How to Start a Hotshot Trucking Business in 7 Simple Steps

If you are interested in starting a hotshot trucking business but don't know where to begin, you are in the right place.

In this beginner's guide, I will cover 7 essential steps to starting a hotshot business. Here's a preview of each step that we'll cover (of course, if you want to jump ahead to any of the individual steps, just click on the appropriate hyperlink below).

Before we dive into the steps, I will cover some introductory questions you may have about the hotshot trucking business, including what a hotshot trucking business is, how much hotshot truck owners make, and how much it costs to get started.

If you want to skip the introductory stuff and jump ahead to the 7 steps, click here.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link and complete a transaction, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not a recommendation to buy or invest, and it is not financial, investment, legal, or tax advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any investment or other decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

What is a Hotshot Trucking Business?

A hotshot trucking business is a business where you haul smaller loads (less-than-truckload or LTL) that are often critical and time-sensitive. For example, when construction companies need something urgently (i.e., a piece of equipment broke down, etc.), a hot shot trucker gets the job done quickly and on short notice.

These types of loads can provide some nice opportunistic extra income for the truck owner-operator or trucking business owner. Hotshot truckers deliver a wide range of cargo, including refrigerated items, manufacturing cargo, agricultural and construction equipment and materials, and much more.

Hotshot drivers typically operate heavy duty pick-up trucks with trailers, but can also drive larger vehicles. That being said, Class 8 semis are rare for hotshot loads and these vehicles are usually reserved for larger long distance loads.

How Much Money Can You Make with a Hotshot Business?

Generally speaking, a well-run hotshot business can generate from $60,000 to $280,000 per year in gross revenue.

That is a wide range.

According to oversize.io, the range is between $60,000-$120,000. According to ltlrig.com, the average is around $4,500 to $5,500 per week, which translates to $234,000 to $286,000 per year.

Of course, that's gross, so you probably want to cut that in half to get a sense of “take home” income. That's because common expenses like fuel, maintenance, insurance, licenses and fees, tolls, etc. can eat up around 50% of gross revenue.

What Are the Start Up Costs for a Hotshot Trucking Business?

One of the big advantages of a hotshot business is its relative affordability (at least compared to things like long haul trucking, which require you to own or lease semis that are much more expensive).

All you really need to get started is a heavy duty pickup truck and a decent-sized trailer. That being said, there are other costs associated with starting this business, such as registration expenses, insurance and equipment. We'll cover all of this below.

Pickup Truck Costs

In general you will need at least the equivalent of a Ford F250. If you want more versatility in the types of loads you can accept, you may want to look into the equivalent of a Ford 450 or 550.

As of the time of this writing, a brand new F-250 starts at around $36,000. You can get new F-450 for about $52,000.

Of course, most people won't be paying the full amount in cash. Financing and leasing options are also available, which can dramatically reduce your initial starting costs. Use this calculator to figure out approximate costs.

In you are willing to buy a used truck, you can pick them up at steep discounts. On Car Gurus, I found both F-250s and 450s starting well under $5,000. Of course, these are typically old, high mileage vehicles, so you should proceed with caution and make sure the cars are well-maintained and in good operating condition.

The pickup is going to be central to the operation of your business – you don't want it breaking down all of the time.

Trailer Costs

Similarly, the type of trailer you should get for your hotshot business will depend on the types of loads you will be delivering, but gooseneck trailers are a popular option due to their cost and versatility. Other options include bumper pull trailers if your budget is more limited (they are smaller and less expensive).

If you want to specialize in heavier loads, you can consider lowboy trailers and tilt deck trailers. For automotive transport, you can look into 3 car haulers (either flat or dove tail) as an initial option.

You can get a new goose-neck 40-ft flatbed trailer (the longest and most versatile gooseneck trailer) for around $20,000. Financing options are also available, which can significantly reduce your start up costs.

Used trailers are also readily available. For example, you can explore a pretty wide selection of used gooseneck trailers at trailer trader. I have seen examples for well under $10,000. They also carry many other types of trailers, so you can check them out if you want to specialize in automotive loads or other specialized loads.

Equipment Needed For Hotshot Trucking

You will need chains, binder, tie-downs, bungees, straps, and other miscellaneous items to secure your freight to your trailer. Approximate cost for these items is around $1,000.

Registration Fees and Insurance

As we will get into later on, there are some significant legal and other requirements to starting a hotshot business. You will need to pay fees for certain registrations and secure appropriate insurance for your business. These are not insignificant. Check out the below estimates for these types of costs.

  • Registration (FMCSA, BOC-3, Unified Carrier Registration, Home State DOT, ELD, Others): Est. $1,000
  • Insurance: $3,500 – $4,000 downpayment with monthly payment of about $1,000

Source

Closing Thoughts:

Ok, now that we've covered the introductory stuff, let's dive into the details on how you can start your hotshot trucking business.

Step 1: Establish Your Business

Set Up Your Business Entity

You may want to set up a business entity like an LLC, corporation, or partnership for your hotshot trucking business. Why do this? In most cases, setting up a business entity can help shield some of your assets held outside the business entity if there is a claim against the business.

If you want to make the investment of setting up a corporation, LLC, or some other business entity, you can hire a lawyer to help you, or you can use many of the online resources that can help you set up your business entity.  For a handy table comparing the different types of business entities, check out my ultimate guide to starting a business.

I like using an online service called Incorporate because they can get you up and running quickly and easily.  They also have some great resources to educate on what type of entity to choose and which may be the right state to choose for your new entity.  

Step 2: Fulfill General Trucking Qualifications

Before you go too deeply into exploring a hotshot trucking business, you need to ensure that you will be able to meet all of the physical, legal and other requirements for the business. Here are the basic requirements:

DOT Medical Card

In general, you will need to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical and receive a medical card. This signifies that you are physically capable of handling the work required for this type of activity.

Commercial Drivers License (CDL)

Not all hotshot loads require a CDL, but if you don't have one already, you will need one if you plan on operating vehicles that meet or exceed certain weight thresholds. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), you will need a CDL under the following conditions:

You operate in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce and drive a vehicle that meets one or more of the classifications of a CMV described below:

Class A: Any combination of vehicles which has a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 26,001 pounds or more, inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds.

Class B: Any single vehicle which has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, or any such vehicle towing a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight that does not exceed 10,000 pounds.

Class C: Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B, but is transporting material that has been designated as hazardous under federal law.

If you want more info on CDL requirements, check out the FMCSA page on the topic.

Get Your Trucking Authority (USDOT Number and Motor Carrier (MC) Number)

If you don't have your own trucking authority already and are interested in getting one for your hotshot business, there are some significant requirements you need to fulfill.

According to the FMCSA, if you are plan on engaging in interstate commerce (delivering across state lines) and your vehicle meets certain weight requirements then you will need a USDOT Number. Many states also require you to have a USDOT number even if you are only engaging in intrastate commerce in that state.

In addition to getting your USDOT, you will need a MC number. Again, this only applies if you plan on engaging in interstate commerce, you don't own the freight you are transporting, and you will be receiving a fee for providing such transport. For more details on MC numbers, check out the FMCSA website on the topic.

Getting your own authority is a fairly extensive process so you should be prepared for that. Again, you won't need it if you stick to loads that don't meet these requirements. Of course, you could also choose to “lease on” your truck to another company that has their authority already and avoid these requirements, but you won't make as much.

Motor Vehicle Record

Although not critical, it is a good idea to pull a motor vehicle record so you know your driving record. Insurance companies will want to know. The good news is that it doesn't cost much to get and obtaining one should be a pretty straightforward process.

Step 3: Create a Hotshot Trucking Business Plan

During the course of getting your preliminary requirements in order, you should be developing a business plan. A business plan is essentially a roadmap for your hotshot business.  

It organizes your thoughts relating to your business into an actionable plan. Some things to include in your box truck business plan are figuring out expected income (including how you will set prices), calculating expected costs, identifying how you will get loads, operational plans (will you hire drivers, etc.), and growth projections.

Don’t stress too much about getting your business plan perfect. I would use it more as an organizational tool at this point. You can polish it up later if you need to. 

Another benefit of having a business plan is that it can help you raise money from banks and investors (if your business has high starting costs, you may need to get some financing right away).  This is when you will need to refine your business plan – these folks will want to see a professional-looking business plan as part of their lending or investing process.   

Don’t know how to get started? The Small Business Administration has a great tool to help you write your business plan.

Step 4: Open Up a Business Checking Account and Credit Card

You should open a dedicated checking account in the name of your hotshot trucking business (assuming this is going to be a standalone business and not part of your existing trucking business).

Make sure to run all business revenue and expenses (and only business revenue and expenses) through that account. This is especially important if you have a formal legal entity like a corporation or LLC because you do not want to mingle personal assets and expenses with business assets and expenses.

Why? Keeping this separate will help with liability protection and having a separate account keeps things tidy from a recordkeeping and accounting perspective.

Now, let's turn to business credit cards. Credit cards can be really helpful to a new hotshot truck business, especially if an expensive repair pops up!

First, they are often easier to qualify for than a line of credit, especially when you are a brand new business. Even if you don't need to use it right away, it's nice to have the funds available in a pinch. Second, it's a great way to build your business credit rating, which will come in handy if you need to apply for a loan in the future to expand your business, etc.

Finally, you get to enjoy the benefits of points, cash back or other rewards that may come with owning your business credit card. However, just like your business checking account, avoid intermingling business expenses with personal expenses on your credit card.

Step 5: Obtain Funding and Buy Your Truck, Trailer and Equipment

As we covered already, starting a hotshot trucking business can be costly, especially if you plan on buying a new pickup truck and trailer.

Fortunately, there are a lot of financing options available for both the truck and trailer. And of course, you can choose to reduce your costs by buying used.

That being said, you will still need some money to get started.

Want some ideas on how to get that seed money? Check out these options:

  • Personal savings. You will often need some skin in the game before lenders will work with you, so having some personal savings is important.
  • Credit Cards. Due to high interest rates, credit cards are probably not an ideal choice, but if you can snag a 0% teaser rate on a credit card, you can put some of the start-up costs onto that card at a ultra low interest rate (at least until the teaser rate period expires). Try to get one that lasts at least a year so you have some time to get your business off the ground.
  • Friends and family. Although these people may be willing to lending you money, you have to weigh that against the risk of souring your relationship with them if things go sideways.
  • Banks. Banks are a traditional source of funding for new businesses, but they will often conduct extensive due diligence and underwriting before lending to a brand new enterprise.
  • Online Funding. This includes includes getting a loan using peer-to-peer lending, funding through kickstarter campaigns, using online lenders, etc.

Once you have secured funding (and satisfied your licensing, registration, and other trucking requirements), you should go ahead and get all of the necessary equipment for your business, including the truck, trailer and miscellaneous equipment.

We covered costs earlier, so you can use that information as a starting point to figure out how much total funding you will need.

Step 6: Hire Drivers (If Needed)

Not every hotshot business will need employees in the beginning. If you are going to be an owner-operator, then you can run your own loads without any other drivers. But if you are not going to be driving or want to position your business for growth as soon as possible, you will want to hire qualified drivers.

If you are already a driver in the industry, you should know people already who can fit the bill, but if not, no worries. Here are some tips to recruit drivers:

  1. Have a very clear idea of what the job requires and write a comprehensive job description. If you have clean driving requirements, or other requirements, clearly list them.
  2. Cast a wide net to get candidates – post the job online and through local venues, ask around for referral candidates, etc.
  3. Interview promising candidates and select them based on their qualifications (you need to make sure you do not discriminate on a prohibited basis, like race, color, religion, sex, etc. during both the interview and hiring process).
  4. Make sure you have the right infrastructure in place to manage payroll. There are tons of payroll administration providers who can take care of the legal and other requirements to make sure you handle the withholding and payment process without issues.

Step 7: How to Get Contracts (Loads) For Your Hotshot Trucking Business

One of the things you absolutely need to get right is getting consistent and profitable contracts (or loads) for your hotshot business.

Here are some practical strategies you can use to get them.

Load Boards

One of the most common methods for getting loads is signing up for load boards. These are generally online boards that list loads for delivery that you can access. Many (but not all) charge a fee to use them.

The leading load board out there is DAT.

They have the most loads on their network, with over 900,000 loads posted daily. Because of their size and scope, they also have leading edge tech and info, including unlimited searching, instant alarm match notifications, broker credit scores and days to pay, market rates, mileage routing and much more.

I have an affiliate relationship with them and secured a deal where if you use my link, you can get a free 30 day trial with full access to their network and features. So, you get to try out the leading load board for a full month for free. I would note that this deal is only for new subscribers.

If you are interested, just click below to take advantage of this no-risk offer.

Other general loads boards include Truckstop.com., and Trucker Path. There are also load boards that specialize in hotshot deliveries, such as uship, and hotshotcarrier.

Develop Contacts with Companies

Load boards are probably the best way to get a consistent and steady stream of hotshot loads, but you can also pound the pavement and start talking with local companies who may need hotshot deliveries from time to time. Construction companies, manufacturing businesses, and businesses in the medical industry can all be good candidates.

If you prove yourself reliable, they will continue to use you and may recommend you to others. In most cases, the volume won't compete with what you can find on load boards, but every extra bit can help you make more money.

Conclusion

So there you have it – 7 steps to starting a successful hotshot trucking business.

If you want to learn about more ways to make money with a pickup truck, check out my article showing 9 different strategies you can use to make money with your pickup.

If you want to learn more about transportation businesses in general and are looking for inspiration, take a look at my ultimate guide to transportation business ideas here. I discuss over 30 business ideas that you can start in the transportation industry (with helpful info and tips on how to begin).

We cover businesses you can start with semi-trucks, box trucks, dump trucks, cargo and passenger vans, pick-up trucks and even regular old cars. So whatever your budget and experience, there will be ideas that can work for you.

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