email response too slow-jpeg[Editor’s Note: Kim James has something on her heart that she wants to share with you… And when the owner of speaks, business-savvy birth workers should listen up. I’ve occasionally struggled with this problem myself, and I’m constantly working to stay on top of it! Important advice here, check it out. -Jessica]

Check out this email I received at from a potential client who was frustrated with her experience trying to find a doula:

“I am expecting and want to hire a Doula. I heard great things about DoulaMatch and looked through all of the doulas carefully. After emailing seven, only two replied. I did the auto form contact from your website but also reached out through THEIR own websites and still no response.

Just wanted to let you know my feedback. It is a bit disappointing to find doulas that met my criteria, be excited about the process and not hear anything back. It speaks badly of their attentiveness and follow up and is just bad business.”

Yikes! This feedback broke my heart. I was frustrated for this expecting parent, but also worried about how this inquiring client’s experience reflects on the doula profession.

Mail deliveryProfessional doulas, childbirth educators, lactation experts and placenta encapsulators return inquiries within 24 hours of receiving them. That’s a minimum professional obligation of a good business owner. For birth doulas, a long birth might interfere with that turnaround but we should be turning our attention to business e-mails as soon as we can after we are home and rested.

But what if you can’t serve the inquiring client? Maybe you’re booked for that month or on hiatus. Can’t you just ignore the inquiry? No, you can’t. At a minimum, a doula’s ethical responsibility to potential clients and the doula profession is to return the inquiry, ideally, with a referral to another doula who is available.

DONA International’s Code of Ethics states under Ethical Responsibility to Clients guides our professional obligations and ethical responsibilities for returning client inquiries:

“Obligation to Serve. The doula should assist each client seeking birth doula support either by providing services or by making appropriate referrals.”

And, under Ethical Responsibility to the Doula Profession:

“Community Service: The doula is encouraged to assist the DONA International vision of ‘A Doula For Every Woman Who Wants One’ … by making appropriate referrals, as available”.

Beyond your ethical obligations, building a great business means becoming known in your community as someone who is helpful, professional and responsive. Even if you didn’t have the ethics issue to consider, you should still be responding quickly and efficiently.

Personalized responses are always great, but if you receive a lot of inquiries you might have a standard response ready to cut and paste to tell people the next step to arrange an interview. On vacation or maternity leave? Set an automatic reply up so that when inquiries come into your business e-mail people will know your status right away.

Here’s how I met my professional obligation and ethical responsibility with this expecting parent:

Dear ______, I am the owner and operator of and very much appreciate your
feedback. I understand your disappointment and I absolutely agree with you:  It is poor form
for a doula not to respond to a client’s inquiry.

I was able to see that you sent inquiries to doulas in (city/state). I hope you don’t mind, but since I know several doulas in (city/state), I’d like to make a couple of referrals.  I know each of these doulas personally.  They are well-trained, certified and consistently receive excellent feedback from the families they’ve worked with.

[I listed my recommendations here]

Thanks again for taking the time to let me know about your experience.  It matters a great deal to me.  Please don’t hesitate connecting with me if you get stuck and need further referrals.

There is a happy ending. This expecting parent found a terrific doula who was available and ready to serve. She was delighted with her doula’s support!

Remember the moral of this story: Replying to every inquiry you receive, whether you can serve the client or not, is a professional obligation, a smart business practice and an ethical responsibility.

Leave us a comment to tell us about your experience in responding to e-mails. Is this a challenge for you? Why? Have you heard this complaint from parents in your community? What turnaround time do you aim for? Have you found any tips or tricks to make e-mail responses fit more easily into your schedule? If you’re responding quickly, do clients take notice?

Kim James, BDT(DONA), ICCE, LCCE Kim James has run a successful birth doula business for 15 years in Seattle, Washington. Kim’s roles in the birth community include: DONA-approved birth doula trainer at the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations, childbirth and parent educator at Parent Trust for Washington Children, DONA International Washington State Representative and Lamaze International membership committee member. Kim is also the owner and operator of