Comprehensive Guide: How to Start a Hotshot Trucking Business

Matt Matasci Matt Matasci · Updated August 21, 2023

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A startup hotshot trucking business carrying boxes on the back of their truck.

There are many reasons why professional drivers opt to start a hotshot trucking business. First of all, there’s a low barrier to entry because start-up costs are lower — it’s certainly easier to purchase a Class 3 to 5 truck than investing in a heavy duty Class 7 tractor trailer. It also eliminates the need to be hired by a trucking company, another barrier to starting your trucking career.

Another reason that transporters choose to start their own hotshot business is the flexibility. You’re the boss, so you dictate the per-mile rate, when you take on loads and how often you work. On the other hand, there are some downsides to taking on hotshot jobs, which we’ll discuss in depth below.

The question remains — how do you start a hotshot trucking business? What is required before you can start taking on jobs? What do you need to start your business? Where do you find loads? What kind of salary can you expect? We’ll answer all of those questions and more in this helpful explainer.

Background of Hotshot Trucking

If you’re considering starting your own hotshot trucking business, you’re most likely familiar with the industry. However, it’s always helpful to understand the background of the business. Hotshot trucking got a foothold in the trucking industry in the booming ‘70s Texas oil industry — there was a demand for truckers who could take on last-minute, time-sensitive deliveries of integral drilling components at a moments’ notice. This demanding job meant being available 24/7, ready to take on a load and make a non-stop delivery.

These sorts of expedited, specialized deliveries meant that hotshots could charge a pretty penny. Over time, the niche industry grew and now hotshot truckers take on loads that include everything from personal RVs, general hauling and other less-than-truckload (LTL) jobs. The industry has evolved significantly, and that’s a good thing for new or experienced drivers looking to establish their own business.

Pros and Cons of Hotshot Trucking

Like any job, being a hotshot trucker has a host of pros and cons. As we mentioned before, the low barrier to entry is certainly an attractive appeal for individuals just getting started in the transportation industry — though as you’ll learn below, the ease of entry is a double-edged sword that produces increased competition. Carefully weigh the pros and cons of hotshot trucking before investing significant resources into your self-employment.

Pros of Hotshot Trucking

Flexibility to Choose Loads

If you choose to start your own hotshot trucking business, you won’t be beholden to the demands of a larger business. You can work with any transportation company, meaning you won’t need to sign contracts or make any other sort of obligation or commitment to a single business. 

Because you’re not under contract with one specific company, you have more flexibility to choose when and for how long you are out on the road. Of course, the most successful hotshot transporters are on the road for long periods of time, but that is their own decision and not the choice of their boss or dispatcher. 

Potential for Higher Pay Per Mile Compared to Traditional Trucking

As a hotshot trucker, you’ll typically take on time-sensitive delivery jobs. While this can make the job more stressful, there’s a major benefit: you’ll have the potential to get paid more per-mile compared with traditional trucking jobs. 

  • With a higher per-mile rate, you won’t necessarily need to work the hectic hours that define typical hauling jobs.
  • There are lower maintenance requirements for hotshot truckers because you’re using your own vehicle, these means you’ll save money on those costs.
  • It’s much less expensive to buy a Class 3-5 truck than a large, Class 8 truck. Plus, the insurance is significantly less expensive.

Ability to Work Independently

Committing to a career in traditional trucking requires a major investment, both financially and in terms of your time and energy. Traditional truck drivers are known for their chaotic and demanding schedules. As an independent hotshot driver, you can work independently and dictate when, how often and for how long you are out on the road. Plus, as mentioned above, you usually don’t need to meet companies’ specific requirements for maintenance. Taking hotshot loads is a good way to get experience in the industry before committing to a career in trucking.

Cons of Hotshot Trucking

There are some downsides to working as a hotshot versus taking on a traditional trucking position. Consider these minor issues when you are setting up your hotshot business.

Limited Cargo Capacity Due to Smaller Trucks

As a hotshot driver with a Class 3-5 truck, you won’t be able to take on larger loads that require a traditional big rig. Additionally, it places limitations on how many loads you can stack.

Increased Competition within the Hotshot Industry

A lower barrier of entry and the opportunity to charge higher per-mile rates make the hotshot industry appealing — but the downside of that appeal is increased competition. Every year more and more drivers enter the industry. As a newcomer to the industry, you may need to charge a lower rate than the competition to win your first few jobs. Once you’ve established yourself in a crowded field of hotshot drivers, you can start to charge more. 

Maximizing Opportunities in the Hotshot Load Industry

Diversify Services by Offering Specialized Transportation Options

One way to maximize your opportunities is to offer a wide range of services. Don’t just specialize in transporting one type of load. Some unique offerings you can provide include:

  • Medicine and other healthcare-related goods
  • Food and other produce
  • Hazardous materials — you’ll need special training and permits, allowing you to charge more

Effective Data Management

Effective data management is another way to maximize your profit as a hotshot driver. The most successful hotshot drivers have strong decision-making in terms of routes and fuel efficiency, increasing their profitability. 

Time Management

Implement time management strategies that help you optimize productivity and minimize downtime in hot shot trucking operations. Unfortunately, deadheading — the trucking industry term for driving distances without a load — is common in hotshot trucking. The most successful hotshot drivers log very few empty miles on the road. Some tips for effective time management include:

  • Utilizing GPS tracking systems and route planning software enhances efficiency and reduces delivery times in hot shot trucking.
  • Analyzing data on customer demand patterns allows for better load scheduling and improved resource allocation.

Research Customer Reviews and Testimonials

One way to discover what appeals to shippers is to read other hotshot drivers’ customer reviews. Positive and negative reviews offer great learning opportunities for new hotshots — see what qualities earned drivers stellar five-star reviews as well as the mistakes that got them roasted. Then, you can incorporate the positive attributes into your business and arguably more importantly, understand what not to do as well.

How to Book Hotshot Loads for Non-CDL Hotshots

So you’re ready to start booking hotshot loads and don’t have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Where do you get started? There are five main places to find work as a non-CDL hotshot driver:

Freight Brokers — These are middlemen who do much of the legwork in connecting you with hotshot jobs. There are thousands of licensed freight brokers in the United States.

Hotshot Load Boards — While you’ll have to do more when booking through a hotshot load board, it’s also one of the easiest ways to find work. These boards have a variety of features — some boards are free while others charge. Load boards are also commonly referred to as freight boards.

Dispatch Services — Like freight brokers, dispatch services work as a middleman, connecting you with shippers. They handle much of the time-consuming aspects of booking loads — namely, finding the loads and negotiating with shippers.

Government Work — If you can register as a government contractor, you’ll find there is work all over the country. However, you’ll need to meet specifications that government agencies require.

Local Connections and Networking — One other way to find hotshot loads is to make local connections. This can be done through networking; attending industry events, building up a reputation and even cold-calling local businesses that have shipping needs. 

Benefits and Opportunities of Using a Hotshot Load Board

If you’re ready to take control of your career and get started with hotshot trucking, you need to plan ahead. Creating a successful business plan as a hotshot trucker means being realistic about how much you are willing to work, the per-mile rate at which you’ll charge, which type of materials you’re able to transport, and what kind of equipment you can invest in.

Establishing yourself in a competitive market like hotshot trucking can be difficult. That’s why you should work with a broker or dispatcher and use hotshot load boards. Diversifying the places you find work is the best way to ensure your truck stays full on the road and you maximize your profits. Nothing is worse for a hotshot trucker than spending hours on the road with no load — that’s literally burning your profits as you use gas and waste time. Some benefits of a hotshot load board include:

  • Increased business opportunities because the jobs are right at your fingertips.
  • Efficient load matching and reduced downtime because you can book trips while out on the road.
  • Maximize profitability because there are a variety of load types on these boards.
  • Load boards have greater transparency than brokers or dispatchers.
  • The load-finding process is simplified.

Hotshot Trucking: Wrapping It Up

There are many ways to start a hotshot trucking business. It’s a great way to dip your toes into the waters of the trucking industry without making a major commitment. Plus, you’ll be your own boss, deciding when and how often you are out on the road. There’s no right or wrong way to find success in this quickly-growing niche of the trucking industry.