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More people in Singapore are starting to recognise the importance of mental wellness. As explained by the Singapore Association for Mental Health, mental wellness is a positive state of mental health – more than the absence of a mental illness.
One Singaporean who is familiar with this topic is Sophia Goh, the founder and principal counsellor at Sofia Wellness Clinic, a private counselling and psychotherapy clinic in Singapore that offers professional counselling and psychotherapy services for teenagers, adults, couples, and families to help them overcome life challenges and flourish as individuals.
Ever since she started her journey in 2017, Sophia has seen her business expand from a solopreneur to a team of counsellors today. In a move to support the company’s growth, she opened her private clinic this year. Previously, the company operated at a co-sharing space.
Besides the initial capital required to set up the clinic, Sophia also had to cope with the unenviable challenge of renovating her clinic during the heightened alert period.
To better understand what inspired Sophia to embark on her journey in mental wellness work and decision to open her private clinic, DollarsAndSense had a chat with Sophia at her newly opened clinic at Singapore Shopping Centre.
Timothy: You originally studied business for your degree and took a Masters of Arts in Counselling and Guidance (2015 to 2017). What led to this interest in counselling?
Sophia Goh (Sophia): Since young, I was always interested in the social sector. My parents were very active volunteers, and often brought us to participate in flag day events or home visits to less fortunate families. It is through this that I developed a heart for serving others – I love listening to people, and finding ways to help them.
I guess a different question would be why I didn’t pursue this career path right from the start. The reason was because I took a more standard route, choosing to enrol in Business Management at SMU for my degree. It was only after a few years of working in a private enrichment centre that I realised the passion I had for counselling remained as strong as it has ever been. After many years of thinking about it, I made the decision to prepare myself for a career switch. In 2015, I enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Counselling and Guidance at NTU and started doing counselling professionally after graduation.
Making a career switch is never easy. The truth is that, even when I was pursuing my Masters, I was still unsure if I had made the right career decision. But after graduating and starting work as a counsellor, I realised I found the perfect job that I love.
Timothy: Why did you think of starting your own business as opposed to joining a company? How were the initial years like for you, and when did you see the need to expand your team?
Sophia: For me, starting a sole practice was a natural decision. In my younger days, I ran a few businesses before. So the process of starting a business is something I was already somewhat familiar with, albeit on a smaller scale.
That said, starting Sofia Wellness Clinic was still not easy! The first three months were really quiet and I hardly had any clients. At that point, I started having self-doubts. However, once I got my first few clients, it started to make a big difference. Gradually, referrals started to come in and demand picked up which helped to build up my confidence.
Things really started to take off towards the end of 2018. However, that was also the period when my daughter was born and I had to go on maternity leave. Given that I was the only counsellor back then, it also meant that business slowed down as I had to refer my clients to other counsellors. This also made me realised that I needed to grow a team for the business to succeed. Furthermore, different team members have their own specialisations and this provides the clinic with well-rounded expertise to handle clients from across the entire spectrum.
While the idea of building a team came in 2019, we only made our first hire in February 2021 when the practice was ready for it. This was when we saw more enquiries and clients.
Timothy: What were the reasons you decided to move from a co-sharing space to having your own clinic space?
Sophia: A co-sharing space is good when you are starting out your practice. At the initial stage, you may not have much clients and hence, paying for the rooms on a per-use basis makes financial sense, as opposed to getting your own permanent space at a recurring fixed rent regardless of the number of clients you have.
However, once we started having more clients and multiple counsellors, logistical challenges such as scheduling and booking of rooms at the co-sharing space became apparent. And because rooms are booked and paid for on a per-use basis, it became more cost-effective for us to have our own space once we have more clients and counsellors.
By having our private space, we don’t need to worry about availability of rooms, or other concerns like last-minute cancellations from clients. This way, we enjoy a lot more flexibility. Sometimes, we also do some pro-bono work so having our own space helps us a lot in this regard.
Timothy: How is the process like to find your own space? Beyond just the rental, are there some additional costs that you have to bear now?
Sophia: It was relatively simple for us to find a space we need. Our needs are generally quite simple and there is a fair number of commercial spaces available due to the pandemic. Having our own space means having to pay for utilities, fibre broadband and office supplies. For now, I am also helping to clean up the space!
Timothy: How much did you have to spend on renovating your space?
Sophia: Initially, our budget was about $20,000 based on what we spent on our own HDB flat but we ended up spending about $30,000 on our renovation. In fact, my husband, Alison, also wrote about the experience in his article. We spent an additional $10,000 on furniture.
One of the things we learned was that it was much more expensive to renovate a commercial space as opposed to a residential property. There are a lot more permits that you need to apply (and pay) for when commencing renovation work at a commercial space. For example, sprinklers – which we had to install in each room, cost us about $3,000. The air-con diffusers which also needed to be installed cost about $3,000, all these added to the renovation cost.
Our renovation work commenced in July 2021, just as Singapore was entering the heightened alert period. Thankfully (and somehow), the renovation work was done within three weeks! So we moved here in August 2021.
Renovating A Commercial & Office Space Comes With Its Own Set Of Unique Challenges & Costs
Whether you are renting or purchasing a space for your business, chances are that you need to do some form of renovation for the space to suit your business needs. For Sofia Wellness Clinic, Sophia needed multiple soundproof rooms to cater to privacy requirements for her team of counsellors and their clients.
For those of us who already have some experience with renovating our own homes, we may assume that renovating a commercial or office space would be somewhat similar. However, this isn’t necessarily true. For example, for most commercial or office spaces, noisy work can only be carried out during the evenings and on weekends. This varies from residential properties where the bulk of the work is usually done during office hours. As such, labour cost tends to be more expensive.
Some businesses may consider taking on a business loan to pay for their renovation project. OCBC goes a step further to provide end-to-end solutions for medipreneurs – from setting up and renovation to managing your daily operations and expanding.
Thinking Of Setting Up Your Own Practice
With OCBC’s Healthcare Practice Financing for Medipreneurs, you will get access to its dedicated Healthcare Specialist Team. Having extensive experience of the challenges new and established medipreneurs face, they are able to tailor solutions and advice that will help your practice succeed.
Even without the need for business track record or submitting financial documents, you can get up to $300,000 in funding to setup your clinic. More established medical practices can get up to $600,000 to expand their clinics or products lines, purchase new medical equipment or for general working capital purposes.
To preserve capital, you can also tap on rental bond, underwritten by Great Eastern (part of the OCBC Group), to reduce the amount of rental deposit you have to fork out. Alternatively, for those who intend to purchase their own business space, you can also consider an OCBC Commercial Property Loan to finance your commercial property purchase.
With OCBC Velocity, Sophia enjoys digital business banking support anytime, anywhere, be it on her desktop or via the Business Mobile Banking app on her phone. Running a medical practice, Sophia also has to manage payments from clients. She can lean on services like OCBC OneCollect or Unified Merchant-NETS terminal to collect NETS and both physical and mobile credit card payments. She can also use PayNow for business for both receiving and making payments from clients and suppliers respectively. These will all be connected directly to her OCBC business banking account – giving her an instant overview of her current and future cash flow situation.