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Meet the woman on a mission to save rural communities

Dianna Jacobsen is not a suit and office kind of woman. She comes from a background of wheat/sheep farming in the southern Riverina and now lives with her family­­­ on their cattle property in north-east Victoria.

Meet the woman on a mission to save rural communities
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  • Maja Garaca Djurdjevic
  • January 15, 2021
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She is not your regular accountant, either. Combining mainstream accounting and holistic business advice, Ms Jacobsen has spent a good part of the last two years making “Are you OK?” calls to drought-stricken farming clients, then bushfire-impacted families, and now COVID-rocked businesses.

After finishing school, Ms Jacobsen commenced accounting in 1989, with a mission to help the struggling farmers that she saw during her childhood, and later she became a partner in a small public accounting practice.

But the compliance driven approach to accounting back in 2000 didn’t quite fit her life-long dream of bettering the often barren and harsh life of country folk.

“The trouble then was that we were so compliance driven because of all the new systems and the reporting deadlines. As a rural firm we were used to going out to people’s farms and small businesses, but once GST came in, we didn’t have time for that,” Ms Jacobsen tells Public Accountant.

So, in 2005, she made the tough decision to sell and exit the practice.

While the seeds of her decision were sown years back when she ran around her parents’ farm as a young child, she gathered the courage and stepped out of mainstream tax and accounting at a time when her career was flourishing.

“Growing up, I saw people leave farms and I didn’t realise at the time that they didn’t choose to leave. It was mostly due to family or finances,” Ms Jacobsen recalls.

“That impacted upon me strongly and I thought someone has got to be able to help these people, there’s got to be a better way.”

Years later, the idea for Shine at Business was born with that childhood goal in mind.

“I thought to myself, I don’t want to just sit here and tick boxes. It’s not proactive, it’s not helping anyone. After selling my accounting practice, I was then under restraint of trade for five years in which time I worked for a financial planner and did all my financial planning qualifications,” Ms Jacobsen recalls.

“As soon as those five years ticked over in 2010, I went freelance. Combining accounting, financial planning, debt restructuring, legal, and farm succession planning.”

Shine at Business was created to meet the growing, unmet need for pro-active, holistic business advice and strategic planning. For Ms Jacobsen, it’s never been about the numbers. The people of the bush have always been her number one concern.

“I did a lot of training in psychology and counselling, as well as other things such as personalities and time management. Lots of business management,” Ms Jacobsen explains.

“I work really holistically with the added financial planning qualifications and a little bit with lending and legal, and I’ve got solicitors and other people that work in my team so that we cover all those things. This is particularly important because with the financial services overhaul in 2000, the demarcation between accounting, financial planning, lending and legal became very noted.”

She believes a holistic approach is particularly important in the farming space because passionate people are exiting the industry every day and mostly as a result of financial difficulties.

“I think that’s heartbreaking,” Ms Jacobsen says. “We’ve certainly seen a huge exit particularly in the dairy industry and I’m still working with a few that are struggling to hang on.”

And that’s what drives her.

“These people are passionate and they need good, all-round advice. I often work with their accountants, it’s more about coming in and working out the overall strategy,” says Ms Jacobsen.

On her path to better the lives of others, Ms Jacobsen is always on a mission to better herself and the service she provides. It was during one of these missions that she collided with the woman known as “the millionaire maker”, Loral Langemeier.

Today, Ms Jacobsen is Ms Langemeier’s financial strategist in Australia, working with a broad range of businesses and industries nationwide.

“I study every day. I start my day super early to fit more into each day. I don’t claim credit for what I call the accumulated wisdom of others. But I’ve certainly done all that I can to collect and collate everything that’s relevant and include it into how I teach, what I share, how I do strategies,” she says.

“I used to go to all these speakers and I read, watched and absorbed everything I could get my hands on within financial reason.”

Now Ms Jacobsen herself writes for various publications, presents at conferences and speaks on radio programs and podcasts.

“Throughout all, I’ve always said it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the people,” she recounts.

But Ms Jacobsen is also very passionate and involved in mental health and proliferates its importance in rural Australia.

“I think of mental health problems as a symptom of feeling disempowered,” she says.

“When we haven’t got a plan, we don’t know what to do, the bank manager and the accountant are telling us it’s all doom and gloom, people leave those meetings feeling literally suicidal because they’re told there is a problem, but they’re not given a solution, and therefore assume there isn’t one.

“Rural suicide is a big problem. I certainly see this aspect and so often that comes back to family and finances. Just that feeling of having no way out.

“I see the first step to be a visit to the family, being shown around the farm, sitting around the kitchen table, and discussing the core problems with a view to developing a strategic plan, offering solutions, and assisting throughout with implementation.”

Doing everything she can to help cut the problem at its roots, Ms Jacobsen has mental health first aid training and uses her counselling background to listen to those that need an ear and a hand to hold.

“If people in those situations knew that there was someone helping them with a plan, it would be a completely different story. That’s the one thing that stands out to me the most, certainly with all the people we work with,” she says.

“For example, I have one client that I have talked to every single day for two and half years, even on Christmas day. He is just so alone and there are a number like that.”

In tackling the mental health issue, Ms Jacobsen urges a lot more proactivity at the front end.

“For about 20 years I’ve been saying, the accountants are the best people to do that because we see and talk to people quarterly for their BAS and we’re the ones that know what’s going on in their bank accounts or their relationships or their families or the farm,” she says. 

“I know most accountants are not counsellors, but that’s where they can have someone on their team or a connection with someone to have that kind of chat or relationship.”

Ms Jacobsen’s team recently made the finalist list for the Women in Finance Awards 2020 for their initiative in the wellness space.

“That was very nice because my team works tirelessly. I absolutely could not accomplish what I do without them, particularly my indefatigable practice manager, Denise Sawyer,” she adds.

But Ms Jacobsen won’t stop there.

In January 2021, she is launching a new initiative, combining her work in accounting, finance and business, in conjunction with her training in counselling, mindset, and personal empowerment, and packaging it all into a product called Shine at Leadership.

Her objective is to educate and empower individuals and entrepreneurs to take control of their own lives and outcomes.

“The intention is to share more widely the methodologies I’ve learned from great teachers over 30+ years of my career, and enable people to help themselves,” Ms Jacobsen opined. 

“I believe that a host of financial, family, and mental health challenges can be addressed and mitigated by having the right knowledge and support systems in place, as well as by looking for what they can control.”

Of particular concern to her are Aussie rural SBEs, now and in the future.

“We are losing people that are passionate and dedicated and fourth, fifth, sixth generation, so it is imperative to keep these families on their farms,” Ms Jacobsen says, admitting that she has made it her mission to help stop this negative spiral.

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