Among the biggest threats to the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic was its impact on supply chains. Production stoppages created bottlenecks, leading to delayed orders and higher fulfillment costs.
Truck drivers stepped up. The U.S. trucking industry generated a record $875 billion in revenue in 2021, according to industry data. And truck drivers transported nearly three-quarters of the nation’s freight.
Today, there is more demand than ever for truck drivers to move imported and domestic goods from ports and production facilities to homes and businesses across the country. And with over 95% of registered trucking companies having 10 or fewer trucks in their fleet, there are opportunities today for entrepreneurs with experience in trucking to start a business.
But there are also major hurdles to getting a trucking business up and running. You need the right licenses and permits. You’ll need to hire qualified drivers and maintain your fleet of trucks. You have to account for costs like insurance and fuel – all of this in addition to generating customer leads that will put cargo in your trucks and grow your business.
Because of the careful planning and attention to details involved, it’s crucial to have a solid business plan in place to map out your vision, structure, and operational processes in the transportation industry.
Why You Need a Business Plan for Your Trucking Business
Trucking businesses need to navigate a patchwork of state and federal regulations. Then there are practical business decisions: Will you be operating private carriers who have the backing of a larger company, or will you employ for-hire carriers hauling the cargo of anyone willing to pay? How much startup funding will you need to purchase a fleet, hire and train drivers?
A business plan will help you determine the startup costs you’ll need for staffing, licensing and insurance. An effective business plan will also help you determine the best strategic opportunities for your business through an analysis of market opportunities and challenges. In this guide, we’ll show you how to tailor your business plan to meet the needs of the trucking industry. You can even download a free trucking business plan template to help get you started.
Understanding Industry Regulations
Operating within the legal and regulatory framework is both complex and crucial in the trucking industry. New rules and regulations are often under consideration by governing bodies like the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Highway Safety Administration – not to mention state regulations. A successful trucking business owner must understand and navigate the wide range of compliance issues that can arise.
A good place to start in your business plan is to compile a detailed list of these legal requirements. Doing so demonstrates your understanding of federal and state guidelines that your company needs to adhere to, as well as your preparedness to stay on top of ongoing compliance issues.
Start by detailing the major regulations that apply to your business. This may include driver compliance requirements (which we will get into in more detail about later), hours of service regulations that dictate how long drivers can operate without rest, safety regulations like regular vehicle inspections, maintenance, and repair, and any specific regulations related to the type of cargo you plan to transport.
Next, explain the steps you will take to keep your trucking business in compliance. These could include regular driver training programs, and the implementation of electronic logging device software to help you monitor and report driving time and hours of service records. You will also need to discuss your insurance strategy – whether and what types of insurance you plan to provide for driver liability or damage to cargo.
Including these details in your business plan shows potential investors, lenders, and other stakeholders that you’re serious about reducing potential legal risks and responding to compliance reviews or audits. It also demonstrates your commitment to running a professional and reliable trucking business.
Hiring Qualified Drivers
It goes without saying that you can’t operate a trucking business without qualified drivers. And that can be a frustrating challenge. Due to an aging workforce, the trucking industry faced its second-largest number of job vacancies on record in 2022. To overcome this challenge, you will need to detail a plan to attract, hire, and retain qualified truck drivers.
Begin by detailing the qualifications you’re looking for in drivers. It’s standard to require a certain level of experience and a clean driving record, but you should also consider whether you require specific Commercial Driver’s License endorsements based on the type of freight you plan to haul.
Next, outline your plans for driver training and professional development. Even experienced drivers need to be trained in company procedures and updated on industry regulations. Providing ongoing professional development opportunities can help keep your drivers engaged and committed to their jobs, and detailing those programs in your business plan shows that you are invested in your employees’ growth and success, which can be a significant selling point for job seekers.
You will also need to outline the incentives or benefits you’ll offer to attract and retain top talent. Given the staffing challenges, you should research trucking wages in your area and determine competitive pay, benefits and driver schedules based on that analysis. The trucking industry is known for its high turnover rate, so demonstrating your plans for driver retention is crucial.
Another key aspect to cover in your trucking business plan is your fleet management strategy. You will want to detail the type and number of vehicles you plan to start operating with. These details not only determine your initial capacity, but provide lenders or investors with a clearer upfront understanding of your startup costs.
You should be able to provide plenty of details about the specifications of your fleet – whether you’re operating with flatbeds, refrigerated trucks, or dry vans. Your needs will largely depend on the type of goods you plan to transport, so detailing these will help you focus your initial investments on your most pressing business needs.
Your plan should also explain how you will maintain your vehicles. And as your business grows, a fleet expansion may be necessary, as well as replacing older trucks. The fleet management section of your business plan should include the full range of details about whether you plan to lease or buy trucks, and how you will handle routine maintenance, such as hiring a dedicated in-house mechanic or contracting with a third-party service. Considering these factors in your business plan increases the likelihood you will be prepared to keep providing reliable service in the event of a disruption.
You’ve completed your compliance checklist, you’ve hired drivers and purchased your fleet. Now, who is going to give you their business?
You will need to dedicate a lot of space in your business plan to developing a comprehensive marketing and client acquisition strategy. Start by identifying your target market: Are you focusing on local deliveries, or long-haul services? Maybe there’s a specific type of cargo you plan to transport, like refrigerated goods or hazardous materials. Understanding your target market’s unique needs will help you tailor your services and differentiate your business from competitors.
Next, discuss the tactics you’ll use to reach potential clients. These could include online advertising, cold calling, attending industry networking events or seeking out partnerships with other businesses. Focus on the strategies that best align with your target market and business model.
Referrals are a great source of business in the trucking industry. Take time in your business plan to discuss how you might be able to retain clients and encourage referrals, whether by offering fast delivery times, exceptional customer service, competitive pricing or other methods.
Finally, describe how you plan to retain clients and encourage referrals. This could involve superior customer service, competitive pricing, or value-added services. Client retention is often more cost-effective than client acquisition, and a high referral rate can significantly boost your reputation and bottom line. Outlining these long-term client development strategies in your business plan signals to lenders or potential investors that you’re focused on the long-term growth of your business.
Fuel Costs and Efficiency
Fuel costs make up a significant portion of trucking company costs, and they can be among the least predictable costs to forecast for a trucking business. So taking time in your business plan to show that you have a strategy for managing fuel costs and maximizing fuel efficiency in your business plan is critical.
You can use the business plan to explore your strategies for maintaining your fleet for optimal fuel efficiency. Regular maintenance checks can ensure your trucks are running at their best, maximizing miles per gallon and reducing the likelihood of costly breakdowns. Explain your planned maintenance schedule and how you’ll enforce it.
You can also consider technology investments like the use of route optimization software to plan the most efficient routes, as well as how you will train drivers to use fuel-efficient driving techniques like progressive shifting and minimizing idling time. Discuss how you plan to monitor fuel consumption and efficiency, such as through a telematics system to track fuel consumption data in real-time, allowing you to identify any issues quickly and adjust strategies as needed. By addressing fuel costs and efficiency in your business plan, you can show that you’re being proactive in addressing one of the biggest costs in your business.
Download a free trucking business plan template and example
To help get your business started, check out our free trucking business plan template. You can download this document in Word form and use it as a foundation for your own business plan.
In addition to these resources, you may want to brush up on how to write specific sections of a traditional business plan. If so, take a look at our step-by-step guide on how to write a business plan.