This post is inspired by the combination of a recent post by Still Waters (“How to create a retreat“) and by our experience processing literally hundreds of retreats posted through RetreatPlace. We like to think that we here at RetreatPlace (mainly my husband and myself) are becoming knowledgeable on how to create a retreat that sells, so here are a few ‘overarching’ realizations of successful retreating business that we’ve had while creating and running RetreatPlace. Hope it helps!
First of all, this post isn’t a ‘how to’ per se, but rather a starting point for a conversation in retreat business. It’s not about marketing and selling a retreat, but what needs to be in place, or realized, before a retreat business can be truly successful.
We hope this will become the start of a nice little series of posts dealing with the marketing and business end of successfully leading a wellness retreat.
Here are our 3 realizations about retreat business that we believe can help prospective and current retreat providers lead better retreats:
#1. Retreat providers are entrepreneurs
If you provide/lead retreats, you are an entrepreneur and should treat yourself that way. This means a few things, but first and foremost it means understanding that running a retreat is a business and therefore, if it’s to be successful, it needs to be carried out with all of the planning, care, and commitment of creating any small business.
Have a business plan! Not necessarily a small book’s worth of data and figures and research that you’d give to a bank for financing. But at least have a plan! 90% of the work behind a successful startup or small business endeavor is planning.
Define your goals. Be specific. Write it down. Talk to others about it. Research similar offerings. Develop and administer interviews for potential clients and other retreat providers.
Who is your audience?
What is your theme?
What is your message?
How much money do you want or intend to make?
Is this an experiment or do you intend to be a repeat retreat offender?
#2. A retreat as a sustainable business
Whether you just want to have fun and teach yoga on the beach for a few days, or you want to develop a full-time career in providing retreats, your main goal will be to provide an OUTSTANDING experience for your participants. If you do this, then you have a sustainable business.
So your initial goal as an entrepreneur should not be to make money or serve customers necessarily, it should be to learn how to have a sustainable business. This thinking is similar to the thinking behind creating healthy relationships with people around you by creating a healthy relationship with yourself.
So, that being said, if you really want to lead retreats for a living, or to help supplement your living, then you need to think about this a lot. Let me ask you this, Would you rather make $500 or $10,000 on your first retreat? No-brainer question, right? Well, maybe not. In the early stages of creating retreats that sell, revenue is not an important goal in and of itself.
Of course revenue has to be up there among your goals, but it alone is not a sufficient goal and usually leads to failure or burnout if focused on exclusively. The reason for this might not be as obvious as you think. It has to do with what I call the ‘salesman’s dilemma’.
Let me explain. Most retreat providers are teachers. By nature they are also sales people who are very good at selling, but on an individual, or personal level. Ultimately to get people on your retreat you have to sell them. If you are an exceptionally gifted teacher (salesperson) you likely are very good at selling each client a custom sales pitch for an idea, or philosophy or product or service that meets their needs. So what’s the problem? The problem is that custom selling is fundamentally non-scalable and there is a lot of wasted time and effort when trying to do it full time, thus the burnout or failure.
In other terms more relevant for retreats, you might have a robust client-base in the town you teach in, but if you want to lead retreats repeatedly, then it’s inevitable that you’ll have to rely on more than just your local network of clients.
Think bigger and longer. Start out by developing your goals and strengths into clear and concise messaging that easily reaches people.
It takes the perspective of time and experience to teach a truly thoughtful and balanced class. It likewise takes a broad perspective to create a successful, sustainable business.
#3. There is a process to retreat (business) success
Common thinking: You think that people want something, so you create it, and then think that they will buy it. Sounds reasonable right? Wrong.
You’ve heard the statistic that 80% of all new restaurants fail right? Well, same goes for most business endeavors. Again, as I mentioned above, you might not think that running a retreat is a traditional business, but it is and it would serve you well if you thought of it that way.
That said, there is a ton of help out there providing guidelines and tips in creating successful small businesses. The trick is to apply it to the retreat business model. The best advice I’ve heard is that you need to first validate your assumptions as best as possible before you take any step forward, especially if that step deals with money.
One great way to do this is to develop and administer interviews with potential clients and other retreat providers. Ask questions, Ask questions, Ask Questions. Preparation and assumption validation, that’s where the process to success starts.
Would you take a retreat? Why?
What would you like on a retreat?
What are the most important aspects to a retreat for you?
How long is an ideal length for a retreat?
What is your ideal setting? lodging? budget?
But here’s where it really exists; here is the trick: Try and make sure you know what you’re getting into before you do with preparation and performing interviews, but be ok with failure or setbacks by accepting and documenting it, learning from it, and adjusting. Below is a visual representation of this process, it’s a simplified adaptation I made from Eric Ries’ startup process.
To make your retreat successful, make sure you diligently follow this loop in the shortest amount of time for all aspects of your retreat. And there are a lot of aspects to a retreat:
All these features and choices can be overwhelming. Knowing about this process, this ‘approach’, can help you create order out of the chaos of choices by providing ways to test the vision of your retreat continuously and thoroughly.
I’ve been thinking of creating some retreat business documents that better explain this process and help facilitate it in actuality, not only in the abstract as presented here. It could be a checklist of sorts that keeps track of all of these elements and allows one to keep track of choices and their repercussions.
QUESTION: Anyone reading this know of any such retreat operators’ checklists or have one that they are willing to share?