Would you like to get paid to travel the world and share your gifts? Back in 1992 I married my dual loves of yoga and travel and started a retreat business that enabled me to give up a career I hated and live my dream. Nowadays I lead about 7 foreign trips a year and offer 5 or 6 weekend workshops annually in California.
You can do it too.
You could be an expert photographer, chi kung master, chef, bird watcher, hiker, biker, yogi or horticulturalist - there are many ways to turn your unique skill into a compelling getaway.
There are, however, many potential pitfalls for a new retreat leader...
Here are my Top 10 Tips to help YOUR business succeed:
1. Start Small
The biggest mistake people make when they first start dreaming of leading groups is to go too big too fast. Hone your skills with small groups close to home before you try to take 20 people trekking in Kenya!
I ran yoga retreat weekends for a year before I attempted a longer trip. The participants from the weekends had confidence in me as a leader and were on board for a week-long trip when it was offered.
So tip number 1 is to start with a cheap, close location that does not require many participants to be profitable. For example, maybe a friend would offer their family room as a venue in return for a free workshop. You could run a day-long session or a weekend. Do a few of them and build your email list from those events.
2. Create a Wonderful Offering
Make your flyer enticing and clear! And remember it is a legal contract so watch that you can deliver what you promise. Below are some of the must-haves of any great invitation:
What are the benefits of this retreat?
What fabulous experiences are on offer?
Why are YOU uniquely qualified to be the host?
What is included in the price? And not included?
How do they register?
Offer a testimonial
Add your website and email address
Add a picture of you and/or of the venue.
3. Retreat Venue and Venue Deposits
Pick an interesting venue and be mindful of the accommodations. Are you catering to a young budget-minded crowd who are happy to camp or share bunk beds? Or is your clientele more high end and require nicer rooms with ensuite bathrooms? Price your trip accordingly but be sure everyone will be comfortable.
Be very careful of venues that require a large advance deposit. So many retreat leaders lose their deposits when they fail to make the numbers required by the retreat center.
My advice is to try to avoid retreat centers when starting out for this reason. It can often be less risky to use a hotel, as hotels often offer a lot more flexibility with deposits for rooms and conference centers.
People remember delicious meals and eating together is part of what makes a group retreat so enjoyable.
The food at your retreat needs to be GREAT! People are on vacation after all. Make sure your venue offers excellent food or bring an awesome caterer.
When I am in Bali or Thailand where we use hotels for our yoga vacations, I make a point to scout out convenient restaurants close by and secure reservations for our group. That way I look knowledgable and organized.
NEVER ask the group where they want to eat! Endless discussion will follow and someone will get upset! YOU need to decide on the restaurant.
Many retreat leaders lose money when they first start offering vacations as they do not know how to price their event.
When costing out a vacation, you must be sure to add in all your expenses, including marketing costs, YOUR travel expenses, insurance, meals, taxis, tours and catering. It’s best to cost out a desired maximum for the group number and also a minimum that you can live with. Once your minimum is achieved, you MUST run the trip.
For example, I once led a group to Vietnam with just 2 participants but I still came home with $2,000 in my pocket having enjoyed a great trip as it was correctly priced. 2 was my minimum. 10 would have been nice, but in this instance, 2 was all I got. I make it a policy not to cancel a trip once my minimum is reached as that would lessen consumer confidence in my business.
If you are unsure about numbers, have a registration deadline that enables you to cancel or postpone with no cost to yourself, should you not have enough students by that date.
6. Cancellation Policy
This is VERY important if you want to avoid costly refunds! Be sure to have at least your basic cancellation policy included in your flyer. I always state that the deposit is non-refundable. I have a deadline for full payment and a date for no refunds of any monies.
If you are leading a trip abroad, request all participants to purchase travel insurance. Any cancellation must be claimed against the policy - not you!
7. Marketing Tips
Most of my vacationers come from the email list I have developed over 20 years. Be vigilant in your list-building efforts! Use a program like “mailchimp" to monitor the success of your emails.
Facebook is also a great way to advertise your trips. Make a Facebook page for your business that is separate from your personal page. Invite people to your events.
You can also enlist the help of other people in your field. Offer a referral fee for fellow professionals to send out your e-flyer. Or they could come free if they bring in 3 - 5 people.
8. Get Testimonials
People who do not know you personally will need confidence that you put on a good show. Ask your former participants to write testimonials that you can use in your marketing.
9. Develop Patience!
Remember you are there to serve the group, not the other way round. In any group there will be people who try your patience with endless questions and others who complain about the smallest things. Your job is to hold your equanimity, no matter how annoying the provocation!
10. Cover your Ass(ets)
You need a great liability waiver to lead longer trips. I generally do not use one for weekend retreats but for weeklong vacations EVERY student, even my closest friends, have to sign a waiver.
I also have business insurance in case anyone should get injured on my vacations. Ask me for how to get this - there is only one company I found that offers it.