After I completed my yoga teacher training and started to build up my client base, I dreamt of leading yoga retreats. I love to travel and could not think of a better way to combine my passion for yoga and travel than by taking my students on a retreat. But it took me a long time to build up the confidence to make this dream a reality. When I first became a yoga teacher, there were no how-to guides for planning a retreat, and I worried that I didn’t have enough clients to fill the available spots. I now look back on my decade-long self-doubt thinking of the opportunities for growth that I missed due to my lack of confidence. But that doesn’t have to be your story.
Yoga retreats are not only beneficial for your business, but also offer you the potential to examine your inner truths, while spending quality time with kindred spirits. The opportunity to grow your business acumen and hone your teaching skills in a unique location can be thrilling. Whether you want to travel to exotic destinations or stay close to your home base, organizing and offering a specialized yoga getaway allows you to engage in the kind of intimate connection with clients, regular and new, that only a retreat can provide.
Organizing a retreat can take months or sometimes even up to a year to plan. Although it may be intimidating when starting from ground zero, I find that it helps to break up your planning into four distinct stages.
1. The vision stage
This phase encourages you to ask the questions that will keep you motivated throughout the entire planning and retreat process. Begin by reflecting on big picture ideas:
- Why do you want to host this retreat?
- What is your retreat theme?
- Who is your target audience?
“You don’t need to have a huge audience/community to lead your first yoga retreat,” says Keri Pfeiffer, account management lead at WeTravel, a payment and booking platform for travel organizers, “but you do need to make sure people are interested in what you are proposing.” Pfeiffer recommends utilizing your mailing list and sending out a pre-retreat survey to poll your audience on whether they’d be interested in joining a retreat with you. Johannes Koeppel, CEO of WeTravel, adds, “These surveys are key to see what your community is looking for, what kind of interest you have, and to be able to successfully set expectations once you’ve decided to go forward with the retreat.”
Based on the feedback you collect from possible participants, you can start your detailed planning. “Ask questions and listen,” encourages Tammy Petersen, founder of Wellness Marketing Limited. Your students are your best resource to make your vision a reality, so you’ll always want to start with them in mind.
2. The planning stage
“Planning a retreat involves organizing the venue, the food, and any potential dietary restrictions, what types of classes to teach, the overall feel/experience of the retreat, transportation, accessibility, and who are you targeting,” say Sean Kelly, co-founder of BookRetreats.com. Those are a lot of details to plan. If you’re a natural-born planner, arranging all the details necessary for a yoga retreat will be fun and challenging in all the ways you love. If you decide on a DIY approach, you can use this retreat-planning checklist from the University of Kansas; the timeline included is especially helpful in getting your ducks in a row.
If you don’t enjoy planning or simply don’t have the desire to put time into the particulars, don’t let that get in the way of your dream—plan the details you’re comfortable with, and then hire out the rest. There are plenty of services available that range from providing basic à-la-carte support (such as booking or marketing), to comprehensive end-to-end retreat services.
Whether you plan every detail yourself or outsource them, be clear about your budget and ensure that your profits are aligned so you cover your costs. “Many first-time retreat organizers forget to pay themselves, so make sure you budget your services and time into the retreat price.” Be clear in your own mind what your wishes are in relation to pricing and do the math before booking the retreat venue. For instance, providing top-notch services at an exclusive locale necessitates either a higher volume of participants, or an increased charge to them. If, however, your goal is to hold a retreat in a location you personally have always wanted to explore, perhaps the experience rather than a monetary reward holds more value for you.
3. The promotional stage
Marketing is one of the most important stages in carrying out a successful retreat. First, be sure to put all the details related to the event on your website. Create a program itinerary and include it in your promotional materials, suggests Kelly. This seemingly minor detail allows interested students to feel confident in knowing what value they can expect when they sign up to retreat with you. Displaying vivid professional photos on your website and fliers ensures that your clients have an actual visual idea of what they will experience. (Don’t forget to include the price of the photographs into your retreat calculations. While it may seem like an extravagance, the increased interest the photographs will generate pays for itself.)
“Most retreats being held in today’s world are 6–12 guests, so you don’t need to have 200k+ followers on Instagram to make it happen,” advises Pfeiffer. The key is to be sure you target your retreat to the specific audience you envisioned during the first stage of planning and seek to attract students who resonate with your retreat theme.
Another option to increase visibility and distribute your marketing efforts is to partner up with another like-minded person or organization. “If you’re a first-time retreat leader, it’s well worth considering having a retreat partner or co-teacher,” says Koeppel. You might also consider offering referral fees from studios where you teach or to other yoga teachers. “And consider offering incentives to your clients who bring their friends and family with them on your retreat,” suggests Pfeiffer.
4. The execution stage
You made it! You are finally on your retreat with your dedicated group of students who can’t wait to connect with themselves and others. But there is one important thing to remember when attending your own retreat: be prepared for things to go awry. No matter how much you plan, the unexpected will occur. The goal of careful planning is not to control every detail, but to hold space for the unknown. In this manner, you can attend to the surprises that will inevitably come up.
In the first few years leading retreats, I would find myself periodically overwhelmed. To avoid potential burnout, I had to remember to stay awake to the retreat process that was unfolding within me, just as it was for others. Remember, the retreat is not about delivering perfection, but rather the transformation that all participants will experience during the retreat and even thereafter. This means holding space for yourself, just as much as it means holding space for others. Stay within your grace as you offer your clients your very best.
Travel and yoga are a great combination, and if your desire is to share these two loves with others, embrace the process. Just as our yoga teaching involves planning and effort, so does implementing a successful retreat. If the behind-the-scenes work still feels daunting, remember to outsource when you need it and stay organized; WeTravel even offers a free Retreat Planning Video Series and a Retreat Planning EBook. The planning won’t happen overnight, but it is just as much part of the journey of discovery as the retreat itself. So now is the time to make retreat dreams come true—where will you go?