Planning to Fail

The title should say “Failed to Plan”. Regardless, this issue came up a couple weeks ago when I was talking with a driver trainer and made an off handed comment about it seeming like drivers aren’t doing trip plans anymore.

“What’s a trip plan?” was his response.

Now, granted, I’m not up on the latest on training new company drivers like I am with training Owner Operator’s. It’s just not what we do, but I think the basics like trip planning should be taught. How is a driver supposed to be able to tell his dispatcher if they can make the schedule on the load if they don’t know how to plan a trip? How are they supposed to be able to make sure they can get enough sleep so they can be safe on the road?

The list is long on all the things that a driver needs to be thinking about when they accept a load to make sure that they get the load picked up and delivered on-time and safely. A percentage of the new drivers today will be our future O/O’s. If they aren’t being taught the basics of planning a load and when they don’t have to think about the profitability portion of the business, how do we expect them to be able to understand what it is going to take to be a competent, safe and profitable Owner Operator?

Many years ago when I was a trainer, I spent more time on trip planning than on any other single task outside of logs. When a driver first got on my truck it would be fun to watch the driver trying to juggle their logs, an atlas, truck stop book, a calculator and a pad of paper.

Once they got a little better it was also great to watch as they learned to use these tools and in a fraction of the time. The Rock Stars could almost do it in their heads. My, carrier at that time, provided me with the drivers performance for a year so I got to see how well or poorly a driver did. It was interesting to see that the ones that got the best markings for trip planning did the best in the first year. They had fewer accidents, great on-time performance, and were top earners amongst their peers. The ones that didn’t care and never embraced the need to plan where problems. There were stupid accidents and they had awful on-time records, it was like they didn’t even care about the clock. These drivers made little money and almost all got fired or quit.

The point is, being prepared and planning ahead can greatly improve productivity and profitability. Beyond that, it helps manage the frustrations that many drivers encounter day to day.

Key factors to consider when planning a trip:

  • Hours you have available to drive.
  • How the pick-up and delivery schedule fall within  your legal ability to drive.
  • Based on the route, what is a realistic speed that you can drive (don’t even think about averaging 50 mph through Chicago at 07:00).
  • What do you know about shipper and receiver?  Are they known for long loads/unloads?
  • Where are you going to fuel?  Can you get in and out quickly or will there be a line?
  • Where are you going to take your 30-min break.
  • Where and when are you going to stop for the night?

These are just some of the items that you need to consider as you are planning your trip. At Farm2Fleet our drivers have years of experience and most do this without even thinking about it. But new drivers need to take the time to learn to plan and understand why. We now have all sorts of tools to help us with planning and it is important that we don’t rely on technology or dispatch to do our planning for us.

The Trucking MBA B-Plan

One Page Business PlanOne thing that strikes me is the lack of good business plans and business planning tools out there for Owner Operators. I believe in the value of a business plan, but there are challenges that arise for Owner Operators. The tools that are out there, currently, for business planning are far too complex for the typical O/O. This makes the job time-consuming and takes away from the process of developing your business to best suit your needs.

The reason building a business plan is so valuable is because it gets you thinking about what it is you’re doing and why you are doing it. It helps you discover why you are getting into being an Owner Operator (or clarify if you are already one) and how you plan to succeed once you begin.

There are four key components you need to consider in planning your business:

“Why?” – Why are you getting into this business? What benefits do you see for yourself in the long run and what short-term advantages are there for you as an Owner Operator and what are you trying to achieve in the long-term? The “Why” is the most important part. With independent businesses already facing low odds of success, you want to be sure that you are in it for the right reasons. These should be reasons that motivate you, keeping you driven and focused.

“One-liner” – This is a short concise statement that sums up who you are and what you do. The purpose of this statement is to leave an impression. When you meet new people and they ask you what you do, you should be able to sum it up in a sentence or two and leave them with a solid understanding of your skills and motivations. “I drive a truck” really doesn’t come close to what we do in this business.

Objectives – Set quantifiable goals that can be measured and tracked. Be specific with your goals and try to set milestones to achieve them. Create objectives like, “I want to reach an average of ‘x’ rate per mile, all miles by ‘y’ date”.

“How?” – How are you going to meet these objectives? This section doesn’t have to be as specific, but the idea is that you create a strategy for each goal you set and try to track your progress or performance. This will allow you to see how well you have done at working towards your goals, and also motivate you to progress consistently.

The best way to approach creating these plans is being honest with yourself. Don’t set goals that can’t be met and remember to track progress where you can. Don’t get overwhelmed by large-scale business structuring strategies. Good business planning tools are designed to help you think through a process, the one page business plan does just that.