5 Lessons I’ve Learned in the Doula Business

I’ve owned my own business since 1997, and over the years I’ve learned many things. I’ll share 5 really important ones here:

1. You can’t care for others if you don’t care for yourself. One of the hardest births I ever did came at the end of a VERY long day. I’d hiked 7 miles, grocery shopped, worked in the garden, prepared 3 meals, and canned two dozen quarts of tomatoes. Just as I was getting ready to collapse in bed, I got called to a birth! (In my own defense, I got called in as a backup, so I had no idea it was coming.) It was really, really hard physically, I was just drained. My muscles ached, my feet hurt. But it was also difficult mentally and emotionally, trying to move past the physical issues into a place where I felt nurturing and supporting. I don’t regret for a moment helping my doula friend out when she needed it, and I am still in contact with that mom as we connected well. But that experience taught me the importance of self-care so that I have something to give when my moms need their doula so much.

2. You can’t ignore money. We often hear “Do what you love and the money will follow.” This can be very, very true. But the money doesn’t follow if you don’t do anything about it. Pay enough attention to money so that you know whether your work is supporting your family or taking from it financially. If a client owes you money, speak up. Don’t be afraid to send your client a bill if needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. When people ask what you charge, be able to say it confidently, without any “but I give discounts” or “I can work with you if you don’t want to pay that.” tacked on at the end.

3. People value what they pay for. It’s a hard lesson for many. Doulas tend to be compassionate people. They get moms who say they really want a doula, they want to help. So they agree to work for free. But over the years, I’ve found far too many of those doulas get treated very poorly. Sometimes the parents want to milk everything they possibly can from the doula – I’ve known postpartum doulas to do 20 hours a week for three months, all for free, only to have the parents put on the guilt trip and claim abandonment when the doula tries to end the relationship. I’ve heard of a birth doula asked to stay behind and provide child care for older children when the parents went to the hospital without her. There goes that certification birth! And time after time I hear of parents who simply never call the free doula to come to the birth at all. The doula may have invested dozens of hours into prenatals, research, etc. and when it comes time for the birth, the parents don’t feel the need.
When parents have invested something (money, a trade, a retainer) into the relationship, they are more likely to call and more likely to stay within scope.

4. Get help in your weak areas. We all think we can do everything ourselves, we live in the days of Pinterest Tutorials and a DIY culture. But there are times when the support and service of a professional is well worth it. Over the years, I’ve hired an attorney, an accountant, and a graphic designer. I don’t regret a single penny. The education, services, and peace of mind that came from working with them has been so very worth it. I was going to post my first attempt at logo design here, but I must have deleted it in a fit of embarrassment or something because I can’t find it. The services other professionals provide is every bit as valuable as the services you provide, and well worth paying the going rate. Choose carefully who you work with, and don’t go by price. My brother is actually an attorney, but because he doesn’t work with business law at all and has a completely different specialty, I paid someone instead of having him do it for free. I wanted it done *right* more than I wanted free. (Hmmmm…. you might say I value what I paid for over what I could get for free. Or something like that…)

5. Business work is like laundry. It’s NEVER done. I’m sorry to break it to you, but it’s true. You will always need to be reviewing your marketing, evaluating and fine tuning for effectiveness. There will always be blogs to write and taxes to pay. What worked for you five years ago may not work for you next year. Social media, replying to inquiries, and changing your prices as your expenses change are all continual processes. Just when you think you’re caught up something else will come up. It’s a guarantee. So if you don’t like the business side of things, review #4 again and hire a business manager. 🙂

Hope these are helpful. If you have a business lesson you’ve learned, please share it in the comments!

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