HOW TO CREATE & PREPARE YOUR FIRST RETREAT - #myretreatbiz
Back in the fall of 2014, as I was adding hundreds of retreats to the Yoga Travel Tree directory, a very harsh and sudden realization came over me.
I didn’t want to go on ANY of the retreats I was seeing.
It wasn’t because they weren’t great experiences. They seemed amazing! I just simply wasn’t their target market. I'm someone who loves to travel and explore above all else, who loves to weave within the local culture, who gets her hands dirty in local projects and issues, and who loves yoga, too.
These retreats just weren’t for travel-loving yogis like me. I wanted travel with a side of yoga. Everything I saw was yoga with a side of travel.
I wondered if there were more yogis out there like me - who wanted an incredible travel adventure that incorporated yoga into the daily experience.
And with that thought, my first Bali Yoga Adventure was born. Over the next several months, I worked with local travel companies, transport providers, hotels, tour operators, guides, restaurants, and more to put together the ultimate Bali experience. My goal was to give my participants a once in a lifetime experience - assuming that my ideal participants would potentially only visit Bali once in their lifetime.
I was able to sell out that first retreat within 3 months from the launch date-- and I didn't even start with a solid audience already wanting to travel with me or YTT! I went on to create 12 more Yoga Travel Tree Adventures (and one destination teacher training) over the course of 18 months.
Not all of those retreats were successful. (It reinforced what I already knew - but needed reminding - about knowing your audience and what they want before going all in on an idea.)
After leading retreats to five countries and three continents over the past 18 months, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to successfully create, launch, and sell out a retreat that not only earns a profit for your business but also provides an amazing - even transformational - experience for participants.
Combining my retreat experience with over a decade of experience in study abroad and adventure travel management (my pre-Yoga Travel Tree career), I’ve created a 4-part series all about designing, marketing, and delivering an incredible retreat.
I’ve made some mistakes and had some huge successes with my retreats. And, I want to help you find fast success too--unless you want to go the trial-and-error route yourself, then by all means ;).
In this 4-part series, #myretreatbiz, I’ll show you the step-by-step process I’d take to launch a retreat if I were to do it all again.
Here’s what to expect from this series:
How to Create and Prepare for Your First Retreat (This blog post, right here!)
How to Prime and Grow Your Audience for Your Retreat - coming soon!
How to Create a Sales Page and Start Selling Your Retreat - coming soon!
How to Launch and Market Your First Retreat - coming soon!
So, before we dive into the “how,” let’s talk about the “what.” What exactly is a retreat? In this series, I’m defining a retreat as 6-25 participants, spending at least 1-10 consecutive nights away from home. These can take place locally, within a couple hours drive of your home, or an 18-hour international flight away. The "where" is completely up to you!
The big distinction we need to clarify is between a retreat and a festival/conference. Once you start working with more than 25 people (which is already pretty big), we’re getting into festival territory which is an entirely different planning, promotion, and delivery experience. Retreats tend to be smaller and have more opportunities for time with you as the teacher and building a cohesive community among all participants. Think of a small, cute clothing boutique vs. a huge department store. We’re going for the boutique experiences here.
Here are some retreat examples:
3-Day Silent Mountain Meditation Retreat in Colorado
7-Day Surf & Yoga Adventure to Costa Rica
6-Day Intuitive Eating Journey to Paris
5-Day Amateur Photography Tour of Alaska
10-Day Heart of Yoga Tour of India
Before we get started, download the Retreat Planning Workbook that we've created to help you work through this blog post and start taking some serious action planning your next retreat.
Okay, now that we know what a retreat is (or at least how we are defining it here), let’s dive into the key steps you need to take to create and prepare for a retreat.
STEP 1 - WHO DO YOU SERVE?
As wanderlust seekers ourselves, it can get easy to think of a retreat as our own personal vacation planning experience.
Often times, retreat leaders will think about where they want to go, what they want to do, when they want to go, etc. without really considering if that matches up with the where, what, and when is desired by their community.
Before you dive head first into planning that 5 day hiking, camping, and meditation adventure to Mongolia, let’s make sure that it’s an experience your audience really wants (and not just a bucket-list item of your own).
Here are a few questions to think about before you begin planning:
What’s my typical client/student demographic? Younger, older? Financially established or just getting by?
Are they beginners or more advanced? Well traveled or not so much?
What’s happening in our community/world and how will this experience serve my students and help them face what the world is throwing at them?
What do my students tend to look for in terms of retreats and workshops?
What am I known for in my community; what’s my secret-sauce, my zone of genius?
What kind of training/growth/transformation do I want my participants to have during this experience?
I highly recommend you put together a simple survey using free tools like Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or TypeForm to send out to your community and better gauge what they're looking for. Five major questions to ask would include: what kind of retreat they’d be interested in, where they want to go, what’s the best time of year, what are they hoping to get from a retreat, and most importantly, what would stop them from going on a retreat with you.
This will majorly help guide your planning, position, and promotion of your retreat.
STEP 2: THEME IT OUT!
At Yoga Travel Tree, we see a lot of retreats come across our website and most of them lack a critical piece to help them attract the perfect travelers and sell out their events.
That critical piece is a niched-out theme. Announcing you’re leading a 6 day yoga retreat to Greece isn’t enough in this crowded market.
The easiest way to tease out your retreat theme is think about who the retreat serves, how it serves them, and some kind of quantifiable element. Here’s some examples:
Le Femme Restore and Renew 6-Day Retreat to Greece for Female Corporate Hustlers
Bust Out to Bliss Out: 5 Day Meditation Adventure to Belize for Bliss Seeking Entrepreneurs
7-Day Yogalicious Bootcamp in Tulum for Yogis Ready to Master the Practice
7-Day Ultimate Adventure to Bali for Travel-loving Yogis
Why do you need a theme? Because, when you read any of the titles above, you immediately know if this is the right retreat for you. Are you a corporate hustler who needs some downtime? Are you an entrepreneur who needs to find some zen? Are you a serious yogi who wants to take her asana practice to the next level? Are you a traveler who likes to adventure and could use a little yoga, too?
Each of the examples above speaks to a specific audience and promises a specific experience or outcome: restoration, bliss, bootcamp, adventure with a side of yoga.
Who does your retreat serve, how does it serve them, and what is the transformation?
STEP 3 - MAP IT OUT
Now that you know what your audience wants and you’ve figured out a theme for your experience, it’s time to start thinking about the logistics. Where, when, how much, and what will go into this retreat?
Based on your community feedback and your own desires and schedule, you should be able to narrow down your 'where' and 'when.' From here, you can start finding possible retreat centers, hotels, resorts, etc. that would be a good fit for your retreat theme and style. Remember: you want to match the destination and location with the theme of your retreat. If you’re promising bliss and renewal, then central Beijing may not be the best location choice.
Also, consider market saturation. In other words, think about how competitive your chosen destination might be, especially in the yoga industry. For instance, Costa Rica and Mexico are the top two destinations searched in the U.S. While there’s a lot of demand, there’s still a lot of competition. Consider a destination that is in a similar region or climate, but maybe not quite as popular.
Once you've zeroed in on a destination, begin reaching out to possible hotels, etc. and asking about group rates, facility options, etc. (We have an upcoming post all about how to reach out to venues and what to ask. Stay tuned!)
While you wait for venues to respond to your inquiries, start mapping out your day-to-day retreat itinerary. We recommend using a spreadsheet and organizing the cells by hour. Be sure to account for transition time (driving to excursions, walking across a large resort, etc.), meals, group activities, personal time, SLEEP, and welcome/farewell elements. Ask yourself, is there a good balance between scheduled group activities/time and personal free time?
How you design the itinerary will largely depend on the theme and type of retreat you’ve created. If this is a restoration and relaxation retreat, scheduling a daily ashtanga practice, followed by an intense volcano hike, followed by a spirituality group discussion and reflection might be too much for the body and the brain.
But, if you’ve designed a yoga body bootcamp experience, your participant might be disappointed if each day only involves a 60 minute practice followed by 10 hours of free time.
Make sure your schedule matches the vision and theme of the experience.
STEP 4 - CREATE YOUR EMAIL INTEREST LIST
Okay. It’s time to make sure your gathering all your retreat interest into one dedicated email list.
Now, if you’re one of those people who hasn’t started an email list yet (even in a spreadsheet somewhere), this is where I give you a little “tsk tsk” and wag my finger at you (with love of course).
Having an email list for your business is crucial!
I know some of you will tell me: “But Brooke, I have 1 billion followers on [insert social media platform here]! Why do I need an email list?” or you’ll say: “I don’t need an email list. 50 bazillion people show up to my yoga in the park events every single day.” 😜
Hey...if that’s you, then good job! You’ve done amazing work building your community...but sadly, you’ve built that community on someone else’s property. You’re basically renting that community from Instagram, Facebook, your local yoga studio, etc. And I don’t want you building your business on borrowed platforms. I want you to have your own.
You should absolutely be using social media to grow your brand and business! But, you should be leveraging it to bring people into YOUR virtual house via your website and email list.
Remember the good ‘ole days when someone liking your Facebook page actually meant that they would see your content...or when Instagram feeds were chronological and people actually saw your beautiful images? Sigh. Those were the days. But in the blink of an eye, those companies changed the algorithm and now THEY decide what people see.
This is why you need an email list - to protect yourself from platform changes that you cannot control.
So if you don’t have an email service provider (ESP), it’s time to pony up and get one. I recommend starting with ConvertKit* or Mailchimp. While Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 emails, the features you’ll need for the larger retreat marketing campaign are limited. I strongly encourage you to invest in ConvertKit from the start to make sure you’re optimizing your email reach and engagement from the beginning. (That’s an affiliate link, by the way. I love and use ConvertKit, but just want to keep it real here).
If you already have an ESP, well done YOU! You need to create a separate list (like in Mailchimp) or a tag (like in ConvertKit) to help you identify and separate those in your community who are interested in traveling with you.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just a simple “Retreat Interest” list or tag will do. If you see yourself doing a lot of retreats in the future, you might create tags/lists based on possible destinations and/or retreat themes.
So, go make that happen. Sign up for your chosen ESP and create a separate list/tags for your retreat.
Bonus: If you already have email collected from people who are interested in traveling with you, make sure you add them to your system and add them to the correct tags/lists.
Step 5 - Create and promote a killer teaser/lead magnet
Now that you have your email system setup, it’s time to fill that baby with eager potential retreat participants. The key here is to tease out the benefits of retreat with a lead magnet.
Basically, a lead magnet (also known as a opt-in bribe, content upgrade, bonus opt-in, etc) is a simple download that people will get when they sign up with their email. They are paying with their email address to get your amazingly useful piece of content, PDF, discount code, cheatsheet, etc.
A great example of this that we’ve used at Yoga Travel Tree is our “Ultimate Guide to Paying for A Yoga Retreat.” In the guide, we outline dozens of ways to come up with the funds for a yoga retreat or teacher training. We created this particular lead magnet because in a previous survey with our community, they said that cost was the biggest factor preventing them from going on a yoga retreat. So we created a solution that could help them round up some or all of the funds to go on a yoga adventure or get their training certificate.
The key to a lead magnet is to address a problem or need of your audience and it must relate to the retreat you plan to launch. Think about a quick and simple thing that would entice your community to give you your email in exchange for this piece of content.
Here are a few lead magnet ideas for you:
7 Minute Meditation for Super Crazy Busy People (access to an audio download)
Limited time retreat discount code (email with the discount code)
5 Small Daily Shifts to Find Relaxation in Your Busy Life
10 Minutes to Handstand Challenge (series of videos to help students nail a handstand)
Quiz - What kind of yoga traveler are you (provide email to get results)
Checklists, cheat sheets, templates - anything that helps people get from point A to B quicker and more easily.
Whatever you create, it has to be a no-brainer. You want your community to think: “Well, of course I want to download this!” Easy button! 😁
It should also relate to the theme of your retreat. Meditation audio is a great lead magnet for a meditation retreat. A handstand challenge would work for a yoga-bootcamp style retreat. You get the deal. Remember...our goal with the lead magnet is to grow our retreat interest list. If they like the lead magnet then they should be interested in your retreat theme because it aligns with their interests, needs, and desires.
Try to avoid epic lead magnets like a 12 month yoga plan or 100 page ebooks. You want quick wins that seem manageable and actionable for people with a busy schedule and full inboxes. You need the offer to be simple and irresistible.
Inside your lead magnet, this is where you want to also talk about how you’re planning an upcoming retreat (or tell them about your planned retreat) that takes what they just experienced to the next level.
Think about this process like dating...first, you flirt a little with your website and social content...then you go on a date with the lead magnet...then you get really serious be talking about traveling together. You’d never walk up to a stranger and say “Hey, let’s travel to exotic destination together!...by the way, what’s your name?” 😉
Speaking of lead magnets...you can download our retreat planning workbook right here!
RETREAT PLANNING WORKBOOK
Use this workbook to brainstorm and plan your next retreat!
You can use Google Drive or Dropbox to host your downloads and share a link once someone has opted into your ESP. Both Mailchimp and ConvertKit can automate this for you. [We share more trainings and info about this inside our epic upcoming training: Retreat Rockstar]
Step 6 - Create opt-in forms and landing pages for your lead magnet
Now that we have an email list and an irresistible lead magnet, it’s time to make sure your optimizing your web presence to start growing that list of interested travelers.
You need to put yourself in a retreat lead generation mindset! This means your website, social profiles, and your in-person interactions need to highlight your upcoming retreat.
And I know that this can be hard for people...especially yogis. We want our work and teachings to speak for themselves. We don’t want to “sell” or “market” our offerings and talents.
But here’s the hard truth: If you don’t share your gifts, talents, and offerings with the world, you are robbing them of an experience, a teaching, a gift that may change their life. Don’t be scared to share who you are and how you can help. The world NEEDS you!
So, now that I’ve got you pumped up to share your goodness with your community, what does that actually look like.
First things first, let’s put your website in “Retreat Mode”. This basically means that you want to be promoting your lead magnet (that irresistible freebie) all over your website. It might seem like overkill, but remember that most people only see a fraction of the things you post and share. And a lot of people need to see something 7-12 times before they take action on it.
It’s up to you to give your audience every opportunity to find what you’re sharing.
On your website, you want to create a call to action/opt-in form (CTA) in the following places:
announcement bar area
You should also create a dedicated blog post about why your lead magnet is so freakin’ amazing with an opt-in form there as well.
After that, you want to update all of your social media profiles to direct people to your lead magnet. When you’re posting all that great content on social media and people click your name to learn more...you want to direct them to your best work, that also happens to be super valuable for them! So, whether you have a meditation download, a quick start guide, a quiz, or whatever, you want to put that front and center.
Entice people to come into your home and get to know you better!
Step 7 - Get to work planning the details of your retreat
Boom! You’ve officially started laying the foundation for a badass retreat specifically tailored to your community and audience.
And now your website and social media platforms are lead generating machines, building your retreat interest list even while you sleep! Now, we're talkin'.
While that’s working on autopilot, you want to be busy planning out all the logistics of your retreat from creating the sales page, payment systems, liability waivers, refund policies, onsite logistics, gathering testimonials, etc. [We’ll be covering all of this in Retreat Rockstar...opening again soon!....get on the list below.]
Whew! You guys. I’m getting excited just thinking about all the awesome retreats you’re going to create. Seriously. SO EXCITED. In the next part of this series, I’m going to be explaining a step that most people miss when describing how to launch a retreat: how to build a community. I've seen first hand that growing an authentic, engaged audience that trusts you is absolutely vital to creating retreats that sell out.
In the mean time, start taking actions on the steps in this post. I’m rooting for you, friend! Leave a comment below to let us know which step you’re on or if you have any questions. If you share this series (and your progress!) on social media, then use the #myretreatbiz hashtag so that we can all follow along. Yeehaw!
Keep learning! >> Check out the next post in this series: How to Prime and Grow Your Audience for Your Retreat (coming soon!)
RETREAT PLANNING WORKBOOK
Use this workbook to brainstorm and plan your next retreat!