Business Organization Tips for Doulas

Happy New Year! I originally wrote this article for but thought I’d expand and update it for the new year, in hopes it will be helpful to those who made resolutions to be more organized.

DoulaBusinessAccountingFor the first five years I was in business, my doula business finances were a mess! I was getting plenty of births, but I had no idea if I was making a profit, how much, and when it came to the end of the year, figuring out my expenses for tax time was just awful!

And then I stumbled on a product that solved all most of my accounting problems. It was called the “File-it!” calendar, and I used it for the eight years with great success. And then it was discontinued and I was so sad. I struggled to find a new system that worked for me. Just today, I discovered a new company making a nearly identical product! It’s the BasixTwo File Folder calendar.

This calendar hangs on the wall – essential to not getting buried in mounds of stuff on my desk – and I use it to record the places I go and the mileage. I do NOT use it for appointments I’ve not attended yet, or for non-business related stuff. I just record trips after the fact.

Each month of the year is printed on a file folder sized pocket. I put all the receipts for business related expenses in this pocket. When I deposit a check from a client, I write the client’s name on the bank receipt and it goes in the calendar, too. If a non-business related receipt ends up in there, no big deal. Again, it’s on the wall, so I never have to go looking for the place where the receipts go.

fileit1_thumb1At the end of each month, I tear off the file folder pocket for that month. I go through my purse looking for more receipts. (Bonus! Purse gets cleaned out once a month, too!) I enter all the miles, deposits and receipts on the computer. After I’ve entered in the miles, I figured out the dollar deduction for those miles (using the current IRS formula –for 2014 it is 56 cents per mile for business trips) and reimburse myself for those, too. I personally use an Excel spreadsheet with different tabs for income, expenses and miles driven, but you could easily use Quickbooks, MS Money, or another program for this. If you’d like to try the Excel sheet I use, you can download it (and other doula business freebies)here.

And to motivate myself to actually DO this every month, all monies I get for my doula work go into a separate bank account for my business. At the end of the month, I write myself two checks: One reimbursing myself for expenses paid, and one paying myself any profit I can withdraw at that point. Can’t get the money into the non-business account without doing the accounting!

When I am done, the file folder pocket goes into a drawer in my desk. At the end of the year, I bind a year’s worth together with a rubber band and move it to a filing cabinet for more long-term storage. This has been amazingly helpful for me. Just having it on the wall as opposed to in a drawer or shoebox makes it always easily accessible. I’m not promising myself to write everything down as it happens – because I know myself and I won’t do fileit2_thumb1that! Forcing myself to balance the accounts once a month helps me to keep my finger on how well my business is doing financially and how much money I have to spend on things like conferences, books, etc. And I spend a lot less time trying to figure out what the receipts mean, as I can more easily remember a transaction from February 12 on March 1 than at tax time the next year!

I don’t have any connection at all either calendar company, but I have found this calendar system to be so helpful to me in keeping a simple, doable accounting process for my business. Now that I know better how much I make and where the money is going, I am better able to find ways to do things I love, like attending big conferences every year, while still making a profit.

What does it mean to be a professional?

Like it or not, if you take money for your doula services, you are a professional. What does it mean to be a professional?

1. You deliver what you promise. This is pretty basic stuff. You show up and do the job you are paid for. You make sure that your clients are prepared for birth. You are reachable when they have questions. You go to the birth when called. (Oh how I wish it wasn’t necessary to say that, but the stories I’ve heard…) You stay with mom throughout the birth. Through changes in the birth plan, even if the birth becomes something you don’t want to witness. You cannot just do the “fun” births and leave when it is no longer fun. You follow up at least once after the birth and help mom process the experience, good or bad.

2. You take your work and your clients seriously. Committing to a birth is a big deal. Parents are counting on you to be there for them when they need you. This includes 24/7 availability, no matter what. When you are on call, you need to make sure you are able to get there quickly, sober, and willing to miss personal events for your job. You need to have child care lined up at all times, make arrangements with your boss if you have another job, etc. You should also have backup for the rare times when you cannot make it. Also when you find yourself asked a question that you do not know, admit it. Do not try to “wing it” and make stuff up. Admitting you don’t know, and being willing to go find out, actually builds far more credibility than making stuff up.

3. You behave professionally. You return phone calls even if you cannot book that inquiry. You come to appointments on time, dressed appropriately, and prepared to work with the client. You respect client privacy at all times. Angie Rosier, a fellow doula and friend suggests that as a professional, you “be organized and consistent: create a form, educate your clients in a similar manner, (leaving room for individual needs), and maintain the same level of service for each client.”

4. You understand that what you do reflects on the profession in general. When you are at a birth, you keep the big picture in mind, and find a way to serve this mother without burning bridges and making things worse for other birthing moms or doulas. Since I also teach childbirth classes in a hospital setting, I do hear doula stories from the L&D nurses, and I have to say some of them have been quite rude. There is *never* a reason to physically restrain a nurse, doctor or midwife. Yelling and cursing at staff isn’t helping anyone. No one needs that kind of energy at the birth. Drop the confrontational attitude and find common ground.

5. You stay within scope. I *personally* adhere to the DONA scope of practice, even though I am no longer DONA certified. It makes sense to me. It keeps me from stepping into the clinical realm. It allows for advocacy AND maintaining collaborative relationships with care providers. You don’t need to follow DONA’s scope, but you should have a well considered, well reasoned scope of your own to guide you through your work. Make sure your clients are aware of your scope and how you will handle it if they ask you to step outside that scope.

Attendees at the 2011 DONA International Conference in Boston
Attendees at the 2011 DONA International Conference in Boston
6. You stay current. While birth as a physiologic process doesn’t change much, pretty much everything around it does. A professional does not fall into the trap of thinking that they already know everything there is to know. A professional will take the time and effort to earn continuing education hours, read the current research, etc. in order to best serve their clients. A professional will also watch to be sure they are not just doing things because that is the way they’ve always done it. A professional will seek out the best and constantly evaluate themselves and their services to find ways to improve.

7. You allow the doula/client relationship to end. Angie Rosier puts it very well: “A unique aspect of doula work is that it is emotional work, work of the heart. As doulas our hearts are often touched deeply by our client’s situations. I believe it is important to allow those ties to conclude appropriately when the period of service ends. Continue to love that client but let it remain professional by not bringing her into your life or you into hers. Keep in occasional but professional contact if you feel so inclined.”

8. You operate legally. This means things like paying taxes, having a business license, and not using a business name you don’t have reserved for yourself. You can read more about that in an article I wrote for the Utah Doula Association blog.

Professionalism doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit and carry a briefcase. It doesn’t mean you need to practice exactly the same way that others do. It’s more about acting with ethics and integrity and doing the best job you can for the women you serve.

Don't Get Burned or Burned Out

Will Work For Free?

First, let’s get one thing straight:
OK to charge for doula services

When you work for free, you tell people that your work is worthless, and that’s exactly how they treat you.

Lots of people will tell you to work for free, that it is a fantastic way to get those certification births. But they DO NOT GET IT. They are just thinking “everyone loves FREE!!!!! So it will be easy to get those births!” but the truth is, it simply doesn’t work that way.

I’ve been attending births since 1999. I’ve seen dozens of people try to break into the doula business by offering freebies, and the vast majority of the time they either get burned, or they get burned out. Sure, there are times when it works out, but most of the time either they never get the call, they get people who are rude, or the parents demand more than is being offered. In another common scenario, the doula’s family starts to complain about the time and resources devoted to the birth with nothing in return. It costs money and resources to provide doula services, and the doula’s family budget should not be burdened in order to provide services. Especially given the time away from family and the sacrifices involved in that.

Don't Get Burned or Burned Out
Photo illustration based on this image by Steve Velo. Adapted under a Creative Commons license.

It just doesn’t work out. You need to value your work before anyone else does!

I have never, ever done a birth for free. Even my very first doula birth, I charged $200 when the going rate was $400. I increased it by $50 every birth until I was at the going rate, and most years I’ve upped it another $50 a year. I’m at $750 for doula births now.
I’ve done discounted when I felt moved to do so. Sometimes quite a bit discounted. I’ve done barter a time or two as well. But never, ever for free.
I am not saying you have to charge full price, but for goodness sake, COVER YOUR EXPENSES. Charge enough to cover gas, parking, childcare, handouts you give to clients, etc.
When the expectant parents have covered your expenses, they become financially invested in having you there. They are more likely to actually call in labor. It also often makes the parents treat you better, because they know you value your services.

And finally, you don’t want to be building a reputation as “the doula who will do it for free if you ask.” That can be a very tough reputation to overcome when every friend, cousin, neighbor and acquaintance of your former clients calls expecting you to work for free.

Charity doula work has its place. Not everyone can pay for a doula, and that’s OK. Your doula work is valuable. It has worth. Be confident in telling people what you charge!

(Originally posted as a guest post on the Utah Doula Association Blog, March 21, 2013)