By Charlotte Bailey
When setting up your doula business, one of the most fundamental things you need to decide is how much to charge for your services. Setting your pricing correctly from the outset is an important part of your business success – although don’t worry, you can tweak it as you go along, too!
However, get it wrong and you risk either not earning enough money to cover your basic needs or you’ll be too expensive for your customers. So let’s take a closer look at how you might appropriately set (or re-set) your pricing…
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, confession time…It upsets me SO much to see incredible doulas – not exclusively, but most often women – charging much less than the value that they bring to their clients, struggling to make ends meet and concluding that being a doula is not a viable business option. Undercharging for your services doesn’t do anyone any favours. It actually pulls down the amount that other doulas can charge, making those whose fees are proportional to the difference they can bring to clients seem like they’re over charging. I’ve had potential clients ask me why I “charge so much when another local doula (not an NB doula!) charges half the amount?” Tricky one. I wonder where that doula is now; I haven’t heard her name since or seen her at on/offline doula events or any local networking groups. I hope she is still working, but my strong suspicion is probably not. And then there were the 3 times (yes 3!) I’ve been called to support a client at the very last minute because the 1st choice (cheaper) doula is either no longer able to deliver on their commitments or has suddenly ghosted the client.
The thing is that most (if not all) customers want the cheaper option. Don’t we all love a bargain?! I do! But if a client is choosing to work with you solely because you’re the cheapest option, is that really the kind of client you want to work with and have they truly understood the value of receiving support from a doula? We live in a world of dream-boat clients and extremely testing clients. Go find the dream-boat clients and stop undercharging! (I know there’s a grey area here concerning vulnerable pregnant women and birthing people in financial hardship but I’ll circle back to address this shortly… stay with me!).
Your time is precious. Your skills are valuable. We offer an exchange of our time and skills for money. So how much is your time worth to you? You need to start by figuring that out. This is of key importance, and it’s something that is discussed on the Nurturing Birth courses.
Most self-employed people running service-based businesses – plumbers, private tutors, beauty therapists etc – will charge by the hour and use a structured approach to calculating their rates. They decide an hourly rate they want and calculate out from there. For instance, a boiler replacement may take 6 hours to complete and the plumber charges £85 per hour, thus the fee for the job is 6 x £85 = £510. Or a massage therapist works for £30 per hour and thus charges £45 for a 90 minute treatment. This could work really well when pricing for antenatal and postnatal sessions. However, the problem with charging by the hour as a Birth Doula is that we cannot predict how long a birth will continue on for. It seems grossly unfair to put a birthing woman or person in a position where they’re calculating how much your support is costing them out of fear they’ll exceed their budget, rather than relaxing into their labour.
The answer therefore might be to choose a fixed price for a birth package. If the client is happy with a fixed price then it doesn’t matter how short/long their birth is. Obviously, you still need to know your hourly rate based on roughly how long an average labour takes, but the client doesn’t need to think about this.
I’ve been self-employed for about 15 years. I’ve learnt (the hard way) that if I charge any less than £30 per hour for my time, I struggle to make enough money to live on. But that’s LOADS more than minimum wage! I hear you cry. I wouldn’t feel comfortable charging that! Then please, please understand this:
An employee is paid when on holiday, when sick, when taking a coffee break, eating lunch, meeting new potential clients, travelling between client meetings. They’re provided with an office, the overheads are paid for as well as their business expenses, insurances and pension schemes.
As a self-employed person you don’t get paid when on holiday, off sick, on a break or having lunch. You do not get paid for doing your accounts, updating your website or attending networking meetings to find new clients. You do not get paid for the time spent being interviewed by new clients. You pay for your DBS, insurance, office resources and running costs. You do your own marketing, your own sales, you pay for your accounting and legal fees. You pay for your training and any additional CPD.
The hourly rate for an employee is approximated by dividing the annual salary by two and removing three zeros. So, if an employee earns a £30,000 salary, that’s roughly £15 per hour. But it DOES NOT work like that when you’re self-employed. If you want to make £30,000 per year from self-employment you will have to charge significantly more than £15 per hour.
So, how many hours can you actually charge for?
A great starting point is to decide how many hours you can feasibly spend face-to-face with your clients. If you’re offering birth support and working without a back-up you may feel that 1 or 2 births is the maximum you could support in a month. You may feel you want to limit the number of on-call weeks per year which will determine how many birth clients you can realistically support each year. Outside of supporting at the birth, you’ll likely be offering antenatal and postnatal doula support, so how will that time commitment work around any other obligations you may be balancing? Whatever limits the number of clients you can work with in a year, you’ll need to adjust your fees to off-set the ‘down time’.
The main things to consider:
- The maximum number of hours you can work each day/ week
- Travel time and lunch breaks
- How many days per week you can work
- How many days of holiday you want each year (the standard for the employed is 20 days plus 8 bank holidays)
- How many days you need to assign to finding clients (attending MVP meetings, local doula gatherings, networking events etc)
- How much time you need to set aside for admin (website updates, bookkeeping, invoicing, social media content creation etc)
- How many sick days you ought to allocate (10 is common in employment)
- Predicted work rate – this is such a tricky thing to estimate. Research I’ve done suggests estimating actual billable work won at 70% which you can review after your first year of business and it will likely improve with each year if you continue to deliver on a clear business growth strategy
- Potential Earnings (your ‘guestimate’ hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours you are available to work x 70%)
- Business running costs
- Fuel and car maintenance
- Mentoring/ CPD
- Insurance/ DBS/ First Aid Certificate
- Accounting and Legal Fees
- Phone and Internet
- Consumables – stationary, essential oils, drinking straws etc
- Professional/ Networking memberships
- Revised Earnings – Now you know your running costs you can deduct them from your Potential Earnings. If that’s leaving you out of pocket or short of your financial goals, then you need to adjust your hourly rate! In 2019, the average salary in UK was £36,611 according to this site so what would your hourly rate need to be in order to bring your annual earnings inline with the UK average? Having run these figures myself, I’m willing to bet it’s around £30 per hour.
Please understand that I am not sharing this information with you to be prescriptive. What you choose to charge for your services is ultimately up to you. But I want you to be successful. I want pregnant women and birthing people to benefit from receiving support from energised, grounded, compassionate doulas just like you. I don’t want you to hit compassion fatigue, burn out and pull away from your calling. This is a wake-up call. Reducing your fees may give an initial boost to the volume of clients but it’ll be temporary and working for such low rates is not sustainable. Keep the long-term view in sight and stay out of the race to the bottom.
Before I round off, I said I’d address the point about keeping doulas accessible to those in need.
When I launched my doula business in 2016 I was keen to make doula support accessible to those who were vulnerable and in financial hardship. Having reviewed my packages, personal financial needs and availability I aimed to support at least one pro-bono client per year. It took me longer than I hoped to build up to the number of births per year required to make this happen, but last year (my busiest year for births to date) I was able to offer a return client a hugely discounted birth package so that she could secure the support she wanted, at a price she could afford. I know many other doulas who will commit to supporting a specific number of births via the various different charities as an alternative option.
Please don’t see this as bragging. I’m trying to illustrate the fact that, despite being the most ‘expensive’ doula in Hampshire, I am working consistently and my client base grows each year. I am working well within my capacity, my energy level is high, I am able to afford regular mentoring sessions which keep my doula practice healthy, and I feel great about delivering on my promise to keep doula support accessible. My hope is that you experience the same and so much more.
If you would like to book a mentoring session to discuss your business practice as a doula please click on this link – https://courses.nurturingbirth.co.uk/mentoring-booking-form
I am literally bursting with excitement to have joined the team of facilitators at NB. Supporting fledgling Doulas as they take flight into the birth world is pure joy; I have limited ability in enabling birthing people to have awesome births, but by supporting Doulas as they support others, the impact ripples on and on. I am filled with hope that together we can make a real difference. – Charlotte
If you would like to reach out to Charlotte to discuss her becoming your doula mentor, click here: https://nurturingbirth.co.uk/mentors/charlotte-bailey/
Charlotte’s Instagram: www.instagram.com/birth.warriors
Charlotte’s Facebook: www.facebook.com/birthwarriors