Business Savvy Doula Interview: Featuring Leah DeCesare

Why are you considered a business savvy doula?

I have always trusted birth, always wanted to be a Mommy, but I fell into this doula-thing! My degrees are in management and communications, I studied business, worked in New York City for a large corporation buying for 75+ national stores, managing special events and public relations. I grew up in an entrepreneurial household and had the confidence in myself to venture out and start something from scratch.

I knew early on that having a strong business foundation would help me no matter what I did in life. Sales, marketing, organizational and leadership skills are critical from the PTA to Fortune 500 companies to running a doula business.

What is it that resonates with you when you hear yourself described in this way.

I chuckle in thinking of my sophomore year of college. I had no creative classes, all of the things I liked least and struggled with like computer programming (the old really hard way), and upper level accounting and statistics classes, it was tedious and painful for me. I remember calling home talking to my Dad giving every argument as to why I should switch out of business school. He patiently listened but persisted, encouraging me to stick it out and impressing upon me the value of knowing business. Another example of how “father knows best.” Thank you, Dad!

What was a business decision you made that you are proud of?

I started my blog in part to satisfy my desire to write (if you’d asked me, at any age, what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would’ve said, “A writer!”) but also as a way to provide information to potential clients, past clients and mothers and families far out of my local area. I realized that in my doula work, I repeat the same stories and lessons, share the same tidbits of advice, answer the same questions over and over, client after client. I decided that some of what sounded ordinary and normal to me, could in fact be useful to others.

My blog has grown to be a parenting resource from the early parenting decisions in pregnancy and in the newborn months through the teens years. I love writing about my passion for birth and babies, but I’ve found real joy in blogging about family life and adventures with my own three kiddos (ages 8, 12 and 14).

Blogging has increased my web presence, has taught me so much more about SEO, keywords and relevant new media positioning as it’s given me greater exposure and credibility. Local people who know me come to my website for doula information and become blog followers, and people who come to my blog for information can find me as a doula and educator.

Who are your mentors for being business savvy or where did you start learning about the business side of things?

Once again, I go back to my Dad. Our dinner table conversation included business talk, our home was filled with the entrepreneurial spirit and I worked at my Dad’s company from a young age. I grew up with the family business.  In the birth world, I turn to my friendship with Debra Pascali-Bonaro. I can bounce ideas off of her, turn to her for advice and insights; I value her as a friend and mentor.

Can you describe a situation when you made a poor choice that hurt your business that you learned from?

Certainly poor choices happen in owning your own business (and in life). I am proud that I have a successful and steady business and I continue to have more business than I’d like. I realize that there is inherently a sort of ceiling being only one person and having limits on how many clients I can and want to take at any given time.

I do look back on when I started my business and still wonder if I should’ve started a doula agency. At the time, I did all the due diligence, met with people to hear about their experiences, researched models, and in the end, I chose to go solo. I currently refer away many inquiries each month with no compensation.  Instead of an agency, I co-founded Doulas of Rhode Island, a non-profit doula network educating the community about doulas, giving families better access to doulas and connecting doulas in our small state.  Referrals, mentoring, back up, marketing opportunities and professional development are just some of the benefits to members.

I’ve built a strong business that attracts clients, but I give away referrals, which could be viewed as a poor business decision. I’m proud of DoRI and need to consider any potential conflicts, but I periodically examine different models I could back into now.


When you trained to be a doula were you satisfied with the training piece about starting a business?

I didn’t feel as much need as others to receive business training given my background, so for me, it was sufficient. However, in practice, I see many doulas starting out and those who’ve been working for years, who struggle with basic business skills. I truly believe a strong business component to doula training is a benefit and I offer Business of Being a Doula workshops to new doulas, or those looking to enhance their business and marketing acumen.

How do you figure out what fee to charge as a doula?

I’m very happy you’ve included discussion of fees here, doulas can be too timid about this subject. As a new doula, review your goals. If you need experience and evaluations for certification, you could charge less than you will when you are certified. Some doulas do certifying births/postpartum work for free, but I believe that people place greater value on what they pay for and that it’s encouraged to charge something, even if it is only what you need to cover childcare or travel expenses. Let clients know you’re doing this for a discount in exchange for them completing evaluation paperwork for you.

Once you’re established as a doula, it’s important to keep a pulse on the rates in your area and price yourself accordingly with consideration to your experience, training and your budget. Every business should have financial targets and work with a budget, even a very simple one. Know your expenses and income goal from your business, put aside 30% for taxes, and figure what you’ll need to clear a profit, include this information as you set your fee.

Give yourself a raise periodically, when you’ve hit a certain number of clients/births, when you’ve gained extra training or when you see an increase in local rates.

What business advice do you have for other doulas?

What you do is a business. It’s a nurturing, kind, friendly and intimate business, but it’s a business. We build close relationships with many clients, we see babies before grandparents do, we see all sorts of body parts and experience the depths of a person’s being, but we are professionals. Remember that boundary, conduct yourself professionally and abide by basic codes of ethics and accepted standards of practice. What you do as a doula reflects upon our profession and helps or hurts the other doulas in your community and beyond.

How do you connect the success of your business with advocating normal birth?  Or do you?

I am first an advocate for my client and whatever she and her family envision for themselves in birth and as parents. Though, as doulas, we know our culture has a medicalized view of birth and uses many practices contrary to the literature. In my role, I can help families manage expectations without rigid goals for birth and parenthood, I can model and present birth as normal, I can guide parents to evidence-based resources and open their scope of understanding so they may make truly informed decisions (if they choose to).

My business is mostly driven by people searching for me specifically, (I can in part tell this from my blog stats and search engine keywords used, I also hear this from the clients who contact me). I think my open-mindedness and compassion as I work with families, my being in their corner without pushing any personal agenda or holding any expectations for their experience is what brings people to me and back again.

What are the top 5 things you would say are the most important things to consider for a new doula staring a doula business.

  1. Know yourself. What do you value? Can you be fully present and centered for your client? Is there anything you need to do for yourself and your well being before taking clients? Then, as you do the work of a doula, it’s a continual process of self reflection and discovery. Know your values, challenge your predetermined ideas and let go of your issues before walking into a birth or a client’s home.
  2. Build a website. A new doula must have a website, it should be designed with good SEO by a professional or someone who knows about getting you seen in cyberspace. Your website should reflect who you are and have a picture of you, people want to know who they’re working with. Testimonials and word of mouth will ultimately be your best marketing tool, put them on your website, too.
  3. Value what you do. Your training, experience and services are valuable and you are worthy of being compensated. We all want to help and nurture people, it doesn’t mean you need to give yourself away. If you want to do volunteer work, go for it! Determine how many free births or how many postpartum hours you can afford to give each year, then stick to it.
  4. Nurture yourself. We encourage Moms and families to rest, to care for themselves and enjoy their babies. Take that advice to heart and live it in your own life!
  5.  Connect with other doulas. Having a doula network helps your business, gives you back ups and referrals. More importantly, it gives you other women who “get it.” It’s critical to have people with whom to debrief after a birth, to ask advice, to wonder with: “Could I have done something differently?” Join and network in online doula groups as well, other doulas are important resources.


To learn more about Leah and her thriving doula business, check out her site: Mothers Circle.

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