The Weigh-In: Tiffany Hanna on the Owner-Operator Mindset

In this installment of the Weigh-In, Tiffany Hanna collaborated with Uber Freight to give her opinions on what it takes to break into the industry. Scroll down to watch the video to listen to Tiffany’s tips and tricks on becoming an owner-operator.

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Statistics show that if you make it past that rookie year, the diesel’s in your blood.

A lot of drivers step into the cab for the first time because they have nowhere else to turn. There are people with master’s degrees who have fallen on hard times and need to provide for their families; people who never finished high school who are trying to make rent. There are wounded veterans, men and women like myself, who turned to driving because of a lack of options and an unexplored affinity for the open road. And maybe at first they were looking for a transitional job or a quick buck, but why settle? In my experience when you’re dedicated, truck driving can offer independence, financial security, and a real shot at success.

If you find yourself in it for the long haul — my mother was a truck driver for 30 years, my aunt for 35 — truck driving becomes so much more than a gig. It’s about the relationships you create with your community of drivers, your carriers, your brokers and shippers. And ultimately, it’s about a shift in mindset as you work to build your own business from the ground up.

The Boot Camp Year: Learning the Lay of the Land.

I call the first year behind the wheel your boot camp year — you pay your dues and in return, you get the lay of the land. In my experience, most companies require one year of Over the Road (OTR) driving, with the promise of more miles and more money. In my first year I was generally paid between .28 and .44 cents a mile, but the freight was consistent and the risk was low to me, as any excess costs and liability were covered by my company.

Use this first year as a rookie to rack up miles and experiences.

The Research Phase: Diving into Rules and Regulations.

Truck driving is an easy industry to get into, but it’s also an easy industry to misunderstand. After your boot camp year, dig into the larger driver ecosystem and start asking the tough questions. Why do you want to be a driver? What lanes do you want to drive and what loads do you want to carry?

While the company you drive for is still shouldering the majority of the risk, take the time to research the details, rules, and regulations so you’re best prepared to take that next step towards independence. In the meantime, invest in your relationships and build a reputation for being a hard worker and a dedicated driver.

The First Step: Becoming an Owner-Operator.

Somewhere during the research phase, your mindset changes. You realize gaining your independence isn’t that far out of reach, and in the process you can increase your take-home pay and be more selective with your routes. Why would you settle for anything less? I lived off of $300 a week to save up for my first truck. My investment in relationships paid off, and I was able to do a lot of referral work. After some time, I bought my first truck outright — a used T680 — and I still have it.

Becoming an owner-operator for the first time gives you a taste of being the captain of your own ship. You discover all of these hidden costs and liabilities, but at the same time, you can pick, choose, and refuse your loads. Your pay goes up because it’s no longer calculated by the mile, and the more times you fall, the more prepared you become to optimize your business.

The Final Shift: Embracing Independence.

Once you know you want to scale your business, the next step is to make the business work for you. Look for little ways to streamline operations — schedule your loads in advance and incorporate technology into your load-booking process to save time and money. If you’re looking to go on vacation, drive there and back so your loads pay for your days off. Increase your number of local loads if you’d prefer to stay close to home-base, and consider shortening your workweek if you’ve been maximizing your pay-out. Don’t forget to maintain relationships with brokers and shippers, and build a community of fellow drivers around you for support (and entertainment).

At the end of the day, driving is what you make of it. It can be a transitional, steady gig, but it can also provide you the opportunity to build something great, one load at a time.

The Weigh-In continues as Uber Freight’s Greg Murphy catches up with Tiffany Hanna. Join us as we hear her story and get her take on the mindset shift needed to become an owner-operator.

We’d love to hear about your own journey to becoming an owner-operator. Feel free to share your story in a comment below or leave us a message at (415) 612–2622.

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