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The life of an over-the-road truck driver is certainly an exciting and rewarding one. It is also a life that is often glamorized by Hollywood or dreamt of by school-aged children. But, no matter how exciting the life may seem there comes a time when reality sets in. Why are you really driving a truck? Sure, it might be partially because of the excitement, the freedom, or the opportunity to see new things and meet new people; but it's not unlike many other professions. People do it for the money.

The living a truck driver earns is honest and can be quite good, but there are always ways to maximize income. There is little doubt that life on the road can be exciting, but it should also be profitable.

So, what are some ways in which you can maximize your net income? Here are five things to get you managing your career effectively, efficiently, and profitably.

COMMUNICATION

Let's be honest, a truck driver needs to have good communication skills in order to be successful. Not only must you communicate with customers but you need to be able to communicate effectively with your carrier as well. Actually, when it comes to communication the better you are at communicating with your dispatcher the better off you are.

Remember, it is the dispatcher that really holds your future in his hands. Why not work to cultivate that relationship to a point where you can truly communicate with him or her? Do you need time off? Let the dispatcher know well in advance. Are you having difficulties with a load? Let your dispatcher know so he can help. Is there a certain area of the country where you don't want to travel? Well, again, you might want to let your dispatcher know, but you also might want to think of other ways to handle this (see "Knowledge" below).

I have seen good communication between drivers and dispatchers, and I have seen poor communication between drivers and dispatchers. Yes, communication is a two-way street, but it is your bottom line that is dependent upon this important individual, so take the high ground and communicate, communicate, communicate??"and do so with a smile!

TIMING

One of the more difficult aspects of life on the road is that you aren't home as much as you would like. This is especially true during the holiday season. Who doesn't want to be home with family and friends during the holidays? Well, one thing to consider is that a lot of drivers want to be home during this time, and this also happens to be time when there is significant freight moving. The freight slows down some in January, so your miles may actually taper off some then too. Just imagine though: there is as much freight and miles as you can handle available in the fall. It just might be more economical to not take a lot of time off during the holiday season. Something to consider.

KNOWLEDGE

Knowledge of how the trucking industry works, specifically with regard to the flow of freight, is essential. There isn't anything much more frustrating than being dispatched on a load that is only 200 to 300 miles. How can that be? Certainly the dispatcher can get you something better? Maybe not! There are simply some parts of the country where it is difficult to secure long lengths of haul. It may be necessary to take a shorter length to get to the longer run. Dispatchers generally are quite good at planning loads, and there are generally solid reasons why shorter lengths are given. It's all part of a bigger plan (again, communication is key).

What if you don't like to haul a specific commodity, such as produce? Well, if you end up taking a load into California or Florida, it is highly likely you will need to haul produce out. Just understand where you are, what types of commodities are likely available, and what the realistic options are. It does not pay to refuse a load or to complain about a load. Chances are you will just end up with extra idle time.

BUDGET

Yes, those cash advances are very nice on the road, but have you ever wondered why the paycheck you just received was lower than anticipated? Budgeting is perhaps the easiest way to increase your income, yet it is often overlooked or not done at all. Every driver knows their pay per mile, and they also know the average number of miles they will run in a week (be realistic, don't over inflate this). Drivers also know what their expenses are at home as well as on the road. The real key is to be realistic and to only use cash advances for items such as meals, laundry, and other necessities.

It happens all too often that a driver will take out cash advances for nonessential items on a regular basis, and then end up complaining about their paycheck. Or worse yet, the spouse at home will complain about the check. Just watch those cash advances. They are nice, but they can sure be evil too.

STABILITY

Does it really pay to change jobs? If you really examine the trucking industry closely (pay, miles, freight, etc.) what you will find is that most carriers offer basically the same things. They are all fairly competitive in pay, miles, and freight. If one offers slightly less pay, it might be that they have higher than average weekly miles run than another. Or, if one offers slightly more pay, it might be that they don't run as many miles.

Too many drivers spend their time frustrated and shopping for new jobs instead of cultivating the one they have. Remember, every time you change jobs you end up sitting idle for at least one week as you go through a new orientation, take drug tests and physicals, travel from one carrier to another, and so forth. Then, at the new job, you are at the bottom of the totem pole. You now have to gain the trust of a new dispatcher and develop that relationship. The simple fact is that drivers lose money when they job hop.

That does not mean you should never change jobs. Rather, it suggests your job change should be a calculated and well thought out decision, and not one that is done multiple times each year.