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07 Mar 2012

Business Savvy Doula: Featuring Sarah Juliusson

By The DTI team

Why are you considered a business savvy doula? 

I consider being business savvy to be an absolutely core aspect of my doula and childbirth education practice. To my surprise, I’ve found that I enjoy the business aspect of my practice just as much as I enjoy birth work. In fact, I now also offer small business coaching to doulas and other holistic health practitioners with my practice the Website Doula.

It has not been an easy path to become business savvy. Along the way I’ve had to get over my fear of spreadsheets, embrace the world of html, and learn all about marketing. I have learned to value my time and years of experience, charging fair prices for my services while also staying true to my core values and offering scholarships as needed.

What is it that resonates with you when you hear yourself described in this way. 

I still smile when I hear myself described as a business savvy doula. The business realm is something I had no interest or awareness of during my first ten years – birth work was my passion, and I earned my income with a “real” job. I had never charged money for my services, and it had never occurred to me this could be paid work.

Embracing my practice as a business has allowed me to make wonderful discoveries about myself. I cherish the growth I’ve experienced in both self-confidence and clarity through these past ten years cultivating my business skills.

What was a business decision you made that you are proud of? 

Once I began to treat my birth work as my business I found it that it grew quickly – and I was well on my way to overload. I had put so much of myself into my business and was hesitant to get help, fearing that others might not practice in the same way. I took the leap and today there are 9 of us working as a team offering prenatal classes, and 4 featured doulas on our website.

Just as I had feared, each of us is indeed unique in our practice – and I am happy to now recognize that while we share core philosophies and values, the blend of our unique styles of care helps make the practice strong. I celebrate this wonderful team of women I am blessed to work with and learn from!

Who are your mentors for being business savvy or where did you start learning about the business side of things? 

I started as a new doula back in 1992, around the time that DONA was founded. I knew nothing of doula care as a profession, and simply felt a deep calling to support birthing families.

In 2003 I was fortunate to cross paths with Lanell Coultas, a birth doula and Birthing from Within mentor in Austin, Texas. I was blown away by her professional manner, marketing materials, and the confidence with which she stated her fee. She was my first exposure to the idea of being a professional birth doula – and the possibility of being self-employed doing the work that I loved.

I am largely self-taught, having learned through trial and error over the past ten years of self-employment. I love the book The Boss of You by Lauren Bacon & Emira Mears, and wish it had been available when I first started… I’m also a big fan of the work of Tad Hargrave with Marketing for Hippies, and Carrie Klassen of Pink Elephant Communications.

Can you describe a situation when you made a poor choice that hurt your business that you learned from? 

As doulas we tend to be caregivers, with a strong desire to help others. I’m sure each and every one of you can relate to the experience of having said “Yes” when you should have said “No.”

We think we’re helping when we say “Yes.” In the end, however, I’ve found it both hurts the client and our practice when we are unable to provide the level of support they require – whether due to client overload, or not being the right match for their needs..

I’ve gotten a lot better with this over the years – but still fall prey from time to time. Ultimately I think it is good for clients to see us saying “No” – it’s a vital skill for new parents as well as they learn to balance their personal, family and work needs.

When you trained to be a doula were you satisfied with the training piece about starting a business? 

I finally did the DONA training in 2003 after having attended births as a volunteer doula for a full decade. I don’t remember there being any real component addressing the business aspect of doula care, and honestly I didn’t miss it – I had no idea how much I would have to learn to run a successful practice.

How do you figure out what fee to charge as a doula? 

I found it very difficult to begin charging money for births. I questioned my worth – even with ten years of practice under my belt. I finally chose an amount that I felt was fair with my years of experience and education. At the time, I was in the upper range of what doulas were charging in the community. Interestingly, my original fee has now become commonplace in that community, even for new doulas.

I am now in a more rural area with considerably lower income levels and less of a doula culture. I have set myself at a slightly lower rate than I had in the city, but still high for this area – it feels like the right match for this community.

What business advice do you have for other doulas? 

Believe in your unique self and all that you have to offer! Your best route to a successful business is to clearly define your practice values and mission, convey your unique background & practice style, and shape everything you do around these ideas. As a holistic small business coach, I greatly enjoying helping doulas find their unique voice within the community, and believe this is absolutely key to establishing a strong practice.

How do you connect the success of your business with advocating normal birth? Or do you? 

Interesting question! Two answers:

1. A large part of the success of Dancing Star Birth has been through our grounding in the Birthing from Within philosophy. We offer a wealth of tools to support clients in normal birth, while also exploring the unknown of birth so that they can give birth in awareness in any birth setting. This has allowed us to serve a broader range of clients with varied birth philosophies and needs.

2. I believe that having a strong birth business is of great benefit to birth advocacy. With a high level of visibility and connection within the community, we have a unique opportunity to raise awareness and work for change.

What are the top 5 things you would say are the most important things to consider for a new doula staring a doula business. 

1. Let your imagination go wild. What would your Ideal practice look like? Don’t let fear get in the way. What do you want to create for yourself and your community as a doula?

2. Take your time. Want to bring new skills into your practice? Sell related products? Build partnerships? Be sure it is a seasoned decision. You don’t need to do everything in the first six months!

3. Consider your branding and logo with care – you never know in what ways you might want to grow beyond doula care.

4. Invest in a good website and search engine optimization. Don’t let a friend design it for you unless you know you’ll be happy with the results, and be sure to get the training you need to make changes yourself!

5. While doula care may be your passion and calling, be sure to treat it as your business and invest your time, energy and resources into building a strong foundation.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us? 

Over twenty years in the birth world I’ve seen many good birth practitioners come and go, exhausted by having given too much without being able to care for themselves. I have discovered that by nurturing my practice as a business and earning a good living, it allows me to better nurture the families in my care.

Bringing business savvy to my doula and childbirth education practice has taken me many years, and I am certainly still learning… Let the business realm be a source of discovery and growth rather than anxiety or dread. Nurture your business with the same love & care that you share with your clients, and you will go far.

Best wishes to all of you in this new path. I am happy to offer you all a free initial 20 minute consultation to help identify your next best steps in building a strong practice in your community. I look forward to learning about your doula dreams!

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