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.
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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 10 steps:
- Plan your Tractor Trailer Business
- Form your Tractor Trailer Business into a Legal Entity
- Register your Tractor Trailer Business for Taxes
- Open a Business Bank Account & Credit Card
- Set up Accounting for your Tractor Trailer Business
- Get the Necessary Permits & Licenses for your Tractor Trailer Business
- Get Tractor Trailer Business Insurance
- Define your Tractor Trailer Business Brand
- Create your Tractor Trailer Business Website
- Set up your Business Phone System
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.
Exploring your options? Check out other small business ideas.
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:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you charge customers?
- What will you name your business?
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 important and challenging. If you don’t already have a name in mind, visit our How to Name a Business guide or get help brainstorming a name with our Business Name Generator
When registering a business name, we recommend researching your business name by checking:
- Your state's business records
- Federal and state trademark records
- Social media platforms
- Web domain availability.
It's very important to secure your domain name before someone else does.
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your tractor trailer business is sued.
Form Your LLC
Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC
Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.
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!
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?.
Small Business Taxes
Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).
You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:
- LLC Taxes
- Sole Proprietorship vs LLC
- LLC vs Corporation
- LLC vs S Corp
- How to Start an S Corp
- S Corp vs C Corp
There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.
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
Besides being a requirement when applying for business loans, opening a business bank account:
- Separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- Makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank or credit union.
Open net 30 accounts
Net 30 accounts are used to establish and build business credit as well as increase business cash flow. With a net 30 account, businesses buy goods and repay the full balance within a 30-day term.
NetMany net 30 credit vendors report to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.
Recommended: Read our best net 30 vendors, guide and start building business credit.
Get a business credit card
Getting a business credit card helps you:
- Separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- Build your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money later on.
Recommended: Apply for an easy approval business credit card from Divvy and build your business credit quickly.
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.
Make LLC accounting easy with our LLC Expenses Cheat Sheet.
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:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
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.
If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
If you already have a logo, you can also add it to a QR code with our Free QR Code Generator. Choose from 13 QR code types to create a code for your business cards and publications, or to help spread awareness for your new website.
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.
Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.
STEP 9: Create your business website
After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.
While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.
Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:
- All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
- Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
- Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.
Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.
STEP 10: Set up your business phone system
Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.
There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use. Check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2022 to find the best phone service for your small business.
Recommended Business Phone Service: Phone.com
Phone.com is our top choice for small business phone numbers because of all the features it offers for small businesses and it's fair pricing.
Start a Tractor Trailer Business in your State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
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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.
Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?
Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!
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.
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.
Learn from other business owners
Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.
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:
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.