OWNING A BUSINESS
Other than what truck and trailer to use, there are just a handful of steps to being ready to pull your first hotshot load. I’ll give you the basics on what I consider the 6 steps to starting a hotshot business. You can click the step you’re most interested in or read through them all.
- Find mentors in the business
- Getting your medical card
- Determining which CDL to carry
- Register for an FEIN
- Complete your FMCSA application
- Subscribe to a loadboard
As a small business owner, I can tell you first hand that being my own boss absolutely outweighs working for or answering to someone else.
If my wife is out of town and I want to put in 70 hours, I can. If it’s hunting season and I want to work as little as possible, I can. And I do it without having to get approval.
This freedom is accompanied by being responsible for my own income. It takes discipline.
Some days I get so frustrated with what I’m doing that I want to quit, and I think stocking shelves at Kroger would be less hassle. But I always wake up the next morning ready to be the boss once again.
I love what I do, and bad days will come no matter what industry I’m in. My advice is to not make emotional decisions.
You will have days where your truck breaks down, you have a flat on the interstate, in construction, with a load. A strap will snap in the middle of a snow storm. A shipper treats you like dirt, or a freight broker doesn’t pay on time.
These things are gonna happen. The key is to remember they’ll happen whether you’re the boss or not. You might as well be in charge.
My mom was a truck driver when I was young, maybe middle school. I remember having a t-shirt that read Without Truckers America Stops. That’s absolutely true.
A trucker is no longer just someone who drives an 18-wheeler. You, with your hot shot truck, are considered a trucker, a hotshot trucker. And if you haven’t noticed by all the hot shot trucks on the road, America needs you just like we need traditional trucking.
So now that you’re more motivated than ever to travel the United States and get paid for it, let’s get into what it takes to operate your hotshot business.
I’m gonna lay out a list of action items that need your attention before you buy that new heavy-duty truck and flatbed trailer.
FIND A MENTOR
I have worked as a recruiter for a trucking company before, but I’m not a truck driver. It would benefit you greatly if your first step was talking with other truck drivers who are in the hot shot business.
You need to ask them questions like:
- Do you get loads from a loadboard or are you signed on with a company?
- If you’re signed on with a company how often do they get you home?
- If you’re not signed on with a company do you find it easy to obtain good-paying hot shot loads and do you ever have problems getting paid?
- What are the pros and cons of being on your own verses signing on with a carrier?
- Should I wait to get the hazmat endorsement on my CLD?
- Does truck and trailer size matter? Can I make good money even with a smaller rig?
Every truck driver out there will have different experiences, opinions, and knowledge. Having several mentors or friends in the business that you can call upon would be a great benefit to you.
Another excellent source to call upon would be Interstate Authority. They are a team of industry experts that help you stay abreast with federal and state regulations. You would not want to start your own hotshot business without first getting help from Interstate Authority.
Now that you know to get opinions and advice from others in the industry, here are the actual items you’ll need to be a hot shot truck driver:
Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers’ health are held to a higher standard than passenger vehicle drivers.
Therefore, a medical card (certificate) is required of any commercial driver with:
- a max vehicle weight of over 10,000 pounds
- a vehicle for carrying over 15 passengers (this includes the driver) for pay or not
- Or paid to operate a vehicle that can legally carry more than 8 passengers, either within the state or across state lines.
Your next step is to pass a DOT physical, and once cleared, the certificate must be in your possession while operating a commercial vehicle.
The certified exam provider will want to see you pass a hearing and vision test, examine your lung functionality, and your weight.
A drug screen is also required, as well as a lengthy discussion regarding your medical history.
Most drivers pass this physical. However, hearing loss, vision impairment, epilepsy, insulin use, and any medical marijauna use are disqualifying conditions.
In some cases a waiver can be granted, but you must be able to show that your ability to remain a safe driver would not be hindered.
The exam must be administered by a medical provider who is specifically certified by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). You can find your nearest provider by visiting the National Register of Certified Medical Providers (NRCME).
WHAT CDL TO CARRY
Once you’ve passed the DOT required physical, you can now proceed to the commercial driver’s license step.
There are 2 things you need to do before taking the commercial driver’s license test. Passing the physical is the first thing.
Seond, determine if you will be an Excepted Driver or a Non-Excepted Driver. Most commercial drivers are Non-Excepted.
Excepted status is when you will only be driving for the following reasons:
- Transporting children/staff to and from school, corpses or sick/injured individuals
- Fire truck or other emergency vehicles, or state of emergency situations
- Non-commercial private passenger and migrant worker transportation
- Situational farm equipment transportation to include beekeeping
If you’re driving for any reason not listed above then you are like most commercial drivers, Non-Excepted.
Non-Excepted drivers must have the medical certificate in order to take the commercial driver’s written test.
Now it’s time to determine what CDL you’ll need.
There are 3 options:
- Class A (freight carrier)
- Class B (passenger carrier)
- Class C (hazmat carrier)
The difference in the 3 types of CDLs is determined by the weight of the vehicle you will be utilizing.
CLASS A: If you’re operating a truck and trailer with a combination weight of over 26,000 lbs, AND the trailer is more than 10,000 lbs of the total weight, you are required to have a Class A CDL.
CLASS B: When operating a truck that weighs over 26,000 lbs, with or without a trailer, OR with a trailer that weighs no more than 10,000 lbs, then you are legal with a Class B CDL.
CLASS C: Any vehicle or a combination thereof, that does not fit the specifications of Class A or B, that is equipped with or designed for transporting more than 15 passengers (the driver is considered a passenger), or is transporting hazardous materials, requires a Class C license.
Note: transporting hazmat with a class C is only legal if your vehicle doesn’t fit the specifications of class A or B weight limits.
Determine which CDL you want or need to pursue. The Class A license is probably the best route because it also covers Class B & C.
Note: your CDL has nothing to do with length, only weight
The medical card and the CDL are the absolute first steps once you’ve decided that you want to travel the roads of this great nation, seeing sights you’ve never seen, and making a good living being a hotshot truck driver.
The next steps we’ll cover can definitely be easier by signing on with a hot shot company. But remember, if you want a bigger reward you have to be willing to take a bigger risk, or take on a bigger task.
You can most definitely make more money by owning the business.
You already have the heavy duty truck and trailer. Hot shot carriers won’t supply you with that or a commercial auto insurance policy.
You will make less but you won’t have to worry about finding your own loads, which isn’t hard, nor will you have to worry about collecting wages from freight brokers. This would be a good conversation to have when you pick the brains of other hotshot drivers.
If you were gonna go at this by trial and error then it would be best to start out as your own boss. Learn the ins and outs before signing on with a company.
REGISTER FOR AN FEIN
An EIN (employer identification number), sometimes referred to as an FEIN (Federal EIN), is basically a business’ social security number (SSN) assigned by the federal government.
You can form your hot shot business with your SSN, if you want it floating around out there.
You’ll run into problems when completing your Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax (HHVUT).
That’s an IRS form 2290 that requires you to have an EIN. They don’t require you to be an LLC (limited liability company) or a corporation. They just require you to have the federal employer identification number.
You may not have to file a 2290 if you aren’t required to pay the HHVUT.
Basically, if your max load weight, not loaded weight, but the weight of your max load, plus the weight of your truck and trailer is at least 55k pounds, then you’re required to file an IRS form 2290. Under 55k, you’re not, and your social security number will work just fine.
However, getting your EIN is not difficult. It’s actually a very simple step.
You apply online at the IRS website and you’re immediately given an employee identification number.
If, while forming a different business venture in the past, you have received an EIN by using the online application, then you’ll be required to use a different method for obtaining another employer number (mail or fax).
I strongly recommend getting an EIN right off the bat. Possibly around the same time you’re getting your CLD and prior to getting insurance.
COMPLETE YOUR FMCSA APPLICATION
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a government agency that’s sole purpose is to police the transportation industry’s safety measures and commercial shipping regulations.
They want to be sure you’re properly equipped to be a safe driver in order to reduce wrecks, injuries, and deaths pertaining to transportation.
Before hitting the road with that first load, you must be registered with the FMCSA. Interstate Authority can help you do that.
Both are required to begin transporting goods. Both are also needed to get an accurate insurance quote.
Once the application is completed (everything but proof of insurance), you’ll be in a waiting period for at least 21 days.
The final step of approval will be providing proof of commercial auto insurance to the FMCSA. 2-3 days after having proof of insurance on file, your application will be active, and you will be an authorized hot shot cargo driver.
You have 90 days after the application has been approved to provide proof of insurance.
The safety administration (FMCSA) will want to know what type of loads you intend to haul. This plays a part in what regulations you must abide by or those that apply to you.
Some truck drivers go with the Class A CDL just in case they want to utilize all of it’s driving privileges, but they may not always be held to all of it’s regulations.
Maybe they aren’t pulling heavy equipment that exceeds the weight limit and specifically requires a Class A.
Maybe it’s smaller loads. They wouldn’t need to abide by certain rules. This is where your load types come into play.
You should go into this new trucking job knowing what types of loads you want to haul, or maybe what types of loads you want to stay away from.
Some drivers don’t like heavy loads.
Some prefer smaller loads with less distance.
The load types play a part in every aspect of your new hot shot trucking business. Everything from what CDL to get, what truck and trailer to have, what regulations you must adhere to, and even what jobs you can select on loadboards
SUBSCRIBE TO A LOADBOARD
Let’s move into load boards. This is an online shipping database where you will search for and compare loads.
You can sort for all types of parameters: pickup and delivery destinations, weights, hazmat, non hazmat, time sensitive, etc. There are several loadboard companies. Here are a few of the main ones:
Until you develop trustworthy relationships with freight brokers and shippers, load boards are where you’ll make your living.
Let’s be good at this job and be sought after by brokers and shippers. You do this by being on time, easy to deal with, and careful with the freight, especially time-sensitive freight.
Until then you’ll most likely work strictly from loadboards.
Some loadboard subscriptions are free, most require a paid subscription after the trial period. I’ve always been the type that believes you get what you pay for. If you want a better product, don’t expect it to be free or to be the least expensive.
However, we don’t need all the bells and whistles either. We need 2 things from a loadboard: easy to use, and offers the information we feel is important.
This is another question that can be asked when you’re picking the brains of colleagues in the industry. “What loadboard do you use the most, and why?”
As a new business owner we’re not looking to take on more operating costs. We’re looking for good hot shot jobs that pay well. We can upgrade once we get the wheels moving and the money rolling in.
Hot shot load boards will help you get the experience you need to learn the ropes of how this hotshot trucking industry works. They allow you to choose a pick-up location and/or a delivery location.
Successful trucking means always traveling with a load. Deadheading (traveling without a load) only costs you money. It doesn’t make you a dime.
There are several benefits of a loadboard that don’t come with using a broker. You can easily tell a load board no. You might struggle telling a broker no, especially one you enjoy working with.
If you don’t like going to the northeast, don’t pick loads going to the northeast. Same with Florida or Arizona in August. If you’re like me and you can’t stand the heat, stay away from those loads.
Maybe you love the Carolinas but hate California. It’s easy to pick and choose on a loadboard. Maybe your spouse wants you closer to home so you’re not gone for a long time. Maybe they don’t…
Loadboards can be a great asset.
The loads are competitive, but there’s an ongoing driver shortage, so there’s money to be made. Spend time planning your trip and you’ll almost always have a load.
If you put some time and effort into the logistics of a load, you’ll find those that can make you a lot of money. The trucking industry, especially the hot shot trucking industry, can be very lucrative.
The better your effort in everything I’ve mentioned here, the better your business will be. The better your business, the happier you’ll be with the life it provides.
So talk with other hot shot drivers. Find out what they like and dislike about this industry. Ask them about load types and loadboards. Ask what they would do differently if they could start over.
Do they drive for a company or find their own loads?
What CDL did they go with and why?
Check social media, maybe there’s a facebook group for hot shot truck drivers. You’ll find other new drivers just like yourself and you’ll find folks willing to help with your questions and concerns.
Once you have your CDL, and your rig, Interstate Authority is your next phone call. These folks are transportation professionals. They’ll help with your FMCSA application, getting your DOT number, and your Motor Carrier authority number.
They also assist you in filing your BOC-3 (designation of process agents) and the UCR (unified carrier registration – required for interstate carriers).
That’s it. Seems like a lot but if taken one step at a time, everything falls into place. It’s a step by step process of how to start hotshot trucking.
I believe you’ve picked an honorable industry. One that can make you good money.
I also believe that without hot shot truckers like yourself, America stops.