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How to Set-up and Run a Yoga Retreat: Marketing

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Marketing and selling are business specialities in their own right. There are Hundreds if not thousands of books, courses MBA’s and online tutorials that you can explore to give you a deeper understanding of this part of the process. Here I have just tried to summarise a few of the things I have noticed that feature in my recent experience working with retreat leaders, when we promote or manage a retreat together.

For many yoga teachers this is where the rubber hits the road. If you want to run successful well attended retreats, you or someone who works for you, or loves you….will have to devote a significant amount of time – daily – to marketing and selling your retreat. 

If you don’t have a marketing or sales background don’t worry, because it’s mostly creativity, common sense and perseverance – and what technical skills you need can be learned from online tutorials etc.

But whether you have the background or not – you definitely do need to embrace this part of the process wholeheartedly if you want to succeed as a retreat leader.

The fact is – when marketing a retreat you are competing for people’s time, attention and money.  As I mentioned earlier there are so many people running retreats now and the level of sophistication of the marketing has increased too.

Insider Info: In the old days the few yoga teachers who ran retreats would just ask their students in class if they wanted to come on a retreat and that was all the marketing they needed to do. But these days it has really changed, even for those teachers who had it easy before. Having a great reputation as a teacher no longer guarantees your retreats will be well attended. If you are not well organised or attentive to your students’ expectations you may find they look elsewhere.

I have worked with really well known highly respected teachers, who are now having trouble converting the respect they have into bookings, simply because they are not as responsive or as organised as they need to be, and the market has got much more competitive.

If you don’t answer people’s enquiries or questions promptly – and these days that ideally means within 24 hours, they quickly look elsewhere.

But I think it’s important to mention here that if you looked at your motivation for running a retreat and found it had nothing to do with making money, or having lots of students – then you can adapt your market efforts accordingly. You can just mention to your students in class you are going away on a yoga holiday for a week and invite them to join you.  (Just make sure you find a retreat centre that can work with the numbers you expect.)

However if you are looking to make some money then you need to think about how you tell people about the retreat and how you get them to come.

My very simplistic view of retreat marketing has 4 basic elements which all overlap and work together:

Developing your following and reputation
Building Partnerships & Alliances
The traditional advertising, flyering and postering
Online marketing

Developing Your Following and Reputation

In marketing there is a phenomenonknown as the ‘ladder of customer loyalty’ which predicts that people are more likely to buy something for a lot of money from you, if they have already bought something cheaper from you in the past. In the yoga world this can be roughly translated as – ‘people who come to your classes are more likely to come to your workshops, and people who come to your workshops are more likely to come to your retreats’. Or ‘people who buy your books, DVD’s, or have personal sessions with you, are more likely to come on your retreat.’

Developing a loyal following is still probably the most reliable way of getting people to come on your retreats.

Yoga has also recently developed its own celebrity culture, featuring famous teachers with a global reach. Most of them have worked hard for their recognition and probably deserve it.  They are perhaps the only teachers who can reliably get students who have never met them, to come on their retreats in significant numbers.

Insider Info:I have noticed recently that teachers with a big online presence are getting butts on mats easier than other teachers who rely solely on traditional classes to promote themselves.

And to reach people and build your reputation – you simply need to Teach! Classes, workshops, weekend retreats, festivals, online, at different studios, gyms, on Video, from your website, facebook page, – teach for charity, teach your family, friends, on the beach on holiday, with other teachers etc. etc. Basically the slogan here is:

‘THE MORE YOU TEACH THE MORE YOU REACH’

And remember always collect everyone’s email address and stay in touch!. It’s important to keep reminding people, even if they can’t come to your class regularly, that you are still busy out there learning and teaching and have something to new to offer them.

And if people contact you – RESPOND! Quickly; – If you are on retreat yourself then use an out of office reply and let people know you won’t be answering emails for a while, and you’ll get back to them as soon as you can.

TEACHER TIP!

‘In the run up to your Retreat be confident, smile, tell everyone the ‘polished’ version of what you are planning and keep any potential problems or personal insecurities to yourself.  When people come on Retreat they want to be inspired and they want to be taken care.  If you meet potential Retreatees at a party or on the Underground then you tell them absolutely what you can facilitate and you share your enthusiasm for yoga in general because this is part of what you have to offer as well.’

(Jeannie Brehaut, www.realrevolutionhealing.co.uk )

If this all sounds a little too ‘commercial’ for you – then maybe the way to look at this is through a more traditional lens. As a yoga teacher you are responsible to some degree for your students’ wellbeing. I think it is reasonable for your students therefore to expect you to demonstrate your reliability, depth of experience and commitment to them in the way you teach, but also in the way you interact with them off the mat.

Insider Info: One of our most reliable and successful clients, by her own admission knows nothing about online marketing. She doesn’t have a Facebook page, twitter account, or even a decent website. But she has an extremely loyal following who she takes amazingly good care of. If you email her you know she will respond promptly and carefully and if you come on one of her retreats you know she will have meticulously planned and prepared for the event.  Her newsletters come out regularly and she prepares an information leaflet and programme well in advance of each event. If you come on one of her retreats, you know she will have vetted the venue personally, tested the food, mattresses, staff etc. and will come in person to the airport to collect you when you arrive. Basically she cares and if you are one of her guests you will feel it.

Referrals

Most experienced will tell you that a good proportion of their bookings for retreats come via word of mouth – or by referrals. You can get very technical about this and offer your students incentives to bring or tell a friend about your retreat or you can just let the grapevine work for you. Either way over time referrals, providing the people who come on your retreats are happy, will play an ever increasing part in encouraging others to join you on retreat.

TEACHER TIP!

‘Word of mouth is more powerful then anything else. Ask your students to recruit people and if you have led retreats before, ask your students to spread the word!’

(David Lurey- finbalance.net)

Building Partnerships & Alliances

This is one area of marketing yoga retreats that I think yoga teachers could in general take better advantage of. And it is an area in which creativity above anything else is called for.  The idea is you look to build alliances with other (yoga) people or businesses by providing them with something they want, so in return they will help you market your retreat. There are a million ways to do this and you will need to think about who you could build alliances with and what you could offer them in return for getting the word out about your retreat, but here are some simple examples that may work.

Partner up with another yoga teacher to offer a ‘Yoga retreat with two teachers’.
Partner up with another complimentary therapist or activity leader to offer a ‘Yoga and…’ retreat. These are increasingly popular now
Write a blog for a yoga site and ask them to mention your retreat in your bio
Offer a free or discounted place on your retreat as a competition prize to a site, yoga shop, or publication willing to promote the retreat in return
Offer a discount to your own students on the retreat when they buy a multiple class subscription. Or visa-versa – offer them a discount on the subscription if they come on retreat
Work out a deal with the studios you work for where they promote your retreat in return for a sales commission.
Talk with yoga holiday companies about them marketing your retreats for a commission

Traditional Advertising, Flyering and Postering

Having a beautiful poster or flyer made up to promote your retreat is still a good way of getting the word out, if you make sure to hand them out them.

Good fliers don’t just provide information – they also provide inspiration.A great flier has something memorable about it, something that grabs the readers’ attention and stands out from the crowd.  Try swapping some free classes for some professional graphic design work. It makes a difference.

Insider Info: We had one client who booked two retreats – one in the Spring and another at New Year. The first was not so well attended but the New Year retreat was completely booked out.  There may be several reasons for this – but that they did a really good job of marketing the second retreat by humorously contrasting a typical New Year in London with New Year in a beautiful setting with friends doing yoga. It was a unique twist on a retreat and caught people’s imagination. They also made a website just for the event, (which was essentially an online flyer) which worked really well too.

One thing to look out for is getting the balance right between holiday and retreatin the way you describe your retreat. Some groups we hosted were definitely more on the holiday side than others – and some were more formal and recognizable as a retreati.e. away from the world and its ‘sinful’ ways.

Advertising

This is probably the area I am least qualified to provide detailed advice in. What I have to offer about this should be taken as anecdotal. But I have noticed that that some larger yoga business capture a significant percentage of their new business through online advertising– primarily through google ads, but it seems that smaller business or individual group leaders do not find it so beneficial ,because they do not have the same dedicated advertising budgets at their disposal. As you are bidding against other businesses to appear on the most searched pages –  it seems like just dipping your toe in the water doesn’t really work – and only throwing a healthy wedge into advertising your retreat this way will make any difference.

The exception to this rule maybe advertising in a specialist online or print publication or forum that reaches people who may be interested in a particular aspect of your retreat. So if for example you are running a yoga and pregnancy retreat you look for opportunities to advertise the retreat in publications that focus on pregnancy etc. (Anecdotally again I haven’t heard many good things about Facebook ads in this context) although being active in groups on Facebook can increase awareness of your work – as long as you are careful to only advertise if it is allowed in the groups you join.

The other form of advertising some of our clients have some success with is listing the event on yoga listing sites. But you need to do your research to determine which listing site is likely to work for you. There has been an explosion of listing sites out there in the last couple of years.  Many are trying out different charging models – some are taking a commission for sales or bookings, others are charging for listings, and some are completely free. And the charges can vary hugely from one site to another and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the expensive ones are the best. Also most of these sites offer different packages for different prices – with bundled offers and higher visibility on the searched pages for higher fees etc.  I think asking around what works for your colleagues is a good idea.

One rule that applies for all forms of promotion or that should apply religiously is: Make sure  that you describe the accommodation, food, location, bathroom arrangements  etc. accurately so none of your guests start the retreat disappointed or feeling misled.

A final word before we talk about delivering the retreat…

If you would like to run a retreat but don’t feel drawn to promoting it beyond your own close circle of students then you may consider working with one of the yoga holiday companies that employ yoga teachers on a set fee and take care of the marketing and admin for you. If one of your students does decide to come then most of these companies will also pay you an extra commission.

View the full series here:

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