In principle, trucking is a simple business model – find loads, deliver loads, get paid, repeat. However, each business model stage presents unique challenges that must be managed skillfully to ensure success. Finding and tapping into a continuous freight supply is the first and often most difficult challenge for most new and growing trucking companies to overcome.
So how do successful start-ups and growing companies find dependable sources of cargo to haul? The answer is straightforward – by networking. Networking puts you in touch with shippers, brokers, and other industry participants that have access to all the loads you’re looking for. This article looks at the nature of networking in the trucking industry and how trucking companies can use networking to build load volume and consistency.
Trucking Networking 101
Networking can have different roles in different situations. Drivers may network over coffee at a truck stop to keep up to date with friends and colleagues. Many operators network online in forums to socialize, exchange ideas, and keep an eye on truck driving jobs. While these activities can help keep you connected, they generally have little effect on helping to bump up your business volume. Trucking company owners need to be more strategic and use networking to accomplish a variety of essential tasks:
- Recruiting drivers
- Building carrier and broker alliances
- Learning from other industry leaders
- Finding new customers and load volumes
How, where, and when you need to network is generally dictated by what you want to accomplish. In the case of growing your business, networking needs to help you connect with shippers, brokers, and other carriers requiring services to move freight. Contacting, conversing, and building trust with this specific targeted audience is a learned skill truck company owners need to develop. “It’s about picking up the phone and working your contacts, especially if you’re a small, one-truck operation.“, says Raye Ackerman, Vice President of Subscription Services, Freight Factoring at eCapital. “The telephone remains the most important instrument for effective networking: enabling operators to reach contacts and develop these essential relationships.”
How to network?
The best way to “up your networking game” is to develop a “networking mindset.” Ensure that everything you do is looked at through a networking lens. For example, using a quality load board to find freight is a good starting option for new trucking companies and growing fleets – but depending solely on spot freight is not the best strategy to achieve sustained growth. “What carriers should be doing,” states Ackerman, “is looking at who they’ve been doing business with on those load boards and start thinking more like entrepreneurs about those opportunities. Concentrate on delivering each load to the satisfaction of the customer. Then, pick up the phone and have a conversation with the shipper or broker that posted the freight to say, ‘Hey, I’m there again next week, or I can be there three times a week. Let’s work more together.’”
Ackerman points out that shippers and brokers are very open to this approach because they need proven reliability. Shippers and brokers are always prepared to replace an existing carrier if that carrier causes a service failure and loses the customer’s faith. Meanwhile, if you’ve proven reliable, have reached out to establish a relationship, and are on their list of service providers, future shipments may start flowing your way.
And don’t forget the power of cold calling. It is a scary marketing tactic for many people but an effective one. Be brave, pick up the phone, and call every regional shipper and broker. Introduce yourself and let them know what your trucking company can do for them. Prepare yourself for a lot of rejection but keep plugging away – just a few interested connections can open the door to the freight volumes you seek.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel natural at first. Networking is a learned skill. Don’t be intrusive, but be aggressive and reach out to as many shippers and brokers as possible. Persistence will pay off as you determine what conversations produce the best results. In the meantime, here are a few tips to get you off on the right foot:
- Always be polite, respectful, and confident.
- Be articulate and able to deliver your pitch quickly.
- Site examples of your work and provide case details
- Follow up with an email to establish a communication link and leave contact information.
- Provide a link to your company website or social media business page(s).
- Ask for an opportunity to haul more loads or be placed on a list of service providers.
Where to network?
Load boards are an excellent starting point when growing your network, but other networking opportunities are also available. Social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook can play a significant role in helping you connect with industry players and find new customers. To do this effectively, you’ll need to ensure your profile is current and then continue with regular social posts that drive “shares, likes, and comments” to enhance your online visibility.
As important as social media is today, remember that the more traditional forms of networking are still highly effective. Industry events like conventions and truck shows are great environments to stay in touch with industry developments and connect with industry leaders, professionals, and new customers. Attend, participate and engage with people around you. It’s a perfect forum for building new relationships.
Another great option is to become part of the chamber of commerce and other local business groups. Also, consider joining trade associations and attending their events. These in-person gatherings are where you will have an opportunity to make direct connections with potential customers.
When to network?
It’s a simple one-word answer – ALWAYS!
Networking has always been and always will be a significant part of growing a trucking company. In the good old days, it was conducted in person, via CB radio, and using the telephone. Today it’s much the same, but with significantly more emphasis on leveraging technological platforms such as social media and load boards. No matter your channels or methods, keep networking to build stronger and broader networks to help grow your trucking company.
To grow a trucking company, you need easy access to working capital to support operations, efficient practices to collect invoice receivables, and dependable sources of freight volume. The ideal goal is to dominate a lane and become known as the preferred carrier to ensure reliable service at reasonable rates. Achieving this goal takes dedication to high standards in customer service and continual efforts to build, grow, and maintain a strong network of shippers and brokers.
You reap the rewards of higher paying and better loads when you network to find potential customers and build relationships that keep them returning. By following this strategy, you become less dependent on the unpredictable spot market and more resilient with load consistency from satisfied freight originators.
Ackerman summed up his advice by stating, “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of building relationships. Whether it’s with the people you’ve already hauled for, manufacturing facilities located in your region, or contacts you met at events – reach out, get on their radar, and become top of mind for their next shipment.”
Your efforts shouldn’t be focused on chasing one load at a time but on building a network of customers with volumes of freight. It is the best way to ensure steady future business and minimize the turbulent effects of spot market instability. It’s about picking up the phone, clearing your throat, and committing to a standard of service and performance that shippers and brokers won’t refuse.
eCapital is a rapidly growing leader within the freight factoring space and a trusted financial partner to thousands of trucking businesses since 2006. Our mission is to empower North America’s trucking companies to run their businesses better by accelerating their access to cash flow. Every team member shares our dedication to helping trucking companies run efficiently and profitably.
Learn more about using freight factoring to provide start-ups, established transportation companies, and fleets in transition with flexible funding by visiting eCapital.com.