As a doula trainer and agency owner, I love seeing doulas get passionate about business building. I’ve taught business skills workshops for a long time, and I know this realm can be a stretch for some people who are drawn mostly to the heart of our work. Being better business people helps us succeed and sustain in the birth and postpartum world — hooray for longevity and financial reward. As we grow, though, it’s important to keep in mind that there truly is enough for everyone. I think for awhile, some doulas lost sight of that key tenet — and that’s not good for the heart or for business.
There are so many exciting new areas of marketing (social, anyone?), but whatever direction doulas explore I’ve found that it’s always helpful to come back to the old-school concepts of scarcity and abundance. Stephen Covey first introduced these concepts in his 1989 book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Here’s his take on scarcity:
“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.
“The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit—even with those who help in the production. They also have a hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people.”
I do see a fair number of doulas who live in scarcity. They’re scrapping for clients, and will climb on and over anyone who’s in their way. It might seem like this kind of approach might be antithetical to doula work, but we know that there are many different doula personality types. New doulas might see loud or flashy doulas behaving this way and interpret that this is the way to success themselves. I want to suggest, though, that it’s actually not good for business at all. Remember, Covey’s book is a business book — not pop psychology or spirituality. He suggests that people move away from scarcity thinking in large part because it’s bad for the bottom line. The feel-good benefits are just an added bonus.
So what’s the alternative to scarcity thinking? Covey writes this about abundance:
“The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth or security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in the sharing of prestige, recognition, profits and decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives and creativity.”
How do scarcity and abundance manifest in the doula world? Let’s consider these two doulas.
Doula S lives in scarcity. She sees other doulas as competitors, and every client is an opportunity to take from the other doulas in the area and build her own empire. If she loses a client, it’s a crushing defeat. She is drawn to heavy-handed marketing tactics, including aggressive upselling. Because the other doulas are seen as competitors and adversaries, she will never refer clients, even if she’s not able to support them. In fact, she’s not afraid to pull a trick or two on another doula in order to come out on top. This doula won’t offer anything to anyone, unless she’s being paid.
Doula A lives in abundance. He sees the other doulas in his area as partners and allies, and he works to build a business that complements and builds on what is already happening in his community. If a client chooses another doula, he sees it as an opportunity to open his schedule for a more ideal client, or to further develop his interview skills for the next client. He listens deeply to clients and offers them only what they truly need, without pressure. Other doulas receive his referrals often and refer in return. He has good boundaries around his time, but gives freely of it to clients and other doulas when he can.
So first of all, Doula A just seems like a happier soul to me. That’s part of the beauty of an abundance approach to business — it also feels good to everyone. But abundance thinking isn’t just hearts and flowers. It’s also solid business strategy. Consider what can happen for these doulas, long-term:
Doula S develops a reputation as a calculating business woman. Although that can bring a certain amount of surface respect, it also makes people wary. The reputation as a calculating shark spreads beyond the doula world to parents, some of whom are turned off. Because she never gives or receives referrals, she has to scrap even harder for clients. The sales pressure carries an air of desperation. Her professional life is full of worry, stress, and adrenaline, which her clients pick up on. Business suffers.
Doula A builds successful partnerships with like-minded professionals, and treats even those who aren’t natural partners with respect. The flow of mutual referrals helps him build up his market with his target client, and he becomes known as the go-to guy for that specialty. His clients can see that he cares about what they need as a family, and not just making a sale. They tell all their friends about Doula A. His professional life is full of connection, meaningful relationships, peace and oxytocin. (Aaaaaaalll the oxytocin, doulas!) Business grows.
As a parent, which doula would you rather hire? As a professional, which doula would you rather be? Which doula do you think will have the longest, most satisfying career?
Now that’s not to say we all live in abundance, all the time. I’ve found myself slipping into scarcity thinking at certain points in my career. It’s easy to let ourselves go there, and especially when we’re feeling stressed. What I can tell you for sure is that every time I’ve allowed my scarcity tendencies to creep into my work, I have ultimately paid a price, either with a client or inside of a professional relationship. It’s common to have some scarcity thoughts. What I suggest you work hard at is not allowing those thoughts to turn into scarcity behavior.
Living in abundance doesn’t mean you need to hold hands and dance around a fire with all the other doulas. (Unless that’s your thing! Then go for it, doula.) You can be professional and collegial without being BFFs. Even with the doulas you’re not drawn to collaborate with, maintaining respectful relationships and celebrating their successes can keep you living in abundance.
We know there is enough for everyone (an infinite number of pies). Just six percent of pregnant parents in the 2013 Listening to Mothers Survey used a doula, and of those who didn’t use a doula but knew what a doula was, another 25 percent said they’d wished they had a doula at their birth. That means there’s a huge market for us to crack open, each using our unique skillset. Together, we can go farther.
I always think of the Pacific Northwest doulas as leaders in this type of approach to the birth and postpartum business world. Let’s keep rocking it out in abundance, doulas… together.
Jessica English, AdvCD/BDT(DONA), PCD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE
In her role as the owner of Heart Soul Birth Pros, Jessica English trains birth doulas for DONA International and childbirth educators for Lamaze International. She also offers heart-centered business skills workshops and mentoring for doula agency owners from around the world. Jessica lives in Southwest Michigan, where she owns her state’s first and longest-running doula agency, Birth Kalamazoo. Every Tuesday night, you’ll find her teaching her 8-week birth class series, and she also supports a handful of families each year as a birth and postpartum doula. Jessica is a hockey mom times two, and when she’s not working or at the ice rink you can often find her out on a Michigan lake with her husband and their two boys. You can learn more about Jessica at heartsoulbirthpros.com and birthkalamazoo.com.