Categories
Business

Client Privacy and Social Media

Doulas, Privacy and Social MediaI am a smart woman. I can put two and two together. And many times, I’ve been able to tell who a doula’s client is by what she posts on Facebook, even if she is careful not to use the clients name. And I always wonder if the doula has permission to share in social media.

Client privacy is about more than just not using the client’s name. It is about preserving the client’s right to tell her own story on her own terms and in her own timing.

With the rise in social media and the immediacy of information, many doulas want to use social media to market themselves. They want to share the high from a glorious birth and gain support from colleagues after a difficult birth. These are very human desires, but they are also things that are of benefit to the doulas rather than the client.

My personal guidelines on client information online are:

  • 1. In my contract, I have a place where parents can initial if they are OK with non-identifying information shared on social media. If a client has not initialed there, I say nothing, ever. If client does initial there, what I post is *very* non identifying. I might post something like “How sweet it is to sleep a full night after an all-night birth!” or “Great birth this morning, I love my job!” I personally stay away from identifying birth places or care providers, as that might be just enough for someone to figure out who the client is.
  • 2. I do not post anything to social media while at a birth. My clients deserve my focus. Any requests for support or help from other doulas is done privately.
  • 3. Since I also do birth photography, I have a strict rule that the parents see the images before I share them on my site or Facebook page. Some parents have requested a quick turnaround of one image so that they can announce the birth, I get that to them privately and they post it before I do.

If you have not yet carefully considered and thought about your personal guidelines on social media, I encourage you to do so. It can be easier to decide in the moment if something is “postable” if you’ve carefully considered the ramifications and possibilities ahead of time.

A dear friend of mine once went online to announce the birth of her very long awaited baby and instead found that two others had already gone online and announced to the world what was happening, and in a way that portrayed her experience as very different than the way she lived it. She says “It was so frustrating to have other people telling my experience, especially framing it in a way that I did not feel at the time…it really was not fair to me at all to not even be able to tell the story the way I wanted it known.”

Please remember in your interactions online that you may be telling more than you realize, and that the family’s right to tell the story in their timing and in their way.

This article originally appeared on the author’s website. Reprinted with Permission.

Categories
Business

Calculating Your Price

Let’s go over basic pricing. To make your business survive, you need to make certain you are bringing in more than you are spending. One of the best ways to make that happen is to open a separate bank account for your business. You can do it in the business name (recommended) or just another account in your personal name. It might be shocking to you when you isolate the business finances like that. I know it was for me, and was one of the primary motivators for me to figure out the business aspects of this work.

I’ll take you through the steps one at a time, if you want to follow along in a written worksheet, or an Excel Spreadsheet that automatically calculates as it goes through this process, click here to download. (They are under “Useful Free Stuff”)

Calculating a Price for Doula ServicesThere are 3 basic steps:

Step 1: Figure out what it costs to run a business and provide the services

The costs of running a business include:

  • Business license If your city or county requires one. I live in Sandy City and for 2013 it was $66
  • Name Registration Done through the State of Utah, annual cost is less than $25
  • Business Entity – this is optional, and I’ve chosen to be an LLC. Annual cost of renewing the LLC is $15
  • Insurance I use the CM&F group, and it is about $80 a year.
  • Marketing – This includes costs for your web site (domain name and hosting), buying ads, business cards, and any brochures or other marketing materials you use.
  • Professional memberships UDA, DONA International, any others you might join. I find Lamaze International to be a very helpful organization.
  • Continuing education Attending the UDA conferences, the Perinatal Professionals Consortium conference, and any others you want to go to. I go to one national conference or workshop a year if I can afford it.
  • Office supplies Printer paper, folders for client files, postage if you mail things to your client, etc.
  • Supplies for your birth bag – and the bag itself! Lotions, oils, whatever your tools of the trade.
  • Mileage for running errands, attending conferences, and going to interviews – because you will not be hired for every interview you go on, I include that mileage here instead of in the cost of providing services. I personally consider going on interviews to be more of a marketing expense than a client service.

Add up all these costs and divide by the projected number of clients this year.

Costs of providing doula services include:

  • Mileage for prenatal visits, the birth itself, and postpartum visits. I personally budget for 3 trips to the client’s home (2 prenatals and a postpartum) and two trips to the place of birth. When I am calculating my price, I base it on the farthest I am willing to go, and if the client happens to live around the corner, I have a little more in my business fund.
  • Child care I am fortunate enough that I have not had to pay for child care in many years. (One of the best perks of teenage children!!) But when I did, I planned on 10 hours of child care per birth. If my client happened to birth on a weekend, that helped offset childcare costs for those long-drawn out inductions.
  • Handouts I have a few handouts and worksheets I use with my clients, and the cost of purchasing or printing those handouts are factored into my costs.
  • I know one local doula who factors in the cost of a massage with each birth so she can get the soreness worked out the day afterward. Smart move, but not one I personally have chosen to do.
  • If you have a gift you give to every client, or some other personal touch to your doula service, include the cost of that here. (And check with the state tax commission to make sure it doesn’t make your services subject to sales tax!)

Add up all of these expenses and add to the divided cost of running your business.

Step 2: Decide how much you want to earn for your work

This is where there really is no right or wrong answer. I have my own thoughts and opinions, and they are based on things like how much income I want to contribute to my family, what my goals for continuing education are for the year, the amount of time and effort I put into my work, how many clients I want to attract, etc. I personally would rather do fewer births at a higher price to meet my goals than do a lot of births at a lower price.

Another consideration is your experience and skills. I’ve been a doula and childbirth educator for well over a decade, and I have lots of experience. I’ve devoted thousands of dollars to continuing education and further training. I feel that holds more value than a new doula straight out of training, so I set my fees on the higher end of what I think the market will bear.

If you are also a licensed massage therapist and include 5 prenatal and postpartum massages as part of your doula package, your price can be higher to reflect that. If you include 4 postpartum visits, that value – and some profit for that work – should be reflected in your price as well.

Remember that income taxes for business income will be roughly a third of your profit, so don’t forget to factor that in when deciding what you want your take home pay to be.

Step 3: Add together the amounts found in steps 1 and 2. This is your total price for doula work. I recommend rounding up to a nice round number.

If the number you calculated shocks you, and you feel like there’s no way you could charge that, I strongly encourage you to practice saying it out loud. Practice in front of a mirror, practice saying it out loud to friends and family, practice saying it on the phone.

Because (to paraphrase Stuart Smalley)

You’re Good Enough
You’re Smart Enough
and Doggone It!
People Will Hire You!

Categories
Business

Should you work for free until you are certified?

First, let’s get one thing straight:

New Doulas Don't Have to Work for Free!

When you work for free, you tell people that your work is worthless, and that’s exactly how they treat you.

Lots of people will tell you to work for free, that it is a fantastic way to get those certification births. But they DO NOT GET IT. They are just thinking “everyone loves FREE!!!!! So it will be easy to get those births!” but the truth is, it simply doesn’t work that way.

I’ve been attending births since 1999. I’ve seen dozens of people try to break into the doula business by offering freebies, and the vast majority of the time they either get burned, or they get burned out. Sure, there are times when it works out, but most of the time either they never get the call, they get people who are rude, or the parents demand more than is being offered. In another common scenario, the doula’s family starts to complain about the time and resources devoted to the birth with nothing in return. It costs money and resources to provide doula services, and the doula’s family budget should not be burdened in order to provide services. Especially given the time away from family and the sacrifices involved in that.

Don't Get Burned - or Burned Out!It just doesn’t work out. You need to value your work before anyone else does!

I have never, ever done a birth for free. Even my very first doula birth, I charged $200 when the going rate was $400. I increased it by $50 every birth until I was at the going rate, and most years I’ve upped it another $50 a year. I’m at $750 for doula births now.
I’ve done discounted when I felt moved to do so. Sometimes quite a bit discounted. I’ve done barter a time or two as well. But never, ever for free.
I am not saying you have to charge full price, but for goodness sake, COVER YOUR EXPENSES. Charge enough to cover gas, parking, childcare, handouts you give to clients, etc.
When the expectant parents have covered your expenses, they become financially invested in having you there. They are more likely to actually call in labor. It also often makes the parents treat you better, because they know you value your services.

And finally, you don’t want to be building a reputation as “the doula who will do it for free if you ask.” That can be a very tough reputation to overcome when every friend, cousin, neighbor and acquaintance of your former clients calls expecting you to work for free.

Charity doula work has its place. Not everyone can pay for a doula, and that’s OK. Your doula work is valuable. It has worth. Be confident in telling people what you charge!

Photo illustration based on this image by Steve Velo. Adapted under a Creative Commons license.

Categories
Business

The Tax Man! Filling out a Schedule C

Note: This article just explains how I have filed my business taxes for the last several years. It’s based on what I learned in a consultation with an accountant, but I am not an accountant, and this article isn’t tax advice. When in doubt, refer to the Instructions for the Schedule C on the IRS web site.

The simplest way to file business taxes if you are a sole proprietor or LLC is with a Schedule C – this would be in addition to your 1040, and filling out the schedule C before you do the 1040 is wise, as some of the numbers you’ll get at the end of this process will need to go on the 1040.

So here’s what the Schedule C looks like, section by section:

Name of Proprietor, that’s you. I trust you don’t need help on that. 🙂
Social Security Number, also something you can handle.
A: Principal business or profession: I put “Childbirth Education and Doula Services” – you will want to adapt that to what you do.
B: This is a code for the type of work you do. There isn’t a specific code for doulas, I have always used 621399 (All Other Miscellaneous Health Care Practitioners)
C: Business Name – fill it in if you use one, leave blank if you don’t.
D: Employer ID Number. Most doulas are not employers, but it is still a good idea to get an EIN. It’s like a social security number for your business. You can use it to open a business bank account, pay taxes, and (most beneficial for doulas) give to your clients so they can apply for insurance or FSA reimbursement, or HSA documentation, and not give out your personal social security number. In these days of rampant identity theft, that alone is worth doing it. You can get an EIN here http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Apply-for-an-Employer-Identification-Number-%28EIN%29-Online – it’s quick, easy and FREE.
E: Address – self explanatory.
F: Accounting method. If you don’t know, you use the cash method. There are other ways, but they are complicated and if you were using a different method, you’d know you were doing it.
G: Since most doulas are a one-woman show, yes, you materially participated. (Saying no would mean you let someone else run the business for you.)
H: Self explanatory. There are some different rules for businesses in the first year of business that allow for greater loss as you incur start up costs, but I don’t know the specifics.
I: Chances are you didn’t do this. A 1099 would be for a contractor employee, investment income you paid to other people, etc.
J: Same as for I above.

Income Section of Schedule C
Section 2: Income

1: This is all the money you received from clients, other doulas, etc. Don’t include anything if you were a traditional employee with taxes withheld. Do include if you were a contracted employee as part of your business and no taxes were withheld. No exceptions, even if you ended up returning the money.
2. If you had to give a client a refund for missing a birth, etc. you put that refund amount here.
3. You do the math.
4. Most doulas are not selling any goods, so this is likely irrelevant. But if you ARE selling goods, put the amount it costs YOU here. So if you buy copies of The Birth Partner in bulk, and give them to your clients, put the amount you spent to buy those books here. Section III on page 2 will need to be filled out as well if you put anything in this box.
5. You do the math.
6. I’ve never needed to use this line.
7. Do even more math and this is your gross income.

Schedule C Expenses Section
Part 2: Expenses

8: Advertising – In this area, I include the cost of my web site, printing business cards, etc.
9: Car and Truck Expenses – We’ll have more on this later, but this is your mileage to and from all your doula stuff. In 2012 you get 55.5 cents per mile, which might not sound like much, but in 2012, my mileage deduction totaled $990.35!! (In 2013, it will be 56.5 cents per mile.)
You’ll need to fill out Part IV on the second page if you put anything here. It’s helpful to note your car’s odometer on Jan 1 of every year, and make sure you write down every trip you take that is strictly business. I use a calendar on my office wall. Some use a notebook in the car, or I would imagine there is an app for that.
10: Commissions and fees: Here I deduct credit card processing fees and any other fees I’ve had to pay doing business. Which hasn’t been often.
11: Contract labor: If I have used and paid a backup doula during the year, this is where I deduct that. Remember I’ve already claimed the payment for that birth as income, deducting what I pay the backup here cancels it out. If you pay any one person more than $600 in a calendar year, you have to send them a 1099s for that income. So far I have not ever needed to do that.
12: Depletion – not applicable to doulas
13: Depreciation: If you have a large expense, you can decide to spread that deduction across several years. I’ve never done it for doula stuff, but when I invested in my camera gear, I did spread that expense across several years.
14: If you don’t have employees, doesn’t apply.
15: I carry doula liability insurance, and I deduct the premium here.
16: Interest: I’ve never had an interest deduction, but if you took out a business loan and are paying interest on it, you can deduct it here.
17: Legal and professional services: If you used an attorney to draft your contract, create an LLC, etc. Deduct it. If you hired an accountant to do your taxes, deduct it. (And if you did, why are you reading this, anyway?)
18: Office Expenses Here is where I deduct things like folders for client info, paper for printing handouts, postage, etc.
19: Not applicable to most doulas
20: Unless you rent office space, not applicable. Don’t include your home office. We will get to that.
21: I can’t think of a doula related repair expense, but I have had a few camera repair expenses I’ve put on this line in past years.
22: Supplies This includes lotions and oils for your bag, handouts you buy, etc.
23: Taxes and Licenses I deduct the cost of my business license here.
24: Travel, Meals and Entertainment: When I attend a conference, I deduct airfare, hotel, and meals here. I don’t deduct the conference cost here, I do that elsewhere. I also deduct meals purchased while at births. Note, you only can deduct 50% of the cost of meals!
25: Utilities – the deduction here is ONLY for utilities exclusive to your business. If you have a separate business phone line, you can deduct it here. If you use your family’s home number or your personal cell phone, you can’t deduct it on this line.
26: Only applies if you have employees.
27: Other expenses: This is where I deduct conference fees, professional memberships, and any expenses that don’t fit into the above categories. Part V on page 2 of the Schedule C is a place for listing those.
28: Add them all up! Hopefully the expenses are less than the income!
29: Do the math.
30: Home office use. This one can be tricky. The IRS rules http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p587.pdf are pretty clear that in order to deduct the business use of your home, it MUST be exclusively for business and must be identifiable as separate from your living space. So a desk in the corner of your bedroom wouldn’t count, and if you meet your clients in your living room that wouldn’t count, either. But if you DO have a room in your home devoted to your doula work, you can deduct that on this line, after filling out yet another IRS form. But truthfully, it is usually more trouble than it is worth, and the scuttlebutt says it might be a red flag for an audit. And who needs that?

Schedule C Net Profit or Loss

And here we come to line 31 – which is the figurative bottom line, if not exactly at the bottom of the page. What you put here is the total profit or loss, and it gets put over on your 1040. It’s the amount from your business you will pay taxes on.

The second page is kind of an addendum, but you’ll want to make sure you fill it out if you need it.

Like driving a car, it’s much more overwhelming and confusing when you first start doing it, but gets easier over time. I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything and make a point of updating it once a month to make tax time easier. I actually put it as an appointment on my calendar on the first of every month!

If you’d like to download a blank version of the spreadsheet I use, you can find them here.

Categories
Business

Running a doula business in Utah

Doing Business in Utah LegallyIt’s definitely not the fun stuff. It pales in comparison to the powerful high that comes from attending a birth. You love the work, you are building a strong clientele and things are going exactly how you want…you love the power of owning your own business! …until you get a notice from the IRS that you are being audited! Nothing will kill your business joy faster than a hefty penalty for failing to collect and submit sales tax, or not having a license! Setting up your company so that is lawful and legitimate isn’t the most exciting part of our job but it builds a strong foundation to grow your company and makes your work more respectable and sustainable.

When you start taking money from clients for the work you provide is exactly the time when you should also take on the great responsibility of making sure your business is following all the legal requirements for your area.

I’ve compiled a list of things that a doula should do to be a legal, legitimate business. All of them can be summed up with one sentence:

Know the Law, and Follow It!

This is one area where ignorance is not bliss, nor does it work as a legal defense if you get caught.

Must dos:

  • Find out if you need a business license. This varies from place to place, but generally business licensing is handled on the city and/or county level. Don’t trust the word of someone on the internet who tells you “In (whatever state or country) you don’t need one.” or “Because my income is hobby income according to the IRS, I don’t need one.” Pick up the phone, call your local city or county government. Describe what you do and ask if you need a license for that. It is your responsibility to check with your local government. If you need one, get one!
    Find out what the sales tax regulations are and follow them. (Short version, if you give ANY tangible item, it’s subject to sales tax.) Again, you’ll need to pick up the phone and make some calls to be sure you have correct info.
  • Report your income and pay income taxes on it. Don’t believe that you don’t have to report under a certain amount, that’s a myth. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2012/02/09/ask-the-taxgirl-reporting-income-under-600/ You need to report ALL your income. Keep in mind that since you are (probably) set up as self-employed, you’ll be responsible for the regular income tax AND the self-employment tax . Remember the effort to get it right will be much less than the stress and effort of an audit! In the US, most small businesses can file fairly simply, using the IRS Schedule C. It’s one page long, and lists pretty simply the income and expenses from your business. My husband and I each have a business, so we file with 2 of these forms every year. Obviously, your situation may vary, and if you’re unsure, get advice from a tax pro.
  • If you are doing business with a name that isn’t on your driver’s license, you need to register your business name and probably file a DBA (stands for “Doing Business As”). This is what gives you the right to use the name and prevents anyone else from using it as well. I’ve seen more than a few doulas start their business as “Labor of Love”, not knowing that that name is already legally spoken for in this state. Here is where you can find out if the name you want to use is available. If it is, there will be a link to where you can register it online. You also wouldn’t want to invest in a domain name, a logo, printing business cards, etc. only to find out someone else has registered this name out from under you!

One Stop Business RegistrationLuckily for you, the State of Utah has made it simple to do most of these all at once, with its One Stop Online Business Registration that allows you to register your name, get a sales tax license if needed, and get your business license at the same place!
Have a good, legal contract. Working without one is just plain stupid. Even with friends and family. ESPECIALLY with friends and family! Clearly spell out what is included in your services, what your scope is, when they need to call you, etc. If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard a doula complain about a disagreement with a client that could have been easily resolved with a contract, I could vacation in Europe!

Good to dos:

  • Consider how to structure your business. You can legally operate without creating a business that exists separate from you, but it may not be such a great idea. If you don’t form an official business, there isn’t any legal distinction between your business and you. This means that if you get sued, you could lose what is owned by the business AND your home, car, retirement accounts, etc. I personally hired Chris Lewis to do mine and he was worth every penny. He’s married to a doula so he understands the business, and that helped quite a bit.
  • Open a bank account in your business name. Run all finances through the business. Nothing will wise you up to your true profitability faster than separate finances! This is also an important step in making sure the personal and business are separate. You can put a lot of money and effort into establishing an LLC, but depositing a check from a client into your personal account co-mingles the money and can be used to invalidate that separation. Why go to all the work of creating a business, and then ruin it by paying your electric bill from the business account?
  • Insurance! You’ll want to look into liability insurance that will cover you in the event of a lawsuit. Please don’t fall for the “I don’t do anything clinical, I can’t be sued!” line. ANYONE can be sued for ANYTHING at ANY time. And even if you are completely in the right, it’s nice to have insurance to pay for your defense. I personally use C, M & F for my doula insurance, though you may want to check into other options as well.
  • Get a professional website. One that represents you well, and is not a freebie. A Facebook page can be a great marketing tool, but it is not a replacement for a real web site. Nothing says “Not a real business!” than a URL that includes “wix.com”, “blogspot.com” or “WordPress.com” (And please, please, no music!)

Small Business AdministrationWhile it can seem overwhelming, there are some great (often free!) resources available for small businesses. A great place to start is the Small Business Administration Utah Office. There’s even a free online course on starting your own business.

Don’t try to rationalize yourself out of following the law. It’s not worth it.

Photo credit: All images in the word “Utah” are copyright Andrea Lythgoe and are used with permission.

Categories
Business Events Wordpress Workshop

Announcing the UDA WordPress WorkShop

WordPress WorkShop for Doulas

Starting Next Tuesday, March 5, the UDA will be running the “WordPress Workshop” – a 6 week series of blog posts designed to help you get your web site up and running.

Week 1: Which WordPress is right for me?
Week 2: Choosing a Theme
Week 3: Customizing your Theme
Week 4: Plugins and Setup
Week 5: Your Content
Week 6: Wrap-up

Each Tuesday, there will be a blog post with information on how to set up your site, and specific assignments to put that week’s information into practice. You’ll be able to post comments to the post for questions and to have the other participating members give you feedback.

By early April, you’ll have a lovely web site ready to go!

If you’d like to participate, please comment below so we know how many to expect.

Categories
Business

Is your web site bringing you down?

These days, a web site is more important for marketing your doula business than any brochure, flyer, postcard or business card. It’s quite often the very first impression your clients have of you. Over the years as I’ve seen other doula’s web sites, I’ve noticed some common problems that could be costing you clients!

First, recognize that by the time a prospective client lands on your web site, chances are very good that they already know what a doula is, and they are thinking they want one. So your web site should sell YOU, not the concept of doulas in general. Your web site should be personal – a reflection of who you are. If you want to project high energy intensity, use vibrant colors and contrasting elements. If you want to project a clean image, go for an uncluttered site. Don’t try to think about what CLIENTS want, think about what best represents you. When your clients meet you, they should not think you contradict the image you present on your site.

Make sure that your web site has your name and your location. You’d be shocked how many sites I see out there that are missing this basic information. A photo (or three…) of you makes you a real person and helps potential clients recognize you when you meet for an interview. Be sure and keep that photo current if you are one who likes to play with your appearance. An “About Me” page is a good way for clients to get to know you a little bit. Again, be conscious of the image you want to present. On my site, I aimed for light, conversational, and a little bit of humor. You may want to be more business like, more abstract, or give little info.

Most clients will at some point ask about your training and experience, so address this on your site somewhere. I personally made sure that every item on the “questions to ask your doula” that are all over the web was answered on my site. But you may choose to leave some items out to have more to discuss in an interview.

Make sure there is a way on your site for potential clients to contact you! Again, a shocking number of doula sites do not have this. Make it easy for them to find from no matter where they are on your site.

I personally do not recommend music on your web site. First, it makes your site load much slower, which is irritating, and secondly, many web surfers will immediately leave a web site that starts to play music automatically. You don’t want to lose those people!

The little things really do make a difference! I strongly suggest you avoid using any freebie web sites like wix, blogspot, etc. Your client can see that in the URL and it shows that you are not committed enough to invest in your business. Your site should be easy to navigate, the last thing you want is a site visitor getting lost and being unable to find your home page, or worse, your contact information. Broken links can also be a lead-killer, as can sending them to a link that is so good they never get back to your site! I recommend having any links you have to other sites open in a new tab so they don’t lose YOU.

And finally, you want the site to represent you well, so have someone else carefully proofread it looking for spelling or grammar issues. Would you hire the doula who writes that she has “experiense help moms with breastfeeeding and postpardum issues” or the one who has “experience helping moms with breastfeeding and postpartum issues”?

I’ve created a handy-dandy checklist for you of the most important things discussed in this article.

If there’s interest, I could write a little tutorial on how to use WordPress to create a site on your own hosting. It’s cheaper and easier than you might think! …just comment if you’re interested.