The following is a guest post by my niece, Jessica Austin. Make sure you also catch her audio interview on building her doula practice here.
I’ve never been great at following other people’s rules. As a child I talked back to my parents and as an employee I’ve often resented feeling micro-managed or having my creativity held back. I think I’ve always known working for someone else was not the path I wanted to be on forever.
It took me awhile to find how I was going to start paving the way to shift out of the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday grind. And then 2 years ago, I discovered a passion that inspired me to begin developing my own practice as a birth doula.
From the moment I went to my first doula training, I knew that contributing to a woman having a positive experience within our maternal health care system was something I was extremely passionate about. I started my business, Birth Takes Village, to allow me to offer childbirth support and education to women and help them make empowered birth choices.
Over the last 2 years, I have been steadily building my doula practice using a variety of methods. I get more and more inquiries every week and most of these have been converting into paying clients. It won’t be long before I’m able to quit my day-job and say goodbye to the 40 hour work week altogether.
I want to share with you the approach I’ve been taking!
Incorporating My Doula Work Into My Day-Job
I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of girl. Ever since I found my obsession with birth, I’ve been dying to throw myself into it full-time. The day I will be able to do that is drawing steadily closer (I recently cut my hours back at my day job substantially), but realistically, I’ve been in a much better financial position by holding on to my day-job for now.
In order to keep my sanity and feel like I was moving forward towards my goals, I found a way to incorporate my obsession with birth into my day job. This has made it much easier to wait until I have enough doula clients to make it reasonable for me to quit my job completely. Plus, I use it as a way to network with people who I may never have met otherwise! (Pretty sneaky, hey?)
Hosting Free Events
I thought about volunteering my time with other birth-professionals or organizations to do some good and get my name out there. But then I realized if I’m going to be donating my time, why not do it in my own name? I therefore started a prenatal meetup group in Vancouver that encourages pregnant women and new moms to share their experiences, knowledge and support on a peer-to-peer level.
The group has been a huge success. I have waiting lists for most events and people are really starting to talk about it in the pregnancy community. It’s also extremely fulfilling in that bringing knowledge about pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding back into the community is something that is missing and is really important. The group has also has been a very effective method of becoming known in the birth community; midwifery clinics and prenatal educators direct potential clients to these meetings. The group allows me to build relationships with many pregnant women, and meet other pregnancy and birth related professionals, in addition to the clients that have come to me through hosting these events.
Finding a Niche: Becoming the Go-To-Doula to Women Who Have Had Previously Traumatic Births
I’m still in the process of really settling into a more specific niche for my doula practice, but I’ve got one picked out. While I will continue taking on clients with a variety of backgrounds, I’ve started focusing the marketing of my practice on women (and/or their partners) who’ve had previously traumatic births. In fact, I’ve already had several clients within this niche.
Birth is something that has the power to be either incredibly empowering or deeply traumatic. I want to contribute both to preventing and healing birth trauma in our culture. I am really looking forward to becoming known as a go-to doula in Vancouver for women or couples who’ve gone through traumatic birth experiences in the past.
I have been working with a research psychologist at UBC in developing systems for supporting women who have had traumatic births. We are currently putting together a 2-day workshop to educate women and their partners in a way that will help them avoid traumatic birth experiences. We’ll be announcing this class in my newsletter when it’s ready to go.
Finding Creative Referral Sources
All doulas try to find their clients through midwifery clinics, but I had no interest in being one of 100 business cards in the doula file at a clinic. Instead, I’m always looking for interesting ways to network with potential referral sources. This has the added effect of allowing me to get familiar with a lot of really amazing resources for pregnant women and meet new moms here in Vancouver.
For example, I’ve connected with therapists and counsellors in Vancouver who focus on supporting women and trauma. The response I get has generally been something like, “That’s great! I often recommend women who’ve experienced birth trauma to have a doula for their next birth, but never knew who to refer them to!”
It’s great that I have started to build relationships with these therapists because now I know who to refer people to when they are looking for professional support from a therapist while they recover from a traumatic birth, and the therapists know they can refer these clients to me when they become pregnant.
Knowing the Value of A Good Website
Let’s face it. If you’re looking for something, be it a dentist, a massage therapist or a bank, where do you look? Google. Although my first few clients were either friends or referrals from friends, now the majority of my clients are finding me online. And I should hope so. I spend a LOT of time making my website a search-engine-optimized site that’s a quality source of information for my clients, potential clients, or really anyone looking for information on birth options, prenatal care, or breastfeeding. It’s really been paying off!
Blogging and Building a Newsletter List
Writing weekly articles on interesting topics related to my work has consistently increased traffic and led potential clients to my website. It also gives clients a chance to hear my “voice” and get a sense of my personality and philosophy. This means the inquiries I get generally turn into clients and I don’t end up going to interviews with many clients who end up not feeling aligned with my approach to birth; they’ve already met me, in a sense, online.
Constantly creating informative content also gives people a reason to keep returning to my site, until (hopefully!), the day they or someone they know needs a doula and I’m the first one they think of. I get great responses to my articles, which creates stimulating conversation with potential clients and referral sources on my blog and social media sites.
I’ve also made some interesting connections with other bloggers which helped build my doula practice. For example, a dad-blogger who runs daddyconfidential.com and I have gotten into a friendly and ongoing debate about circumcision that always gets lots of my followers talking and drives heaps of traffic to my website.
Being a Social Media Fiend
I love social media. It keeps me up-to-date with the latest news and research in my field, lets me see what my “competitors” are up to, and gives me the opportunity to network on a much larger scale. I’ve made some really good professional connections as well as attracted a fair number of doula clients and prenatal class students by building relationships with them over time through my social media pages: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest
Sharing other people’s content on my social media channels gives my followers access to a steady stream of great information and helps me create connections with other birth advocates. When I publish a new article for my blog, I post it on social media and it drives a ton of traffic to my site.
Consistently Raising My Fees As I Build Confidence and Gain Experience
Oh, how I wish we lived in a world where we could just give people what they needed and not ask for money in return. Once my doula practice is thriving, I can’t wait to volunteer some time to support families who cannot afford my services (hopefully abroad!). Until then, I need to know what my time is worth and make sure I’m building something sustainable.
Attending a 36 hour birth on little or no sleep while holding a labouring woman in any number of positions and advocating for her the entire time is no small task. Never mind the prenatal and postpartum visits and unlimited phone and email contact I give to all my clients and the fact that the nature of my work means an “on-call” lifestyle. In fact, if you broke down my flat-rate-per-birth fee into an hourly rate, you might be shocked on how little my fee – or ANY doula fee –actually amounts to! Charging a fair price for my birth doula services is what allows me to continue practicing and providing women with valuable support for a better birth experience.
Putting in the WORK
Building a doula practice takes work. Between my day-job, my free community birth group, teaching prenatal workshops, attending doula networking events and seeing my doula clients, I have a lot on the go. Last weekend, I was at a dinner party with some girlfriends. They were giggling and having a silly kitchen dance party, and I was on the floor sipping a glass of wine while writing an article about why women are scared of birth. I giggled, too, but between writing paragraphs for my next newsletter article. Really manifesting enough clients to quit my day job means committing to the cause and doin’ the work to get me there.
Eavesdropping on My Aunt
I’m lucky: marketing coach and copywriter, Juliet Austin, is my aunt. After years of listening to her talk about her work, reading her newsletter, and getting one-on-one advice from her on marketing and copywriting, a lot of priceless info about building a private practice has sunk in. I like to think I’ve got a knack for marketing and business, and maybe I do. But the truth is, learning from the expert in private-practice-building is what has accelerated the growth of my business and really clarified for me what it takes to be successful.
I love promoting my business. Exploring new ways to market, engaging with people interested in birth and learning online strategies for getting the Birth Takes a Village name out there is fun!
I think the work that I am doing is extremely important. I want as many people as possible to be able to find me and my website to use as a resource as they prepare for birth. All of my marketing work has been increasingly successful. My client load is steadily rising, I’ve been able to cut down drastically on my day-job hours, and every day I get to spend more and more time doing what I love: working with women, couples, and health professionals to promote a gentle and informed birth culture.
Jessica Austin is a birth doula practicing in Vancouver, BC. You can find out more about her on her website at Birth Takes a Village.
To hear a podcast where Jessica talks about her doula practice, click here.
If you found this article helpful or want to share your own experiences, please leave a comment below.
Jeffrey Fisher, M.A., RCC says
What a fantastic article Juliet. Your niece has learned well. Must make one proud aunt!
Jessica, Birth Takes a Village says
Thanks for all of your support, Auntie! x
Juliet Austin says
Yes, she is doing well…yes, very proud of her. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend, Jeff!
Juliet Austin says
You are most welcome, my dear!
Wonderful article, Juliet! Wishing Jessica much luck and success in her new practice (not that she will need it – she has clearly learned and absorbed your marketing/social media lessons and flown with them),
Juliet Austin says
Crystal - Prenatal Coach says
LOVE IT!! Thanks for sharing Jessica. I’ve taken many of the same steps to create a successful nutrition, childbirth education and doula business and I too transitioned from full-time to part-time to finally being a full-time entrepreneur (3 years ago?) and have never looked back!!
Juliet Austin says
As you know, I’ve been impressed with how you’ve been marketing as well. Congrats to you too!
Marie Arcand says
jessica, thanks for sharing so generously, in your article and in everything you do! you clearly have a gift for writing! Definitely !! bravo!!
Jessica, Birth Takes a Village says
Thanks, Marie! And thanks for your support as I explored shifting down to part time so I can focus more on doula work. Hope to see you at the next VDN meeting!
Natalie Dalton says
What a great business idea. I would have never thought about starting a business as a doula. I hope everything works out for you. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your experiences.
Thank you ! i am about to start my course work in late August and it kills me that I can’t get started now!!!! I am doing small things while i wait. I like your ideas and you are keeping me focused until I am able to make the transition. Thank you.