Trucking is a seasonal business—plan accordingly. However, the weather isn't the only thing to keep...
How To Make The Most of Quiet Season In Trucking
The winter slow season is the leanest time of year for the trucking industry. High paying loads are difficult to come by, due to the consumer slowdown after the holidays. It’s no secret that the trucking industry is not as profitable in January, February and March. The slow season is one of the worst times of year to be a truck driver. But with some preparation, you’ll be on your way to making it through. If you find yourself in the trucking industry at this time of year, there are a few steps you can take to survive the slow season and set yourself up to make some profit in the long run.
When the trucking slowdown hits, it's nothing to fear. The quiet season in trucking is usually a period where drivers have the opportunity to either get much needed rest, or to make the most of their time with a new schedule to adjust to. There are many things you can do to make the season a little easier. For starters, take some time off to recharge your batteries and enjoy holiday season with friends and family, or take a much needed vacation that you deserve. Spending a little extra time on your vehicle can also make all the difference during this slow season, preparing you for the coming year. Slow season is different, but there are a few things you can do that will help you get through this period with ease.
Complete Your Annual Inspections and Maintenance
Slow season is the perfect time to catch up on vehicle maintenance, or any modifications you may want to make. Given that it is winter time, the weather is also going to impact your truck, so make sure you are winter-proofing the vehicle and regularly checking your tires, or other areas affected by the cold.
During slow season is also a time when you can complete your annual inspections. Since during the year you are using your vehicle and need to make money, this is a great time to do the inspections, because it is not going to take money from your business since your vehicle is not running anyway. Since new regulations tend to begin in the new year, your inspections falling during slow season lines up with any new regulations that may be coming in.
Adjust Your Cost-Per-Mile
Since the slow season tends to have the lowest rates, you will want to re-calculate your cost-per-mile and make sure you are minimizing any unnecessary costs. The calculation should be done once a week on a regular basis during the regular trucking seasons, but during slow season may be the optimal time where you can make changes to some of your variable costs, so that you can make some profit. Deadhead miles and fuel efficiency should be looked at carefully during this period, so engage in some early planning to make sure you are not driving empty too often or wasting too much gas, as your income during this period is going to be lower than the rest of the year.
Network More and Expand Your Business
Slow season can provide you more time to expand your business in terms of either marketing, if you are a small company or owner-operator, or in terms of building significant connections through which you can move your business forward. If you are able to get more than one load from a broker, you can usually establish a bit of a relationship with them, which will allow you to get more loads in the future, making things at least slightly easier. Don’t be afraid to use LinkedIn or social media as a way to get out there and engage with others in the industry. You can make a lot of valuable connections with others in the industry online, which may prove valuable when you are looking for loads.
Negotiate For The Future
Slow season may also be the time period where you can begin looking into contracts, if that is the type of work you are interested in doing. Having a contract ready will take some of the pressure off having to find work in the next season, so planning your work in advance will help. Sometimes contracts result in having a lower pay during other seasons, due to negotiating in advance and before seeing how the economy and freight are moving, but it does secure work and provide a chance to make a more balanced income during the slower season. Determine what is a fair rate for yourself and stay within the ballpark of that, while accounting for the slow season and any economic themes during the period.
Keep in mind that lower rates are coming from a lower demand for shipments during this time period, so do keep expectations realistic and try not to get discouraged, since this season only lasts a few months at a time. If you own a fleet, then look into incentives for drivers who lose morale or don't desire to work at these lower rates, as a way to retain the drivers. Remember that recruiting new drivers will cost more than adding a few cents onto the drivers current per mile. If you are hiring new drivers, slow season is the perfect time to train and introduce them to your fleet, since it is easier to manage training and any mistakes which may occur.
Work On Optimizing Efficiency
While you may have more downtime during slow season, there are ways to make sure you are not wasting time. Since the slower season tends to see less demand, this would be a good period to adjust some of your usual schedule and make the most of your time. Increasing efficiency may mean that if a load pays less than you’d expect but is same day, then you may benefit from taking it on, as you’ll still have time left to pick up another load that day before your hours run out. Don’t be afraid to ask the broker if they have any loads in that same area that day, especially if you are heading into more difficult areas where it will take time to get out.
The start of the year is usually a slow one for most truckers, but don't let that stop you from improving your business. With the slowdown in freight during this time of year, it is the perfect period to work on expanding your business, maintaining your vehicle or even hiring new drives. There's plenty to do over the next four months, in preparation for things to pick up speed. Don't get discouraged, April is just around the corner and things will pick up before you know.