Trucking can potentially be one of the top paying blue collar jobs around. Yet we often see the whiners and complainers on the internet claiming they quit trucking because they couldn't make enough money to live on. Nobody wants to go broke while attempting to pursue a new career, yet we see folks making this unfortunate claim about the trucking career repeatedly. Let's look into the reasons why some people seem to manage making decent money as truck drivers, while others claim it is a crooked business that shows favoritism to some and total disrespect to others.
There are some really crazy videos and comments all over the internet warning people to avoid certain trucking companies and/or the whole industry altogether. For most of us, that first year out here as a rookie driver is one of the most difficult challenges we will face. That is a big reason why so many people go online with their complaints. Trucking kicked their butts because they had no clue what it takes to be a successful driver.
There are methods and practices that can keep you progressing and developing as a new driver during that difficult rookie year. There are concepts you need to understand so that you can keep yourself earning good money out here. I'm hoping to lay a few things out for you that will make your transition into a trucking career a little more profitable. I'm hoping I can Show You The Money! There is definitely money to be made out here, you just need to understand how the game is played.
We regularly throw around this phrase in our forum concerning truck driver pay where we refer to it as being “performance based.” I want to peel a few layers of mystique back on this concept. One thing you have to come to terms with when you start this career is that not only are you being paid based on your performance, but several layers of people above you are getting performance based pay also. So, what does that have to do with you, or how does that affect your pay? If you ever expect to be making good money at trucking you've got to make sure that you are helping the folks in the chain of command above you make good money.
As a driver, you are at the bottom of the chain of command, you are the low man on the totem pole. That does not make you unimportant or insignificant, but it is a concept that you will need to come to terms with if you are going to be one of the fortunate ones who makes some really good money at this. You will have a driver manager who assigns your loads. He has a good many drivers that he is overseeing, and while each of those drivers gets paid based on how many miles they run, he is also getting paid based on how well he has utilized those drivers, and their available working hours, to get the most accomplished. He is juggling a lot of things and keeping a lot of balls in the air at any given moment. The more he can make it all come out productively, the more he can get paid. Do you see the connection?
He needs you to be consistently productive. He needs to know that you can always be depended upon to make sure whatever he assigns you will get done in a timely, professional manner. If you put a little bit of doubt in his mind, or cause him the least little bit of anxiety about whether he can count on you, it will affect the loads and the miles you'll get.
If you are constantly complaining or challenging him, then you just shoved yourself a little lower down on his list of prioritized drivers. He is your lifeline, and you need to do what it takes to keep him in the money so that he can keep you where you need to be too.
Is this favoritism? No, it is the way things work. We all want to be earning the most that we can, and we are dependent upon each other as a team. A weak team member is just not going to be getting as much responsibility as a good solid contributor. Have you ever noticed how much playing time a star athlete gets in the game? Why is he getting all that playing time and making the most money on the team? It is a very simple concept. He can be counted on every time he is in the game.
I always make it a point to exceed my driver manager's expectations. I can't tell you how many times I have sent him a message letting him know that I am ready for my next load a full day ahead of schedule. For the longest time I would get these messages back that would say, “Are you serious? That is awesome! Give me a few minutes and I will see what we can come up with.”
Nowadays I hardly get the chance to send him those messages because he expects me to get done early. I receive messages from him like this, “Any chance you can finish this load a day early? I've got a killer load I'd like to put on you, but I need to make sure you can get to it.”
Do you see how this relationship is working? I am able to make sure he is getting more done, therefore he is making sure that I have more to do. Bingo – that is how you make money at this job.
It is incumbent upon the driver to create a level of trust with their driver manager. We have a saying in trucking, “You are only as good as your last load.” What that means is that your driver manager will always remember you by your last load. If you did a bang up job and really outperformed his expectations then he is ready and willing to put the next great load on you. Now, if you botched it up and didn't pull through in the clutch then he isn't really feeling a lot of faith in you right now. He may look to someone else to help him get things done this week.
Trust is the core of our relationship with our driver manager. That trust not only has to be established, but it has got to be maintained and nurtured each day we are out here. Trust is fragile in this business. You can't do a great job one day, then a mediocre one the next and expect to keep that level of trust at a point where you can benefit from it. You have to constantly maintain that trust. Your vigilance about always being dependable will go a long way toward keeping that level of trust at the point where your driver manager can reap some benefit from your efforts. When he is profiting from what you do, he will make sure that you are profiting from what he has to offer.
Trust is a two-way street. Your driver manager wants you to trust in his instincts also. He gets to see a bigger picture of the overall operations than you do. I have witnessed drivers get all bent out of shape because their driver manager gets them a nice load, and then lets them know the very next morning that he wants them to drop it at the nearest drop yard and switch over to a different load. This kind of stuff causes some drivers to go nuts. They feel like you just took their paycheck away from them.
It is quite possible that the driver manager has a plan working to get a lot more done that week by handling this load in that fashion. If the driver balks and complains, then he just shot himself in the foot because he didn't go with the manager's plans for moving the most freight. We want to be trusted as drivers, but we have to nurture that trust daily, and we have to return that same level of trust in our dispatcher.
In trucking, trust is built on the foundation of performance. We can't just expect our dispatcher to entrust us with some really great loads just because we are friendly with them. We have got to prove that we know what we are doing, and that comes from a consistent level of high performance. Erratic performances as a driver create doubt and misgivings in our dispatcher. If we are consistently pulling through for him even when we are on a tight schedule, then we are establishing a level of trust that we will benefit from.
Remember, what is good for the dispatcher is good for the driver. Every little bit of help you give to him is going to be returned to you in the form of consistently good loads.
I try to teach people that in trucking you will measure out your own pay. This is really a foreign concept to people who are just starting in this career. Most of us come from jobs where we are paid for the time we put into the job - we get paid by the hour. Many people have a really hard time understanding how performance pay works.
I work a lot of hours, just as any successful truck driver does, but I never think of my job in terms of how much I am making per hour. This is something that a lot of rookies stumble over.
Here is why this idea messes with a rookies mind.
As a rookie driver, we really have no concept yet of what it takes to make things happen in our favor out here. I am in and out of a lot of my customers before the other drivers who were there at the same time even know what happened. We should be developing some street smarts as we continue in this career to help us get things done without wasting a lot of time.
Part of the frustration of this job in the beginning is not really understanding how to properly manage your clock so that you can make the most money each week. We make money when we are on that drive line of our log books – we get paid by the mile. As rookies we usually end up burning up a lot of time that we shouldn't and that cuts into our drive time. Then we look at our paycheck, and it seems awful low for the amount of time we spent working that week.
We also have inconsistent weeks as rookies because we simply don't know yet how to manage everything so that we are doing the things that make money for us. Those inconsistent paychecks are a big reason that we see the moaners and groaners complaining online. Of course it has nothing to do with the trucking business being unfair or unethical and everything to do with the rookie driver's lack of understanding about how he can measure out his own level of pay.
We see people in our forum scrutinizing the various companies that will hire new drivers, and quite often they get fixated on the cents per mile (CPM) rate of pay at the different companies. It seems to the uninitiated that if you were making a higher CPM rate then you would automatically be making more money.
Hold on just a minute – that is not really true. Some jobs have extra work that take up your time. Like getting the tanks washed out if you are driving a tanker, or the time involved in loading and unloading the tank. Those jobs pay a higher CPM rate, but don't necessarily have as many miles available due to delays inherent in the job itself.
There's one more thing about a truck driver's level of pay that I want to point out to you. You can have three different drivers at the same company, all at the same pay level, and it is quite possible that all three of them will end up having three completely different results in their income at the end of the year. I have drivers on my fleet working with the same dispatcher, earning the same CPM rate, and serving the same customers. Some of them literally take home half of what I do. The only reason I am aware of this is that my dispatcher asked me one time if he could use me as an example when discussing this issue with other drivers when they are complaining about not making enough money.
I'm hoping I have given you some hope with regard to pay in the trucking industry. You can make some great money at this career, but you have to understand how it works. You will determine your own level of income. Your income is not based on the name of the company emblazoned on your truck's doors, nor is it determined by your CPM rate of pay. As a truck driver you hold the power to improve your paycheck. You also can adversely affect your paycheck. Performance based pay is designed to be a powerful form of motivation. What you do with it is clearly your own choice.