs like fuel, maintenance, insurance, and meals.
Earning can greatly vary based on factors like freight type, distance traveled, and business expenses. On average, they can make between $50,000 to $170,000 per year.
You can pay yourself by setting up a reasonable salary or draw a percentage of your business earnings. Just make sure to set aside funds for taxes, business expenses, and future investments.
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