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The trucking industry is a rapidly growing industry that’s vital for the U.S. economy. In 2019, the trucking industry was worth over $791 billion, and the industry continues growing every year. Trucking can be a highly lucrative occupation, but you need to know how to find the best freight that will keep your truck full and on the road. Like most industries, trucking is undergoing rapid changes due to technological advancements and the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, one constant will never change in trucking: you always need to find more freight.

As an owner-operator, you need to use various methods to find the best loads. Regardless of whether you’ve been on the road for several years or are just starting, you continuously need to formulate new relationships and acquire new loads that will help you earn more revenue and keep you on the road for as long as you want. When you mix your freight by using traditional and digital methods of finding new loads, you’ll diversify your revenue stream and expand your trucking business.

When you improve your freight mix, you’ll be able to ensure that your truck is full. You can combine partial loads from different shippers that’ll cut down on your truck’s empty space. When you utilize various methods of finding freight you can strategically plan your pick-ups and drop-offs to significantly reduce deadhead miles.

Mixing your freight starts with what methods you use to find new loads. Fortunately, we have five recommended ways of finding freight you can incorporate into your business to immediately diversify your revenue and help you find lucrative freight.

1. Use Load Boards

Regardless of your level of experience, load boards can be a highly useful and profitable resource for obtaining new loads and building professional relationships with brokers and shippers. Load boards connect you directly with shippers and brokers easily and conveniently.

Shippers and brokers post the freight they need transported on load boards, and carriers book that available freight to transport it. Once you transport the load, the shippers or brokers then pay you through the load board.

In addition to shippers and brokers posting the freight they need to transport, carriers can post their available truck space on load boards. Shippers and brokers can view the available trucks and contact carriers to transport their freight. This simple method of connecting with shippers and brokers is invaluable for independent owner-operators. You’ll be able to find both full (FTL) and partial loads (PTL) and reduce the time and miles in which you’re transporting an empty or partially empty truck.

Although load boards are powerful tools for finding freight, you need to find the load board that best suits your needs. Important features you should look for in a load board include:

  • Great customer service
  • Expansive network
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Powerful mobile application
  • Map view
  • Hybrid capabilities

Notable industry-standard load boards include:

  • DAT Freight & Analytics ($39/mo-$249/mo): Includes a great mobile app, individual lane market rates, and hot market map search.
  • Truckstop.com ($39mo-$149/mo): Includes an easy-to-use interface, suggested loads, wide network, and helpful filter features.
  • Uber Freight (no cost to sign up): Includes facility insights report, streamlined workflow, hassle-free booking, and quick pay.
  • J.B. Hunt Transport Service, Inc. (no cost to sign up): Includes fuel points, quick pay, and discounts on Goodyear tires.
  • Convoy (no cost to sign up): Includes quick pay, automated and suggested reloads, and fuel card.
  • Xpress Technologies (no cost to sign up): Includes hybrid load board, load lifecycle management, load recommendations, map search, and great customer service.

Finding a quality load board is critical for finding great freight and clientele, so start researching and find the best load board for your business today.

2. Find Work Through Freight Brokers

It can take a lot of time and energy looking for loads that are a good fit for your business. You may find a great posting on a load board, but once the job is completed, you’re back to square one looking for your next haul. So how can you access consistent freight, cut down your load searching time and maximize your time on the road? Work with a freight broker.

Brokers are kind of like the matchmakers of the trucking industry. They have extensive knowledge about both the carrier and shipper sides of the business and are able to make ideal matches between the two as a result. Carriers like using brokers because they offer new and consistent loads. Shippers like using brokers because they’re able to find reliable and properly-equipped carriers. Like any matchmaker, brokers are compensated for finding your match made in heaven, and are incentivized by the deals they broker.

Brokers work directly with shippers so you don’t have to spend time searching for loads. Shippers will sometimes exclusively work with a broker and not with independent carriers. So when you work with a broker, you can gain access to loads you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

Since brokers work directly with shippers, they also take care of all of the negotiations for the freight rate. This service is a great asset if you are still refining your negotiating skills, or don’t want to spend your valuable time haggling over freight rates with shippers. Brokers spend a great deal of time negotiating and keeping tabs on the variables that affect rates, so you can be assured your broker will be pushing for the best rate possible.

Consistent loads are key to your business. Develop a relationship with a good broker and you establish a source for consistent work. Brokers will also learn your freight and lane preference, and can connect you with loads that best suit your business. All in all, freight brokers help connect you with consistent compatible loads that keep you on the road, and money in your pocket.

Just like you need to find the best load board to match your business, you need to find a broker that suits your operation as well. Shippers pay freight brokers for committing to their freight, and the freight brokers then pay carriers to transport it. It’s important to establish a relationship with a trustworthy and experienced broker who’s been around for many years and who will pay you a fair amount of the freight fulfillment cost. A good freight broker will also be upfront about any fees associated with their service.

3. Hire a Dispatcher or Contract With a Dispatching Service

Using a dispatcher can save you a great deal of time so you can earn more money. Their job is primarily to manage your freight and help you find more loads. Dispatchers will connect with shippers and brokers to find available freight and will send you the pick-up and drop-off details. They handle the logistics, so you can focus on getting the job done.

When hiring a dispatcher or contracting with a dispatching service, make sure to work with qualified dispatchers that have industry experience and available contacts. They should have pre-existing relationships with brokers and shippers so you can begin forming relationships with their contacts right away. A dispatcher may also search load boards for you to help your freight mix so you can earn more money while you’re busy driving.

Dispatchers offer additional services that will help you manage and grow your business. They often perform administrative duties, such as accounting, billing, and collections, and they also perform back-office services that will help you manage your freight and billing. If you’re in direct contact with shippers, dispatchers can help you receive your payment from shippers on time, so you don’t need to worry about tracking down payments yourself.

4. Start Government Contracting

Transporting freight for different government entities can be highly beneficial for your business. The government often outsources transportation to truckers, and you can find different government contracts for reliable and frequent freight. In addition to the federal government outsourcing freight transportation, state and local governments often have transportation needs. You won’t be short on freight once you begin government contracting.

There are multiple ways you can begin government contracting. You can start working with a trucking company that’s already contracted with the government, or you can register as a government contractor.

To register as a government contractor, you’ll need to perform the following:

  • Get a D-U-N-S Number: The Dun & Bradstreet D-U-N-S Number is a nine-digit identification for the physical location of your trucking business. Fortunately, registering for a D-U-N-S number is free and easy. Just visit the D-U-N-S Request Service to register.
  • Use the NAICS Code 484121: Every industry has a classification code, and carriers typically use code 484121. Note that the exact code may differ depending on your operation. Confirm the code you need to register your business here.
  • Register in the System Award Management (SAM) Database: SAM registration is required for all businesses looking to offer goods and services to the government and is required by the Federal Acquisitions Regulations. Like the Dun & Bradstreet Number, you’ll be able to register online for free. You can register your trucking business here.
  • Use the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) Code 4213: Government agencies classify different industry areas with the SIC code, and the code for the trucking industry is 4213.
  • Have Your Employer Identification Number (EIN) Ready: As a business owner, you should have an individual EIN to register your business for government contracts.
  • Become Eligible for General Services Administration (GSA) Contracts: GSA contracts are highly lucrative, so you need to become GSA qualified. Visit the GSA site to learn if your trucking business is eligible here.

After becoming a government contractor, search for city, county, state, or federal government entities in your area that need to transport freight. You’ll find valuable loads that will increase your revenue and expand your business.

5. Network and Contact Local Shippers

Networking is critical for every small business, and truck driving is no exception. Expand your network by getting involved with trucking associations and attending events that connect you with shippers and brokers, as Covid-19 and CDC guidance allows. Some great trucking associations that you can become involved with are the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), the National Association of Small Trucking Companies (NASTC),  and the National Association of Independent Truckers (NAIT). You should also be able to find networking events in your area on the internet. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has a national network and associations for each state. Once you get involved with trucking associations, you’ll be able to gain shipper referrals from others in the trucking industry. In addition, you’ll build relationships and connections that may lead to more loads in the future.

You can obtain additional business by contacting shippers in your area. First, research nearby shippers and take note of their freight and where they ship. Once you know a bit about the shippers’ needs, begin cold calling, introduce yourself, and try to set up a meeting. During these meetings, you’ll be able to outline how your services best meet the needs of each shipper.

Establish a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. A CRM helps you keep track of data you can use to target and communicate with customers. It can be anything from a simple spreadsheet, to a complex program. Do some research and find the best CRM for your business. You might not gain a shipper’s business by cold calling them, but you can use your CRM to streamline your communication with them and hopefully reach a shipper when they need your services. Even if you don’t earn their business at first, if you continue to check in and build a relationship, you’ll leave the door open for future opportunities. The shippers may refer you to another shipping company or may require your services down the line.

Contacting shippers and networking with your local freight and truck driving industry is crucial for expanding your business and reaching new customers.

Improve Your Freight Mix by Working With Multiple Shippers

When you utilize different methods of obtaining freight, you’ll have multiple revenue sources, and you’ll be able to optimize your route by transporting mixed freight. Rather than transporting a partial load, you’ll have the ability to transport multiple partial loads from different shippers, reducing the wasted space in your truck.

Diversifying your clientele is critical for maximizing the amount of freight that you’ll be able to transport, especially when there are big changes in the market. You can mitigate risk by diversifying your clientele so you are not dependent on one freight source. In other words, you shouldn’t put your eggs all in one basket.  You need to utilize both digital and traditional methods to find new loads and build relationships with brokers and shippers. Using digital methods like load boards and contacting freight brokers is incredibly lucrative, but you also need to contact local shippers to transport more freight. Learn everything you can about local shippers and the best ways to contact them. When you build relationships with brokers and shippers, you’ll improve your freight mix and earn more revenue while on the road.

NEXT: Learn about Finding Local Shippers