The question I hear most frequently from new doulas is “How do I get clients?” We want to do this work; we want to support and serve, AND earn an income for our families as well. But how does one get started doing a new thing? Everyone says network, network, network. But HOW? And what if you are kind of shy?
First things first: start with some business development, which is covered in your CAPPA workshop as well as in your manual. Take the time to develop who you are in this world, and brand yourself accordingly. Then you need to be able to adjust how to talk to people about it, so they understand the problems you are solving with your work (the why you do this work). Then you need to be really awesome at your job. Over-deliver. Pamper your doula clients. Entertain as well as educate your students. Do a great job, and they will share you. But that is just the foundation for building business.
You have to market! Even wonderful, awesome, ‘best doula/educator ever’ you. This approach made a huge impact for us having a thriving business built on referrals. It works if you have some time to invest and want to build long-standing relationships that continue to benefit you. And yes, it still works in this day of the social media flood, because personal connection matters.
Years ago we formed a group of women-owned businesses for some collective marketing and support. We formed it intentionally, with no overlap, so we could support each other’s business and not feel competitive. In our group were a newborn and family photographer, a prenatal and postpartum yoga teacher, a postpartum doula, and a counselor that works with families during the childbearing years, especially postpartum depression and anxiety. We quickly grew to adding a prenatal massage therapist, a Pilates teacher focusing on birth recovery, a baby store owner, an acupuncturist/pelvic floor therapist, a mom/baby chiropractor, and some of our members added CST work and life coaching to their offerings. We called it MotherSource, and built a website featuring all of our businesses and some of our wisdom. Although it is no longer updated, it served us well for 5 years and gave us a common goal that fueled our meetings.
We agreed to meet once a month for 2 hours sharing support, struggles, and some food and drink. We ended up sharing a lot more. As moms and business owners, we had a place to really develop our businesses without losing the reasons behind why we pursued our passions into the career arena. We had a meeting format so that one member didn’t dominate the group. Everyone was treated with respect and we sought to build other’s businesses as we learned from each other about what marketing worked for them. We shared ideas, inspiration, and lots of tips on how to use all the emerging technology and social media. We also saw each other through births, breastfeeding, miscarriages, and deaths of parents, in addition to the business ups and downs.
What we didn’t realize was that in hearing stories of helping our businesses, we got to know the women as experts in their field. We were impressed by their care, found they were often referring their clients to us, and got to hear from their clients how awesome their services were. We also shared stories about the ever-changing seasons of life for mothering newborns, raising our kids, and balancing work and parenting. What I didn’t expect was the intense loyalty that was formed from investing that time with these other women. We didn’t have previous friendships for the most part. We all came from very different lifestyles and political views, yet we were able to share the commonality of mothering and business owning to help each other. It was pretty much LOVE WINS, although we didn’t know it!
Our businesses boomed. We shared clients–sometimes one family would use several of our services. Our reputation for excellence spread in the community, and we didn’t have to promote ourselves (very difficult for many to do in the service industry). It is much easier to promote a business you already love because you know the owner and how she cares for people, and everyone felt likewise. There is nothing like a bunch of industry leaders recommending you with their whole heart to really supercharge your marketing, without ever having to do a 30 second commercial! It also kept us accountable to really take care of our clients, which of course was our goal anyway, because we were a recommendation from another professional.
We met for 5 years, and now it has been 10 years since we started the group. Currently, we only meet occasionally when everyone is in town; however, the impact to our businesses and the birth community as a whole is still felt to this day. I still know several experts that I can refer to with ease, knowing that our clients will have the best care possible. I can still ask questions about business development or website issues, ask for support if things are low, or share a secret business desire that I can’t afford to share with anyone else yet. What we built as a referral support group grew into a lot more. If for nothing more than the referrals, it would have been worth it. But I encourage you to do it because it will be far more.
Go gather some wagons. Call up some people you think would be good referral partners and make yourself a group. You will get tons more referrals than some “now go meet 5 people in the room to network” group where you don’t get to know anyone and go home feeling like a wallflower. Yes, it’s a long term plan. But if this is your passion, your business, and your career, a long term investment is really worth it.
By Kimberly Bepler IBCLC, CPD
Copyright CAPPA 2015