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A career in trucking is exciting, offering flexibility, high earning potential, and the opportunity to travel to new places.

But getting started can be overwhelming. To help you decide which path is right for you, as well as the steps you’ll need to take, we’ve created a free, comprehensive planning checklist for how to start a career in trucking. Keep reading to learn more about the different options available to you so you can start running.

Running under your own authority vs. leasing on

As a first step, you’ll need to decide if you want to own an independent trucking business, either as an owner-operator who owns and drives your truck or as a carrier with multiple drivers who work for you. If you want to start an independent trucking business instead of driving for someone else, you’ll need to obtain your trucking authority, which is also referred to as operating authority or motor carrier authority (MC).

Some benefits of running under your own authority include the potential to earn more money, the freedom to manage and grow your business your way, and the flexibility to set your own schedule. However, some truckers opt to lease on to another carrier to avoid the overhead costs and administrative tasks that come with running an independent operation.

If you want to run under your own authority

If you want to lease on

 

​​Checklist: How to get started as a carrier

▢ Develop a business plan and plan your operations

A business plan can be thought of as a roadmap for how you’ll run your trucking business. Typically, it includes the goals you have for your business, how you’ll achieve those goals, and how long it will take. Getting started requires upfront costs, so it’s necessary to anticipate any expenses, such as equipment costs, maintenance costs, and the costs involved with hiring and insuring drivers, and save up accordingly. You’ll also need to decide how you’ll handle your back-office operations and determine where you’ll find the source of your revenue: loads. Whether that’s through using load boards, a dispatching company, or a full-service trucking platform like SmartHop, you have options when it comes to finding and booking loads.

▢ Research the appropriate entity type and register your business

You can either create a business entity for your trucking company, which can help protect your personal assets and take advantage of certain tax savings, or you can operate as a sole proprietorship. Both options come with their own pros and cons, so take some time to research which entity type makes the most sense for your business. After you’ve decided, register your business with the appropriate state.

▢ Apply for your trucking authority

Participating in interstate commerce requires you to have an active operating authority. There are different types of authorities that states require, depending on the cargo type. Regardless, you will need to obtain an EIN, USDOT number, MC number, and more. Carefully follow each step outlined within the trucking authority you’re applying for to avoid any delays.

▢ Know the legal requirements

State, county, and local governments all have different policies on which licenses and permits your business needs to operate legally. Make sure that you understand and comply with these requirements to avoid any legal issues.

▢ Obtain insurance

There are many options when it comes to commercial trucking insurance. These include primary liability insurance, cargo insurance, physical damage insurance, and passenger accident insurance. It’s important to balance finding the right coverage at the best possible rate to maintain low overhead costs, while avoiding paying more down the road if something goes wrong. Additionally, driving records and years of experience will influence your insurance premium, so it’s critical to run a MVR check on the drivers you plan to hire. SmartHop offers a free consultation with no obligation to purchase to help you decide what’s best for your needs.

▢ Find a factoring company

Using a factoring company is a great way to keep money flowing to your trucking business and take some of the administrative weight off your shoulders. Some factoring services even offer same-day payment. However, it is important to research and choose the right company to avoid getting charged hidden fees or locked into an auto-renewed contract.

▢ Buy or lease your equipment

Naturally, you’ll need to acquire equipment in order to haul freight. Buying or leasing the proper trucks and trailers can make all the difference in how successful your trucking business will be. You’ll need to consider options such as whether you want to lease or own your vehicles and which equipment is necessary to accommodate your cargo. Leasing programs are a great choice for carriers who don’t want to wait to save up for their own trucks.

▢ Find and hire the right drivers

Truck drivers are in high demand, meaning your business will have to make competitive offers in order to acquire quality talent. Build a hiring process that caters to the needs and expectations of your desired drivers, and make sure you know what you’re looking for in terms of experience, industry expertise, and desired compensation.

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Checklist: How to get started as an owner-operator

▢ Obtain a Commercial Drivers License (CDL)

Obtaining a CDL requires you to attend a CDL program, which can take anywhere from three to six weeks to complete. Once you’ve passed the knowledge exam and skills test, and provided the necessary documentation, you’ll be well on your way to getting your CDL. Check your state’s CDL requirements to see if there are any additional conditions you’ll have to meet.

▢ Develop a business plan and plan your operations

Your business plan should outline at a high level how you want to run your business. This is a crucial first step toward determining the goals you’ll be working towards and how you’ll make your money.

Getting started requires upfront costs, so it’s necessary to understand these expenses, such as equipment costs, maintenance costs, and fuel costs, and save up accordingly. Running under your own authority can put a lot on your plate, from finding consistent loads at quality rates to determining the best routes to avoid dead-hauling. SmartHop’s technology can help take the guesswork out of choosing loads by predicting hot markets and suggesting the most profitable strategies — but, rest assured, you’ll always be in control of where you move your truck.

▢ Research the appropriate entity type and register your business

Running your own trucking business requires you to have the proper foundation in place. On a state level, many independent owner-operators choose to register as an LLC, which helps separate your business assets from your personal property. An alternative is to act as a sole proprietorship, which can help keep your business costs low but comes with more personal risks. Do your homework and consider which entity type makes the most sense for your business. After you’ve decided, register your business with the appropriate state.

▢ Apply for your authority

There are different types of authorities that states require, depending on the type of cargo you plan to haul. Applying for your trucking authority will require you to obtain an EIN, USDOT number, MC number, and more. Carefully follow each step outlined within the trucking authority you’re applying for to avoid any delays.

▢ Know the legal requirements

State, county, and local governments all have different policies on which licenses and permits your business needs to operate legally. Obtain the necessary business licenses and permits and know the legal requirements around starting your business to ensure you’re following the law.

▢ Obtain insurance

Since you don’t have a motor carrier to fall back on, the right commercial trucking insurance will protect you and give you peace of mind. There are many options to choose from, including liability, physical damage, motor truck cargo, and motor truck general liability coverage. The FMCSA and certain contracts may require specific coverage, so ensure you’re properly insured before hitting the road. SmartHop offers a free consultation with no obligation to purchase to help you decide what’s best for your needs.

▢ Find a factoring company

Using a factoring company is a great way to keep money flowing to your trucking business and take some of the administrative weight off your shoulders. Some factoring services even offer same-day payment. However, it is important to research and choose the right company to avoid getting charged hidden fees or locked into an auto-renewed contract.

▢ Buy or lease your equipment

Naturally, you’ll need to acquire a vehicle in order to get your trucking business off the ground. Make sure the vehicle you use can accommodate the needs of your cargo, and consider whether buying or leasing is a better option for your business. Leasing programs are a great choice for owner-operators who don’t want to wait to save up for their own truck.

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Checklist: How to lease on as an owner-operator

▢ Decide what type of freight you will haul

As you weigh out the importance of good pay, home time, and load availability, you’ll find that the type of freight you decide to haul will greatly impact your quality of life. Everyone has different preferences and needs, so find the fit that makes the most sense for you.

▢ Research companies you might want to lease on to

Leasing on can help you minimize operating expenses and administrative work, but you may also have less autonomy and profit potential. This makes it all the more important to lease on with the right company. Each carrier will have unique requirements and qualifications, so do plenty of research in order to find the company that best aligns with your needs. This could mean leasing on to another carrier completely, or owning your equipment but operating under another carrier’s authority. If you’re not quite ready to run under your own authority but hope to do so in the future, leasing with SmartHop allows you to run under our MC and insurance while you take the necessary steps to build your own business.

▢ Get in touch to discuss opportunities

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of carriers, reach out to them to discuss the specifics of working with them. Lease agreements can be complex, as different companies have varying terms regarding out-of-pocket expenses and insurance coverage. Once you’ve found your ideal company and gathered all the necessary documentation, you should be ready to apply.

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Get Started on the Right Foot

As former truckers, we know that getting started in the trucking industry can be as daunting as it is exciting. Know that you’re not alone. Our blog is a great place to find the support and resources you need to set yourself up for success.

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