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Traditional business advice that does not work for doulas

Because I like the business side of doula work, I have attended lots of small business events, joined networking groups, and attended conferences. And often I come away frustrated that the people speaking don’t really understand the unique challenges of doula work. Some of the advice I’ve gotten that isn’t applicable include:

Focus on getting customers to come back

In this line of work, repeat clientele isn’t a huge source of income. You need to constantly be working towards pulling in new clients. Or your business dies.
People who are professional “business builders” don’t get that. They don’t understand that repeat clientele is extremely limited and doesn’t come around frequently (because most families don’t have 20 children, and don’t have them all that quickly. So you can easily go 2-3 years before you get your first repeat.
So they’ll talk about things like client retention as if that’s THE SECRET. Which it would be if you are, say, a maid service and you can get regular weekly clients. The doula business doesn’t work like that.

Do only one thing

Business “experts” don’t get that diversification can be a crucial part of staying profitable. I remember one who came to a conference of the local doula association and told people to only ever offer ONE service. Just pour all your energy into THAT ONE THING. But most birth workers who bring home decent income do it by providing a variety of services. That business builde didn’t get that you cannot feasibly do 20 births a month. That offering birth doula services, childbirth education and postpartum work to one client is a better approach.

Take out a loan to get some capital

While it’s true that a business loan at a lower business rate is usually a better idea than maxing out credit cards, business loans tend to be in larger amounts than needed to start a doula business. Instead of taking out a loan for thousands, start small. If you can afford it, make the initial investment from your family budget, or start small and reinvest more of your earnings into the business before taking an income from the business.

Hire great employees

Doulas don’t need employees the way a coffeeshop would. I absolutely recommend hiring companies for services that fill in the gaps for what you can do! (I hire an accountant and have used graphic designers in the past as well.) But those are not *employees* and when starting out, you don’t need employees. You may eventually grow into an agency or busy enough to need an assistant, but don’t worry about employees in the beginning of your doula career.

Give a free trial

Doula work isn’t the same as free samples at Costco. I think the “free” approach might work well for products, but not for services. Your time, knowledge and skills are what people pay you for. I strongly believe that even brand new doulas just out of training deserve to be paid for their work!

Next time I’ll address some the great advice I have learned that DOES apply to doula work!

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