5 Reasons Why Doulas Fail

Everyone at some point in his or her life has heard some variation of “do what you love and you will never work for a living again.” I believe this concept is at best misleading and at worst completely inaccurate. No matter what your passion is, turning it into a successful venture will require hard work and a need to do things that are scary, tedious, and sometimes just downright exhausting. Having spent the last four years working full time on my business, I have learned that I had to figure out how business works before I could make my passion my business. There have been successes and failures and a whole lot of learning.

I have been fortunate in my journey as an entrepreneur to not only build a successful private doula business, but additionally to take what I have learned and build a successful business teaching other doulas how to win as business owners in the professional childbirth space.


In the beginning, work was sporadic and for all intents and purposes I did what I saw everyone else was doing. What I discovered was that I didn’t want what they had! I don’t mean to say that they were doing anything wrong; they just weren’t GETTING what I WANTED out of my business. With this revelation, I started working on the model that is now Your Birth Experience.

On that note, I’d like to share with you what I strongly believe are the 5 reasons why doulas fail.

1 – Refusing to define success

This is probably the most crucial mistake entrepreneurs make when starting a business. The major fear faced when defining what success means for you and your business is “What if I don’t succeed?”  Defining what success is for YOU puts you in the position to be completely honest with yourself as you move forward.

Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

First you have to decide what exactly you are trying to achieve. Money, financial freedom, policy change, getting your product/service into every house in America – what what is it? What are you trying to accomplish?  Seriously, don’t be vague. Put actual numbers to your goals.

Maybe success to you means replacing the income of the job you just quit or having the ability to provide for your family as a single parent. Maybe it’s earning a living wage and making your own schedule. Great goals! Now, how many clients do you need on a weekly/monthly basis based on your pricing model in order to make the income you want?

Or maybe you want to focus on supplying services for free to the disadvantaged, great! How many people in your market are in need of this service and what dollar amount do you need to subsidize the costs associated with this service? Notice, I did not say to discount or donate your services. Even non-profits have bills and employees to pay! You see, you need to specifically define your goals before you can make a plan to achieve them.

2- Focusing on the business second

Whether you are working as for-profit or not-for-profit business, you absolutely must focus on the structure, operations, and finances of your business first (yes, not-for-profit businesses have finances). Too many times childbirth professionals believe that because they are great at their job, the world will beat a path to their door and shower them with opportunity. This is simply not the case and it never will be. Let me be clear, your talent as a professional will ALWAYS live in the shadow of your talent as a business owner.

Why Doulas Fail

As Michael E. Gerber said famously in his book The E Myth Revisited -

“the Entrepreneurial Model has less to do with what’s done in a business and more to do with how it’s done. The commodity isn’t what’s important—the way it’s delivered is.”

What does this mean for you? It’s simple – spend as much time learning about sales, marketing, operations, target markets, etc. as you do learning and practicing your trade. Is this part scary to you? I know the answer to that… YES!!! But guess what? It’s scary to everyone and the more you push yourself to learn, the easier it gets. It still scares me but I continue to learn more about it every day, because I have to. It’s either that or quit.

Believe or not, the more you focus on the “business side” of your business the more enjoyable it gets. You will start to become the captain of your ship and people will come to you for advice and mentorship only further advancing your goals for success.

3- Expectation burnout

Who hasn’t been in a situation where they put unrealistic expectations on something only to wake up in a short period time feeling discouraged and overwhelmed? This is absolute DEATH to an entrepreneur and should be carefully considered and reconsidered as a business evolves.

“Successful” people rarely talk about how badly they are doing.

All too often, we look at other people and say to ourselves “Look how successful that person is. I can do what they are doing!” The problem with that thinking is that you probably don’t know what they are really doing! You might think that I am the most successful Doula you have ever met, but you don’t know how many clients I have or how big my 401k is. Remember, I define my own success (see #1) and when I reach certain goals I am proud of it and want to share it with the world. People are not necessarily lying about their life; they typically just have the tendency to share successes far more than  failures.

It’s just as true in business as in life; “keeping up with the Joneses” is the best way to achieve the perception of someone else’s dream while simultaneously never reaching your personal goals. Spend your time and energy planning to achieve your own goals than exhausting your resources trying to live up to someone else’s highlight reel!

It takes time.

Do not expect to have this all figured out in 3 months or 6 months or a year. I’m going to repeat that. DO NOT expect to have this all figured out in 3 months or 6 months or a year! I have seen it more times than I can count: a new Doula or childbirth professional gets her training and pours herself into everything she knows to do to get her business off the ground for 6 months or a year and before you know it, she’s selling all her gear and putting out resumes for a “real” job to pay her bills.

It really does take time to learn the ropes, work the ropes and do what you need to do to reach your individual goals. Just set realistic expectations and realistic timelines with the purpose of always gaining ground towards your goals. You will get there, but know that the science of passion is rooted in the small victories. In this game, the optimist will always win.

4- Not selling what the market is buying

This is probably one of the hardest concepts for childbirth professionals to understand. Let’s step back for a minute and consider that the very nature giving birth is extremely unique to every family. Every client you come in contact will have preconceived ideas, fears, family pressures, and more that comes into play as they decide what products and services they want through the course of their pregnancy. It is your job to figure out how to give them what they want, not to convince them they want what you have. I repeat: It is your job to figure out how to give them what THEY want, NOT to convince them they want what you have!

Be flexible with pricing your products and services.

Each client you have is an opportunity to gather data and in turn use that data to help you give your potential clients the best experience they can have. If for every 10 clients you meet you only 1 hires you, then you have a major problem! You are spending more time on wasted opportunities than you are on doing your job. I can tell you the reason why they are not converting to clients and it’s not the cost. It’s simply that you have not shown them the value in your services. It does not matter what you charge; if someone believes in the value of your services they will do whatever it takes to retain you. In many cases a client will be more likely to retain services at an above market rate rather than for free because they have a perceived value that is higher for a paid service.

Let’s say a client requests an interview with you and they are expecting to pay between $300-400 for the type of services you offer and at the end of the interview you present your pricing as 1 specific package for $1000. The odds of you retaining that client are slim to none because they already have a perceived value for your “type” of services and you don’t have any options for them. This concept works backwards as well. What if the client expects a fee of $1200- 1500 and you present your 1 specific package for $450. Once again you will most likely be perceived as the “budget” or “low cost” option and in turn will have a lower closing ratio because you look “cheap” rather than valuable.

The point here is you should be creating pricing options that create a good time value for you and at the same time give the client what they want.

“I don’t agree with that.”

Have you ever uttered that phrase? Do you see yourself as a birth advocate or a birth activist? There’s a difference, and one will hurt your business and reputation while the other will grow it. Clients are not coming to you looking to hash out your particular beliefs on which methods are wrong. It is extremely easy to isolate yourself from potential clients and referrals by refusing to “agree” with certain programs or techniques in which they believe. 

I am not saying you should be dishonest and I’m also not saying you should compromise your beliefs. What I am saying is that in the same way success is defined differently for each childbirth professional, the same is true for parents. This is far more complex than just whether or not a woman wants an epidural in childbirth.

What if the one and only thing that is of any importance to a mother is continuous electronic fetal monitoring so she can be reassured of her baby’s well-being? What if she couldn’t care less about methods of pain relief or whether baby is born vaginally or by cesarean as long as she is the first person to hold her baby? Ever had a client who needed zero emotional or physical support from you and only wanted to ask questions about the procedures and timing and explanation of everything happening throughout labor? What philosophy of childbirth is best for them? What method of pain relief do they need? Newsflash: maybe those aren’t the most important part of your job!

If you think you are there to protect your clients from medical interventions or anything else with which you don’t agree, you will put yourself into a box that will exclude you from serving women who can benefit your services and it will also prevent you from growing your business and expertise as a childbirth professional. You don’t have to think outside your box per se, but you may need to expand it.

5- Not working a daily action plan

“Skill is not created by constantly switching to new things. Skill is created by focusing on a small number of things and doing them repeatedly. Black belts in karate do not become black belts by practicing 4,000 different moves; they become black belts by practicing 12 moves 4,000 times.” –Chet Holmes Author of The Ultimate Sales Machine

Ok, I haven’t gotten any calls in a week, I don’t have any meetings set up and it’s 9am Tuesday morning. What the heck am I supposed to do?!

You should never be asking that question. Whether you are busy or slow, you should have a set group of tasks that you can complete every day that will help you grow your business. These tasks may not be massive or life changing, but they are the bricks that will build your road to success. Here are a few you should consider:


Call doctors, midwives, or other potential lead sources and say hi! You can also write a note or stop by and bring them a coffee at their office. Contact old clients and see how they are doing. Get on social media and touch base with everyone and let them know what you are up to! Digital media has given the average American the attention span of a gnat so get out there and remind them you exist!

Market yourself.

Write a blog, work on your website, set up a free class at a local shop or church, work on your email marketing campaign. I used blogging and social media marketing to build the bulk of my business. You can too. Do you need to spend your down time LEARNING about effective marketing strategies? See “Research” below.  There are lots of tasks you can complete in advance so that when you are busy you don’t get behind, as well as a wide array of digital media marketing tools that are designed to make this EASY for you.


Stay on top of industry information, read a book on sales, find out what your peers are doing differently and then take notes so you can tweak your strategy. This information will allow you to have content for your marketing and make you more of an asset for potential clients. Let me mention here that if you are not getting clients and you are broke, do NOT be spending money on more books or classes! Go to the good ole library and check them out for FREE. You know what else is at the library? Pregnant women and Mommies who are probably very interested in learning about your services. Grab a coffee, a book about sales and marketing, and plant yourself in the children’s section! You’ll learn AND network!

Make a list of 5 to 10 things that you can do every day to advance your business and then commit to doing them. Building a business is based on the same principal of making a diamond: time and pressure. The more you have of one the less you need of the other, but they are both essential in the process.

Does this get your motor running? Got questions? Share your ideas and questions in the comment or email me at missy@yourbirthexperience.com. I would love to hear from you! If you want to take this info to the next level, click below to download my new E-Book!

Written by Missy David, the Honeybee Mama