The simple answer to the question of how to find high paying freight is the one that no one wants to hear: It depends.
One of the biggest projects starting semi truck owners set out to solve is finding freight that pays well. Without sustainable freight rates, your business will go belly up quickly. If you drive exclusively for yourself, you have to properly evaluate what your time means to you and if you have a small fleet of drivers you need to make sure you are meeting your operating expenses. There are many factors that go into those operating expenses, such as gas prices, vehicle maintenance, driver pay and taxes. Meeting all of these can be difficult, so hunting for the best lanes and the best rates should be a top priority for any independent driver or small fleet. In this article we’ll tackle a few techniques that can be useful in finding better paying freight and ways to cut costs and keep a reliable stream of business coming your way. Every business is different, so make sure to apply your own experiences to the advice given and always have due diligence before making any big changes to your day to day operations.
Part 1: Using Trendlines to Identify Opportunities
Trendlines, also known as freight trends, are industry wide markers for the demand of a particular type of freight service. These are usually broken down by volume of available loads, expenditures and total number of shipments. They also generally have a small summary highlighting the yearly and monthly trends you can expect. There are many outlets that provide this information but the two most prominent are DAT Trendlines and Cass Freight Index. Both publish monthly and weekly reports providing a snapshot of the commercial trucking industry. By constantly monitoring these reports you can start to identify reasons why your business seems seasonal or why rates fluctuate the way they do. The best thing you can do for your business is paint a reliable projection for incoming freight and expected return.
The general rule for freight rates is the more available loads, the higher the rate. So, using the graph above, we can reasonably guess where, during a given year, rates will be at their highest and lowest. According to this graph, demand is highest from July to October as there is only an average of three containers per load. Obviously, you aren’t going to stop running based on this info, but it might be useful when hiring seasonal drivers or negotiating a new contract with a current client. A really useful portion of the DAT Trendlines site you should bookmark is the Trend of the Week. It highlights red hot areas in the United States for freight and where you might be getting your best bang for your buck. The posts will also illustrate the most profitable lanes and potential tri-hauls, or three destination routes as a way to avoid spot freight (more info here.)
In today’s technically robust world, it’s very easy to create a list of reports that you should be checking on a weekly basis. Spreadsheets work best and if you don’t’ have access to Microsoft Office, Open Office is a free alternative. There are also RSS feed compilers, like Feedly, to help you know when websites are publishing content that is time sensitive.
Part 2: Finding a Niche or Specialty
Specialization has been a technique businesses have used for centuries to create more value for themselves and their customers. By being able to do something your competitors can’t you can charge a premium. In trucking, this comes down to two main things: Having knowledge about a certain type of freight and its demands (cattle, cars, crops) or having equipment that lets you take loads other carriers can’t such as flatbeds, reefer units or a rolling floor trailer.
Specializing usually takes a fair amount of equipment and training so make sure you know what you are getting into: Most carriers require a good deal of securement training before they allow a driver to use one of their flatbed trailers. If you drive a medium duty truck and are targeting loads that come in at a GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Ratings) under 26,000 lbs you won’t need a CDL license but anything over and you are subject to a whole different set of fines and regulations. Here is a great article going over the specifics of vehicle requirements for certain weights and trailers.
You can see how these specialized trailers can vary in price per mile using DAT’s Trendlines. It’s a nice way to visualize changes in freight rates over a given week, month or year. There is also a regional heat-map so you can see where demand is the highest for your particular type of trailer. Raney’s Chrome partners with the DAT® to offer a special on the TruckersEdge load board to its members. Sign up for TruckersEdge today and get your first 30 days free by visiting www.truckersedge.net/promo254 or entering “promo254” during the activation process. DAT offers more than 68 million live loads and trucks per year and is a reputable place to start your search for better freight and expand your business. (This offer is available to new TruckersEdge subscribers only.)
Part 3: Using Load Boards to Find Long Term Opportunities
What starts as a one off shipment can sometimes turn into a long partnership. Just because you are picking up one load from a customer you’ve never met doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunities in the future for more business. Have a business card or other form of contact information ready. You never know when you’ll get a chance to talk to an owner who’s frustrated with his current carrier. From experiences in the parts and accessories business, carriers who provide stellar customer service, reliability and likability usually win the loads. The power of conversation and networking can go a long way.
In summary, maximizing your opportunities takes constant maintenance and observation. Stay up on regional freight rates to make sure you’re making what you should, follow up with businesses, depots and dispatchers you’ve had the pleasure of working with and use the power of the internet and software to organize your information. For more tips and to continue the discussion on finding the best freight, join us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or in the comments down below!