Selecting and hiring an attorney, accountant, banker, financial advisor, insurance agent or other professional is an important decision, and it should be done with care and diligence. The right person will possess not only the knowledge, skills, and expertise necessary to effectively advise you, but they will also address your questions promptly and thoroughly, be able to communicate with you clearly, and take a sincere interest in you and your situation.
It is perfectly acceptable to interview several candidates before making your selection. You need not hire the first person with whom you meet.
Here are six essential questions you should consider researching, either by reading the firm’s website or asking them in person, before committing.
1. What degrees, certifications, and licensures do they possess?
Depending on the professional service being sought, you will be inundated with a host of acronyms and information. Board Certified, Series 7 License, ChFP, CFP, etc. Nationwide Agribusiness even has their own farm certification program to distinguish high performing farm insurance agents from the rest of the industry. In each situation, you will want to research their credentials to ensure relevance to your service need.
2. Years of experience in that particular field?
Seems like a no brainer, but the more experience the better chance they’ll be able to use it for your advantage. Plus, there is reason to believe that a professional with more tenure has a track record of success. But beware, the farm and food industry is rapidly changing and it may be beneficial to secure professional services with those that are experienced in your specific sector.
3. Have they handled similar matters before?
While it’s true farms and affiliated ag operations are businesses, they tend to have a unique set of challenges. Among others, market volatility and weather can have outsized impact on your financial bottom line and many industries don’t have similar risks. In addition, each operation will have a unique set of variables – what’s your business entity, how many families work on the operation, what do you grow, who do you market to, organic certified, greenhouse, livestock, etc? Each of these creates a different set of risks and challenges that need considered when securing professional services. Finding someone with experience servicing needs similar to yours may be worth traveling outside of your community. You wouldn’t go to your general practitioner to get a heart stent. So why would you go to an insurance agent that doesn’t work in farm insurance to protect your diverse operation?
4. Are they familiar with recent developments in that area of expertise?
The agricultural industry is progressing at a rapid pace. The level of sophistication in equipment, management best practices and biotech is incredible, and the need for quality advisors to best protect your interests is critical in a rapidly changing environment. From GPS units to drones, seed technology to organic certification, your operation demands professional service expertise current in today’s diverse and ever changing industry.
5. How do they charge for their services?
Is it a flat fee or by the hour? Do they get paid on commission? What will my total expense be in order to get the results I need? Each professional service type will have its own norms but getting these questions answered early can position your operation and family to plan accordingly.
6. Can they provide names of other clients to call for a reference check?
Often best to get a referral from someone with a similar operation, this simple and easy question can make a world of difference. The internet can be a good resource too, but authentic and verified word-of-mouth reference is still the gold standard in the industry.
As you look to secure professional services, remember, this is your business and these are business decisions. You carefully consider the type of seed, fertilizer and equipment you purchase. You make your choice not because the seller is in town, but because you’ve done your research and believe these products will give you the best results. Professional services should be treated in similar fashion. The more due diligence put in selecting your attorney, financial advisor, banker, accountant and insurance agent, the better results you are likely to achieve and the more satisfied you will be.
This article is part of the Ohio Farm Bureau Financial Essentials program, designed in collaboration with industry leaders to prepare members for their best financial future – for their farm, their business and their family.