I recently put out a survey to my email subscribers and Facebook group members to learn about their challenges with regard to money and their businesses. Aside from the most common problem of not having enough clients, there were a few people who felt they couldn't start their doula business because of lack of funds. It's that vicious cycle of needing money to get clients and needing clients to get money.
While it's admittedly more difficult to get your business off the ground when you don't have any money, if you succeed in leaping over that initial hurdle and are able to secure some seed money to get started, there are a number of ways you can inexpensively start and run your business. At the very minimum, you should have a computer and internet access. If your local library has computers with internet that you can use, that will work in a pinch too. A smartphone with wireless service is more challenging to work with, but I've known of people who have successfully started with just their phone.
Let's look at the basics:
Logo and Website
You will hear from numerous sources that it's imperative to have a logo and website, all beautifully branded and matching. Let's face it — custom websites and branding are freaking expensive! In addition, I see posts on doula groups often about a logo or business name keeping people stuck and not moving forward.
The real, real? It will not kill your chances of getting clients if you do not have a logo. If coming up with one is dragging you down and stressing you out, let it go and move on. I do think it's nice to have a business name figured out, but again, if you're stuck, you can start with Sallie Smith Doula Services. Find a nice font and a color you like and move on. You can change it later. If you have an idea for a logo, see if you can barter with a friend, or check out Fiverr.
For your website, there are free site builders that can help you get started. There are limitations, like having those companies' branding on your site and not being able to have your own domain name (it would be more like www.yourbizname.wix.com), but I have to say that these services have nice selections of website themes that are clean and look professional. These builders are easy to learn and use, and you can have a website up and running today if you like. The three that are used the most are:
Having said this about free sites, I'd like to point out that it looks more professional to have a website with your own domain address. The above three services allow you to upgrade to an inexpensive monthly plan so that you can have your own domain name, but if you can afford a little more, what I'd recommend you do is skip the above three options and start with Squarespace.
Stuck on what to say on your website? Start off with some of these tips. It is nice to get a headshot photo for your site. If you're bootstrapping it, get someone to take some photos of you. Again, barter with a photographer friend, or scour Pinterest for tips on taking great headshot photos.
When designing your website, look for clean, simple themes. Don't use music, don't use flashing anything or overdo it on fonts or colors. You want the content to be easy to read, and you want the navigation to be easy. Once you have created your site, ask people you trust to be completely honest with you to give you feedback. If you're in a doula or other business group, ask for feedback there too.
When your site is ready to go, you will want to learn basic SEO (search engine optimization) techniques to help your site be found when people are looking for doulas in your area. Googling the topic will bring up lots of free tips; also search for tutorials on YouTube for SEO help for whatever web builder you're using. In addition, here is a useful resource specifically on local SEO. Because algorithms change, be sure that you're looking at resources that were written in the last year or so.
A couple notes: One potential problem of needing to change your business name in the future is that if you have a website, there are some challenges to changing the domain name for your existing site. And, if you use a free site at the beginning, if you want to change to another platform like Squarespace or WordPress.org, migrating over will have its own set of challenges. Just be aware of these points. I still think it's worth considering moving forward and getting a website up and running.
Finally, a Facebook page can work as a stand in for a website, but I'd recommend getting a website as your online home.
Because you offer your services locally, you really should have business cards. Again, the branding folks will get all bent out of shape if your business cards don't have the same look and feel as your website… Honestly, if you meet with people at an event and you give them your card, if they like you enough to visit your website, I really don't think (99% of the time) that having unmatching cards and website will be a deal-breaker in them working with you or not.
Don't buy blank business card paper and print your own, as the perforations look unprofessional. The cheapest place to get cards is likely to be VistaPrint. Make sure to subscribe to their emails or search for discount codes online, and you should be able to order 250 cards in the neighborhood of $20. Moo Cards has some cool designs, though their cards may cost a little more.
If you are the in the U.S. or Canada, you can set up a free profile on Doulamatch. Provide a bio, add a photo and fill out the availability calendar. If creating a website is really setting you back, at the very least, set yourself up on Doulamatch.
In addition to Doulamatch, there are a number of free directories online for both birth professionals and other businesses. Do a search for local and national directories. Don't forget about setting up a Facebook business page, or free listings on Google and Yelp.
Additional Doula Business Tools
Here is a list of free resources you can check out to help run your doula business. Some services give you additional features with their paid versions or require that you sign up for a subscription when you reach certain limits. This is not an exhaustive list, but this will get you started in your research. Some tools will suit your needs better than others, so experiment with different ones to find the services that work best for you.
Email: Google – An actual business account where you use your own domain name does carry a fee, but if you use the @gmail.com domain, you can use a free account.
Document storage: Google Drive and Dropbox – Store files that you want to share with your clients
Appointment schedulers: Calendly and Acuity – You set up your availability for interviews and client appointments, and your clients can book themselves to meet with you.
Client relationship manager: Streak for Gmail – Use for tracking and managing your clients throughout the whole time you're working with them, from the time they first contact you until their last postpartum visit. This helps remind you when to contact them for the next step. There are also other tools to help you create canned email responses and scheduling emails to send in the future.
Email marketing: Mailchimp and Mailerlite – Unlike using social media where each channel controls who sees your posts with their ever-changing algorithms, you own your email list and have full control of it. Start growing your list when you start your business and you'll have a way to keep in touch with potential and existing clients.
Accounting: Wave Accounting – Keep track of your income and expenses with this free software service. You can also send out invoices.
Credit card processors: PayPal and Square – You do need to pay fees to accept credit card payments, so build that into your price. Unlike traditional credit card processing services, you don't pay a monthly fee. Both companies have free credit card readers so you can take payments in person, and swiped cards may mean lower transaction fees. You can easily send invoices through either of these services.
Secure online document signing: HelloSign – Use to send out contracts. You can get three free signed documents each month, so it is perfect for the new doula.
Social media scheduling: Buffer and Hootsuite – Use tools like these to schedule social media posts to multiple outlets. Both have limits for their free versions. Facebook and Twitter also allow you to schedule posts directly in their apps to your Facebook page or Twitter account. Using schedulers help to save you time and can post when you're not able to.
Password Manager: Dashlane – If you're like most people, you have a zillion or more logins. Using the same three or four passwords for every site is not a wise move and makes you more prone to being hacked. Using a password manager lets you store strings of characters as your passwords and the software will remember them all for you and even automatically log you in to your online accounts.
Create a paperless doula business: PDF Escape – Convert your doula client forms to fillable forms your clients can complete on their computer.
Banner and image creator: Canva – Free tool to create images for sharing on social media, cover headers, handouts, and more.
PDF Converter: Small PDF – Use this to convert and edit PDF files. The free version only allows limited use.
Free Stock Photos: Librestock links to 40+ sites that share royalty-free photos.
App Connectors and Automation: IFTTT and Zapier will connect the online tools you use and automate various tasks so you don't have to. For example, since the paid social media scheduler I use doesn't post to Google+, I use Zapier to take everything I post on my Facebook page and add each post into a Google spreadsheet, then add it in the free version of Buffer to post to my Google+ account. Both services have a list of "recipes" you can choose from, or you can make your own.
Teaching aids: Want to get some snazzy teaching aids to use with your clients but don't have the cash? One word – Pinterest. This is a great place to find tutorials on all kinds of DIY activities and teaching aids. You can also see this blog post for some additional resources.
Free samples and demo items: Did you know that companies are willing to give you free stuff that you can use to give to your clients? Did you know some companies with higher dollar items will give you one of their products to use for demonstrations? All you need to do is contact them and ask! Here's a list to get you started. If you have some favorite products that you think your clients will love, look up those companies and see if they have a sample/demo program. If you can't find anything on their website, email the company and inquire.
One More Thing
Just because you have access to and implement any combination of tools above doesn't mean that the business will just start rolling in. You're going to need to learn about running a business and you will have to start marketing yourself. In particular, marketing NEVER ends. Start with a business plan and a marketing plan. You will need to network in your community, figure out who your ideal client is, learn where that person hangs out, and connect with those people. Do not rely solely on online marketing to bring you clients in the door. Having a service business means you need to get out there and meet people and tell everyone who you help and what you do.
Don't let finances get in the way of starting your business. If you continue to block your success with this thought, this is a mindset issue that you need to overcome. There are many doulas out there who are bootstrapping it with far fewer tools that I've presented, and they are getting clients. Take advantage of any or all of the options I've suggested, and as you begin to make money, if you outgrow the free services, you can upgrade to the paid versions or find other tools that combine several services in one.
As far as getting in some cash so you can invest in your company, many new small business owners make sacrifices:
- Sell things they don't need
- Pick up a part- or full-time job
- Downsize their homes
- Decrease various categories in their budgets (mac-n-cheese and ramen, yo)
- Run a crowdfunding campaign
- Ask for help from family
- Barter services (whether it's doula-related or falling back on other talents)
- Or, as a last resort, put business expenses on credit.
Business owners can get really creative to see their business dreams come true.
Starting a doula business takes persistence, creativity, and consistent effort. If you're comparing yourself to what others are doing and think you have to be investing large sums in order to get started, know that many others have been in your position and have created successful doula businesses on a shoestring budget. Focus on your desire to serve, and let that commitment help you to keep moving your forward.
Do you know of any additional resources? Add them in the comments or come on over to the Inspired Birth Pros community on Facebook to discuss!