Getting started in trucking: Where to begin
Many truckers try to get into the business every year and end up failing – not because they are not great truckers, but because they are not good business owners.
Knowing how to run and grow your trucking business, as well as attracting and retaining customers, takes a lot more than knowing how to drive a truck, choose a route or haul a load.
The following are prerequisites to getting started in trucking:
The business must be financially feasible with a sustained income, preferably with on-going contracts
The business must be run cost-effectively, with reliable financial and data systems
The business must create good long-term relationships to make sure customers will come back in the future
The business must build a reputation for reliable and safe, on-time deliveries.
Getting started in trucking: Do you have what it takes?
It is possible to earn a decent living even if you are operating only one truck. It will, however, depend on getting regular payloads to cover paying for your truck.
It will require hard work and dedication with little or no time off. Earnings will not be much in the beginning, and you will have to contend with long hours away from home.
The business of trucking is appealing because the cost of entry to qualify and operate a trucking business is within reach for many. This is because there are few fundamental requirements for truck owners and operators regarding training, experience, or competence other than:
Sufficient funds to acquire a truck (new or second-hand) larger than 3 500kg gross vehicle mass (GVM)
Registration for a provincial authority Operator Card
An up-to-date professional driving permit (PrDP), or employing a driver who holds a valid PrDP.
These may well be the first steps for trucking newcomers, but there is a lot more to know and learn. Many of the largest and most professional trucking businesses in South Africa grew from humble beginnings.
Because the competition is fierce, save yourself time, money and energy by thoroughly researching the industry before you jump in.
Getting started in trucking: What do you have to offer?
It is important to be able to handle pressure and to be inventive. When you’re starting a new business, ask yourself some questions:
What does the marketplace need?
What will the incentive be for customers to want to use your services?
Which specific niche can you carve out?
Finding the right market for your business is extremely important to make sure you get a regular, healthy cash flow.
If you can attend road freight industry conventions and workshops it will help you to talk to other truck owners and pick up hints and tips. Make a point of speaking to several successful truckers to get an informed idea of what it takes to make a success in this business.
Getting started in trucking: Factors to take into account
It is important to consider many factors before venturing into the trucking industry. The fact that the industry is profitable does not mean that you won’t lose your investment if you fail to conduct your homework and, most importantly, keep checks and balances.
Demand for transport services depends to a large extent on the state of the economy. When this is slow, truckers can face a rapid reduction in the demand for their services with fewer loads to transport. This will result in not enough kilometres travelled to cover operating costs and maintain payments for the truck.
Trucking is very competitive. The most efficient truckers undertake contracts at lower rates. Lost contracts can be difficult to replace, especially at short notice.
When business is slow, truck owners may have to pledge their assets, even their homes, or find a guarantor due to insufficient cash flow to keep the business going.
Make sure you have access to funds for unexpected costs in the event of an accident or breakdown. This could include the need to rent a truck while the damaged truck is repaired and restored, or to hire a sub-contractor to maintain ongoing customer service.
Unexpected spikes in operating costs could include the price of fuel, tyres and interest rates. The transport business requires high capital, long hours and can financially pose risks. It requires a hands-on approach as it is a 24/7 operation.
It will require commitment and knowledge of the legislation, and the technical and operational requirements of trucking.
Newcomers often underestimate the requirements and experience needed to run a successful trucking business. Financiers and cargo owners (those who need to move their products) may not be prepared to take a risk on a new company without a proven track record.
Recommended: Choosing the right truck for your business