By Charlotte Bailey
Let’s be honest here; for most of us there is a jarring incongruence between the idea of being a Doula and of being a Sales person. The two roles, in my mind, certainly took some time to reconcile but once they did, in a way that felt natural and appropriate, magic happened! I stopped feeling like I was selling my doula services, and started feeling like I was serving my doula clients.
Recently, in one of our Virtual Cuppas, a Doula shared her frustration that despite having lots of positive conversations with potential clients/supporters, these conversations weren’t translating into client referrals or bookings. This particular Doula was upset and suspected something was blocking her results. I would like to offer this blog to anyone who relates to this, as a way of providing some possible insight into what those blocks might be and which practical steps can be taken to push through them.
In order to be the best Doula we can, we all have skills to hone…active listening, holding space, appropriate signposting etc. But building a successful Doula business (whatever size of business that means to you) means developing beyond these skills and acquiring new abilities to grow and manage a start-up enterprise. This is where the application of sales skills can be of enormous assistance in learning how to find potential clients, how to talk to them about what you do and how they might benefit, and how to nurture authentic relationships with potential clients until they feel ready to make a decision to work with you (or not!).
In a series of two blogs I will talk you through some of the key skills that will help you to find and connect with your perfect client – and build your doula business!
Skill No. 1- Finding possible clients
In 2018, around 735,000 babies were born in the UK. That’s a lot of babies! And when you consider how few Doulas there are in the UK in comparison to the number of babies that are born, that’s a lot of potential clients.
We know the benefits of working with a Doula, but most people don’t. And so our first job is to help people to understand. This means sharing the facts with enough people and you’ll naturally start to find your clients. So, where can you share these facts?
- Pregnancy and Postnatal Support Groups – What a fab way to meet local expectant parents and local birth workers. These are ‘promotion-free’ groups so you won’t be asked to talk about your business but you’ll have a mutual space where you can cultivate relationships with pregnant women and people. Naturally at some point they will ask you what you do for a living and you’re welcome at that point to tell them you are a Doula. They may have more questions, in which case, swap details and offer to meet outside of the group set-up.
- MVP Committees – As above, you won’t be invited back if you arrive at an MVP meeting with the agenda of finding clients, but by making valid and stand-out contributions to the meeting, you may find that you naturally attract the attention of expectant and new parents who feel a resonance to you.
- Doula Databases – There are international doula directories such as the Nurturing Birth Directory, Positive Birth Movement Directory, Doula UK Directory. There are also national or regional ones, eg Hampshire Doulas. How you write about your services and how you tell your story is really critical here. You might want to work with a Sales Consultant or professional Copywriter to put together an all-singing-all-dancing piece of text that you can adapt for use across your website and directory entries to ensure anyone reading your bio and/or business info really understands what you’re all about and knows how to contact you. Any online presence that links back to your website will help boost your Search Engine Optimisation. The greater your online presence with consistent text which clearly describes what you offer, and links that all point in the same direction (don’t forget to check them frequently in case a site you’re linking to has changed) will mean people searching for someone like you are more like to find a hit with your site.
- Online – Facebook groups, Linked In, Instagram, Twitter. Either run your own group or join existing groups that have a cross-over in their target audiences with your ideal client. Make time each week to comment and contribute in those groups – not about yourself or your business, but in relation to what group members are asking for. Offer genuine support without the intention of getting anything back from the interaction. If you show-up in those groups consistently enough, people will get to know you and start to investigate further so make sure your FB business page and your personal page are linked. Adding ‘doula’ to your online name means that people know straight away who you are if they are looking for a Doula. Josh Turner has written a great book on this. See the reading list below.
- Networking Meetings – A great environment for sharing your business and opportunity. Everyone in the room is there to hear, share, learn, support and refer. Over time, you’ll cultivate trusting relationships. By investing time to learn about and support others and making appropriate referrals, others will do the same for you. Turning up once and vanishing will not bring results. Go along to a few different groups to test out which feel like the best fit for you and then commit to going regularly and booking 1-to-1 meetings with each member to get to know them better. Gather people’s contact details and find creative ways to stay in touch. This could be by hosting coffee mornings for business owners with target audiences that mirror yours, by inviting them into your FB business page and posting regularly, or by adding them (with their permission) to a newsletter database. Asking for referrals is a key part of networking, or starting a conversation with the question ‘Who do you know who…is pregnant/ had a bad birth experience/ is expecting a grandchild and wants to give a valuable gift…?’ offers a gentle and encouraging way to provoke peoples’ thinking beyond their own needs. If someone tells you they know someone who might be interested, ask them to set up a coffee date so they can introduce you. Ask to set a provisional time there and then in order to secure their commitment and move things forwards (see section on Following Up for more tips here)
Skill No. 2 – Inviting possible clients to learn more.
Do you know who your ideal client is? We know that there is a potential for every expectant and new parent to benefit from hiring a Doula, but, egos aside now, not every potential client will feel you are the right fit for them. So, who is it that you are looking for, specifically? Spending time really getting to understand who your ideal client is will enable you to spot them when you see them. And more than that, they will resonate with you, too, and your ‘sales’ conversation will feel so natural and easy. Once you have identified your ideal client and cultivated a relationship with them, the next step is inviting them to have a focused meeting with you to discuss how they might benefit from working with you.
My hunch is that many Doulas will think that they must start off with a great reputation and impressive amount of experience and thus have a lot of influence in order for potential clients to want to have a consultation with them. This is not true. If your invitation to meet is so that you can learn more about them and to share more about what benefits a Doula could bring to them, then you’re more likely to secure a meeting, even if you’ve not attended a birth yet! You’re not hunting for a sale here, you’re looking to deepen your rapport, to build a friendship, and to support that person in deciding if they want work with a doula or not. You might not even invite that person to a one-to-one meeting with you, but rather an event where they get to learn a bit more about you first in a non-threatening way whilst gaining benefits from attending the meeting. I like to invite pregnant women and people to a local support group – usually the Positive Birth Movement Meet-Ups or our local MVP committee meeting. It gives us both a chance to meet again and continue to build our relationship. The more a person knows, likes and trusts you, the more likely they are to say ‘yes’ to working with you.
In either case there are some fundamentals about the emotion of inviting;
- You must emotionally detach yourself from the outcome. Remember, our initial goal is to help parents to be to better understand what benefits a Doula would bring to them. It’s not to book a new client. In other words, if you shift your focus away from your own needs onto theirs, away from signing a client and instead to supporting them with their needs, things get a whole lot more enjoyable and lot simpler. Whilst this sounds easy, it may feel difficult to do, especially if you have a strong desire to secure that first client or a real financial need. But being aware of your own ‘stuff’ and choosing not to allow it to cloud your intentions will hopefully keep you in good.
- Be yourself. Be your best self, but keep it authentic. You have nothing to prove. You are already enough. The more ‘real’ you can be, the more attractive you will be to your dream client and the more comfortable and trusting they will feel in your presence.
- Bring the passion, the enthusiasm, the FUN! Positivity is infectious and it’s ok to get a little fired-up so long as the focus remains on the woman or person that you are talking with. If you are feeling nervous before a Networking Event or a one-to-one, why not take a few moments before entering the room to buzz yourself up. Maybe listen to some motivational music to help change your state, something that makes you come alive, or take some grounding deep breaths and envision yourself shining. Remember, you’ve got this!
- Check your posture. The way you position yourself physically and emotionally will speak volumes to whomever you are interacting with. Are you someone who is often apologising for things that are beyond your control? Are you (unintentionally or otherwise) dumbing down the value of what you have to offer? Why? Do you believe what you have to offer is of value? Do you believe you can deliver? Have you already mentally decided that this potential client will reject you before you’ve even invited them to meet with you? Is your body language communicating feelings of self-doubt/ insecurity or of assuring confidence? Working on your mindset and your emotional posture here is key. I’ve listed some books below that may help you build your self-belief and confidence.
Once you’ve invited your potential client to meet with you again, confirm the time and their commitment there and then, rather than leaving things open and in their hands. The chances are if you do the latter, the energy of your initial meet-up will be lost. If they’ve told you that they’d like to see you again, confirm the date and the time and add it to your diary immediately, so that they see you are serious and committed. Ask for their permission to contact them the day before and confirm they are still able to meet. Take their number in order that you can do this. If someone has said they will pass your details on to someone they know, ask them when they are next seeing that person. If they say Wednesday, for example, ask if it would be ok to contact them on Wednesday afternoon to find out how the third party responded and what the next steps might be. Again, make a note of the date and deliver on your commitments.
These are just some of the tips that I have on ways to build your doula business while staying true to yourself and your clients. Look out for my blog next month with yet more ideas.
Charlotte is a Nurturing Birth Doula and her Nurturing Birth Directory entry is here…