This post is part of our "Readers Ask" series.
Reader Question: “From a career perspective, how do you earn income?”
Answer: Another excellent (and common!) question for many people who are considering birth work as a potential career change. Below is some information that might be helpful.
I was a teacher turned stay-at-home mom turned teacher again throughout my entire adult life prior to completely changing my career at age 40. What started off as a “let me take a doula training and maybe I’ll do this as a fulfilling hobby on the side” ended up being a full-time career move and a return to graduate school to pursue midwifery within six months of my doula training.
It was a scary move, but one I should have made much earlier when I first had my calling to this work many years earlier. It was one I should have embraced more rather than be frightened by. I regret not trusting my instincts (instincts are EVERYTHING in this line of work). However, there wasn’t much guidance at the time, so I winged it. I learned a great deal over time and I enjoy sharing that with my Doula School students and students from our Lamaze seminars.
Before we dive into HOW to earn income, YOU must determine what you consider to BE income.
Are you looking for part-time income or full-time income? What hours are you able to/willing to work? Those answers likely depend on the season of life that you’re in. Do you need a career that is flexible enough to work around your family’s schedule? Do you have a full-time job that you cannot leave until your own birth business is thriving? Are you just starting out in a career? Are you retired and looking for something to fulfill your spirit rather than a paycheck?
Define what “income” means to you first, and then dig in.
What’s Your Line of Work?
Are you working as a doula? Are you working as a childbirth educator? Are you doing both? Something else? It is best to narrow down exactly what you want to do, and what your role is in that job. One thing about this job is that it is VERY EASY to get sucked into many different avenues (such as birth doula, childbirth educator, placenta encapsulator, postpartum doula, breastfeeding counselor, and so on). Birth workers seriously love learning new things.
While it might make sense that one person should be able to have all those services available, your ONE client is not likely able to afford ALL that you offer. That means you’ll have one birth doula client, another class of Lamaze students (who will all want to hire you as their doula), someone else who needs placenta encapsulation, and a last-minute breastfeeding consult.
Sounds great to have so much business, right? It is great, and that is the reality. You’ll have plenty of business over time. But, it’s a lot of work for one person to handle, and when you total up the number of hours you put in to all that those individual jobs entail, and each client that needs something different from you, you’ll find your hourly wage isn’t very good.
To be on-call for a birth doula client 24/7/365, attend that birth and hoping it does not interfere with the Lamaze class you’re teaching on Tuesday night, and then needing to get your placenta encapsulation service started so that it is completed by tomorrow, well… you’re suddenly working through what was you’re your sleeping time. Your paycheck won’t reflect the hours you put in, or the sleep you gave up. And you won’t be the best YOU that you can be.
This is not to say you turn away all that work. This is how you get clients, and this is the best way to get your name around. But its more than ONE person can do well for a long period of time. So, figure out what you do best and do THAT. Then, as you see the need, hire other employees who are experts in their field to fill in some of those other jobs. Having professional specialists working for your team allows your business to grow exponentially without burning yourself out.
For me, I enjoy teaching the most. This is what I consider my area of specialty. I focus on the teaching while I have other professionals doing what they do best and what compliments my classes. It did not happen overnight, and I did manage all those roles on my own for several years. But I soon realized that by trying to wear all those hats, I was holding back the growth of my business. The moment I better defined my role and handed off other responsibilities is the moment my business exploded.
Self Employed or Employed by Another?
Do you want to own your own company or do you want to be a paid employee?
If you create your own company then the sky’s the limit. You can take that business wherever you want it to go. There’s literally NOTHING stopping you (aside from a learning curve and some time for business development and growth that just take time to brew). You can be as creative as you want, grow as big as you want, develop as many programs and services as you want, and well, just be your own boss as you want. However, you’ll take your work with you wherever you go, answering emails at all hours of the day or night. The success of your business depends 100% on you.
On the other hand, with proper certification, you can step into a job at a hospital or other entity where you can earn a very decent hourly rate. The number of hours you work are limited to the number of classes offered by that entity, and you might not be able to be creative in program development. You’ll basically show up, punch the clock, teach your class, punch out, and go home. You can leave work at work, get paid well, and not have many responsibilities once work is over.
You will have to work under the hierarchy of the hospital, choose your words more carefully than if you were self-employed, possibly be forced into vaccinations regardless of your choice, and be responsible for maintaining employee requirements as determined by your HR department. You’ll likely trade your creativity for job security, but you’ll have a steady paycheck right away and you won’t have to worry about the business side of things.
Program Development is Essential
If you’re self-employed you’ll need to think outside the box. Program and service development is essential.
Imagine you’re a childbirth educator. You aren’t going to make enough of a full-time income teaching one childbirth education class. But with some brainstorming, you might start offering other courses such as comfort techniques, early pregnancy classes, prenatal fitness classes, postpartum classes, newborn care classes…well, you get the picture. You’ll need more than ONE class to teach if you want to earn more money.
Having a full schedule of classes for parents to choose from is a great way to expand your business. The best way to do that is to 1) figure out what is needed in your community, and 2) start offering it! You know the saying…. “if you build it, they will come”. Well, if you build it, nurture it, give it time, they will come. But you must build it first. If you never offer it, or if you change it too often, or if you don’t give it enough time to grow, they will never come. It takes time.
If you’re a patient, creative person who gets excited by seeing growth, then you might consider owning your own business. You will eventually need to bring on additional staff to help you with the client load – but that’s a good thing!
More Happy Clients Means More Clients
It only takes one happy client to tell a friend, a coworker, a family member about how great you are, and boom – you have another client. Word of mouth is everything. More than website SEO or your placement on Google, what your clients say about you is crucial. The more clients you have telling their social circles about you and your services, the more clients you’ll have. Soon, your business will snowball and you will become the go-to person for doula work, childbirth education, (insert other specialty here). This comes with a lot of responsibility to be the best birth worker you can possibly be.
In my early days, I doula’d for a person who worked at one of the largest employers in my area and another person who was an employee at a large university nearby. Both people were so happy with my services that they told their pregnant co-workers. It wasn’t long before I became the go-to doula at that company and university. I had so many people wanting my services that I had to turn people away. I never, ever worried about my website SEO, or where I ranked on a Google search. I never had to schmooze doctors or nurses so that they would in turn hand out my business cards. I never needed to. I gave great service to my clients who were well connected within their companies and they graciously (and eagerly) shared my contact information.
I no longer turn potential clients away – instead I train doulas and pay them to serve everyone.
Potential clients need to be able to find you. That means you’ll need to create a website and social media pages (see Be Social Media Savvy below). You’ll need a professional email account (separate from your personal email), and either be willing to publicize your cell phone number or get a Google Number (or other similar service). There are a number of companies out there that allow you to create your own website even if you don’t have any web design experience.
I created and manage my website on my own without ANY experience under my belt. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a learning curve involved. My current website is much better than the first one I created, but it also isn’t as good as it could be. I will eventually need to hire a web designer to give it a more sleek look and better functionality, but I have control issues so turning it over is not easy - but that's a story for another time 😊
Be Social Media Savvy
Whether or not you use social media, many of your potential clients do. That means they’ll be posting photos, comments, ideas, and whatnot about what they are learning with you. That’s FREE ADVERTISEMENT! You cannot afford to pass up FREE anything.
Your name will turn up in Moms Groups on Facebook. A photo of a fun Lamaze class activity will end up on Instagram. This is FREE ADVERTISEMENT! If you are not savvy in social media outlets, ask for help. Even a nearby teenager can probably help you get started. With some practice, you’ll become more comfortable and you’ll soon learn the power of social media and just how valuable it is to your business.
Just Use Your Name
If you’ve taken one of my Lamaze Seminars or Doula School then you’ve heard me say this many times.
If you’re starting your own business, its very easy to go down the “come up with a cute name and logo” rabbit hole. You’ll spend endless hours creating the perfect name and logo design (which takes away from developing your actual program or service) only to find out that NONE of your potential clients will know you by your business name. They’ll know you by YOUR NAME. There are also legal benefits to using your name as your business.
Over the years I’ve seen new birth workers so excited to get to work and open their own business only to see them put all their time and energy into a name or a logo and not into the quality of service. If you’re spending more time on design than you are on your actual program or service, you should re-evaluate your focus.
Don’t let yourself waste your time on business names and logos. Put your efforts into your program content and services. Your own name is enough.
Don’t Give Away Free Information
You know, like I’m doing now 😊
You’ve paid good money for your training. You’ve invested time into your own studies. You’ve asked your family to be patient while your business develops. Why should you give away free information to family, friends, and inquiring clients who are simply collecting as much free information as they can without being willing to sign a contract or pay your worth. If you don’t value your worth, why should anyone else?
FYI - I’m only giving you a few tips here – you’ll have to pay for a Lamaze Seminar or Doula School if you want to learn MUCH more!
Actually, I thoroughly love sharing information and this is something I have to make an effort to not give away too much for free. It’s a work in progress for me because helping others is just in my nature.
Go to Conferences, Continue Learning, & Join an Organization
As a birth professional, it’s imperative that you go to professional conferences. It’s important to meet your colleagues who are working in the field. Meaningful, professional development and ongoing learning are important. Research in this field is ever changing. Policies are updating. Advocacy work is ongoing. If you’re not actively involved in these things, you are not growing professionally. If you not growing, not involved, not really learning, the income you earn will be limited and you will be stuck with the same pay rate. Your clients will know more than you. Let’s face it – your income depends on this.
Being involved and serving in a larger organization is critical to your birth work. You are a professional and you need to be respected by your peers. When you are respected by other colleagues in your profession you become more valuable in your job role. When you become more valuable, you earn more.
Put in the time. Learn. Grow. Invest in yourself. Earn more.
Plus, it’s the ethical thing to do for your clients.
Work from the Heart
One advantage of this work and being your own boss is that you can truly work from your heart. When you work from the heart, work isn’t work. Work is enjoyable and it allows you to be creative. It’s satisfying to the soul.
Being self-employed, there isn’t a hierarchy of employee red tape to follow. You can literally work as your heart tells you to. And when you work from your heart, your heart shows. When your heart shows, your future clients will see it. They will love you for it.
This is how you make an income AND a professional career.
Wendy Trees Shiffer, MS, FACCE, LCCE is a mother and maternal-fetal health educator. She is the founder and program director for Family Trees Birth Programs serving childbirth professionals and new parents.