Free office space a big boost for couples counsellor

Ronnie Littlewood, owner of The Couples Clinic. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Ronnie Littlewood, owner of The Couples Clinic, is an experienced social worker and the first to admit her skill set lies with the helping profession, not operating a business.

That’s why it took the encouragement of Sarnia business coach Kathleen Mundy to convince Littlewood she should compete in the first Win This Space contest held by the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation (SLBDC).

“I felt out of my element competing against entrepreneurs,” says Littlewood, who ultimately won the contest and recently moved The Couples Clinic into new downtown offices.

“My drive is to help people, not make money,” she said.  But obviously a counselling service that isn’t financially viable won’t last. “So it proved to be a great experience for me because, not only did I get free rent for my offices for a year, I learned to read a profit/loss statement, completed my business plan and got invaluable assistance from the BDC.”

She also tapped into the BDC’s small business loan program to purchase new furniture for her expanding counselling clinic, new computer equipment, and to pay for incorporation.

Once she triumphed at Win This Space, Littlewood began working with the BCD to secure new offices. The new Couples Clinic location opened Feb. 1 at 144 Christina St. South, across from the library.

Timing couldn’t be better since demand for Littlewood’s counselling services has rapidly grown since she started The Couples Clinic three years ago.

At the time, she had 16 years of experience working with the Children’s Aid Society as a child abuse investigator and relationship counsellor.

She launched the private clinic from the basement of her home, moving a year later into offices on London Line.  The latest move to Christina Street marks yet another expansion as Littlewood now employs three social workers and a part-time receptionist. Counselling for couples and individuals is now available through the day, evenings and weekends.

“The moment I opened up in my basement, business exploded,” she said. “There’s such a huge need to teach people relationship skills and give them the tools to manage their own conflict.”

Littlewood, who is married with four children, said 86% of the clinic’s clients say counselling helped them.

“I have a dream to save one million marriages,” she said. “I know that sounds crazy but what I offer is needed, not just here, but right across Canada.

“It’s always been my goal to expand this from coast to coast.”

Winning free rent for a year is moving that business plan forward sooner than anticipated, she said.

While her rent costs are zero, she intends to pay off the BDC’s loan and open a second Couples Clinic location within 18 months.

“I definitely see this as just the beginning,” she said.

SLBDC officials say they will repeat the Win This Space competition this year and applications will be available by mid-March.  See details at www.winlambton.com.

Got a great idea for The Business Journal?  Contact cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.