Top 10 mistakes that break up a family business

The Advancing Women in Agriculture – East Conference (AWCeast) held in Niagara Falls, Ont., offered several pre-conference workshops for farm women. One of them was called “the top 10 mistakes that break up a family business." Speaker Jolene Brown from east central Iowa got into the nitty gritty of the daily aggravations and farm business catastrophes and how to avoid them.


For starters, Jolene refers to herself as a “Real Farmer Brown” because not only is she an author and motivational speaker, she’s also a farmer, growing corn and soybeans. Thanks to these experiences, she’s relatable to farm audiences, including those who were in attendance at AWCeast.


“There’s nothing better or worse than working with genetics,” said Brown.


She addresses the top 10 mistakes that break up a family business:


  1. Assuming all genetic relationships equal good working relationships


She says that farm families must make a choice. Do you want to operate as a family-first business or a business-first family?

There are conditions that we must meet and it is also not a place to rehabilitate a family member. "If there is someone in the family that is angry, addicted, arrogant or lazy – for havens sake don’t hire them, no one else will," she said. 

2. Believing the farm can financially support any and all family members who want to farm

Questions to ask:

- Has the senior generation secured their financial future? 

- What is your estimated cost of living for each family unit? (residence, health care, insurance, lifestyle, etc.) 
Does the cash flow match the estimate?

- Are the financial resources and performance level of the business strong? Do you monitor important financial ratios?

3. Assuming others will / should / must change and not me

We forget that compromising independence was a choice.

“If the achievement of your goal depends upon the assets or power which someone else has and they do not have your same goal, they do not have the problem.”

4. Presuming a conversation is a contract


"A conversation is not a contract. If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist," she said. 


People lie. Three biggest lies:

1) Work hard, someday all this will be yours

2) I’m going to retire

3) Don’t worry about your brothers and sisters, they have their jobs they’re not interested in the business


5. Believing mind reading is an acceptable form of communication

6. Failing to build communication skills and farm/family meeting tools when the times are good so they’ll be in place to use when the times get tough


- Use daily interactions for information, coordination and appreciation.

- Use meetings for inclusion, synergistic decision making and legal requirements and important issues.

- Share relevant information with the business team, key advisors, family members not in the business.

7. Ignoring the in-laws, off farm family, and employees

Questions to ask:

- What is the role of the spouse (in-law) in the business? 

- What are the spouse’s (in-laws) expectations of the business? 

- Does off site family play a role in decision making, current or future ownership? 

8. Forgetting to use common courtesy

We often treat strangers on the street with more courtesy than family members. 

9. Having no legal and discussed estate, management transfer plan, or buy/sell agreement

10. Failing to celebrate 


Find out more about her and her books at



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Publish date: 
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

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