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How To Become An Owner Operator With No Experience
June 20, 2022
How to become an owner operator with no experience? Most owner operators start out as company drivers, but not all of them. It’s perfectly possible to start out as an owner operator. In fact, you might find it easier to get work as an owner operator with no experience than you would as a company driver with no experience.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Becoming an owner operator is very challenging even for experienced drivers. For someone with no experience, the challenge is magnified. You want to be very sure that this is something you want to do before you buy your truck.
How To Become An Owner Operator With No Experience: The Basics
The most important qualification of becoming an owner operator is owning a semi truck. The second most important qualification is having a CDL so you can operate it. Neither of these requires experience. But these qualifications are deceptively simple. The truth is a bit more complicated. So, here’s what you really need to get started.
Semi trucks are expensive. If you want to buy one you’re going to need a lot of cash. And that’s just for the down payment. New trucks cost over $100,000 and can easily reach $200,000 for the high end models. So a 20% down payment can range from $20,000 to $50,000 for a brand new truck.
Used trucks can be found for much less, but you’re still looking at tens of thousands of dollars. It’s not just about the cash you have on hand, either. Financing a truck is risky for the lender. The truck will only decrease in value as time goes on, so if you’re unable to pay it off they have no way of getting their money back.
One of the criteria lenders look at is your driving history, specifically your truck driving history. If you’re trying to figure out how to become an owner operator with no experience, you’re going to need a great credit score and a solid business plan, along with lots of assets to secure the loan you need.
CDL and Permits
You need a commercial drivers license to legally operate a semi truck. This is a separate process from your regular drivers license, and you may be required to take specific educational and training courses in order to qualify for it.
The requirements vary by state, but they’ll always include a driving test. You may need to pay for professional instruction before you apply for your Class-A CDL.
Most beginners will start off with a used truck to save money. That’s a great idea, but remember that you are responsible for all the maintenance and operational expenses of your truck. You want to be sure that your used truck isn’t going to cost you more money in maintenance than it’s worth.
When you’re shopping for your truck it’s a good idea to bring a mechanic along with you. That way they can take a good look at the truck and tell you what sort of condition it’s really in. They can also help you judge if the price is fair or not.
Look for trucks with around 500,000 miles on them. These trucks can often be found for just $30-$40,000. That may sound like a lot of mileage, but the diesel engines used in semi trucks have a working life of about 1.2 million miles, so these trucks aren’t even halfway through their working life.
How To Become An Owner Operator With No Experience: Where To Find Work
Finding work when you have no experience is difficult in every field. You may be stuck hauling low-value loads for your first few runs until you’ve demonstrated that you can safely deliver your load. Still, there are carriers that happily hire owner operators with no experience. Just be aware that they’re not going to offer you as much money as they would to an experienced driver- that’s the reason they’re ok hiring you.
Look for third party logistics companies (3PLs) in your area. These are companies that specialize in hiring trucks for hauling freight for other companies. Often they simply rent trucks from owners and supply their own drivers, but they’re happy to hire owner operators, too.
There are also dedicated job boards for owner operators where you can bid on jobs, and there are carriers that only hire owner operators. For owner operators with no experience, those carriers might be the best place to start since they offer consistent work.
How To Become An Owner Operator With No Experience: What To Expect
The transition to being an owner operator is a lot smoother if you have some idea of what to expect once you take the leap. It’s also good to know in advance what it’s like to be an owner operator, because it can help you to evaluate if it’s really the right choice for you.
Learning how to become an owner operator with no experience is great, but you also need to know what it’s like to be an owner operator. Once you buy your truck you’re committed and it will be several years at least before you can change careers again. So, you want to be absolutely certain that this is the job for you.
It’s More Than Driving
As we explain how to become an owner operator with no experience, we really need to be clear that this job is not just driving. Often, when people think about trucking, they picture spending all of their working hours behind the wheel of a big rig. They imagine cruising the highways all day long without a care in the world.
That might be true for company drivers, but not for owner operators. An owner operator isn’t a driver, they’re a small business owner. And they have to do all the things that small business owners do. That includes bookkeeping, paying taxes, and advertising. It also includes maintaining their trucks, keeping up with insurance paperwork, and everything else that’s needed to keep their truck on the road.
Company drivers don’t have to deal with any of that, because they don’t own the trucks. They’re just paid to drive them. But an owner operator has to handle all aspects of the trucking business. Being successful as an owner operator means being a successful businessman or businesswoman.
You’ll Be Gone A Lot
Being an owner operator means spending a lot of time on the road. Especially when you’re just starting out you’ll be spending more time on the road than at home. There’s just no other way to ensure that you’re bringing in enough money to sustain your business.
You need to be sure that your relationship with your family is very good, and they understand what’s going to happen. You won’t be home much. It can cause you a lot of personal problems if you aren’t prepared. And if you or your family are worried about not seeing each other very often, this is probably not a good career for you.
As you’re researching how to become an owner operator with no experience, it’s a good idea for you to try and calculate how many hours you’ll need to spend on the road. It’s fairly straightforward. Figure out your cost per mile, and then your earnings per mile. That’ll tell you how much money you can earn from any given job after covering your expenses (fuel, insurance, maintenance, etc). From there you can easily figure out how much time you’ll need to spend working.
You’ll Need Substantial Cash Reserves
Since you own the truck, you’re responsible for it. You’re paying for the fuel, the repairs, the oil changes, and everything else. Each tire on a semi truck costs about $1,000 to replace. If the engine needs to be replaced that’s about $20,000.
If you bought a used truck, you can expect some big maintenance costs before long, even if the truck you bought was in great condition. You need a sizeable maintenance fund, but you also need a reserve big enough to cover your expenses for 3-6 months in case your truck is out of action for an extended period.
So before you buy the truck, save up as much as you can. And then once you’ve bought the truck it’s a good idea to set aside as much of your earnings as possible into maintenance funds and emergency funds. This is key to how to become an owner operator with no experience. Having cash reserves on hand can be the difference between success and failure.
Pick A Carrier
You can remain completely independent if you want. That means you’ll have to constantly find and bid on new jobs and line up as many as possible. Ideally you’ll schedule them so that after dropping off one load you can pick up the next one nearby.
But you could also choose to work for a carrier who will keep you supplied with steady work. A lot of carriers like to work with owner operators. Keeping the ownership of the trucks in the drivers hands helps reduce their operating costs.
If you have no experience, you’re probably better off working with a smaller carrier to start with. You’ll be given more jobs, and probably better pay. Once you’ve got a few years of experience under your belt you can switch to a bigger carrier if you think they’ll offer you more opportunities.
You’re Paid By The Load
As you’re learning how to become an owner operator with no experience, remember to think about your pay. Company drivers are paid by the hour. They’re earning money for every hour that they’re on the clock, which means steady pay and fewer concerns about deadhead hours.
Owner operators are paid by the load, not the hour. This needs to be factored in when you’re deciding which loads to take. A cross country load might seem tempting but it possible you could make a lot more money doing shorter runs. Instead of hauling just 1 or 2 loads per week you might be able to haul 1 or 2 per day.
Of course, loads that take more time to haul will pay more per load, but you’ll have to compare the earnings per mile from each load with the cost per mile of your truck. Longer hauls aren’t always better.
How Much Do Owner Operators Make?
Anybody trying to figure out how to become an owner operator with no experience is going to be curious about how much they could earn. There’s not an easy answer to this, but we can give you a rough idea.
In general, owner operators will earn more than company drivers. That’s because there’s no middle man taking a cut of your earnings from each load. But that assumes that you’re managing your time and money well. Some owner operators don’t handle that part of the business well, and they end up suffering financially for it.
But as long as you can line up enough work and manage your money well, you can earn a very good living. Especially once your truck is paid off. Without those monthly loan payments, you could be looking at a six figure income.
You won’t start out at that level, though. That’s the income you can expect with years of experience under your belt. As a beginner with no experience you can expect something more like $48-$50,000 per year after your operating expenses.
So, while your income might be average at the beginning, your earning potential in the long run is significantly greater. That’s one of the big draws of being an owner operator.
Should I Lease Or Own?
One of the big decisions you can make as an owner operator is to lease your own truck or to buy one. Each has it’s own advantages and it’s own drawbacks. Most people choose to buy because the monthly payments are lower and they’ll build equity in their trucks.
But a lot of drivers choose to lease their trucks from trucking companies. While their monthly payments tend to be higher, they also tend to have more stable work. That’s because the companies they lease from have shipping contracts. In essence, they’re contracting with the drivers for the use of their trucks.
How To Become An Owner Operator With No Experience: Will it be hard to find work?
Finding a job with no experience is always a challenge. Employers like experienced candidates because they can easily see whether they’re actually good at their job. An inexperienced candidate is a complete unknown.
Luckily, this is less of an issue with owner operators than it is in other professions. That’s because you can demonstrate your driving ability relatively easily- you have to do that just to earn your CDL anyway. You’ll still find it a bit more difficult to find jobs than you will once you have experience, though.
Focus on smaller carriers or lease a truck from a trucking company to make it easier to find stable work right from the start. That can also dramatically lower your startup costs because you won’t need a downpayment. It’s a great way to get into being an owner operator without needing a ton of cash on hand.
How To Become An Owner Operator With No Experience: Finding Work Without A Carrier
You don’t have to work with a carrier if you don’t want to. Lot’s of smaller businesses work with independent owner operators to handle their shipping because it costs them less than it would if they went with a big carrier, and the schedule is more flexible.
There are dedicated job boards for things like that. And, of course, there are also apps. Uber Freight is a popular one you can use to find jobs. With a lot of these job boards you have to bid on each job, and the lowest bid usually wins. That can be tricky for beginners, but not impossible. As long as you know what your cost per mile is, you know exactly how long you can go on your bid without losing money.
Once you get the hang of winning jobs regularly, working as an independent driver can be a great way to earn a lot of money and build up a lot of experience. You can then leverage that experience into higher paying jobs with carriers if you want.
Now that you know how to become an owner operator with no experience, you’re well on your way to a career as a successful trucker. It’s a job that allows for an incredible amount of freedom and in the long run your earning potential is very high.
It does include more risks than working as a company driver, but over time the difference in earnings will only grow. After a few years, you’ll be earning far more than a company driver ever would. So, while it might be intimidating to become an owner operator with no experience, it’s a risk that’s well worth taking.
About Booker Transportation
Booker Trans is 100% Owner Operator. It is our belief that an Independent Owner is the best way to get a customers freight delivered timely and safely. Booker is a leading Refrigerated Carrier providing the best lease options in the industry for today’s Owner Operators. Monthly and Yearly Awards, Longevity Bonuses, and the Free tires for Life of Lease Program, are just a few examples of what Booker Trans offers the Owner Operator. Booker Trans has built it’s success upon working partnerships with Customers, as well as Agency Relationships built over the last 20 years. Those same relationships are what makes consistent year round freight possible.
Are you interested in becoming an owner operator driver or getting into the logistics industry?Let’s connect!