Marketing for Owner-Operators

marketing compass

You’ve just left your carrier and gone to a new one – that uses agents. First step? Make up a brochure. That’s what TeamRunSmart Pro Linda Caffee’s friends did. The brochure showed a picture of the drivers and their truck, and listed all their qualifications. “In no time, they were busy with agents that needed what they had,” Caffee says. That’s job one in marketing any business – make your customers aware of what you’ve got and keep them thinking of you.

Make Sure Your Price is Right

But before you start spreading the word that you’re available, you have to be crystal clear about exactly what you offer – and what you can afford to offer. In this article, Kevin Rutherford recommends a thorough evaluation of all your expenses, what it costs you to run shorter- and longer-mileage hauls, particular lanes and cities. Based on those numbers, create a pricing structure with levels for each type of haul, lane and city. Over time, track your costs and continue to fine-tune.

Now you know what it costs for you to operate, you’re ready to hit the load boards, right? Probably not. Rutherford reminds us that “just because you set a price doesn’t mean anyone will pay it. Your competitors might outbid you.”

So before you get the word out, you need to get your ideas down on paper:

  • Where do you want to haul?
  • What areas or lanes do you specialize in?
  • What types of freight do you like to haul?
  • What makes you different from competitors?
  • What things do you do well?
  • What’s your special equipment or technology?
  • What’s your on-time record?

Your goal is to show that you offer something that’s of special benefit to your customers. “Ask yourself,” Rutherford says, “’if I were the customer, why would I choose me to ship the product? Would I be willing to pay extra?’”

That’s differentiation, and that’s what allows you to charge enough to make a reasonable living as a driver.

Get the Word Out

With your pricing and differentiation foundation laid, you’re ready to start getting people’s attention about what you have to offer.

Start simple, by calling or emailing everyone you know in trucking. As you discuss what you’re offering, you’ll learn more about what the market wants. Revise your message accordingly.

But all the contacts you have now probably won’t be enough to sustain your business over the long-term. You’ll need a promotions plan to broadcast your presence to a wider audience. The more people who are aware you’re available – and remember that when they have a need – the better your odds of surviving.

One way to make sure they’ll remember is to give them something with your company’s name on it. Henry Albert, another TeamRunSmart Pro, is proud of the fact that his company is the source of one of his customers’ favorite coffee mugs. Albert Transport invested in the mugs and printed them with the company’s name and contact info. He gives them to dispatchers and other contacts at the carriers he works with. Every time someone pours their joe in one his mugs, they’re reminded of Albert’s company. And they’ll remember that they appreciated getting something free, which everyone loves.

One dispatcher would get very upset if anyone removed his Albert Transport mug from his desk. “He drank his coffee right before making calls to schedule shipments for the following day,” Albert says. “So we were the first carrier he thought of every morning!”

Another owner operator uses his homemade barbecue sauce to make an impression, but you could also apply your company’s name to hats, jackets, key chains, calendars – things that are durable and are unlikely to be thrown out.

The thing is less important than the business relationship it allows you to begin to build – and continue to build by being a high quality carrier. Once you have that relationship, you can begin to anticipate customers’ requirements, which allows you to communicate exactly how you satisfy their wants and needs, and why they should use your company.