For All My Birth Doulas - Avoiding Common Pitfalls and Running a Successful Business

Doula Chalk

Are You Building a Hobby or a Business?

At some point you made the leap to train in becoming a doula. Some try and jump in full throttle, others test the water to see what is out there, some are picking up a new skill because they are perhaps a birth photographer, nurse or childbirth educator. There are also those who hope to take on a few clients a year but still maintain their day job. 

Depending on where you are in the world you might find yourself in an area where you are the only doula or very few doulas exist. It's a good chance people have never heard of doulas or what it is that you offer. The demand is smaller and education about your profession is a big part of your business model. You may, on the other hand, live in an area where there are hundreds of birth professionals. The market is saturated with options for expectant families making it difficult for you to get your foot in the door.

Did you know that the burnout rate for doulas is extremely high? Many find after their training it is much more difficult to be an entrepreneur than they anticipated and decide to stick to their day job. Others work really hard to make their business get off the ground but for a variety of factors and reasons never quite get to where they need to be to sustain themselves. Out of the 15 girls I trained with only 3 of them are professional doulas that are making an income doing birth work.

In this post I want to address what I believe are some of the biggest pitfalls new doulas stumble into that can reduce their chances of building a successful business


1. Free or Reduced Births

This is not just a doula problem. Most professions with some sort of craft or art have these problems when starting out. Do you want to know why doulas have a lifespan of about 2 years? Because many trainers, mentors, other doulas, and even expecting families convince new doulas that they can't build clientale or get out there unless they offer their certifying births for free. It's like your duty to offer these services for little to no price because "you don't know what your doing." You're new! What could you possibly have to offer compared to an old experienced doula who has been doing this for 10+ years. You actually have a lot to offer! You want an excellent doula that is super motivated, fresh with her knowledge, and will make sure you are taken care of every step of the way? Hire a newer doula and show her you value her by paying her well! How did we convince ourselves and other expecting parents that prenatal education in the comfort of a family's home, personal labor support, and postpartum check-in's should be done at pennies for the hour? A free birth won't hurt anyone, right? When you offer your services for free or at a significantly reduced price in a public setting you undercut everyone. You may attract clientele that do not respect your value or time. I can't tell you how many times I've seen in doula groups where a mother did not call or inform their doula that they went into labor or that they had the baby already. It's always when there was no contracts or payments between the family and the new doula. Her time was not valued and she is always let down. I'm still not a fan of doing significantly reduced priced births but if you choose to do so in your business I advise you to not be doing them with strangers and people you don't have a strong relationship already with. Many of us have done these kinds of births, I have as well, but I chose my client extremely carefully and wisely. 

2. Not Enough Confidence

Did you go to your training? Then yes, you can do this. You will build and learn skills along the way but you are very capable of being a support system to an expecting family. You work so hard for those first clients because you want to really shine and make their experience and service with you right. They will love you! You will be in-tune with their needs more than you think. One of the best things you can do as a new doula is building relationships with other doulas and birth professionals. Whether that is keeping in close connection with the girls you trained with, join a doula collective or group, or finding a mentor. They can help boost your confidence and help answer questions your may not know the answer to. The thing is, even a seasoned doula doesn't know everything and it's okay! If you don't know the answer you let your clients know that you are going to consult with someone who might know or that you can find the answer for them in one of your books. The best way to build confidence is to just get out there - it's the hardest step but I promise you've got this!

3. Trying to Train on Everything You Can Get Your Hands on

We have this belief starting out that no one will hire you if you only did your training. That you have to somehow become an expert in all things before anyone even hires you. This may feel very real to you if you have a lot of competition in your area and your worried that you will never be good enough. You feel like expecting families will only consider you if you have an impressive resume and took that Spinning Babies workshop when it was in town, do extra advanced doula training through your birth center, and did the Rebozo certification. Furthering your education is important and good for you but do not expect to book clients in return for having extra skills. You do these things to better yourself. They are also such a burden on your budget as a new comer. Never go into the hole for an additional training or certification. Gradually build these skills if it is something that you are interested in and want to learn more about. Families will ultimately hire you because they see you as a person they can trust, not because of your ultra impressive resume. I generally use four main things in my bag and I'll tell you what those are: My camera (because I am also a birth photographer), my Rebozo, a roller massage ball, and a little handheld fan - usually when mom is working hard pushing. As you grow in your profession you will see that some mothers do need a lot of physical support, some barely want any touching at all - your presence is all she needs, and a lot of mothers who fall in-between. You will learn your specialties the more you do births and develop a style unique to you. Sell that to your potential clients! Not some workshop you attended.

4. Not Knowing How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Burnout is real and that is why setting healthy boundaries from the very beginning is key. I think the biggest boundaries to set as a new doula are of the potential unsigned, no money down clients. It's so important to not get caught up into doing anything and everything you can do to sign those first few clients. I think many of us learn that the hard way. The ones you make exceptions for or bend over backwards usually never hire you! I've driven to potential client's homes far away to make it more convenient for them, or met them all over in the city near them, spent way too long in a consultation, given them way too much free information, and cut into my personal/family time - all for clients I never heard from again. It's not worth it. It's not healthy. It's not sustainable. Even when you sign your clients making sure you stick with your services and what is in your contract is so important. If you give 1 or 2 hour prenatal appointments try and stick to that schedule. If you are a doula who uses an hourly birth clause be upfront with them about that and stick to it if you are going into overtime at a birth. Remember that you and your family need to always stay your top priority. Only then can you serve your clients to your fullest potential and have long lasting sustainability. 

5. Not Learning How to Streamline

Making everything as easy as possible is not only critical to you and your business but to your clients as well. You don't want to forget to do things for them or loose important information. You can find a lot of amazing business organization tools out on the market but when you are starting out these services might be outside of your budget. Even the smallest tips go a long ways. Keep an organized Excel sheet of your clients. Have template emails you can send potential clients instead of writing individual emails every single time. Have your consultations at times and in places close to you and convenient for you so you are not running around spending money on gas, car-wear-and-tear, and hours of family time. Make it easy for your clients to pay you and set up your system so you don't have to always be making deposits, transferring over funds, or making multiple trips to the bank. If you are efficient you can save a ridiculous amount of hours that can either be put back into your family or used in more productive ways to help your business grow.

Doula birth photographer

Being a doula or any birth worker is not for the faint of heart. We take the risk of unexpected outcomes, have odd hours, are on-call a majority of the year, and may even miss important personal events. We have to think outside the box and quick on our feet sometimes. Running your own business in itself is a whole skill and difficulty. Make sure you are in a good place in your life to start this kind of work. It is rewarding but it is hard. It is fun, interesting and unique but can be draining if not careful. If you run a smart business clients will come and they will be the ones that you personally want to work with.