One of the key definitions for fairness I use is “Fairness is helping everyone be successful.” The “F” in FAIR, stands for financial transparency. What does this mean to young farmers hoping to take over the management of the farm? It means everything!
Last night our family had an impromptu meal at the successor’s home. There was a very open discussion about where each company’s financial debt load was sitting, the accounts receivable, and the approach for the next quarter. This was done with respectful conversation, no tears and no yelling. Amazing? No. Just purposeful.
What is driving your farm’s fear of financial transparency?
- Fear of failure. What if the next generation loses the farm’s wealth? What if they do better financially than the founders? Talk about your fears and then address them one by one. I know one frustrated under-40 farmer who has been trying to get a signed agreement for transition for seven years. He now suspects the stalling is about the fear of the farm losing money, and more.
- Embarrassment or disappointment. Every farmer who is honest with me tells me what their goals are. If you thought you would be at X million dollars in net worth by the time you are 65 and it has not happened, then you are crushed, sad, and embarrassed that you did not reach your goal. Markets crash. Trade wars entangle. Livestock crises hit. There is a myriad of reasons why you did not reach the magic net worth number, but life still goes on. What are you doing to be a better financial manager of your current reality? Are you asking for professional help and keeping your creditors informed? Do you have the courage to face the broken promises you have made to yourself, your spouse and others?
- “Not being enough or having enough.” How much wealth is enough? Many folks I meet don’t have a clear answer to this question. They want to continue striving for more riches when their health is failing and their back is crying for relief from constant strain and stress. The fact that you need $70K or more to live well from the farm’s cash flow in the next 20 years can be planned for. It would help if your off-farm assets were in good shape, but I suspect you are banking on farm assets to be sold in order to finance your “golden years” after 65 or 75.
- Self-criticizing behaviour. Calling yourself an idiot or “stupid” is not going to create solutions to your financial stress. Open conversations with the next generation and your professional accountant, financial planner, coach, and bookkeeper are called for. Perhaps money would be well spent on therapy and counselling to rid yourself of bad attitudes and money scripts that are keeping you stuck.
- “This has to be done right.” Farmers hate to make mistakes with their decisions, and they don’t like to be gouged with handing over too much money. The overly analytical types will keep moving figures around incessantly, and the paralysis of analysis of what is workable will stop the entire transition process. If you want to read more about the root of procrastination, check out http://pierrettedesrosierspsycoaching.com/procrastination-do-you-tend-to-put-things-off/.
How to talk about money more openly in your farm family:
- Decide you are going to do it. When you ask questions with respect and from a perspective of creating solutions to a problem you have a chance to be heard. Cussing, yelling, and stomping your fists are not helpful. If you have given the founders a timeline for a meeting and they refuse to come to the table, then you might want to look for work elsewhere, and build a joint venture farm with a non-family member.
- Collect data and information to support your plan. Do you know what you need to live on for family living? Do you know what debt you can service and still sleep at night? Do you have a home that is workable for the next two decades?
- Ask for help. Many banks and credit unions have financial planners available to you for no charge or a small fee. If cash flow and debt repayment are huge issues you need to find a farm management agronomist-type person to help you. Visit the directory at www.cafanet.com.
- Monitor your progress. Have quarterly reviews of your financial statements, and make corrections in your plans. Block out time for business meetings, and make folks accountable for action with emailed minutes and action logs. Keep communication regularly with your creditors.
- Make decisions together and collaborate for great solutions. Do you share the same vision and goals? How big a farm are we strategizing toward? Every voice at the table counts, even those bringing in non-farm income (the family living credit line). Respect resistance to change that can come from the head, heart or gut. Folks may not understand the financial statements, so find a way to make them understood. Ask questions. If emotions run high, ask, “Why is it so hard?” because sharing emotions is a good conflict behaviour. If the gut says, “I don’t trust this will work,” take time to explain why you feel the way you do.
- Mark you readiness to change with the scale of 1 to 10. A 10 is being really ready to get a better grip on the money issues on your farm. When you are at 10 and Dad is at 2, you know you have a large gap of readiness to close with very specific actions, respect and clear communication.
- Celebrate the gains and reward yourself. Rewards of a great supper with grandchildren, counting blessings, and seeing the things on a farm that money cannot buy will keep you sharing, and growing.