Clare Donaldson and Stephanie Sollazzo are the co-founders of CONNECT Rehabilitation, a rehabilitation clinic in the Southwestern Ontario city of Owen Sound that offers physiotherapy and chiropractic services incorporating yoga and fitness. Challenged by the quantity-driven care of the traditional private clinics they were working in, Clare and Stephanie started CONNECT to provide a different approach.
“We wanted to be able to take more quality time with clients and to be able to focus on long-term health goals and drivers,” says Stephanie.
“We knew this was not possible unless we did this our own way, creating a sustainable model that was vision-focused.”
At CONNECT, Clare and Stephanie focus on taking clients from a state of injury to a state of wellness and performance at all stages of life. Established in 2018 and opening its doors in May 2019, CONNECT is rooted in a passion for health and quality-centred client care. But while the business partners are able to bring to their business years of clinical skills and expertise, they also carry an awareness of the hurdles and challenges that come with forging a new path in a traditional profession.
“To know our industry is to know how much we have chosen to challenge the traditional model of rehabilitation. For far too long, physiotherapy and chiropractic care has been quantity-driven, with appointment bookings regularly reaching near triple digits per week,” says Clare.
“At CONNECT, we feel that this compromises the care of the patient, and jeopardizes the career longevity of the clinician in an industry where burnout is not the exception, but rather the rule.
When we built this business, we did so with the quality-driven mindset of creating effective, sustainable care of clinician and patient. Our vision is to create a space that can be the only place people need to visit to take care of their physical health in the long term. From acute rehabilitation of an injury with extended 1:1 visits, to fitness and yoga-based physiotherapy to increase physical fitness and mobility, to group classes that are open to the community.”
Through the Business Enterprise Centre of Grey County, Clare and Stephanie were introduced to Futurpreneur’s Business Plan Writer at the very start of their entrepreneurial journey. After being accepted into the Start-up Program, the pair were matched with a mentor that provided them with the support they needed to build their business dream.
“Our mentor has been invaluable in our experience. She keeps us aligned with our vision and secure in our planning by challenging our thought processes and next steps. She gives us actionable goals and reflections to guide us – and has since the beginning. We were so grateful to have our mentor with us on opening day to share our joy and success,” says Stephanie.
For Clare and Stephanie, their mentor has become one of the most important members of the CONNECT team, reminding other entrepreneurs that the process and the journey doesn’t have to be a lonely one.
“You don’t have to do this alone. Speaking to someone with experience who can re-frame and redirect helps you to look at things in a whole new way. And when they aren’t in the room with you, you can reflect on what they have shared and get through the day.”
Starting a business has been nothing short of a steep learning curve for Clare and Stephanie. As clinicians, their professional training did not include the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, from accounting to business administration and legal just to name a few.
“There were so many what ifs and unknowns,” says Stephanie.
“Financial burden. Marketing to niche groups rather than to everyone. Competition with other direct physiotherapy clinics, rehabilitation professionals, local gyms and personal trainers. We took big risks and felt out of our comfort zones for most of the year.”
But they came together to secure a location and a lease, create an architectural design that met their vision, and build a space to grow and share their dream with their community. And successfully so at that.
“We have already surpassed many of our targets, and have had to hire one employee for administration and one contract worker. We are finding the demands high enough to add to our team within the next few months again.”
Less than a year into their business, a major key to success for Clare and Stephanie has been in their marketing strategy, knowing their ideal client base and targeting specifically to them.
“We don’t market to everyone on purpose. We choose to target niche groups where we know we can have the greatest impact,” says Clare.
“We know that not everyone is ready for an active approach to healthcare, and we know many aren’t ready to take ownership of their health, but our target is the people that are.
At the end of the day, our business is driven by our vision, and we revisit this any time we make a major decision. We’re guided by firm principles that acknowledge the bottom line, but still make decisions based on what will be best for our patients and our providers.”