At a glance
Susan O’Connor FCPA’s niche accounting business began with little more than a dream.
She had no capital, no equipment, no clients. What she did have was a clear vision, self-belief and determination.
Six years on and Susan O’Connor Accounting has been named the Superannuation Specialist Accountant of the Year at the Accountants Daily’s Australian Accounting Awards for the second year running. Judges acknowledged her high client retention and personalised service.
O’Connor runs a public practice in Perth, Western Australia, specialising in self-managed superannuation funds (SMSF).
Retirees and high-income earners make up most of O’Connor’s client base, but ethical investors, young professionals and small-business owners are also on her books, as are other accountants.
Laws around the heavily regulated SMSF arena are constantly changing and some accountants have benefitted from leaving O’Connor to do the SMSF work so they can concentrate on their other services.
“We grew quite rapidly because we had accountants give us their entire [SMSF] client base,” says O’Connor.
“We are the only accounting practice in Perth who only does SMSFs, so we’re not a threat to their other business streams and they are happy to refer their clients to us. We work with them.”
O’Connor primarily helps her clients to meet the strict set-up, compliance and reporting obligations. With no fixed fee structure, her clients are charged an annual fee tailored to the complexity of their fund, leaving open the opportunity for coffees, conversation and connection rarely seen in her previous work in taxation.
“Those conversations are important,” says O’Connor.
“With an SMSF and estate planning you are looking into what people will be doing in the future. Customer focus was in our vision from day one and something I think we have mastered. It’s the reason for our success.”
Last year Susan O’Connor Accounting grew 27 per cent and lost only one client. The client had died. While she says her business model will never see her on any Rich List, she believes there is value in the long-term investment she puts into her clients.
“It’s not all about how much money I can make, it’s about adding to the sum of the world. I’m giving people happiness, and knowing I can turn up to work happy every day because I have done the best job I can for my clients is what is important to me.”
O’Connor began her career in auditing, including a stint with the Office of the Auditor General for Western Australia, before joining a public practice as a taxation accountant.
In 2016, when the Limited ASF Licence requirements were brought in, O’Connor jumped at the opportunity.
She’d been through some challenges in her personal life and the timing felt right to reinvent herself professionally. As a sole parent with two kids to support, failure wasn’t an option.
“I knew I had the skills to do it and self-managed super funds was something I really enjoyed because there is a lot of strategy to it,” says O’Connor.
“You just have to back yourself sometimes. There will always be the doubters but sometimes you have to take that risk. I had no money, no loans, I didn’t have equipment or staff. It was my only source of income, so I had to make it work. I literally built it from scratch.”
While most choose to operate under a dealer’s licence, O’Connor wanted to be self-licensed. It enabled her to remain fully independent with no products to sell, commission to earn or pitches to make.
As well as her licence, O’Connor needed to obtain her Diploma in Financial Planning and public practice certificate through CPA Australia before taking the chance on her dream with an attitude of hard work and creative thinking.
With no budget for advertising, she set up her own Facebook page and made video posts for social media. She wrote procedures on the go and built her business one client at a time.
From the start O’Connor was clear on her business concept. She sought to incorporate a visual association that would link her to her brand.
Going against the advice of others, including her web designer, O’Connor insisted the business be branded with her signature pink.
She has no regrets. When she meets a new client at a local coffee shop, they know to “look for the woman wearing pink”.
O’Connor is proud to be unorthodox. She took a chance on a 17-year-old who asked for a job, hiring her as her personal assistant.
She now describes that PA, Jane Tero, as her indispensable “right-hand woman” whose ingenuity, initiative and technology skills have been invaluable to the business. They’ve also recently taken on a mature-age trainee.
Looking ahead, O’Connor has plans for increased automation, expansion into the public speaking circuit and has written an e-book on SMSF essentials to further support her clients.
“Anything that’s not been done before will be scary, but there has to be new innovators and people who try it first,” says O’Connor.
“It’s important to be you and don’t worry what other people say. I consider it to be like having an internal vision board. There will be hard times ahead but having that internal vision board will always carry you through.”
One piece of advice
Be yourself in everything that you do. Your branding and the way you run your business is all reflected in your core values.
Your ideal clients will be the ones who connect with you, so identify them early and don’t try to be anyone except yourself.