Each Owner Operators starts by researching how to make money in trucking, but soon enough they realize that it takes road-smart decisions and driving awareness to make them successful. Lakeith Blackman knows this well and he is wise as he is successful in his trucking career.
ST: What made you decide in starting a trucking career?
Lakeith: I have an uncle who’s been driving for about forty-five years. He got me interested in trucking when I was only 13 years old. I would usually go with him out on the road and help him unload his truck, making me think about how to make money in trucking. So that’s when it all started for me.
ST: What did you do before starting a trucking career?
Lakeith: I used to lay bricks for nearly five years! Then, I decided I needed a break from that though and moved on to something I actually liked and this now led to becoming an Owner Operator.
ST: What has kept you in the trucking industry all this time?
Lakeith: I stayed because I don’t like to be cooped up in a building. I didn’t want a warehouse job or anything like that so being able to be on the road and to be constantly moving works well for me. To be an Owner Operator is truly is a nice experience.
As an Owner Operator, what tips can you give a new driver when working with their dispatcher?
Respect. No matter what background you’re from or what the color of your skin is; respect. It’ll take you a long way in life and in this industry, that’s for sure.
ST: What is the most important thing that leads to success as an Owner Operator in this industry?
Lakeith: In my own experience, it is to be humble.
ST: What was your first truck driving job?
Lakeith: I worked for Montgomery, driving a dump truck. I was doing that for about five years before searching for a reputable trucking company and becoming an Owner Operator.
ST: How long did it take for you to be comfortable on the road after starting a trucking career?
Lakeith: It took me about six months to a year. There’s a lot to learn out there and there’s a lot of rules to learn before figuring out how to make money in trucking. Every city is different and you can never be too safe. You always have to be on the lookout while driving out there.
ST: How did you decide to buy your own truck and become an Owner Operator?
Lakeith: A lot of these trucking companies want you out there three weeks to six months at a time. They don’t care about your kids or your family, you know? You cannot raise your kids when you’re on the road all the time. I love my kids, and I love my family, and sometimes I can say they’re the only reason I got my own truck and became an Owner Operator.
I’ve seen many Owner Operators who are married, who have a house, who have kids, and are out two to three weeks at a time and they seem to be doing good. I think that’s a lot of time away from your family. But I don’t like the local jobs, they never want to pay anything. So, for me five days on the road is good enough, after that, you need to go home and check on your family.
ST: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become an Owner Operator for the first time?
Lakeith: You have to know, you are taking a chance, but you have to take it when starting a trucking career. Some of these drivers make it, some of them don’t, it’s all about how you maintain yourself. These new drivers get out there, they get a big head about what they’re doing, they want to go buy this and they want to go buy that. What they fail to realize is that they have to take care of their truck before so they can make money in trucking.
There are a lot of things you need to take into consideration when you’re taking care of a truck. Instead of buying a Mercedes Benz, a BMW, a Maserati, a four-wheeler, a go-cart, having three women on the side, or whatever, it all takes money. But a lot of that money needs to go back into your truck. You can learn how to make money in trucking, but you do not get rich overnight, not in six months and not in a year.
ST: Any tips or tricks that new Owner Operators should know?
Lakeith: I don’t have any tricks. For me, it’s always important to just pay attention and watch your mirrors. Always watch your mirrors. You have people out there driving who just love to road rage. The only thing I can tell you is just to be ready and always on the lookout.
ST: What was the most memorable experience on the road that you remember as an Owner Operator?
Lakeith: Since starting a trucking career, I have almost been in two accidents and I handled them very well. The company I was working for at the time applauded me for the way I handled those situations. There are so many people who just pull out in front of me, who could have been hurt, but didn’t. Those the only experience I can recall, and it’s a blessing that I was able to catch it and act accordingly.
ST: How long do you stay out on the road at a time as an Owner Operator?
Lakeith: I try to be out no more than five to six days at a time. I leave on a Sunday, then I’ll be out by Monday and I try to be back at the house by the weekend. I try not to stay out more than five days at a time.
ST: What regions do you run and why?
Lakeith: I mostly run the Midwest because I like the area and I can get in and out pretty fast. I’m also not too far away from home in case I have a family emergency. If something happens, I can always be home by the next day.
ST: What is the average of miles under your belt at this point?
Lakeith: In the fifteen years I have been driving, the number of miles I have with me is way too many. Way too many. I ride, what can I say?
ST: How did you go about deciding on the truck you now own as an Owner Operator?
Lakeith: I’ve been in an International, I like those, I’ve been in a Freightliner, I’ve been in a Peterbilt, I’ve pretty much driven all of them besides a Western Star. So, I might try that one next ha ha! Currently, I drive a Kenworth. Different trucks have different styles, you know? They have different forms of driving, different gear patterns, and the good thing about that is if you have worked with a lot of different trucks, you can drive any of them. I think a driver needs to be versatile, someone who can handle anything when working for a reputable trucking company.
ST: What advice would you give to an Owner Operator purchasing their first truck?
Lakeith: Know what you’re going to buy because it plays a role in how to make money in trucking. Make sure you do a full inspection of the truck or else you could be buying someone else’s headache. Everybody will jump at the chance to buy a $6,000 or $8,000 truck but two weeks later end up having to take it to a shop then it becomes a way bigger problem than what you first imagined. When you buy a cheap truck, you might not be running every state, you might have to run just ten, so you can be near home in case your truck breaks down. Make sure you’re buying a quality truck because if you don’t it’s going to put you somewhere where you don’t want to be.
ST: Are you planning to buy additional trucks and become a fleet owner in the near future?
Lakeith: I want to, and then again, I don’t want to. I mean the reason why is because you got a lot of Owner Operators that really don’t take care of their trucks. So if I do become a fleet owner, I’m not going to just be putting drivers behind the wheel, I’d rather lease to them, so it can be their truck. That way if they want to tear it up, it’s their problem, not mine. Since they don’t pay for the truck and I’ll be taking care of it, it’s on me if something goes bad. But if they lease it and something happens, that’s on them. It puts more responsibility in their hands, so they are more inclined to work hard and succeed.
ST: What do you think are the most important things for an Owner Operator to consider when accepting the load?
Lakeith: To me, it’s about the weight, the miles, and the pay of the load you get from a reputable trucking company. I just try to watch what I get and pay attention to the miles.
ST: How do you handle breakdowns out on the road?
Lakeith: I don’t handle them too well ha ha! But unfortunately, it goes with the territory of being an Owner Operator. My best advice is before you leave home, check out your truck. Take a look and make sure everything is okay. You want to avoid having a breakdown as much as you can. It’s going to cost you much more money to break down on the road than being closer to home.
If I’m out on the road it’s going to cost me way more than it would if I were home. If I’m on the road the truck is going to be in the shop for two to three days, so I have to pay for a hotel, then I’ll have to pay for food, then I’ll have to pay to wash my clothes. It all adds up and meanwhile you’re trying to figure out how to make money in trucking. All that I can do at home for much cheaper and be home with my family, so I always do my best to get all the maintenance and repairs done before I get out on the road.
ST: Any situations while being in the trucking industry that have made you wiser or better as an Owner Operator?
Lakeith: Don’t just go out there for the money when starting a trucking career. Be wise enough to do this because you like to do this and because it’s what you want to do. In my perspective, I do this because it’s what I like to do; I like to drive. I also like to sightsee, I like to go into different states, the longer you stay in the industry the wiser you’ll get. Just don’t get a big head about it and try to keep your head level and you’ll be just fine.