Start a doula service by following these 9 steps:
You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your doula service. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.
STEP 1: Plan your Business
A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:
- What are the startup and ongoing costs?
- Who is your target market?
- How long it will take you to break even?
- What will you name your business?
Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.
What are the costs involved in opening a doula service?
Fortunately, this profession requires very little capital to get started. Your greatest expense is the training and certification classes, which range from $150 to $750 per course. While it is not necessary to obtain every certification, it is recommended to take all the basic courses and to continue through the program as your experience grows.
Once you have received your certification, you will need to invest in a marketing strategy. This includes a website, blog, pamphlets, and business cards. An office is not necessary, as much of a doula’s work is done at the birthing site, in the client’s home, or over the phone.
What are the ongoing expenses for a doula service?
If you decide to open a physical location, you will have the standard overhead expenses that come with leasing a workspace. Beyond that, your ongoing costs are significantly lower than most businesses, with time being your largest investment.
Below are a few expenses incurred by doulas, on a per client basis:
- Gas and parking fees
- Childcare (if you have children) while you are with the mother during birth
- Miscellaneous items client needs
Additionally, you will need to allocate a portion of your monthly budget towards the following:
- Marketing and site maintenance
- Continuing ed
- Insurance - check with your agent to determine what is recommended
- Payroll and taxes - to reduce these expenses, consider building a team of freelancers
Who is the target market?
Your customer base will be built on expectant mothers who have a specific path they wish for childbirth to go. Every woman understands that things do not always go as planned and that a cesarean or medication might be necessary. However, women often feel forced into making decisions that go against their birthing plan, simply because they were too scared or did not have enough information. This is where you step in as their advocate and support system.
Mothers who are expecting their first child are also an ideal doula client. Just the very idea of childbirth is terrifying to many pregnant mothers, particularly those that have never been through it before. Your knowledge and support is what will get them through this unsettling, yet life-changing event.
Consider what types of clients you are most drawn to and assess how much of the competition specializes in that area. A few demographics to consider are:
- Intrauterine insemination/in vitro fertilization
- Previous birth trauma
- High risk pregnancy
- Vaginal birth after cesarean
- First baby
- Home birth
How does a doula service make money?
Your business would charge a fee for doula services, typically a flat rate, that includes any expenses incurred, and for the time spent throughout the pregnancy and delivery.
How much can you charge customers?
Fees vary, depending upon region and demand. Some charge as little as $400, while others start at $1,000. Business owners take 10-20% of each employee’s doula fees, which should also be considered when structuring your fee schedule.
How much profit can a doula service make?
Profit is directly tied to your fees. If you charge $400 per client (assuming you are the doula), and incur $179 in expenses, you have earned a profit of $221. Business owners are urged to carefully consider their time spent with clients when coming up with a fee schedule. A profit of $221 works out to an average of $6.14 per hour. A doula fee of $900 works out to a profit of $721, or $20.03 per hour.
What percentage will you collect from each doula that is on your team? Business expenses should be considered when determining this as well.
How can you make your business more profitable?
The following have helped other doula businesses improve overall profits:
- Host special events for expectant families
- Host doula continuing education and certification classes
- Include a midwife on your team
What will you name your business?
Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.
After registering a domain name, consider setting up a professional email account (@yourcompany.com). Google's G Suite offers a business email service that comes with other useful tools, including word processing, spreadsheets, and more. Try it for free
STEP 2: Form a legal entity
Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your doula service is sued. There are many business structures to choose from including: Corporations, LLC's, and DBA's.
You should also consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.
For most small businesses forming an LLC is a great option, but if you still want to weigh all your options check our our article, What Structure Should I Choose for My Business?
STEP 3: Register for taxes
You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!
You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.
STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card
Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
STEP 5: Set up business accounting
Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses
Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a doula business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources
In business where services are provided on an extended basis, a services contract is often put in place outlining terms and conditions of service.
Doula businesses should require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, and service level expectations.
STEP 7: Get Business Insurance
Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
STEP 8: Define your brand
Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
How to promote & market a doula service
The first stage of your marketing strategy is doula certification. Whether you plan to operate as the only doula or your vision includes a team of professionals, each should have the proper training. When meeting with a potential new client, it is vital that you show you are knowledgeable and experienced about the pregnancy and birthing process.
To further garner respect within the community, your website should be educational and supportive. In addition to explaining what services a doula offers, identify your target audience and touch on subjects that would matter most to them. Make sure the image you are trying to convey carries over into your company name, logo, website URL, and email address.
In this community, networking is often your greatest marketing tool. Rather than trying to learn everything, master a few things and partner up with others who possess skills that complement yours. This referral network will help build your business quicker than any paid advertisement.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Achieving the goals laid out in your business plan hinges on one thing: your ability to connect with clients on a deeper level. Be honest with them, listen more than speak, and make them laugh. Above all, show them that you care by going the extra mile. Send out birthday cards, inquire about recent life events, and follow up with them once the baby has come. Parenting a newborn can be a lonely time; offer them the support they are lacking.
STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence
A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Start A Doula Service In Your State
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Is this Business Right For You?
Since the primary role of a doula is to focus on the physical and emotional needs of a birthing mother, a female would do best in this position. Most women who enter this field are drawn to it because of their passion for supporting other women in their community. They are advocates for women’s rights, particularly in the delivery room, where expectant mothers are often pushed into making choices that do not follow their original birthing plan.
What happens during a typical day at a doula service?
Unless you take on a large number of clients, most days will not be spent in the labor and delivery room. Until your expectant mother is officially in labor, she will need you periodically for support and guidance. For several months leading up to childbirth, you’ll meet with her, by phone or in person, to answer any questions she might have and assist her in outlining her birthing plan. While a doula does not practice medicine, she is knowledgeable about the various medicines and issues that could arise during labor and delivery.
Since most deliveries are not scheduled, doulas are on-call 24/7 once her client reaches the third trimester. Once labor starts, she’s there to offer whatever support the mother needs, helping with breathing and relaxation techniques, supporting the mother in various laboring positions, and providing massage therapy. They help with partner involvement and advocate for the mother when things don’t go as planned. When the baby arrives, the doula is there to help the new mother breastfeed and bond with her newborn.
Some doulas, antepartum doulas, specialize in high-risk pregnancies, providing support and education throughout the pregnancy. Postpartum doulas specialize in afterbirth. They educate the new mother and assist them in household duties as their client adjusts to this new life.
As the owner of a doula service, your free time away from clients will be spent on administrative work and your marketing strategy.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful doula service?
Since your primary role is to ensure that the mother is comfortable, emotionally and physically, it is critical that you possess a great deal of patience, compassion, and understanding. It will often be necessary for you to read the signals a woman is giving, anticipating her needs before she realizes them herself. Additionally, the ability to work well under pressure is paramount to an individual’s success as a doula.
Those who enter this profession must be healing in nature. You’re there to keep both mother and father calm throughout the entire experience. While you do not need to be an expert in all, a basic understanding of acupressure, aromatherapy, massage, music therapy, positioning, reflexology, and visualization are helpful in becoming an effective doula. To ensure you are educated in each of these techniques, receiving doula certification is recommended. The Doulas of North America (DONA) and The Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) both offer well-respected doula certification programs.
Experienced doula business owners caution against opening your business without considering all that goes into such an undertaking. Work with your local Chamber of Commerce or consider taking some basic business courses at a community college before doing so.
What is the growth potential for a doula service?
Your doula business’ growth opportunities are directly tied to demand in your region, saturation of the market, and affordability of your fees. More and more expectant families are realizing the value behind having a doula’s support, making it one of the fastest growing industries. Many doulas have found that partnering with midwives with the same value system contributes to long-term success.
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Take the Next Step
Find a business mentor
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Resources to Help Women in Business
There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:
If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a doula service?
Consider these insider tips from doula professionals who have spent years in the industry:
- While overhead costs are virtually non-existent, this profession can take an emotional and physical toll on you as an individual. Prepare your mind, body, and family, as you will be on-call tend to your client’s every need.
- Since your services are required throughout the pregnancy and childbirth, it is recommended that you draft a service contract for each client to sign. Make sure the details of your services are clearly outlined, and that your client is aware of all fees, cancellation policy, and refund policy. This will reduce the number of monetary disputes that occur.
- Keep in mind that your customers will be paying in cash. Before opening your business, make sure you have a payment system in place, with multiple options available.
- When speaking with clients, never compare yourself to other doulas or speak ill of them. Yes, they are the competition, but running a business from a negative angle is never healthy and won’t help build your success.
- Successful doulas are in a constant state of improvement. Refine your skills and expand your knowledge regularly to be the very best that you can be.
- When meeting with current and potential clients, make sure you dress the part. Keep your apparel professional and neutral.
How and when to build a team
Some doulas prefer to work alone throughout their entire careers, while other business owners feel a well-rounded service team is best for the client and company. What is your vision for the company?
Once you have answered that question, you will know when (or if) you should build a team. Just make sure every employee is properly certified and keeps up with their continuing education.