Working with family is both rewarding and challenging, and there may be no industry that knows this so well as the agricultural industry. It’s one thing to go to an office job all day, cooperate (or not) with your coworkers, and come home leaving them and your work troubles behind. It’s another thing altogether to work with your family in a family-run business. Here are six tips for having a happy, successful and sane family-run farm business:
1. Give Them Space
You wouldn’t want to be micro-managed in any other job, so don’t micro-manage your family members in the barn. “I’ve been fortunate that my mother was very good from the start with me, recognizing what I was better at it than she was,” says Monica Hunt, who operated Cornerstone Farm in Haverhill, Mass., with her mother, Pam, for many years until Pam recently semiretired. “We’ve always had very good give and take.”
With multi-generational equine professionals, it’s difficult to relinquish control over a certain area of the business, but recognizing each others’ strengths will help the business and your relationship grow.
“The most challenging [aspect of working with family] is letting the girls make—what we consider—mistakes in order to give them their freedom of choice and independence. It is difficult to balance the judgment/success of experience with the innovative—and unproven—ideas of youthful enthusiasm,” admits Iris Snyder, who owns and operates IB Stables in Noblesville, Ind., with her husband, Bill, and their daughters, Rose and Audra.
2. Outline Everyone’s Duties
Along with an anti-micro-managing attitude, providing everyone with a clear understanding of who does what is a good way to reduce toes getting stepped on and feelings getting hurt.
“Each of us has our own duties, and we share many, as well,” says Snyder. “Each daughter has her own set of training horses. Bill does the customer billing and ordering of barn supplies, like sawdust, hay and oats. I organize, schedule, manage the breeding and coordinate with clients. I also supervise building projects and improvements. Rose and I teach riding lessons. We all promote and sell horses. Rose likes speed events and jumping, and Audra likes western and hunt seat pleasure, trail and western riding, so show horses get directed like that. We all start the young ones in basic training.”
3. Check In
Everyone dislikes unproductive meetings, but yours don’t have to be the awkward Power Point kind. “Communicate openly with each other. We have at least one family dinner together each week to talk about how the business is going and keep each person up to date with how horses or owners are doing and other business-related information. We also work together each day and interact on the progress of each horse or rider,” says Snyder.
4. Work As a Team
There is no room for competition among business partners, and in a competitive equine atmosphere, there is no room for family-member rivalry. “As a family, we know we support each other and are on the same team with the same goals in mind. We also have a common method and experience, which produces predictable results,” says Snyder. “We have increased our business three-fold since Rose and Audra have joined full time training horses. Working as a team, we can do so much more in the way of clinics, shows and just making contact with people, not to mention being able to work with more horses at the same time.”