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!