10 Tips to LEVEL UP Your Doula Practice
I recently received a DM that got me right in the feels.
“Hi Zoe, I’m a young woman who is looking at becoming a doula. I read an article you wrote for the Doula School and I was hoping you might have the time to chat… let me know what you think!”
How special that someone would ask to learn from my journey! We had an energizing conversation, and I was reminded that it can be super helpful to have that advice when you’re just starting out, or looking to take your doula business to the next level. So without further ado, I’m sharing my top 10 tips that I hope will inspire you to elevate what you have to offer as a doula.
- Take all the photos.
“But that’s easy for you to say – you’re a photographer!” Sure, but let me say this clearly. You don’t have to be a photographer to take photos. Do you have an iPhone? Use it. Have a conversation with your clients before their birth; I can guarantee that almost all of them would LOVE for you to capture some moments (and even snippets of video) for them to enjoy looking back on later. With their permission, these photos will also become the bedrock of your Instagram content. Your community would much rather have a genuine insight into the incredible world of birth than read an infographic you reposted from someone else! Humans are storytellers, and a picture tells a thousand words. Of course I’m biased so I recommend up-skilling anyway with photography – but if you do it well this can also form a significant part of your doula income.
If you’re just starting out, why not buy a disposable film camera to take to the birth, then have it developed and scanned at high resolution to share with your clients? I also bring a Kodak polaroid camera with me incase the light is low or the birth is quick, and because I think it’s really neat to have immediate photos to take home. Once you’re up and running, you can offer stunning pregnancy shoots and newborn/ “coming home” photos as an add-on package. How special for your clients to tell their kids one day that their photos were taken by the very same doula who helped bring them into the world!
- Price well.
This is the number one piece of advice I would go back and give myself starting out. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the work you are doing can make the difference between your client achieving a positive birth experience, and walking out of a hospital with birth trauma. You will become an expert in each parent’s needs, take only a limited number of clients, and drop everything for them (including pre-paid appointments and weddings). Charge accordingly. Unless you are a funded charity, this business needs to be financially viable to continue supporting others, so figure out what that looks like for you. Pricing too low is not only unsustainable, but it devalues the work you’re doing.
If you’re just starting out, you might be wondering how much to charge, and it’s a common misconception that you are expected to offer your first births for free. As a happy medium, I recommend offering your first 3 places a reduced-rate while you’re refining your practice, which can also generate some interest on your socials. After this, consider the average price in your area, then adjust as you wish. I personally charge slightly above market-rate because *ahem* (checks L’Oréal notes) – I’m worth it! Some doulas also charge an additional fee to allow them to take on pro-bono work, for example if you charge 15 of your clients an additional $100 when your standard fee is $1500, you could then take on one extra “prepaid” client who would really benefit from your services but is not in a position to afford them. Keep in mind there will always be people who believe they deserve a discount or tell you that you’re too expensive, and for some people that is the truth. But if for example, you know that they spent $50k+ on a lavish wedding, it’s important to stop and recognise that birth planning is also an investment that they can choose whether or not to make.
The reality is, things cost money. For the same reason, unless that person is truly your best friend or immediate family, you should probably be charging your full rate. This is something I personally struggle with, but lately I’ve realised that my friends and family who genuinely care about me are actually the people who are the most likely and well-placed to support my work. If you wouldn’t expect them to provide their profession for free to you, then it’s ok to set the same expectation. I also encourage my pregnant friends to ask for a contribution to doula services in lieu of regular gifts at their baby shower, which can help lessen the cost while providing them with the best gift anyone can give a new parent: support!
- Get on the ’gram.
Almost 100% of my client base has come through Instagram, with the remainder through referrals: gone are the days of ads in the phonebook and what I believe is called a ‘rolodex’. People use Instagram when shopping for inspiration and services so your profile needs to offer both (with a link to a high-quality website). Unless you’re a professional designer, I recommend using the paid versions of Squarespace and Canva. Your prospective clients will make an assumption about the quality of your doula services based on the quality of your digital presence. Read that sentence again! Your prospective clients will make an assumption about the quality of your doula services… based on the quality of your digital presence. If this part of the business feels out of your depth, learn how to do it properly or outsource someone to do it for you.
- Make friends.
There is a reason I’m sharing these tips. We are all in this line of work because we believe that being treated well during birth is important, so fostering a sense of camaraderie is everything. The international doula community is a powerful one, and it’s growing! Don’t look at the doula next to you as competition; they are your ally. Others may have far more experience and wisdom than you do, so learn from them, reach out when you need help and celebrate your collective wins. There’s a saying I love, which is “leave the ladder down for those who come after you”. Stefanie Antunes who founded the Doula School is this person for me. By sharing her wealth of doula knowledge, she shaved months, maybe years off the time it would have taken me to get to where I am now.
- Vamp up your birth bag.
One of my clients lovingly calls my birth bag my “Mary Poppins Bag”. It truly is magic (did someone say “Rose Mist”?) and contains everything I could possibly need to support a birth! Invest in lighting and a portable speaker, buy the lotions and potions, and bring your own sick bags (the hospital ones will let you down, and splash-back spew is on no-one’s birth plan). I’ll be doing another article on this soon where I share everything that’s in my doula bag, but the point I’m making is that having the right tools for the job will make a world of difference when it counts. If you can, buy a TENS machine to keep in your birth bag and rent it out to clients who wish to use it. One of the best decisions I made early on was to take the TENS training by the Doula School – it’s inexpensive but essential.
- Choose your clients.
Wait, don’t the clients choose me? And if I’m starting out, shouldn’t I take any clients I can get? Well, let me fast-forward that scenario for you. If you have clients that are misaligned or just plain rude, it’s going to be frustrating, leave a bitter taste in your mouth, and take away time that could have been spent with people who would have really loved to have you as their doula. Parents usually don’t realise it, but your free initial consult (whether it’s over Zoom or done in person) is actually a two-way interview. If you want this work to be sustainable and deeply rewarding, prioritise clients who you feel a great connection with. I only accept clients who are both considerate and engaged. Over time, you will find your own personal parameters of what helps and what hinders the benefits you can provide, which leads me to my next point.
7. Find your niche.
Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing for a moment! The best way to monetise and add value to your doula service is to take a good long look in the mirror. Why did you become a doula? What are your own talents? And why are you so good-looking? I get that it’s really overwhelming to see everyone else in the field with a healthy list of credentials under their name, but you are providing your own 1:1 service that is entirely unique. There are the obvious skills that you can specialise in (photography, prenatal yoga, massage etc) but the list is long. If you’re something of a chef you might offer a postpartum meal service, or if you’ve had 3 kids maybe you could teach people about baby-wearing or cloth-diapering. Do you have a flair for decorating? There’s no reason why you can’t offer to host a stunning birth blessing event to bring your client’s loved ones together to support them. Consider your culture, your studies, and life experience to figure out how different skills could be incorporated into your practice, because those unique talents will set your services apart and lead to a snowball of referrals. If you truly feel you’re still green at everything, take a class (first aid, spinning babies, hypnobirth, belly-binding… Whatever inspires you). Write an e-book or start a podcast, and remember that you are limited only by your creativity.
- Publish testimonials.
One of the first things people will look for in a doula is what other people said about them. Your clients aren’t dumb, they know that you will speak highly of your own services. What they want to know is whether your clients can verify that you were a worthwhile investment, and what you actually did to help them! I mentioned earlier that we are storytellers and it’s true: expecting parents are often looking to read birth stories and feedback before making such an intimate choice. You can collect reviews in several ways, but personally I find that the text messages parents send me after their birth often prove to be the most genuine and heartfelt reviews. For example:
“Zoe! I can’t thank you enough. Just typing this makes me want to cry. I couldn’t have done any of this without you and your guidance. Love seeing the rollercoaster of emotions we went through… A lot of people don’t remember their child’s birth story but I surely want to remember this one and thanks to you we have these as a keepsake forever.”
I’m going granular here, but why is this a better review than an on-request testimonial that reads something like “I highly recommend Zoe for birth services, she is a great doula”? It’s better because it feels unscripted, it’s deeply personal, and it tells a story (that word again) that people can see themselves in. In this example, prospective clients can tell that I have looked after this person’s emotional wellbeing, and that I had a real impact on how they felt about their birth. The best part is that you don’t have to ask for these! Your clients will often text you in the days following a birth, or write a similar message in a thank-you card. Specificity is a powerful language tool, so leave the little details in – my favourite testimonial jokes about how I brought her the best burger she’s ever eaten postpartum. Keep your reviews human.
- Send a card.
I’m a big fan of tactile gifts. I adore quality stationery, and I think there’s nothing better than good old snail mail which is why I send all of my new Milk & Blossom clients a hand-written card. There is often quite a lag between when someone engages your services and when you actually meet for the first prenatal session, particularly when you’re booked in the first trimester. Keep the entirety of your doula philosophy simple by thinking, “if I were in this position, how would I like to be treated?” I know I’d be tickled pink to receive a surprise card in the mail while pregnant. For under $10, sending a card is an easy and intentional way of letting your client know that they matter. You took the time to write a personalized message, and thought of them on the walk to the postbox. It’s also a nice memento for them to keep on display in anticipation of your first visit, and in their memory box long after your service.
- Connect your clients.
Once you’ve established your client base, you might like to consider introducing them to each other! Again, I always see the value in sharing and connecting. Almost all of my clients are birthing their first child, so having others who can validate that experience and offer encouragement is a total win. Being a new parent can feel lonely. Organizing a day in the park where everyone can meet in a low-stress environment is a simple, free way of helping families feel supported beyond birth. My clients have shared recommendations for everything from pediatricians to bassinets, celebrated each time a new baby is born, and even offered to donate their own milk and baby clothes to each other. A a doula let me tell you, it doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.
Zoe Elkington is a birth & postpartum doula and perinatal photographer in downtown Toronto.