How to Start a Tractor Trailer Business

A tractor-trailer or trucking business specializes in hauling large shipments of merchandise via semi-trucks and the railroad system. Companies can range in size from smaller, family-owned businesses to large, international shipping giants.

Learn how to start your own Tractor Trailer Business and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start a tractor trailer business by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your tractor trailer business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening a tractor trailer business?

Opening and operating your own tractor-trailer business does have some substantial costs to hurdle in the beginning. Buying or leasing tractor-trailers, even used, will require substantial finances. Additionally, you’ll need to account for vehicle maintenance and tires, business insurance and licensing, and other fees required by state and federal agencies. Overall, an initial loan between $20,000 and 50,000 should get your business up and running.

What are the ongoing expenses for a tractor trailer business?

Most of the ongoing expenses are related to the maintenance and upkeep of the trailers and trucks, which can be extensive at times. There will also be annual fees for insurance and business licensing, as well as training and certification for drivers. Additionally, it’s advisable to expand the fleet, when possible, with newer or upgraded equipment.

Who is the target market?

Depending on your business’s size and scope, you will be looking for businesses that regularly ship freight around the country.

How does a tractor trailer business make money?

The fees for hauling freight generates revenue for the business.

How much can you charge customers?

Depending on the deliveries and the distance traveled, most freight will run between $1-$4 per mile.

How much profit can a tractor trailer business make?

Trucking company owner-operator gross revenues can average around $220,000, although these figures include well-established businesses, which can skew the average. These figures may not be reflected in the first years of business, with $60,000-$75,000 being a more realistic average for a trucking owner-operator startup.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Look for clients who want to expand their own business and present them with contracts for long-term service. Stable revenue really helps new businesses.

Without undercutting your competition, look for ways you can reduce business costs and, in turn, pass those savings on to your customers.

To start, operate regionally to avoid too much wear and tear on your fleet and take long driving assignments only when you can haul both ways.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

Find a Domain Now

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After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free

STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your tractor trailer business is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

Check out the Top Business Formation Services from our friends at StartupSavant.

You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Read our Best Banks for Small Business guide to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

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Recommended: BlueVine is an online bank with free business checking and no hidden fees. Great for businesses who do not often deal with cash.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a Tractor Trailer business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

To avoid liability and potential lawsuits, a Tractor Trailer businesses should have their clients sign waivers.

Recommended: Rocket Lawyer makes it easy to create a professional release of liability form for your studio when you sign up for their premium membership. For $39.95 per month, members receive access to hundreds of legal agreements and on call attorneys to get complimentary legal advice.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

How to promote & market a tractor trailer business

There are numerous trucking trade publications, as well as online websites and forums. All of these should include some initial marketing blasts. As mentioned previously, advertising a trucking company startup should explore other industry avenues related to your own business. For instance, with more consumers shopping online, consider targeting some of the more successful online brands. Speaking of shopping online, it is always advisable to expand your online business presence. Most social networking is free or relatively inexpensive and can generate greater returns from unexpected commerce pathways.

How to keep customers coming back

Customers are your lifeblood and should be remembered and rewarded for continued partnership. Even the smallest gestures show appreciation to your customers.

  • Offering annual deals or contracts, which save customers money, are good for both parties.
  • Promote your customers’ businesses, as well. A healthy business ecosystem benefits everyone.
  • Regularly communicate with your customers to see what they like and what they need from your business and actively try to make systems work better.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Start A Tractor Trailer Business In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

Often, truck drivers will decide to form their own trucking business after years of working for a company. Experience driving big rigs and the operating logistics of interstate shipping are necessary to gain a strong foothold from the start. Understanding the history and culture of tractor-trailer shipping is important for attracting drivers and customers, alike.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

Entrepreneurship Quiz

What happens during a typical day at a tractor trailer business?

Tractor-trailer businesses specialize in getting customer goods from here to there. Scheduling and routing deliveries and pick-ups is an ever-evolving animal, too, as schedules rarely stay strictly on schedule. A good logistics operator will have backup plans in place to keep things moving forward.

Truck and trailer maintenance and inspections are also critical to keep the fleet operating at full capacity. As a business grows, the hiring and training of new drivers will also become a critical element of day to day activities.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful tractor trailer business?

Experience driving big rigs and box trucks is usually a given for a person looking to open up their own business. Driving 18 wheelers takes knowledge and experience to do it properly. And much of this knowledge isn’t taught, but rather picked up from other drivers and long hours behind the wheel. Of course, a good business owner must also have business and finance knowledge, as well. Ideally, a combination of trucking experience and solid business acumen is the best fit.

What is the growth potential for a tractor trailer business?

Tractor-trailer/trucking companies are consistently busy moving goods all over the country, and, with recent developments, there seems to be an even bigger shipping market taking hold. Equally, fuel prices have dropped, as of recent. Many businesses also continue to explore their global commerce possibilities, with shipping availability always a cornerstone of success. The time to think about developing a reliable and profitable tractor-trailer business may be at hand.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a tractor trailer business?

Create a strong business plan and stick to it as close as possible. Having a plan and both short and long term goals is more necessary than many can understand. By outlining what you need and where you want to go with your business, you can make informed decisions beforehand and give yourself a much better path to success.

Customers are the ultimate asset. Consider a delivery need that isn’t being met or is underserved. Unless you’re a large, well-funded organization, you will need to develop customers who appreciate your service and, in turn, show loyalty. A strong customer base does so much for your reputation and overall market share.

Extensive, yet selective and strategized advertising and marketing are also necessary when starting out. People need to know about your business, but you don’t want to waste your resources on over-saturated markets or mediums. Look for specific groups to target. Especially online, organizations can be networked into your business with a few keystrokes.

Make your business invaluable and available, especially at first. Grinding for the first two years is often the only way to really gain traction and an attitude that every delivery counts will help you maintain focus on the long term goals.

How and when to build a team

Your initial team will probably be fairly small, as this is the best way to keep overhead costs low. Many tractor-trailer owners also drive. Start off with enough staff and drivers to keep things running smoothly, but don’t be too eager to grow. A strong business grows when it wants to. When you do add drivers or logistical staff, make sure you have work for them. Building your team starts with them depending on you and grows into you depending on them.

Next Steps

Get more ideas with our Business Ideas Generator.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

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