Smart Business Special Series
Who’s in your corner?
From the astute accountant to the faithful agent who keeps your insurance in force, you need a tough team of pros to help you run your trucking business

By Clarissa Kell-Holland
staff writer

When you’re watching a boxing match, it looks like the fighter is all alone out there doing the job, duking it out, taking the punches, bringing home the bacon. He looks all alone, but you know that fighter’s got a team of pros in his corner and they know their stuff, too.

Just as a boxer carefully chooses a team of professional partners that plays a part in success both inside and outside the ring, it’s critical that small-business truckers have a team of experienced professionals in their corners.

Here are some of the “ring men” owner-operators need in their corner, ready to help get the job done.

Your accountant
A good cut man in boxing knows how to stop the bleeding so a fighter can continue in the ring. Let’s face it. You need someone in your corner who has the knowledge and skill to stop your business from bleeding financially – like a good accountant who knows the ins and outs of trucking.

OOIDA Life Member Ken Becker of Montgomery, TX, knows that having an accountant who knows trucking is extremely important in keeping an owner-operator’s business from going into the red.

Finding a good accountant who has your best interest in mind and who can provide good and accurate financial advice is critical for owner-operators who are busy with the day-to-day trucking operations out on the road, Ken says.

Making money is important, but knowing when it is a good time to purchase a new truck or new equipment is key to running a successful operation, as well, he says.

“I like having an accountant who deals with the tax issues, so I can deal more with the business issues,” Ken says. “I like to try and stay up on money issues so I can run things like IRA deductions and meal deductions by her and say ‘What about this and what about that.’ ”

He says his accountant advises him quarterly as to how his business is doing and councils him as to when it’s time to save money and when it’s time to spend it.

“A good accountant like mine lets me know when it’s time to trade up on new equipment or whatever or when it’s a good time to set a little more aside for the future,” he adds.

Your insurance agent
Just think of all the pros working behind the scenes in order to help prepare a fighter for a championship bout. A trainer must have the ability to communicate and advise a fighter on the best strategies to utilize, just like a good insurance agent must be able to adequately prepare and protect owner-operators on insurance-related issues.

Just knowing an insurance carrier has your back is important when owner-operators are busy taking care of business out on the road.

OOIDA member Shirley Coggins of Whittier, NC, has been an owner-operator since 1975. His truck is insured through OOIDA’s truck insurance program. He says having good insurance and an agent he trusts to protect him if anything should go wrong is a big relief for him while he is out on the road.

“I think being an owner-operator is one of the biggest gambles you can take,” Shirley says. “You need good insurance because you never know what major catastrophic event may be about to take place.”

Over the years, Shirley has seen many owner-operators come and go. Many, he says, get impatient and go too fast and end up getting too far in debt.

“I started out as a full-fledged owner-operator outlaw, which they called ‘wild-cattin’ back then,” he says. “It’s a hard thing to justify – being an owner-operator today. So much has changed over the years. That’s why you need good insurance because you never know what can happen.”

Your motor carrier
Behind the scenes in a boxer’s career is the manager – the person in charge of arranging matches and hopefully making sure the boxer gets a good cut of the pay. The relationship between a boxer and really good manager should be similar to an owner-operator’s relationship with his or her carrier.

The goal is to have a valuable partnership where both the owner-operator and motor carrier are successful.

The “you make money, I make money” relationship is critical, says OOIDA member Derrell Hearnsberger of Arkadelphia, AR. Derrell is convinced the key to a successful relationship with a motor carrier is having a mutual respect for each other.

“You have to be willing to work hard and go where the freight is,” Derrell says. “I don’t turn down work – you have to be out there working, not waiting for the load you think is going to bring you the biggest check.”

And he should know – he has been leased to Fikes Truck Line since 1987, and was recently named as its contractor of the year for 2006.

“The main reason I like working for my motor carrier is that they know your name and they know your family,” he says. “You have to find a motor carrier that is willing to help you in any way they can and you have to feel the same about them.”

Your mechanic
In boxing, making sure a boxer can go another round – despite injury – is a prime responsibility of the referee. This is much like the job of a good mechanic, whose job it is to make a fair and legitimate diagnosis when assessing a truck for mechanical problems.

If the ref is doing his job, he can keep a fighter from permanent bodily damage. It’s the same with a mechanic, who prevents and makes repairs before a problem permanently affects an owner-operator’s livelihood.

OOIDA Life Member Leo Wilkins of Saint Charles, MI, knows firsthand the importance of having a mechanic he trusts.

“Just recently, I had a problem with my truck and this mechanic started rattling off things that could cost me thousands of dollars, when I knew it was something that should only cost between $500 to $700,” Leo says.

“You are at a mechanic’s mercy when you are out on the road and the mechanic knows that. So, you have to have some mechanical knowledge going into this business.”

Leo’s advice for owner-operators is this: “Don’t let a mechanic sell you stuff you don’t need. A good mechanic will only fix what needs repaired.”

He has been an owner-operator since 1983 and has seen many owner-operators come and go over the years. The key to having a mechanic, or in many cases, a truck dealer you trust, Leo says, is making sure that if you are buying a used truck that the warranty is good if something should happen. Having some financial stability before getting your own authority to help pay for unforeseen problems is also a smart move, he says.

“Many drivers buy a new or used truck, get under a payment, then something goes wrong like the engine blows up, and they have to finance the repairs for that, too, and it just goes down from there,” Leo says.

“Having a little set aside for problems and repairs like this can help because they are going to happen in this business.”


Editor’s note: Watch for the second part of this special series in the March/April 2007 issue.