My First Clinic Failed. Here Are 3 Business Lessons I Learned

When you hear practitioners talk about their clinic experience, you hear the highs and the success stories. What you don’t often hear is the failures. But I’m the first to admit that my first go at running a business was a disaster. But I did learn an important business lesson or two along the way!

I don’t want your clinic to fail, because it’s not a nice feeling! That’s why I thought I’d share my story, along with the 3 business lessons I took away from the experience.

woman looks out a cafe window while writing in a notebook with a pink pen business lessons nutritionist marketing wellness Samantha Gemmell

The story of my first clinic

I graduated in May of 2015. By July, I was kicking off my business.

My first clinic room was in Camberwell. It was a little out of the main area – about 5-10 min drive from the shopping district. But I went for this location as it was with an osteopath, as well as being relatively near to another osteopath I knew well.

The second room I picked up was in Canterbury. This room was less set-up and I only had it for one day a week.

So I got to it. I put out the metaphorical shingle for both locations. And I waited for the people to flood in.

So where were they?

In the 3 months that I held a room at Canterbury, I did not see a single client at that location.

In Camberwell, I saw about half a dozen clients a couple of times each.

Despite the quiet, I showed up to the clinics, even when I had no clients. I had hopes of building cross-referrals from the other practitioners at those clinics. But none of them ever sent me a client.

By September, I gave up my room in Canterbury.

In December, I closed up the Camberwell room with the hopes of admitted into a 6-week research program in Sydney.

I never returned.

It was a little while before I actually did the maths on my business. In fact, it was probably the following July when I had to do my tax.

It showed something pretty shocking:

I had haemorrhaged $10,000 over the first 3 months of my business.

The following 3 months were not much better, but at least I had given up the Canterbury rooms by that stage.

How the hell did it all go so wrong?

I thought I was doing all the right things. On paper, I was!

first website as a new graduate nutritionist - Sage Therapies

This was the first website I had as a new graduate. I did it myself – and it shows!

  • I had business cards with my name on them
  • Being the entrepreneur I was, I had not one but two clinic locations to work out of
  • I had a Facebook business page
  • I had a website (here’s a sneak peek of it!)

In fact, I had done a lot of groundwork throughout my final year of uni. I even had my business plan from one of my subjects tweaked to suit my primary clinic location, so I knew the local area and competition.

Despite that, I was losing money and I wasn’t even close to hitting my client number goals.

So what was I doing wrong?

I wasn’t connecting with my potential clients

This is a common issue for new practitioners. Because I was trying to serve anyone who turned up, I was sharing a mish-mash of content and marketing.

This meant that no one was really seeing what I had to offer and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I’ve been needing!’

I wasn’t getting in front of my ideal clients

When I started, I did have a vague idea of my niche – people with chronic pain. I did pick up a couple of clients with pain, thanks to a local osteopath who was a friend of mine. But I wasn’t getting in front of a decent amount of my ideal clients.

This was two-fold. Firstly, I wasn’t really putting myself out there because I wasn’t feeling confident about what I had to offer. But when I did market or create content, I wasn’t actually sharing it places that are frequented by people in my ideal audience.

I wasn’t being consistent

This was across the board – my branding, marketing, content, topics and frequency of it all was all over the place. Because of this, I never became known as that go-to person for nutrition-based pain management.

The lack of consistency also bled into my pricing. I would advertise one price, but then I’d discount for friends, referrals, first-time clients – you name it! This gave off the air that I wasn’t confident – and that scared a lot of people off!


Eventually, I took away 3 business lessons from this experience.

Business lesson #1 – Connect with your people

Ever heard the saying ‘if you try to talk to everyone, you’ll end up talking to no one’? This all comes down to connection.

You need to connect with your ideal clients. Before handing over their hard-earned cash, they need to know, like and trust you and feel like you understand their concerns.

They can’t do that if you’re talking about their problem one week, then another completely different topic the following week. They can’t do that if you’re talking about problems they don’t know they have.

Some simple steps for being more connected with your ideal clients include:

  • Meet them where they’re at – in terms of education, awareness of their health concerns, and general language (don’t use slang to appeal to 80-year-olds, yo!)
  • Talk specifically about what they think their problem is – usually symptoms rather than a diagnosis
  • Craft offers that take all of these things into consideration

Business lesson #2 – Get visible to the people you want to serve

If you don’t get in front of people, they can’t know you’re there. So you need to get visible to the people you want to have as clients.

To do this, you need to take two steps:

  1. Figure out where your ideal people are hanging out or looking for solutions to their issues
  2. Show up there and talk about what you are passionate about!

Of course, this looks different for different people and different niches. But if you nail these two steps, you’re well on your way.

Business lesson #3 – Be consistent in your marketing and business approach

The more consistent you are, the more likely people are to work with you. It’s that simple.

Consistency in your branding means that people learn to recognise you and what you do.

Consistency in your content means that people are familiar with what you work with.

If you also apply consistency to your offers, then people will know how you can help and are more likely to take your offer!

Not sure if you’re being consistent? Keep an eye out for a future blog, where I’ll dive into a consistency checklist to follow.


The good news is that I came to understand each business lesson over the past year or so, and have applied them to my current business.

I can tell you from experience – following these steps pays off! My schedule is often booked 1-2 weeks in advance, and people reach out almost every week to work with me in some form.

Do you struggle with these core areas of marketing? The Practitioner Marketing Mastermind might be for you. Head here to learn more.

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