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8 pieces of advice for new tanker owner-operators

March 30, 2021

Mike Delamer stands in front of his red Freightliner Cascadia that has a tanker trailer connected to it.

Going from a tanker truck driver to a tanker owner-operator is a major transition.

As a tanker truck driver, you’re responsible for driving a semi-truck that is provided by the company you work for and delivering and unloading freight. As a tanker owner-operator, you’re responsible for not only hauling and unloading freight, but for managing your business: paying expenses, taking care of truck maintenance, finding your loads and more.

We spoke with two tanker owner-operators who lease their business on with Schneider – Troy Bradbury (owner-operator since 2012) and Mike Delamer (owner-operator since 2020) – to get their advice for new tanker owner-operators.

They provided their insight into how to run a successful tanker business – from how to select the best freight using Schneider’s load board to the important skills every owner-operator should have.

Advice for new tanker owner-operators

1. Find an experienced owner-operator you can lean on for support.

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Your first few months as an owner-operator can be overwhelming because you have so many new responsibilities that you did not have as a company driver. Troy suggested finding someone you can reach out to when you’re looking for advice or have a question that needs answering.

“Every owner-operator should have a mentor during their first 90 days – someone you can contact or a couple guys who are willing to take your phone calls,” Troy said.

Find an experienced owner-operator you can reach out to during stressful times by striking up conversations with ones you meet at Schneider facilities.

2. Learn how to pick the freight that will be most profitable for your business.

As a new owner-operator, you’re responsible for selecting the loads you are going to haul. Because you’ve never done this before, you may not know what loads will be most profitable for your business.

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According to Mike, it takes time to figure this out.

“Through trial and error, I’ve found that constantly chasing big loads is not going to pay the bills,” Mike said. “Especially if you pick a load that brings you to a less desirable area, you may be sitting there, trying to find a load to take you out of there. Instead of chasing the big dollar loads, I may string two or three smaller payout loads that, over that period of a week, will pay just as much as that one high dollar load.”

And what fits your business best may be different than what works best for another owner-operator.

“When I use the [Schneider] load board, I set it up to work for me in the markets I want to run in,” Troy said. “I look at the loads individually to see how they pay out and what’s involved with the loads. I want freight that will constantly keep me moving – I work smarter not harder.”

3. Look beyond the surface level of every load you choose.

Troy suggested always clicking into a load, looking at it closer and making sure it’s something you truly want to haul, before you commit to it.

“Even if you see a load that pays really well on the surface, you should still get into it and make sure it’s the right fit for what you want to do,” Troy said.

Mike added, that not only searching a larger area for a load, but doing calculations to make sure the load will cover his operating expenses, has been profitable for his business.

“Don’t limit your load search to within 200 miles of where you are,” Mike said. “When I search the load board, I expand my search as far out as it will go, which is 999 miles. Therefore, if there’s a $7,000 load on the board, but it’s 600 miles away from where I am, I’ll still be able to see it. Then, I can run the numbers to determine if I would make enough per day to cover all my business and personal bills, including running that 600-mile deadhead to get the load.”

4. Be proactive about your business.

Since it’s your business and your revenue on the line, it’s up to you to be proactive to ensure you are successful. Troy suggested always planning ahead by making sure everything is ready to go with the next load you need to pick up.

“The biggest thing I tell new owner-operators is to be proactive,” Troy said. “It’s kind of like being in the military – assume everything is going to go wrong. For example, check to make sure the tank you have been assigned with your load has been washed and is ready.”

Mike said it’s the same with planning for unexpected truck maintenance and breakdowns.

“You have to be prepared for the unexpected, which is why I have my maintenance account and why I contribute more than what is required,” Mike said. “That way, if I have a problem, I have money to cover it.”

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5. Use your time wisely.

There’s only 24 hours in a day, and as an owner-operator, you have a lot to juggle within those 24 hours. Not only that, but you can only drive within the hours of service limits, so it’s important to get the most out of every day.

Troy said he tries to be strategic about when he puts fuel in his truck.

“You want to maximize your time by fueling on your 10-hour break and while pre- and post-tripping,” Troy said.

Mike said his biggest time saver is choosing loads that won’t require him to drive deadhead miles.

“Don’t waste your time driving deadhead miles,” Mike said. “When I get to finishing a load, I try to pick the next load that’s somewhere as close as possible to where I delivered the last load. That way, I’m keeping my deadhead miles to a minimum.”

6. Communicate with people at Schneider.

Although it’s your responsibility to run your business, it’s still important to work with and be in contact with people at Schneider, especially when things aren’t going as planned, Mike said.

“If you’re going to be late for a pickup or delivery, communication is absolutely key,” Mike said. “You have to get on the phone and talk to someone about it.”

Plus, by having open communication, you may be able to solve a problem more efficiently than you would’ve on your own.

“I have never, ever picked up the phone, asked for help and not gotten some kind of assistance,” Troy said. “There are a lot of good people at Schneider who will talk things through with you.”

7. Never skip trip planning or doing a pre-trip inspection.

Just because you’re no longer a company driver, doesn’t mean you don’t have to prepare for your day by trip planning or pre-tripping. Mike said he does trip planning to ensure he will make his delivery times and does pre-trips to confirm his truck is in working order.

“Trip planning is extremely important to be successful. If you don’t trip plan and you pick up or deliver a load late, you make your business look bad,” Mike said. “I do proper pre- and post-trips to make sure I stay on top of the preventative maintenance on my truck and minimize unwanted costs.”

8. Always remain professional.

Troy explained the unique position owner-operators are in because they not only represent their personal business, but they interact with both Schneider and customers. He said this means it’s especially important to always be professional.

“At the end of the day, you have to remember that Schneider is your customer, and you are also dealing with Schneider’s customers,” Troy said. “If those customers are not happy, that means you won’t have any work. As the owner-operator, you are the ambassador, and you have to do a good job to represent your business.”