Earlier this month, Trucker Tools and FreightWaves co-hosted the 2021 Small Fleet & Owner Operator Summit. This virtual event included interviews with truckers and carrier owners, presentations on new technology, virtual booths and demonstrations. As part of the summit, Trucker Tools’ VP of Partnerships & Strategic Alliances Matt Silver interviewed Larry Cothran, a 13-year veteran of the trucking industry and owner operator who mentors new drivers. In the interview “Five Things You Should Know About Making the Jump from Company Driver to Owner Operator,” Larry shared what he’s learned through his own experiences about the best way to make the switch from driving for a company to driving for yourself as an owner operator.

Check out Larry’s expert advice for making a successful transition from company driver to owner operator.

Gain Experience as a Company Driver

When Matt asked Larry what he got out of being a company driver for a spell, Larry had had a lot of good things to say about his experience and how it prepared him for being an owner operator.

“I enjoyed the training aspect of it because I knew I wanted to eventually have a company myself,” said Larry. “I knew I needed to learn about logistics, what goes on behind the scenes, how the truck runs, mechanical issues and how to negotiate with shippers. That’s what I learned and what I liked most about being a company driver. It gave me an up-front opportunity to be right there in front of the customer and build those relationships, as well.” 

“I enjoyed the training aspect of it because I knew I wanted to eventually have a company myself,” said Larry. “I knew I needed to learn about logistics, what goes on behind the scenes, how the truck runs, mechanical issues and how to negotiate with shippers. That’s what I learned and what I liked most about being a company driver. It gave me an up-front opportunity to be right there in front of the customer and build those relationships, as well.” 

If You Lease, Pay Attention to the Contract Details

Matt also asked Larry if, in his experience, leasing a truck is a good way to make a successful transition from company driver to owner operator.

“A lease purchase depends on the type of lease contract you have,” said Larry. “You can go with a lease purchase agreement if it’s favorable to you. If you don’t have the money or capital to buy a truck, it’s a good way to get into and learn the industry, and to learn what you need to do to take the next step. Some people put up a lot of capital, some people have been saving for years, some people have good credit and can go and get a low monthly payment when they get a truck. It just depends on your situation and what’s most favorable for you.” 

Apprenticeship Before Ownership

Larry told Matt that he tells all of the truckers he mentors to focus on “apprenticeship before ownership.” According to Larry, there’s a lot to learn about the trucking industry and it can take time to get accustomed to trucking. There is also a high level of responsibility that goes with being an owner operator, which you may not be ready for yet if you’ve just gotten done with CDL school.

“Right now everyone wants to own their own business, do what they want to do and have their name on the side of their truck and it’s ok to do that — one day,” said Larry. “But you don’t need to start off owning a truck or a business if you don’t have the knowledge. You can make between $4,000 and $6,000 every week after expenses, but also you’ve got to think about this: as an owner operator, all of the responsibility is on you. You’ve got to think about the maintenance. You may make $7,000 one week, and then the next week your turbo goes out and you have to spend a lot of money to fix it. You need to think about all of that.”

“Right now everyone wants to own their own business, do what they want to do and have their name on the side of their truck and it’s ok to do that — one day,” said Larry. “But you don’t need to start off owning a truck or a business if you don’t have the knowledge. You can make between $4,000 and $6,000 every week after expenses, but also you’ve got to think about this: as an owner operator, all of the responsibility is on you. You’ve got to think about the maintenance. You may make $7,000 one week, and then the next week your turbo goes out and you have to spend a lot of money to fix it. You need to think about all of that.”

Use Social Media To Build Your Owner Operator Business

During the interview, Larry spoke about how new owner operators can use social media to build relationships with shippers, brokers and 3PLs, as well.

“We’re living in a society where everything is driven by reviews, media and data,” Larry said. “It’s valuable to have that media identity and showcase your company and what you do. Social media is a mirror of who you really are. It’s a reflection of your company. You can build a lot of relationships through social media. I’ve built so many relationships through social media and have gotten so many contracts just from social media. Things are changing more and more and we need to adapt to it. There are still people out there who are doing things the old way, like picking up a phone or who have a fax machine, but they are few and far between. Things are rapidly changing.”

For more tips from Larry on making a successful transition from company driver to owner operator, watch “Five Things You Should Know About Making the Jump from Company Driver to Owner Operator” on demand. To download the Trucker Tools app, visit https://www.truckertools.com/carriers/