Demand for transportation is up, but the margins always seem to be shrinking. How is it possible to make a profit when margins are so thin?
No sweat. There are a few fast ways to increase your company margins during these changing times. We have a list of the 3 best practices to get more out of your small trucking company and even take advantage of the bright future ahead.
1. Leverage Industry Relationships
A surefire way to increase profit margins is to actively engage with those you do business with. Pick up the phone and start a Joint Business Planning discussion. Talk with your closest partners so you both come up with profit goals that align with each other. When one of you achieves, you both achieve.
SMB Business-to-business expert Francesca Nicasio reports that having a discussion with your partners can produce more cost effective outcomes than not. By inviting vendors to think of you as a partner, they’re more likely to help improve your workflow and suggest ways to streamline your business.
Joint Business Planning can benefit you and assure your partners you’re serious about the health of your business. A logistic broker who treats you like a partner is more likely to help increase your business and profit margins. A good broker will keep you updated in the industry, assist in lead generation, and offer their marketing resources to help you succeed. Companies who play the low-cost game and don’t offer these services are feeling the pressure in this market, so it’s important to form strategic partnerships that benefit each other.
Brian Abel, a financial advisor specializing in the trucking industry, recommends evaluating brokers carefully. He says one of the best indicators of a trustworthy firm is to be certain a broker is Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) certified. The certified TIA broker is bound to the TIA Code of Ethics to help maintain a community of trustworthy and transparent business partners of brokerages and 3PLs.
Now time to look inwards:
2. Maintain Retention and Reduce Attrition
One of the easiest ways to secure cash flow and predict profits is to work with the same customers over and over again. Your established book of business already has a few favored customers, so let them know you appreciate them. More often than not, regular communication will take this far. David Finkle, co-author of Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back, says that a well-timed call, card, or visit lets the customer know you appreciate them actively purchasing from you.
On the flip side, if your customers aren’t benefiting you, perhaps it’s time to stop benefiting them. Finkle recommends that if your top customers’ margins are covering costs for your bottom customers, it’s better to cut ties and move on.
Don’t just take our word that these strategies are effective. Heartland Express (HTLD) refocused their business strategy for 2018 and experienced drastic results. They cut ties with less profitable lanes and focused solely on their most profitable customers. While HTLD experienced a significant drop in revenue year over year from 2017 to 2018, their operating ratio (OR) dropped by 9% and their adjusted OR dropped by nearly 11%. Because they pushed their OR down so far, HTLD actually increased their net income by over $11 million.
There’s a bright side to Heartland cutting ties with so many customers: their loss is smaller operations gain. Because of these cuts, HTLD haven’t been able to take full advantage of the strong demand for over the road truckers. That means the demand for freight is up and it’s yours for the taking.
Now to grab that low-hanging fruit:
3. Streamline Operations to Reduce Spending
Business optimization can produce game changing results, especially in industries with slim margins. If your office spends an exorbitant amount of time entering the same info into separate software systems, that’s money lost on finding and booking lanes.
Knowing how and where your time and resources are being spent can help optimize your business operations to make the most dollars per hour. The easiest way to do this? Princeton Consultants president and CEO Steve Sashihara says “use efficient technology.”
Transportation Management Software (TMS) is a huge asset for small trucking companies. The better the software, the better streamlined your operational process will be. A good TMS system will have invoicing and collections, dispatch services, legal and compliance, Bid, RFPs, pricing, and customer contracts all in one application. Make certain you choose a software that integrates with load boards, GPS integrated tracking, EDI capabilities, and analytic software to run reports. The fewer the clicks it takes to get between screens, the better.
Sashihara has seen enough good software systems streamline business operations to be a firm believer in investing in it. He specifically cites that the transportation industry has been able to transform struggling operations into profitable companies thanks to optimizing their fleet scheduling. By using real-time data plus historical knowledge, it’s easier for trucking companies to smartly predict price increases and act on them.
The Small Business Advantage
Heartland Express might have shrunk, but that doesn’t mean your small trucking company is going to. In fact, with increase in freight volumes and robust orders, margins are on the rise. Small trucking businesses are in the best position to take advantage of those margins. According to financial research specialist Mary Ellen Biery, “most general freight companies in the US are small businesses with less than 20 employees and […] their size might position them to adjust to market needs.” Hot spot markets and contract rates are expected to grow about 10 to 12 percent year over year. Those rising rates with the fairly stagnant growth of professional truck drivers means those already in the role are in position to benefit from this bright future.
Small trucking operations are in the best position to take advantage of this tight market. Since there is a lot more freight than capacity, act on these three things to make certain you get the best slice of the pie:
- Leverage Industry Relationships: work with partners who want to succeed with you.
- Maintain Retention and Reduce Attrition: work with customers who provide value to you and cut ties with those who cost you.
- Streamline Operations: make the most money per hour by investing in the right transportation management software that will reduce your workload and increase your bookings and invoicing.
If you’re ready to act on these three things and want to learn more about building a successful partnership, contact us at LDI to learn about our carrier program.
One of our business development specialists will be happy to hear about your existing business, your goals for growing, and have a conversation about how we can help you get there.