Grow and Give at the Same Time

Are you stuck with the “what to charge” torture that keeps your prices low because you’re so passionate about helping everyone afford a doula, but after the end of the year, your income is next to nothing? Let’s do a little perspective exercise. Most doulas feel obligated to attend their first births for free or very little. There are several problems with that: you send the message that you don’t value yourself, which can result in your client not valuing you; you are greatly increasing your chances of burnout and not respecting the needs of your business to have money coming in to feed it; your family may resent the sacrifice you make of your time when it doesn’t come with the rewards of caring for them; and you don’t have the ability to send a backup doula in case you get sick or can’t attend the birth, unless you can find someone willing to do it for the low/no price you set. Say this to me: “If I deserve to be there, I deserve to be paid.” What other job do you know that you’re expected to give the first few weeks of work for free just because it’s a newer thing for you? I can not think of anything. You are trained, you are a professional, you are valuable, and you deserve to be paid for your time.

Buuuuuttt…you all really want to have a doula!! I understand! There are many things in life that everyone deserves, but not everyone gets. And sometimes, when someone says they can’t afford your services, what they mean is that they don’t consider them enough of a priority or value for the budget. Of course, there are some cases where families need support and truly cannot afford to pay the standard salary of a doula. Let’s talk about how you can help them and still feed your business to grow. Consider the typical annual expenses for most self-employed doulas:

  • License Renewal
  • Insurance
  • Website Hosting
  • Domain Renewal
  • Uniform
  • Things
  • Continuing Education
  • Professional Memberships
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Website Directory Services
  • Zoom in
  • Canva
  • Marketing
  • Printing (biz cards, rack cards)
  • Expos
  • Accountant

These costs can add up to $2000-2500 for the average doula. Now let’s look at some common costs per birth:

  • Welcome Packet
  • Gas
  • Child care
  • Foods
  • Gift/Promo Material
  • Postpartum massage
  • Back up the Doula

The average of these costs is about $200 per client. If you average 2 clients per month, and take 2 months off to get a mental and physical break from being on-call, you’ll probably have about 20 clients per year. If you charge each client $1000 and deduct your costs per client, then average your annual costs and divide that by 20 clients, you come down to about $650 per birth. Don’t forget to deduct another (aprox.) 16% for self-employment tax. If you spend about 30 hours per client between consultation, prenatal, delivery, postpartum appointments, including travel, and providing text/email/phone support, you’ll make about $17-20 per hour that’s net. Each serves a different demographic, has a different target market, a personal motivation/vision for their business, and different spending habits. But maybe seeing all these averages will help you find a starting place for your doula business, or help you gain the confidence to recognize your value and raise your price enough to cover your costs and still make a reasonable wage.

So how does this help you help others who can’t afford the standard cost of a doula? When your business is growing and stable because your average payment is sufficient, then you will have room in your budget to be flexible with several families a year who sincerely appreciate your work but do not have the means to pay the full price. Other things you can consider to help families afford a doula: partial trades (full trades make it difficult to agree on a backup), working with local organizations that can provide grant, reminding clients to use their HSA/FSA funds, or helping clients facilitate getting their doula contributions as their baby shower gift.

Looking at your projected annual expenses/spending habits, knowing your value and charging a reasonable wage, and serving a proportional number of families with flexibility, will allow you to grow a successful , profitable, and generous doula business that will be around for years to come. .

Back It Up!

One of the most important parts of doula work is being prepared for anything! And part of being prepared for anything is having a backup doula, or several, ready to cover you in case you develop other issues that prevent you from attending the birth. For continuity of care, you’ll probably want to use backup doulas who are similar to you in personality, birth philosophy, and experience. You want to start networking with those in your community and find some things that fit. If you travel in different directions for births you may want to consider having options close to your client’s place of birth. Be sure to consider potential weather and high-traffic areas when considering who is nearby. You should always have a contract with clear expectations so you’re both on the same page. If someone is your backup doula, and they have the opportunity to take on their own birth client later in the same timeframe, does that change anything? Do you expect your backup to follow the same scope of training that you do? What travel radius must they stay within during the on-call? Do you want them to meet your client? Will you give your client a choice between different backups? There are many things to consider!

As you put together a contract, you need to decide what kind of compensation arrangement you want to have. Some doulas set a flat fee that their backup will get if sent. Some pay them an hourly wage up to a certain amount. Some split the fee 50/50. A popular agreement is to calculate the time spent with the client by both the hired doula and the backup doula, and do so at the same hourly rate for both. Here is an example:

  • Client fee=$1000
  • Hired doula 10% (for time spent on text/email support, etc.) -$100
  • Backup retainer -$50
  • Balance=$850
  • Doula rental time spent on consultation, prenatal, and postpartum, 5 birth hours=14 hours
  • Birth doula backup time=9 hours
  • Total hours=23/Hourly rate=$37
  • Hired doula 10%+hourly rate=$617
  • Backup doula $50 retainer + hourly rate=$383

Not everyone pays their backup doula a retainer, but consider what you’re agreeing to for free. They’ll be on-call, so knowledgable that they’re ready to go at any time. They promise to stay within traveling distance of your client. They will be sober and well-rested, and ready to care. It’s a lot to ask of someone who probably won’t get sent and it will help them feel valued and appreciated for the work. Some doulas will simply make an agreement to support each other and call it a mutual benefit. It can work well, or it can eventually become one-sided. Sometimes doulas make their agreements verbally or casually thinking they are working with friends and can trust the arrangement. This may cause confusion, a lack of boundaries, or the backup is not taking the situation seriously.

Whatever approach you take, make sure you have your business’s best interests in mind, have a clear agreement, and be prepared to have good support for your clients.

About the Author

Jade Holmes has spent more than a decade in several teaching capacities including as a Childbirth Educator and doula mentor. She is beyond passionate about childbirth and can’t think of anything more rewarding than teaching women to become doulas. She is deeply invested in doula work as a birth, postpartum, and bereavement doula and serves in several volunteer positions on the board of the Utah Doula Association. She is always expanding her knowledge by attending workshops and conferences, reading the latest birth information, and studying with her birth peers. Outside of doula work, she is married to a loving and supportive husband and together they raise their five children ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers in beautiful Heber, Utah. She loves attending comedy shows, working in her flower garden, watching movies at home, snuggling by the fire with hot cocoa, and always cooking something in the kitchen or anywhere else. More than anything else, Jade is passionate about people and serving them in any way she can, because nothing brings more joy than improving someone’s life. You can find more about him and his work here at DoulaEd.

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