If you’re an over-the-road driver looking to spice up your career and grow your earning potential, consider making the switch to expedited trucking.

Whether a manufacturer needs a quick shipment of components to get production rolling, or a healthcare facility orders lifesaving medical devices to treat critically ill patients, or any scenario where goods must arrive “just in time,” expedited drivers are essential to making that happen.

And that puts a premium on your services, creating a lucrative business opportunity for you.

But when you compare expediting to general freight, what are the advantages? What are the challenges? How do you make the transition from over-the-road driver to expediter as smooth as possible?

Let’s begin with the advantages. What do over-the-road drivers seek to gain from expediting?

1. Smaller Trucks

Expedited trucking offers flexibility in the type and size vehicles you operate, depending on your goals and budget. While some expediters drive tractor-trailers, most operate smaller vehicles, from Class 8 straight trucks to one-ton cargo vans.

“What often happens is that, as over-the-road drivers get older, they decide that maneuvering a 53-ft. tractor-trailer can be a hassle, compared to a smaller expediter straight truck, which is much easier to maneuver,” says John Elliott, chief executive officer for Load One LLC (www.load1.com), an expedited trucking carrier headquartered in Taylor, Mich. “And since there’s a shortage of adequate parking for trucks, a straight truck has a lot more options for parking compared to semis.”

2. More Variety

There’s also a wide variety of jobs available as an expediter to keep things fresh and interesting. It might be delivering one box that’s absolutely critical to a customer, or it could be several truckloads for a major manufacturer. It’s all precious cargo, and the financial rewards can be lucrative for the hard-working expediter.

“In expediting, you’re dealing with all kinds of different freight, where you travel to all different types of places. It’s just a more interesting profession. Some people like that variety and the challenges that go with it,” says Elliott.

3. Conducive for Husband-Wife Teams

For some couples, a career in expedited trucking means the opportunity to work and travel together – and create a new revenue stream for their family.

“When it comes to husband-and-wife teams, it usually works better when driving a Class B straight truck compared to a tractor-trailer,” says Elliott. “You tend to get larger sleepers with the expediter straight trucks, with more amenities, making them more appealing to a husband-and-wife team than a standard tractor would.”

The expedite life also offers opportunities to see the country, while earning money in the process.

“Say you get a load that takes you to San Diego, Calif., and you’re thinking, ‘Hey, we’ve never seen San Diego. When we get there, we want to take two to three days off,” says Elliott.

You can pull an expediter straight truck onto the campgrounds and park it like an RV, with shore power to plug-in and operate the truck’s sleeper amenities. “We’ve seen older married couples who think, ‘Wait a minute! We’ve always wanted to get an RV and travel the country. Now, we can buy a truck and do the same thing — and make some money along the way,” Elliott says.

Expediter as “Firefighter”

But even with these advantages, expedited trucking is not for everyone. Extended wait times between loads can be especially difficult for over-the-road drivers who are used to steady freight.

“One of the challenges for younger drivers when they switch over from over-the-road to expediting is dealing with the concept of waiting,” says Elliott. “They’re not used to that. Semi trucks tend to stay loaded and continuously moving, more so than expedite trucks. In expedite, it often can be a hurry-up-and-wait scenario.”

Elliott likens the expedite lifestyle to being a firefighter. “You’re on-call, waiting like firefighters at the firestation. One day, there might be nothing; the next day, it could be extremely busy,” says Elliott. “But when you’re working, what you’re doing is more important, more time-critical than loads you carry in general trucking. Yet, you do have more down time.”

One of the reasons former over-the-road drivers get anxious with wait time is that they assume it means lost revenue. But Elliott says that higher pay rates for expedited freight helps mitigate that concern.

“Over-the-road drivers who switch to expedite have to get adjusted to the concept of money versus miles,” says Elliott. “They don’t need to run the same number of miles every week to make the same kind of money.”

The pay is higher because expediting is a premium service. “It’s a more time-critical business than general trucking, which is more of a commodity business, where there are far more competitors. Lower supply and higher demand puts a premium on expedite,” Elliott explains.

So, is Expedited Trucking Right for You?

The answer lies in how well you deal with change and uncertainty.

“You have to understand that this is a hurry-up-and-wait type of business. You will sit. So, you have to be the kind of person who is good with change — constant change. If you’re a person who needs a certain routine, a set schedule, this is not a good business for you,” says Elliott.

Making a Smooth Transition

So, you’ve decided that expedited trucking is for you and ready to make the switch. How do you ensure a smooth transition?

“You have to be prepared for at least a six month commitment to really get acclimated to the industry and the business,” Elliott advises. “You can’t just try expediting for a week or month or couple months. You have to give it some time to get yourself adjusted to it, to the nuances of the business and the lifestyle.”

Why the Six-Month Period?

“That should give you enough time to get through the seasonality,” Elliott explains. “Expediting is a little bit of a cyclical business. Six months will give you enough time to make an educated, fair assessment whether this is the right business for you.”

How Should You Prepare Financially?

“You want to make sure you go into the expedite business with some financial reserves,” says Elliott. “The harvest times are great, but there are also quiet times. So, you want to go into it with a solid financial base, with a maintenance reserve for your truck. You never know when you’ll have a $5,000 to $10,000 repair. It happens — and you want to be prepared to ensure your long-term success.”

If you need time to strengthen your finances, consider “test driving” expediting by driving for a fleet owner before becoming an owner-operator.

“Driving for someone else will help you get acclimated to the expedite business, with minimal financial risk,” says Elliott. “You’ll get a good feeling as to whether this is the right business for you, where you can analyze the numbers and put together a solid business plan moving forward.”