Per Diem Plus Changes the Trip for Truckers

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Converting from paper to electronic record keeping has challenged every industry. Each has faced its own challenges, and the trucking industry is no exception.

Per Diem Plus, a smart phone application created by CPA Donna Sullivan and retired EA Mark Sullivan, is designed to make the transition to electronic record keeping for truckers easier and more appealing. The company is one of five women-led startups participating in the Spring 2017 cohort of the Prosper Women Entrepreneurs startup accelerator.  In the words of Donna Sullivan, the startup is “transforming the paper-intensive, inefficient process of tax compliance in the trucking industry” by releasing its mobile app for truckers.

Per Diem Plus works on Android and iOS platforms and provides automated trucker per diem tracking, receipt scanning, expense recording and the ability to submit reports in seconds. IRS rules for trucker per diems are built into the app.

Per Diem Plus
The Per Diem Plus app is available for iOS and Android.

A Big Impact

A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration change) scheduled to take effect in December of 2017 mandates that transportation industry workers subject to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) hours of service (HOS) rules use an electronic logging device (ELD) rather than a paper log book to track their daily duty hours.  Although 30% of the industry has ELDs in place, this ultimatum has shaken the trucking industry especially for independent owner operators and small fleets.

“The IRS requires substantiation for trucker per diem from the trucker’s log book which has historically been on paper,” says Donna Sullivan. “It’s been very easy for truckers to maintain. The IRS has tested our product, they’ve looked at our app and they are accepting the product as substantiation of necessary for an audit which gives the driver an alternative.”

Per Diem Plus has benefited tremendously from participating in the three-month PWE Startup Accelerator. Both Donna and Mark Sullivan are tax experts and have decades of experience between them at the IRS, in private practice and transportation consultation experience. Donna Sullivan applied to PWE to jump-start the business. “We’ve pretty much seen it all when it comes to taxpayer records and record keeping,” she says.

“Truckers are a very hard nut to crack sometimes when you throw new things at them. They’ve been very slow to adapt to technology, so the surges toward telematics and mobile device usage are newer to them than to the rest of us. We just wanted some help to propel our business forward.”

In particular, Donna Sullivan says that working with the mentors and the training included in the accelerator program resulted in them pursuing a completely different approach to marketing. “There are two important things PWE helped us decide that will impact our business: they helped us totally revamp our deck for pitching to investors and they changed our approach to marketing. We were going after the individual trucker instead of what we’re doing now which is going after channel partners. We’ve totally changed our thinking and business strategy.”

Donna Sullivan
Donna Sullivan, CPA and Founder, at the Per Diem Plus booth at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY.

Previously, Sullivan explains, Per Diem Plus invested advertising dollars in print advertising. “Now, we’ve shifted all our advertising and promotion to Facebook, with the exception of partner retailer Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association and Landline Magazine.” They also gave a seminar on March 24 on the main stage of the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY entitled, “IRS, Per Diem and Tax Expenses.”

Donna and Mark Sullivan of Per Diem Plus
Donna and Mark Sullivan at the Per Diem Plus booth at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY.

The shift in strategy has also resulted in different kinds of conversations with potential partners. “We’re in talks right now with a national trucker marketplace to get our app preloaded onto a tablet that they sell. We’ve also had initial conversations with a national tax preparation firm, and another national software company, so we’re continuing to look at the big picture more.”

Donna Sullivan doesn’t see Per Diem Plus as necessarily limited to the Trucking Industry. She said, “I hope that Per Diem Plus becomes a household name in the trucking industry, and perhaps even for the general employee, with some modifications. We do have people using the app that are not truckers. We have a woman who shows dogs, as well as a traveling musician. They use the features to scan and save expense receipts in the app. So, there is a larger market out there. ”

Regarding the PWE Startup Accelerator, Sullivan advises that other women-led companies go for it. “If you have the opportunity and you are offered the spot, take it. It truly is an invaluable experience.”

Prosper Women Entrepreneurs Startup Accelerator is accepting applications for its Fall 2017 cohort, which will run from August through November. Applications will close on May 19. Click here for more information and to apply.

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Tanya Yatzeck is a freelance writer for EQ STL, the Sam Fox School of Art at Washington University and a variety of entrepreneurial blogs, websites and publications. In 2014 she founded the Olin Business School EMBA Blog where she profiles EMBA students and fellow Alumni. She is also a Program Manager in IT at Enterprise Holdings.