Starting and running a business, any business, comes down to the basics. Execute the basics correctly and consistently, and you can succeed. One of the common concepts that people often overlook is avoiding the big mistakes. They are so focused on what they should do, that they fail to think about what they shouldn’t do. Here is a list of the major mistakes I see people make when they set out to become an owner-operator; I’ll cover each one in more detail in future columns.
- Listening to Family or Friends
- Not Having a Clear Written Plan
- Not Having a Simple Record Keeping System in Place
- Partnering with the Wrong Carrier
- Spec’ing the Wrong Truck for the Job
- Not Building a Winning Team
Mistake #1 Listening to Family or Friends:
More damage has been done and more mistakes made by listening to the advice or criticism of family and friends than anything else I can think of. It seems so natural, and it even seems like the intelligent thing to do—if you don’t know something, just starting asking other people. Of course, we want to start with people we know and trust: family and friends. However, this is a recipe for disaster for many reasons. Let’s name a few:
Emotional Attachments. You have baggage and history with family and friends that can get in the way of good communication. They may think they are looking out for your best interests, but many times they will give really bad advice for what they think are good reasons. Their number-one priority may be to protect you from making a mistake. That’s very nice, but nice doesn’t work when we are talking about major life decisions. If, for example, you are thinking of buying a truck, you’re going to perhaps make mistakes along the way, but the goal should be to minimize the number of mistakes you make, not eliminate them by not taking any action. On the other end of the spectrum, family or friends may be overly encouraging because they don’t want to tell you the truth or discourage you. Either way, you won’t be getting the best advice you can get. You need the best impartial advice from people who understand what you are trying to accomplish. Bad advice given for good reasons is still bad advice.
“If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.” - Jim Rohn
Lack of Experience. Even if your friends or family members are already an owner-operator or have been one, it doesn’t mean that they have enough experience to be able to give good advice. How many trucks have they bought? Do they know how to spec, find, research, inspect, and negotiate for a truck, or did they do what 99% of people do and go into the purchase blind? How many mistakes have they made when buying trucks, and are they able to identify and admit those mistakes? I’ve bought many trucks over the last 25 years, and I can tell you that I learned much more from the times I made mistakes than any other time. You could buy a truck without doing all of the hard work, and you might get lucky and get a good one. But do you want to trust your business to blind luck? Some people have 30 years of experience, but most people have 1 year of experience 30 times. There is a big difference between the two. Most people stop learning and don’t continue to grow or expand their knowledge. You need to seek out people who continue to grow and learn and ask them for their advice.
Poor Communication Skills. Even when people have the right experience or knowledge, they’re not always good at communicating it in the best and most helpful way. In fact, many times they can cause more confusion by failing to give the advice correctly. Most people have the knowledge in their head, but they have never really worked on getting it organized in a way that makes sense and is helpful to someone who may not have the same background or frame of reference. There is even a name for this phenomenon. This “curse,” described by authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, refers to the concept that the more you know about a subject, the harder it often becomes to communicate your knowledge to someone who knows nothing about the topic. This curse can be overcome by people who are willing to put in the time to get their thoughts, ideas, and knowledge about a topic written and organized in a way that helps people to understand the concepts. Very few people take the time to do that.
So, how do you avoid making this mistake when you set out to buy a truck? You may think that I’m recommending not talking to or not asking friends and family for advice. I’m not saying that, rather I want you to ask as many people as possible. I want you to get as much advice as possible. In fact, the more advice you get and the more opinions you get, the better you will be able to sift through the information and find the gems—the stuff that will help you make better decisions. But, and this is a big but, I want you to doubt everything you hear. I want you to get used to asking one very important question that will work in almost any situation. Here is the question: Why?
“Why?” is a very powerful tool when you are seeking advice. When someone gives you advice or makes a statement, your next question should be “Why?” You’ll be surprised how many people will deliver a piece of advice with what sounds like total confidence and then give you a blank stare when you ask them why. Many times, people who give advice are simply repeating something they heard somewhere along the way, and they don’t understand the why behind it. The why question serves two purposes: one, it forces the advice giver to disclose whether or not they understand what they are telling you, and two, it gives you, the advice seeker, more in-depth information to evaluate whether or not this is valuable advice that applies to you. For example, you may ask someone what brand of truck you should be looking at, and they may respond with something like, “Don’t even consider a [insert any brand here] truck.” Your next question should be “Why?” They may respond with, “Because they are too heavy.” That might be a true statement, as some truck models are heavy, but weight might not be a factor in your operation. It’s a true statement, but it might be bad advice in your case. Therefore, it might cause you to miss out on considering a truck that would have been great for your operation. So be careful and make sure to always ask why—there are hundreds of examples of why a statement might be true but still be bad advice.
Stay tuned, in the next column I'll cover the second big mistake I see: Mistake #2, Not Having a Clear Written Plan
Kevin Rutherford is the founder and CEO of LetsTruck.com a company that provides accounting, tax, business and health advice to drivers and owner-operators. You can find out more about the company by visiting their website "LetsTruck.com" or call their TribeCare Team at 855-800-3835. You can also listen to Kevin and ask him anything on his radio show and podcast.