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Computing your needs

A recent survey of OOIDA's owner-operator members indicates that more than 51 percent of these truckers own a computer, and almost 40 percent are keeping their business records on computer. A little more than nine percent say they're toting laptop computers in their trucks. A survey of employed drivers indicates that 38 percent own a personal computer, and 11 percent are toting laptops in their trucks.

Indications are these numbers are climbing. Rarely a day goes by without one (or more) owner-operators calling to ask Land Line staff for recommendations about software suitable for tracking their business records. Some have tried to customize accounting programs they picked up at the local computer emporium, with limited success. Others are just making the switch from paper to computer record keeping.

It's simply not possible to recommend one program that will work for all owner-operators. A program that satisfies the requirements of one owner-operator may not meet the needs of another. Some may want a fuel tax feature, while others who have employee drivers want a payroll and a log-checking function. Some want a simplified system, while others want all the bells and whistles.

 When choosing a software program to keep trucking business records it is important to first identify your needs. How many trucks do you own? Do you own your own trailer(s)? Are you leased to a carrier who takes care of fuel tax reporting, or do you figure your own fuel taxes or utilize a fuel tax service? Do you need a log-checking feature or are you comfortable with your knowledge of the regulations? Do you want a mileage routing feature? Do you simply want to track income and expenses? Do you need a database containing customers, contacts, and rate information? Do you employ drivers - making it necessary to track physicals, license renewals, and generate payroll? Make a list of all the functions you need a program to handle, as well as reports you'd like to generate (such as figuring costs and profit per mile, or by the load).

One important consideration when choosing a software package is whether you plan to expand your business by adding more equipment. Some programs will work for only one truck, or a limited number. If you're building a small fleet it may make more sense to go ahead and choose a more comprehensive program that will grow with your business, even though such programs are more expensive initially.

Here's a list of some of the better-known trucking software programs. Most have websites where you 'net surfers' can learn more about the features of the programs and even download demos. For those of you who aren't yet Internet savvy, we've provided phone numbers.