We are still relatively new to forestry and land management because we have only been actively involved as an agricultural family business for less than 25 years. One of the first things we learned was the importance of records and having a written plan to help guide us in our quest to become a successful family business. Below are some things we learned about records over the years. We now use these concepts on a routine basis, and they have become almost second nature to us.
1) If it is not written down, it did not happen, and you will not be accountable for it. Even 25 years ago we could not remember everything, and as we get older the memory gets even shorter. Also, some of our long term goals are not things we consider every day so a written record reminds us occasionally to reconsider those goals. Having a written record is not only important for remembering goals, but for remembering what went on in business meetings, is contained in contracts, needs to be done by a specific time, was discussed with others, etc.
2) Our main written record is a journal as described below to help us remember, and more importantly to help our heirs find critical information. Our journals and records are maintained electronically with a printed version in a three ring binder. A simple search function in a word processor for a specific word or phrase means specific entries can be found easily. An organized system like this should be beneficial to our family for years to come and keep down confusion. While how to maintain records is not technically part of our Landowner Legacy Communication© program, it is part of our legacy to our family and should be to yours.
3) Write down or record information as soon as possible before it is forgotten. Pictures are a great way to help remember specifics about some activity, and captions on the pictures increase their usefulness. We have figured out an easy way to add captions to photos which are then stored electronically and printed as needed. When notes are taken in the field, be sure to consider how to protect them from any elements and have a specific location where they will be stored until recorded appropriately. Cell phones, GPS units, and cameras with audio recording capabilities are a great way to record information after taking a picture or recording a location without having to write much down.
4) Digital document scanners are not very expensive so you might consider using one to scan hard copy documents you receive so they can be stored electronically. Also a scanned page full of receipts can be stored electronically and printed as needed.
5) Maintain your records in a logical and organized manner. A shoe box full of receipts and notes will likely lead to aggravation and confusion later. Please do not do this to your heirs. I know how they will feel if you do! Our land / timber journals are divided into four broad sections, and each section will be discussed in detail in my next post.
6) It may be good to include some type of “tickler” mechanism in your records or calendars to remind you when follow up is required or certain things should be accomplished.
7) On a routine basis, review all your records to be sure the information is current. While names and addresses do not change as often, cell phone numbers, webpage URL’s, and email addresses can change all the time.
8) Maintain copies of electronic and written information away from your home or office in case a disaster occurs and originals are lost. All of our electronic records are copied from a “working” hard drive that is maintained at our home office to another one maintained at one of our children’s home. As I finalize this post, Hurricane Isaac is bearing down on us, and I wish we had updated our “distance” copy recently. Other ways would be to use an online backup service like Carbonite, etc. Be sure your internet service’s upload speed is fast enough to make the transfers efficiently.
The only way to know if you have accomplished your goals is to know what your goals are, what your plans were, and the actions taken to accomplish those goals . Good management and financial records will help you make sure you have followed your plan to meet the goals your family has for your land, timber, and family.
We assist clients to organize land and timber records. Please let me know if that is something in which you might be interested. We are willing and able to work with your forester or other advisors so efforts are not duplicated.