Will Growing Your Company Actually Increase Profits?

On Esta Klatzkin’s small business financial blog, a small business owner says that though he adds more people and equipment he isn’t increasing his net profit. He asks, “What am I doing wrong?”

If you’re an owner-operator who’s been working harder, running more loads and/or bringing on a new driver, that question may have been floating around in your head as well. Why isn’t the extra work showing up as additional income?

The Risk of Growth for Growth’s Sake

Klatzkin, a tax and financial consultant who specializes in providing tax accounting and financial services to owner-operators and other drivers in the transportation industry, explains that when a typical company grows, expenses increase as well which may absorb any profit.

For example, take a company that nets $50,000 on total sales of $1,000,000. That means the company is producing a 5% net profit. After totaling pay for a load, deduct wages, fuel, maintenance, travel expenses, etc., and you have your net profit.

If this company has a 40% gross profit (on loads sold), a $100,000 increase in sales should add $40,000 to the bottom line. “I say ‘should,’” Klatzkin explains, “because the increase in sales may cause the need for more equipment, space, or inventory.” For an owner-operator, additional wear and tear on the vehicle, more nights on the road, hiring additional drivers, increased tax burden, slow-paying customers, etc., can also diminish the impact on profits.

Keeping More of What You Earn

Good record keeping, careful cash-flow management, tax planning, accurate financial data and preventive maintenance can help owner-operators enjoy more of the fruits of their labors. Another thing to consider, according to Klatzkin, is whether growth is really the best route to increased profits.

“Growth for growth’s sake can be financially unhealthy,” she says. “A better way to increase net profit might be to increase the gross profit on all or most of the items sold.” In other words, a 4% increase in rates would add $40,000 ($1,000,000 x 4%) to this company’s bottom line – if the price increase doesn’t cause a loss of customers.

That’s a big “if,” you may be thinking. Increasing rates is indeed a risk, but Klatzkin says to focus on the value you offer your customers. “Suppose a company sells a top quality product and provides excellent service,” she says. “These are major facts in the competitive world. If 30% of the current customers account for 70% of the total sales, they are probably dealing with the company for reasons other than just low prices.”

This points out the necessity of keeping good records. You have to be able to pinpoint if 70% of your sales are in fact coming from 30% of your customers.

It also points out the importance of providing good service which for some carriers is worth higher rates. “Sell these customers on the fact that a slight increase in prices is necessary to maintain the quality of product and service that they expect and deserve.” Klatzkin says. “Good customers would like the company to be around in the future and should appreciate and understand the need for increasing prices.”

Learn more about this topic by downloading Klatzkin’s e-book, Driven 4 Profits: An Owner/ Operator’s Guide to Keeping More of the Money You Earn.

Dealing With Unexpected Expenses

guy working on truck

Independent owner-operators have an enviable life in many ways, not least of which is being your own boss. But without the stability of regular paycheck it’s harder to be ready financially for the unexpected. And when you own your own truck, “the unexpected” can mean tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs and lost revenue.

And then there’s the expenses racked up thanks to severe weather or an accident. A slump in demand for your services takes a further toll on revenue. There’s no surefire way to prevent any of these crises from happening, but you can reduce the stress, the sleepless nights and the strain on your marriage by being prepared.

Stamp Out Debt

Eliminating as much debt as possible is your first step. Credit card debt is the worst. Interest rates on this kind of debt can go above 30%, much higher than for other kinds of secured debt, like truck and home loans. With such a high rate, paying down credit card debt is that much harder. As the interest compounds, you’re paying more and more interest and less and less of the principal.

Carrying debt on credit cards “keeps you poor,” according to consumer expert Clark Howard. With the high interest rate, you’re paying that much more for everything you buy on the card. It also siphons off cash that could go into savings. When an unexpected expense arrives, you have fewer resources to fall back on and are forced to put the charge on a credit card, perpetuating the vicious cycle of charging, delaying payment and accumulating debt that compounds at 30% per year.

Build Three Different Funds

Most people can get by with an emergency fund to cover three to six months of living expenses, but when your work requires a tool as expensive as a truck, you really need three funds: an emergency fund to cover motel and rental car in case you’re stranded by weather, breakdown or an accident; a truck fund to take care of unexpected repairs; and an income reserve fund to live off in case you have to endure a dry spell in your business.

Establish a goal for each fund and begin channeling any surplus you can spare to these funds, starting with the emergency fund. Research what it would cost to rent a car from the farthest point in your range and return it in your hometown. Overdrive magazine pegs the cost of maintaining a four-year-old truck at 12 cents per mile to give you an idea what to shoot for with your truck fund. Three months’ worth of living expenses is a good rule of thumb for your income reserve fund.

Considering that severe weather emergencies come with power outages that could make your credit card useless, keep a reasonable amount of cash on hand at all times. Also, make sure your credit card’s limit is high enough to cover expenses for getting home with all of your belongings in case you’re in an accident.

Finding the Funds to Do It

According to Mint.com, it’s more about finding the discipline to do it. Most people look at their checking account and conclude they can’t afford to save, but reducing expenditures and making saving a non-negotiable expense can make the funds mysteriously appear.

Being honest with yourself about the difference between wants and needs is key. Smartphones, cable TV, dinners out – anything beyond food, shelter and basic clothing is a want. Financial experts recommend you establish a goal for monthly savings and fulfill that before spending anything on wants.

Nifty Apps for Truckers

smart phone apps

Depending on your device and driving style, there’s a smart phone application out there that will make the miles roll by a little easier.

Here’s a list of apps that score well – reviews average four stars or better – on Google’s Android app store.

Avoid Traffic Delays

Waze Social GPS, Maps and Traffic is free and consistently scores top reviews on AppCrawler and the Android app store. Fellow Waze users drive with the app running, which contributes real-time traffic and road info. Helps find the cheapest gas station along your route with community-shared fuel prices. Allows Facebook users to meet up and coordinate on the road. Includes voice-guided navigation, automatic re-routing as conditions on the road change, and ETA notifications for those you designate.

Track Sleep Cycles and Wake at the Optimal Time

There are a variety of apps that monitor bedtimes, wake times, and sleep-time noise and movement to determine your cycle. Sleep Cycle seems to be the most widely used and most positively reviewed. The app relies on findings in sleep science to estimate what cycle stage you’re in and wake you when you’re least likely to be in deep sleep. Syncs with mysleepbot.com so you can get more detailed analysis of your sleep and help diagnose sleep apnea and other sleep problems. You can download it from the Android app store for $1.

Learn Something About the Country You’re Traveling Through

For history buffs and fans of local color My GeoReader combines GPS location technology on your phone to alert you to “talking points.” There over 130,000 of these preloaded data points covering historical markers, interesting bridges, UFO sightings, and more. The app is free.

Digitize all Those Receipts

CamScanner is also free and lets you use your phone’s camera to scan a document, crop, correct the contrast and send as fax or email. Send in your monthly receipts without having to find a fax machine. Archives all your scans so you’re ready when tax season rolls around with all your receipts stored in one place.

Keep Yourself Safe from Night Tornadoes

Red Cross Tornado App – When you can’t see the clouds in the dark, this app from the Red Cross will let you know if you’re near a tornado. Be sure to cross reference with an app that enables radar on your phone to avoid over-reacting and stressing out to false alarms.

Get Weather Predictions and Radar

MyRadar is a fast, easy-to-use, no-frills application that handily beats the Weather Channel’s app (which is $3.99), based on AppCrawler and Android store reviews. Displays animated weather radar around your current location, allowing you to see what weather is coming your way. Can zoom in and pan around the map to and see what the weather is like anywhere in the contiguous 48 states.

Find the Best Place to Stop Tonight

Trucker Path is free and lets you look ahead to truck stops on your route. See which have showers, overnight parking, RV dumps, restaurants. Includes up-to date information about weigh stations and truck stops, including reviews and directions. Find info on rest areas, CAT scales, truck washes, low clearances, motels, current weather, map views, and notifications for the opening and closings of truck stops.

A crowd-sourced feature also alerts drivers to openings and closings of weigh stations. Reviews are mixed on how accurate it is.

Find locations of: Flying Js, Love’s, TA Travel Centers, Pilots, Petro Stopping Centers, AM Best, Pacific Pride Commercial, Petro-Canada, Sapp Brothers, Roadys and other smaller brands, and thousands of independents.

One reviewer says while it omits quite a few places that are in his hardcover book, it’s so much easier to use – tap the screen and see all the options on your route. If what you want doesn’t appear, you can always cross reference with another info source.

Trucker Tools, also free, includes a truck stop locator with the same establishments covered as Trucker Path and a crowd-sourced portal for weigh station opening/closing info. It also offers trucker-specific restaurant, truck stop and service promotions information and real-time traffic updates. You can find latest and lowest diesel prices, live traffic, turn-by-turn directions and a truck routing and fuel optimizer.

The app has a chat feature, a way to find cargo insurance instantaneously, help with IFTA and DOT compliance, a jobs and messages board – and is voice-activated, so it’s more comprehensive than Trucker Path, but may be a bit more glitchy as well. Reviews on Android’s app store average a bit lower for Trucker Tools and the app scores more negative reviews on average than Trucker Path.

AllStays Truck and Travel is $10, but doesn’t require wireless service to function and is ad-free. Data is a bit more reliable and comprehensive as well. Includes truck stops, rest areas, weigh stations, WalMarts, Lowe’s, UPS and FedEx outlets.

Want to Find More?

Try App Crawler to find more apps for truckers. It categorizes user reviews by “positive,” “minor pains,” and “issues” to make it relatively easy to compare options. App Crawler’s engine will also suggest alternatives.

ObamaCare and You: More Fun with Regulations

10190385_mIf you’re not sure what the Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare) means for you, you’re not alone. You may be unsure if your employer’s insurance company will renew your policy, cancel it or increase your premium. If you’re self-insured, you may be trying to make sense of what’s available. Will you be eligible for a subsidy or subject to a penalty? Is it better to stay on a spouse’s policy or get individual coverage?

Holly and David McCombs are looking at their situation and trying to determine which path for covering their family’s health expenses will be least painful. The wife of Maryland-based owner-operator, David McCombs, Holly works for Campbell Insurance Services, a broker licensed to the health exchanges in Maryland, Virginia, D.C. and West Virginia.

Currently the couple pays $1,053 per month for a plan to cover their family of four. Holly says a similar, ACA-qualified plan on the state-run exchange would be $400 more. “I’m going to keep what I have,” she says, “but I hear rumors the insurance companies will jack up grandfathered-plan rates big-time. They won’t be getting new healthy people in those plans.”

Michigan-based owner-operator Michael Wright and his wife are dealing with a few more question marks than the McCombs. After hearing the rates on his wife’s employer’s plan, which has covered their family for 25 years, could be going up 130% in 2014, he began investigating his options for ACA coverage on his home-state’s exchange. After providing information about age and place of residence, the system estimated the Wrights’ monthly premiums to range anywhere from $721-$1,634 for the “gold” level plans.

As you take on the task of sifting through your own options, here are some resources we’ve found that should help make some sense of the new law and present some options you might not be aware of:

Calculators

Overdrive magazine’s Todd Dills’ lists a couple of things to remember as you’re utilizing the estimating calculators below:

1) Your “income” figures will be based on 1040 modified adjusted gross income, estimated for 2014, not gross income.

2) The household-size and access-to-employer-based-insurance questions with calculators are all meant to take into account the entire household, not just the individual business. Owner-operators’ access to tax credits will be dependent on not only their own income but that of the entire household — if employer-based coverage is available and meets the affordability guidelines of the ACA, then credits will not be available. However, according to Ballard’s estimates, a majority, of owner-operators will likely fall into adjusted-income levels at which subsidies will be available.

More Bang For Your Buck: Trucking Industry Deals from Around the Web

hot-dealsWhether your gut needs to be downsized, your empty belly filled or your alternator replaced, there’s probably a deal out there that can help you keep more of your hard-earned cash in your pocket.

LTL.com has searched the web for savings opportunities for truckers. See what we’ve found and click the red button in the upper right to add a comment if you know any good ones we haven’t listed here.

Free Fitness

It’ll cost you some sweat, but Travel Center of America’s and Petro’s fitness rooms, walking/running trails/maps, basketball hoops and outdoor fitness areas (as shown on this map) won’t set you back even a dime.

Explore 120 walking/running trails, shoot hoops at 17 sites, or workout at any one of 45 fitness rooms. And TA and Petro continue to add new trails, hoops and fitness areas so stay tuned for even more places to get pumped up for free.

Restaurant and Lodging Discounts

If you own a fleet, you might want to look into The Corporate Lodging Card, which can get you up to 40% off lodging rates at a wide variety of motels, including Super 8, Days Inn and Best Western. There’s a lengthy discussion here, on the TruckersReport.com forum, about whether or not it’s worth the investment.

It’s not just for retirees. Anyone age 50 or over can get an AARP card, and it’ll get you discounts at dozens of restaurants, including Denny’s, Dunkin Donuts and Papa Johns – and at dozens of motels, including Best Western, Days Inn and Econolodge.

There are more restaurant deals on ParkMyRig.com. Go to their site and click on “Trucker Discounts” in the navigation bar at the top of the page for deals at Golden Corral, Ryan’s, Dairy Queen and more.

Parts, Labor, LTL Space Deals

On Surplus-Solutions.com, operators can save as much as 40% on heavy duty trucks parts costs over a dealer shop’s direct price. The site also offers discounts on repairs labor. Read more about both these deals in this Overdrive.com article. Also in that piece is info about OneMorePallet.com, a company that offers a Priceline.com approach on LTL space, letting shippers name their price.

Car Insurance

Save some dough protecting the other vehicle in your life. If you’re a member of AITA, OOIDA or any other professional organization, be sure to call and ask if they can give you a special discount code to enter when filling out your quote for car insurance.

And read this article on Yahoo! for more ways trucking industry folks can get the best deals on insurance for their cars.

Free Parking Sites

Some TA locations offer Preferred Parking sites. The first two hours of parking in these sites is free, and if you need more time, there are a few ways get it – also for free:

Get 24 hours of free parking for every 50 gallons of fuel you buy, up to a maximum of 72 hours of parking (3 days), at a single location.

Get up to 24 hours of free parking when you spend a minimum of $20 in the store, restaurant or service area at the Preferred Parking location.

TA UltraONE Platinum Members receive 24 hours of free parking per month at participating Preferred Parking sites.

Deals for Newbies

If you’re just getting started with long-haul, you’ve probably noticed how much gear long-time long-haulers use in their home away from home. Some things are just indispensable for living comfortably and economically on the road.

At GotTruckerStuff.com newbies can find package deals that put all those must-haves together in one box and then ship straight to your home or a terminal. They also offer deals deals that long-time truckers can appreciate on this page.

Find free iphone apps for truckers on their site too: scroll down to the bottom of the page to find apps for weather, traffic, road conditions, fuel price tracking and even an app that provides mobile scanning so you can get paid faster.

In the Market for a GPS Unit?

TruckersStore.com sells truck accessories and on-the-road gear. You can see a list of their email specials here. They also sell discount open box and overstocked items, for example, a PC Miler 750 Truck Routing GPS with 7″ LCD Screen with list price of $225.95 was returned in the original box with all accessories and manuals and is marked down to $195.95. And just to sweeten the deal you get free shipping on open box and overstocked items.

Discounts for OOIDA Members

If you’re an OOIDA member, you qualify for dozens of discounts on everything from tires to gauges to Jeep vehicles, tax services and expense tracking software. Membership is $50 and you can see a full list of all OOIDA’s trucker deals and discounts here.

Membership in the American Independent Trucker Association is Free…

…and that membership allows you to sign up for one of two programs to get discounts on NAPA parts:

For Independent Owner Operators

Get a NAPA Preferred Customer Card when you sign up online or by phone. The card gets you fleet pricing on parts at any of the 1600+ participating NAPA locations nationwide.

For Fleet Owners

To get started on this program you only need an account with your local NAPA location. AITA Fleet Affiliates get discount pricing on day to day purchases at their primary NAPA location. They also get a quarterly 4% rebate, which is paid on qualifying purchases once minimum requirements are met (see your NAPA store for details).

This program also allows fleet owners to take advantage of the NAPA stocking program, which offers obsolescence protection, overstock protection, line changeovers and other features.

What do Truck Drivers Want?

Fleet owners are wondering more and more these days. The driver shortage is a story that’s made the mainstream lately with coverage on CBS News and CNN.

Some say a shortage is not really the problem. In a report compiled by Bridgestone, Joe Rajkovacz of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) says what’s really going on is churn, that there are plenty of drivers but companies are failing to keep them.

“Turnover rates of 130% or more are common,” he says, “and that’s because trucking is not a very attractive profession for most people today. Drivers want respect. They want home time. And they want pay that makes it possible for them to share in the American dream.

That’s one man’s take. What do you say drivers want? Leave your comment below.

Click here to read what industry experts are saying….

Get More Exercise on the Road

iStock_000001117145XSmallMaking time for regular physical activity is hard for anyone, but for those of us who travel a lot – especially truckers – it’s especially tricky.

It’s Not Just About Weight Loss

But if you can get motivated and find a way to make it happen, you can look forward to sleeping better, enjoying a happier mood and staying awake more easily, either behind the wheel or behind a desk. Exercise reduces blood pressure, decreases cholesterol and helps you live longer too.

Fitness Ideas For Truckers, Drivers and Desk Jockeys 

Whether it’s driving, answering phones or using a computer that keeps you on your butt all day, there are ways to get moving. Every little bit helps. Force a little extra walking by parking farther from the restaurant, take the stairs wherever you can, stretch your arms and pick up your feet at the stoplight. Here are some other ideas we found on the web:

Make a plan. On BodyBuilding.com, you can choose from a variety of fitness plans tailored to all kinds of lifestyles. Read tips for stretching and how to work each of your muscle groups, find dozens of articles to help get you motivated, and search the thousands of threads on their forums for comments from others have dealt with your exercise issue. TruckersReport.com features an exercise forum and this thread offers ideas for getting exercise on the road, including karate ricks to get your heart rate up.

Get a workout in the parking lot. Trucker Burnie Miller spends only eight minutes a day doing Russian kettle bell swings. It’s all he needs to stay strong, toned and to burn enough calories to keep his gut size in check (in conjunction with his Hunger Free Trucker diet, which you can read about here). And Team Run Smart spells out a cardio and strength routine on their site that can be done in 20 to 30 minutes.

Use your own body weight to get stronger. Here’s a trucker workout that can be done in 10-15 minutes, without any equipment. It’s from TheHealthyTrucker.net.

Try exercising in your cab. Abdominal squeezes, shoulder shrugs and heel raises can all be done without getting out of the driver’s seat. A trucker named Joe Martin has created a video called “Truckersize” showing you how. You can learn more about it and buy it here.  On this forum is a long thread with lots of people describing the exercises they do in their cabs. And here’s a video on YouTube showing you how to get isometric exercise sitting in front of a steering wheel.

Fit in more walking. Take a 10-minute walk around the parking lot at every stop and by the end of the day you’ve burned more calories than if you’d just filled up and got back in the truck. In a pinch, you can even walk laps in the cargo of your truck. Some truckers even stop a little more often to fit more of those walks in to the day.

Use your feet to do some exploring. You can download an app for finding walking trails that also offer room to park a rig. And at Traillink.com you can search by city for even more trails.

Get inspiration from people who’ve already done it. Read the story of John Drury, a truck driver who used to spend 70 hours a week behind the wheel. About the time his weight reached 400 pounds, a good friend died of complications from diabetes and Drury started making changes. Another trucker explains how he stays in shape driving nights and how 15- to 20-minute power naps help him do it.