Back in January, I wrote about OOIDA and all the help they could give a driver who wants to branch out and get their own authority. Now, I want to go over another useful resource for owner operators who already have their own authority. Getting your own authority is just the first step – after that, you need to set up your business, make connections, and get compliant with all of the various regulations. The National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC) is a great organization to help you with this next step in building your new venture.
NASTC is an association of several small trucking companies running 50,000+ power units and 60,000+ trailers. Their market is fleets with 100 trucks or less, with average fleet sizes of about 18-20 trucks. Most (but not all) of their members are full truckload long haul motor carriers operating in the US and Canada. NASTC is the largest combined purchaser of OTR diesel fuel in the country. Founded in 1989 by David Owen and Buster Anderson, these men saw the potential of bringing together many small owner operators and companies into a collective group to give them the clout that the big companies have out there. Today, they continue to expand the services the organization offers using qualified people to develop new products, tools and services for their members.
The organization has agreements with several vendors to allow access to the highest quality goods and services at fair prices to fulfill their mission statement: “NASTC is dedicated to helping small trucking companies control their costs through managed purchasing, analysis, consultation and advocacy. Our ultimate mission is to level the playing field and remain a significant force in the industry.” To become a NASTC affiliate vendor, a company must pass some pretty stringent requirements first, in regards to quality products and competitive prices. In return, these affiliated vendors have the attention of approximately 50,000 truck drivers (the organization’s members).
When you decide to join NASTC, it’s a requirement that you first go to Hendersonville, TN and attend their “New Entrant Survival Training” course. I went in January to take the class and I was really impressed when David Owen introduced himself and actually told us that he does all this to make money, and to help all of us make and keep more of the money we work so hard for. His candor and honesty was refreshing! The first page in the New Entrant Survival Training Notebook is a sheet with 20 questions for new authority holders. These are some very important questions, and NASTC helps you get the answers you need to succeed.
Some of you out there may be happy enough just being a company driver, and if that is the case, then this article will probably not interest you. And I wouldn’t blame you a bit! Being “the boss” comes with a lot of responsibilities and even more headaches, but I can assure you, it is worth it in the end, financially speaking. For those of you considering taking the big plunge and getting your own authority, I hope this article helps you to not only ask yourself the tough questions, but to also point you in the right direction as to where to find the answers you need.
How far along are you in developing your business plan? With all of the new regulations, you will need a solid plan if you hope to succeed. How do you plan to find freight? Do you have customers (or potential customers), or are you planning on using load boards? Where do you plan to run? The answer to that question will make a difference as to how you license your truck and may limit you to the income you can generate. How do you plan to buy fuel? NASTC offers a Fleet One card with substantial savings at Petro and TA truck stops who partner with them on a cost plus basis, which can save you up to $30-40 per fill up, depending on the location. These are just some of the questions you need solid answers to BEFORE starting your new trucking venture.
If you are planning to grow your business and not just be a one-truck show forever, the NASTC questionnaire also asks some additional important questions. How do you plan to find good drivers? How do you plan to train your drivers? How do you plan to set up the required drug and alcohol testing program? How are you going to communicate with or keep track of your trucks? And, most importantly, how are you going to pay your drivers?
Many companies have got in trouble for not paying their drivers like employees, treating them instead as if they are contract labor. At the end of the year, they give the driver a 1099, leaving them to pay all the taxes, when they should be treating them as employees, and giving them a W2 at the end of the year. The company (you) should be withholding their taxes and paying their Workers Compensation. This is all expensive, but if you are just starting out, it’s a good idea to start down the right road and not to cut corners to save money, which could cost you big time later.
What kind of system do you have in place to invoice and collect from your customers? If you get freight off of load boards, some brokers offer quick pay, while others may take 30 days or more to pay. You have to know how you are going to keep the money coming in so you can continue to run. Factoring companies are part of the trucking industry – they “buy” your invoices for a percentage of the load, then pay you immediately. The factoring company then waits for the customer to pay, so you can bet they are not going to take loads from brokers with a bad reputation (and if they won’t, maybe you shouldn’t be hauling for them, either). If you call the factoring company before signing the rate confirmation, they will tell you if that broker is “factorable” or not.
If you plan on using brokers, there are things that need to be in order and set up before you can haul any loads for them. Some brokers will not even look at you until you’ve been in business for at least six months – and for a few, it is even longer than that. To get set up with a broker, they will want a copy of your authority so they can make sure it is active, a signed W-9 form for their records, and a Certificate of Insurance with their name listed on it. If you have a good insurance agent, this is not a problem at all. Once you fill out and sign their contract and get all of the required paperwork back to them, you should be good to haul freight for that broker. Be sure that you ALWAYS have a signed Rate Confirmation BEFORE you put that load on your trailer. If you don’t, and there is damage or something happens, that load just became your baby!
Equipment is a major investment, and to keep that investment working, it takes fuel, maintenance, and an entire well-oiled system to keep it operating in the black. As a one-truck operator, you probably don’t think you need a safety program, but think again. It’s as important for a company with only one truck as it is for a company with a 1,000 of them. If the unthinkable happens and you get in an accident, you can bet that the insurance company is going to ask you about your safety program. NASTC offers a great safety program and will send each of your drivers a packet each month with a CD and a newsletter, along with quarterly webinars. Long gone are the days of the safety meetings that are just a BBQ at the “yard” with someone from the insurance company talking for half an hour. To help with this, NASTC offers a Management and Safety Program ranging from $38.00 to $99.95 per truck, per month, depending on which services you choose.
Do you have someone to help you with driver qualification files, log audits and fuel tax report filings? If not, it is nearly impossible to do all of that alone and run the truck. NASTC has developed a software program called MYSTC that can track every aspect of your trucking business – and, if you are a multi-truck operation, it has dispatch capabilities. I have to admit, it is beyond my computer skills, and right now we don’t need a lot of what it has to offer, but for those of you who are looking for a program geared specifically to trucking, it might be worth looking into. The best part is that it comes with customer support. It is really nice when you call with a question and the phone is answered by a live person! And if they can’t answer your question, they will find the answer and get back to you.
For eight years now, the Downtown Sheraton Hotel in Nashville has hosted the organization’s Annual Conference & Driver Celebration, which includes an awards ceremony for their Driver of the Year, to capacity crowds. Dave Nemo broadcasted his show live from the event last year, held on 11/11/11 (see photo). The theme of last year’s conference was “It’s All About the Driver.” For the first time, 11 Driver of the Year finalists (instead of 10) were recognized and honored at the conference (see photo). Nationally-known trucking consultant Dan Baker brought the house down with his anecdotal real life insights and his “People Side of Trucking” seminars. Dan said, “Your customer pays your paycheck (the back of the truck), but your drivers earn that paycheck (the front of the truck). The smart owner operator keeps both working together for everyone to be (and remain) profitable.”
Like the old song says, “There’d be no truck drivers if it wasn’t for us trucks!” Well, those trucks wouldn’t ever move if it wasn’t for the drivers running them up and down the road, picking up and delivering the goods that keep this nation going. The one-truck owner operator isn’t gone yet, but the driver that chooses that lifestyle has to be smarter than ever. Like they say, knowledge is power – so be sure to get that knowledge! For more information about the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, call them at (800) 264-8580 or visit them online at www.nastc.com.