Once you know what kind of retreat you want to run and have a pretty good idea what’s involved you can then start researching and planning the event. There are some really important decisions you need to make at this point and you need to get all of them right to give yourself a fighting chance of running a great retreat. Here is a summary of those things you need to consider.
‘Plan, plan, plan, market, market, market and then relax and enjoy the creative and teaching bit.’
(Dory Walker- yogakutir.com)
Who is coming? You need to have a pretty good idea who your guests are going to be, where they are going to come from, and what their holiday preferences are. Will they be OK to share bathrooms, do they want to share accommodation, be by the sea or in the sun, how much can they pay, do they want to have a retreat or a holiday etc. etc. This will help you choose a venue, a date, duration etc.and design the retreat.
‘Know who the retreat is for. Different retreats attract different people. If all your students have young families weekends are easier for them whereas if all you students are single with biggest deposit incomes there is no reason not to go for it and then a week away.
(Dory Walker- yogakutir.com)
Which Venue?There are lots of things to consider when choosing a venue but here are just a few.
The Location of the venue for many reasons is really important. It will determine how people travel to the retreat and how much it will cost them.
If there is flying involved you need to check flight availability and distance and transfer options from the centre to the
Then there are venue specific questions you need to answer. Does the location have the facilities you need, (Wi-Fi, pool, yoga props, the right size yoga hall etc.), and offer the services your guests will consume – massage, a shop, excursions and activities?
‘Research your excursions carefully. We once took a group on what we thought was a 2.5 hour bike ride… it was 2.5 hours each way!’
(David Lurey- finbalance.net)
And don’t forget the food. Does the venue prepare the kind of food your guests are going to appreciate – is it vegetarian, is it organic – and most importantly – is it good?
Does the kitchen cater adequately for special dietary requirements?
Are all meals included in the prices?
Does the venue operate ethically and prioritise looking after the environment?
Finally it’s good to get to know the staff and get a feel for how they run the place and what kind of presence they have. Good management and friendly staff are a real plus and can really have a positive effect on the overall experience of your guests.
‘The food is one of the most important things during a yoga retreat. It´s important to adapt the diet to your program and the students. (Not everyone may eat as “healthily” as you do and many; e.g not used to a vegetarian diet.)Make sure you announce the diet you want to offer, so that everyone knows what to expect. e.g.: light breakfast ( fruits, porridge,etc..), good lunch and very light dinner (soup).’
(Amelie Strecker – yogaroom-bcn.com)
Some venues will invite you to come and stay for a night for free to check the retreat out. If you can find the time I strongly suggest you do it – because it will make it much easier when it comes to describing the venue to your students or guests.
‘Where ever possible visit the retreat centre or place you are hosting your retreat before or at least talk to someone who has used it. Ask to look around and stay for lunch so you can sample the food.’
(Dory Walker- yogakutir.com)
Contracts protect everyone – you, the guests, and the centre from any confusion or misunderstandings, (especially around the money). It’s worth paying attention to the contract before you sign it and make sure you are happy with all the terms. Unless you know the owners or managers of a centre very well and trust them implicitly then I wouldn’t advise making a booking without a contract.
Here are a few things to look out for.
Contracts should be in a language you understand and easy to read. Don’t accept foreign language contracts or overly complicated contracts full of incomprehensible legalise.
Make sure the payment terms are OK for you. (and make sure that your guests are likely to pay you before you need to pay the venue if necessary)
Check to see which payments are refundable and under what conditions. Understand what the implications are for you if you cancel or fail to show up with the expected number of guests.
Make sure it’s clear what happens if for any reason the centre cancels your booking.
Make sure you understand all the pricing and it’s clear what accommodation is being reserved for you and what happens if one of your guests cancels at the last minute.
If you don’t understand anything do not be afraid to ask for an explanation of a clause. (You don’t need to act like you are a businessman or woman if you are not. Just be interested. It’s all common sense)
*Contracts should support and clarify a great working relationship with the retreat centre, which will form the best foundation you can have for running a successful retreat.
When should the retreat be? Again this is one of the factors you need to get right because if you select the wrong time window – no matter what else you’ve got right – the retreat will often be sparsely attended. So you need to think about a few things like:
the weather where you are going at the time of year you plan the retreat;
the school holidays – because if your students have kids they probably won’t come then, but also because flight prices go through the roof to most destinations during the school holidays and people who don’t have to travel when the flights are expensive won’t.
The months of November December January, February and even March are the typical low season (in Europe), so although venue prices may be cheaper, getting guests may be a lot harder.
The other crucial thing about choosing when you should run the retreatis making sure you give yourself enough time to market and sell the places on it. I noticed the ‘professional’ and successful retreat leaders plan a year to a year and a half ahead. I think anything less than 8 months is a bit crazy.
‘Start EARLY. Even before you have dates and exact venues fixed, start a facebook event page for example. Post Updates regularly. Keep everyone engaged.’
(Anjalika Bose – themandalagoa.com)
How long should the retreat be: Most retreats are 7 nights – but its worth considering other options.For example for your first retreat you could consider running a long weekend, and then moving up to a week or longer. Maybe even try a 3-5 hour workshop before that. (Generally longer than a week only works for teacher trainings.)Some retreats offer 5 and 7 day options and this is a good approach if you think some of your guests will appreciate the shorter option. But make sure that the centre is OK with this and you won’t be charged for a week’s accommodation even if the guest leaves after 5 days.
How much do you Charge? This is one of those areas where it’s worth sitting down, with a spreadsheet (or piece of paper), and working through the numbers. Sorry – but you need to do the maths! But don’t worry it’s really simple stuff, and if you are really allergic ask a number geek to help you.
Costs: Firstly you need to knowwhat your retreat is going to cost. You need to know how much you are going to spend (on marketing, listing, advertisements, printing, travel, bank fees etc.) before you can work out how much you can charge – if you don’t want to lose money.
Income: When doing financial projections it always pays to be as honest as you can be. And if you can’t be honest, be overcautious – overestimate the costs and be conservative when it comes to projecting how many people will come. This will give you a buffer and make it less likely you will end up out of pocket at the end of the retreat.
‘One of the worst mistakes you can make when planning retreat is calculating (the finances) with a too high number of participants’.
(Mirjam Wagner- yogatherapymajorca.com)
When you know what the retreat will cost and have your conservative estimate of how many people will come on your retreat – then you can look at your costs against different pricing and venues and work out what will work for you.
Pricing: When setting prices it’s also important to see what other people are charging for retreats in general, and charging for retreats at the venue you are going to.
Early bird pricing seems to be effective if you leave enough time for people to book before the early bird period expires.
Some established yoga teachers with a great reputation for leading top notch retreats do change more. But you need to be realistic about your ‘pulling power’ and your students spending power and price accordingly.
‘Calculate a reasonableprice for the student. (Better to keep it low and get it full than set a high price and have it half empty!!!.
(Mirjam Wagner- yogatherapymajorca.com)
Ways to pay: There are several ways you can organise payment for the retreat:
The guest pays you for their accommodation and your teaching fee and you then pay the retreat centre. This means you need to chase the guests for payments but as you know them and see them every week this is probably the simplest option, but it does make the administrator.
‘As your guests start depositing money with you, make sure you put it aside to pay the retreat centre on time!
(Carl & Sophie – stretchlondon.org)
The guest pays the retreat centre for the retreat and then pays you for the teaching fees. This means you don’t have to collect all the money but you won’t see any of the money until the retreat starts (unless you make an alternative agreement with the retreat centre)
The guests pay you the teaching fees and the retreat centre directly for the accommodation. This works fine as long as you stay in close contact with the retreat centre to make sure all the guests have paid both your fees and for the accommodation.
NB: Whichever way you choose to do it make sure you have agreed what happens if a guest cancels. What refunds they get etc.
NB: Make sure that you check to see if the accommodation charges quoted by the retreat centre include sales tax (VAT, IVA etc). In some countries it’s over 20% so it can be a real shocker if you haven’t accounted for this.
Breakeven point: When you have done the projections you should have a minimum number of guests you need to break even, and a number of guests you would ideally like to come to make your targeted profit. Now you have something concrete to aim for.
Profits: Everyone has a different view about this so I think it’s important you think through where you stand on it.For me profit isn’t a dirty word. In most cases, if you want to be competitive, then it is most likely when we speak of profit we are really only talking about getting paid a reasonable wage. In my book there is nothing wrong with that. I haven’t actually seen too many teachers be in a position to make ‘inappropriate’ profits from running retreats so I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over this.
You can try to negotiate with retreat centres over price or terms. Some will be more flexible than others, and it’s always worth asking – as long as it’s done respectfully. It is worth remembering that many of the centres are themselves as much a labour of love as they are businesses, and don’t earn huge profits.
The most common mistake I have seen over and over again is that many group leaders are over confident when projecting the number of participants on their retreat. I have heard all sorts of questionable justifications when I have asked teachers to explain how they came to the projected number of guests.
For example ‘this retreat is ordained – it’s going to be a success’, or ‘I’m so excited and I’m sure it’s going to be a sell-out’or ‘loads of people are asking me to lead a retreat, so it’s going to be easy’.
The first two are perhaps easier to see through – but the last is one to watch for. People have very busy lives, with financial constraints, families, commitments etc. and many may show a genuine ‘general’ interest in coming on retreat with you, but can’t come when you want them to. What may seem like a deafening chorus may turn into something less substantial when you set a date and start asking for money!
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