By Sharon Muza, BS, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, CLE
I totally understand the excitement and desire to be a successful and busy (as busy as you want to be) birth or postpartum doula. I distinctly remember my first year or so as I began to build my business. I had a strong longing to have clients on my books. I wondered how would people know about my services? How can I get the word out there and let *every* pregnant person know that I was a doula and they should hire (or at least interview) me!
Some colleagues suggested that I carry my business cards everywhere I went and consistently hand them out to every pregnant person I see. The pregnant people in the grocery store. The pregnant people at the library. Definitely the pregnant people at my children’s school events. Certainly the pregnant people at the gym.
I was supposed to walk up to pregnant people I didn’t know wherever I went, start a conversation about their pregnancy and let them know that I was a doula and share that they might want to consider my services for their upcoming birth as I hand them my business card. This little marketing trick is called “warm chatting.” I still see and read this suggestion on various blogs and social media forums, and hear about it in doula trainings presented by many different doula organizations. Doulas are told that this is a good option for finding birth or postpartum clients.
Do not be a “warm chatter”
To be honest, I can not think of a less appropriate method of finding clients. Here are my top five reasons why a doula should never do this.
- The person in question may not even be pregnant. People come in all different shapes and sizes. Face it, sometimes those body shapes look pregnant when they are not. I can tell you from personal experience, that no one wants to say, “thanks, but, I am not pregnant.”
- Being pregnant is a very public condition. Everyone feels that they can approach pregnant people in public and ask questions and give advice, and this is a total disregard for people’s privacy. The last thing a pregnant person wants to do is receive unsolicited advice or information from a stranger.
- This may be an unplanned or even unwanted pregnancy. 50% of pregnancies in the United States are not planned. This person may be struggling with the very idea having this child, concerned about finances or worried about the relationship of the other parent. They may be choosing not to parent this child. They do not need a stranger making small talk about the upcoming event.
- The baby may not be healthy, may not survive, or there may be complications. The pregnant person could be very worried about the health of the baby and may be waiting for confirmation of test results. They could be grieving some news about this baby. Being approached by a stranger to discuss their professional services out of the blue is completely inappropriate.
- This could be a rainbow baby. A previous loss (miscarriage, stillbirth or after birth) may be part of the pregnant person’s history. Discussing the current pregnancy may bring up emotions, fears, and thoughts about their previous experience or this pregnancy or both. They may want to avoid discussing the topic with a stranger when it makes them emotional and teary.
What you can do instead to find clients
- Get a t-shirt or jacket made up with your logo and/or your website. Wear it all around town. People will see it and if they want to approach you to inquire, they will.
- Make yourself available to conduct short info sessions for local community groups. When invited, take that opportunity to share what a doula is and what the benefits are. Pass your business cards out to everyone there.
- Ask local childbirth educators if you can help them in their childbirth classes. Families will get to know you and your services in a no-stress environment.
- Submit a short story about your services to community newspapers and blogs. People are always looking for free content for their sites. You can share information about your services, interview some satisfied clients or provide a humorous anecdote.
- Make yourself available to back up other local doulas. You will build relationships and you will be the first person they think of when they cannot serve a client.
Warm chatting is never a good idea when you are looking to find clients who need your doula services. It is invasive, it assumes way too much about a complete stranger and to be frank, it can be downright rude. No one faults you for wanting to build your business, get clients and create a sustainable career for yourself. Those are admirable goals. But please, consider more appropriate actions before walking up to a complete stranger in the store and starting up a conversation about their reproductive situation.
Do you have any other suggestions that have been effective at building your business and finding clients? Please share it in the comments below.