I just ran my first ever retreat!
Since starting Campfire Communications I have wanted to sit around an actual campfire with small business owners and share their stories. This weekend I did exactly that with my Campfire Storytelling Retreat. It was bloody marvellous. So I thought I'd share what I did to turn this dream into a reality - just in case you have dreams of running a retreat too.
Step 1: Have a super clear vision
I knew that I wanted to have small business owners sitting around a campfire. I knew how I wanted it to feel (relaxed, adventurous, inspiring) and what I wanted it to look like (beautiful, natural). I knew how it would make people feel (less alone, motivated, connected, happy, empowered). It was this vision that helped me plan out everything else. So get clear on your vision first.
Step 2: Get clear on who you want there
Before I started plotting what I actually wanted to include in the retreat, I got really clear on who would want to come along. In short, it was people like me. Small business owners who at times feel a bit lost or overwhelmed, who love being outdoors, who need a break from the isolation of working on their own, who want some direction and who enjoy a glass of wine and toasted marshmallows. Create an avatar of the person you imagine would come on your retreat.
Step 3: Plot out what you will offer
Once you know who is likely to come along, it is far easier to create a retreat programme that works. I simply imagined what I would want on a retreat - how much down time would I like, how much learning time, what type of content - and plotted out the itinerary based on that. I knew I needed a mix of solid learning content, with time for networking, time in nature and time to just chill out.
Step 4: Find a venue
Your venue helps to set the scene for your retreat. Take into account:
- where are your ideal clients based?
- is it easy to get to?
- does it reflect your vibe/brand feel?
- can you make it work budget-wise?
- does it have the facilities you need?
- can rooms be booked as singles (as people who don't know each other prefer to stay in their own rooms)?
My venue was dictated by step 5 - but luckily, it ticked all the boxes.
Step 5: Find someone who can help you
The thing that held me back was knowing how to make it happen logistically and finding a venue that would work. A chance meeting introduced me to someone who organises outdoor retreats. Hayley of Wild Goose has an existing relationship with a hotel that lets her set up campfires in their grounds. This meant we had a venue and she could manage all the logistical bits for me - like securing the hotel, setting up the campfire area and running the campfire activities. Plus she has the public liability insurance in case any fire related accidents take place. If you have a venue in mind, speak to them to see if they have an events manager who can help you or find an external events organiser to support you.
It's also important to have someone on site to help you during the retreat because running workshops and managing all the logistics on your own is almost impossible.
Step 6: Choose a date
This is really tricky. Obviously your venue needs to have availability, but you also need to factor in seasonality, whether it's during school holidays, whether it's a weekend or week day thing. You will never suit everyone. So choose a date that you think will work for your ideal attendees and stick with it.
Step 7: Team up and trade
I teamed up with a friend Lou Harrand who runs yoga to deliver the yoga for my retreat. In exchange, she got to attend the retreat and only had to pay for her hotel costs. I also traded with a photographer Suzanne Nichol who agreed to photograph the entire weekend in exchange for attending for free. It meant I had a professional photographer and yoga instructor for very little outlay, helping me keep costs down, while they (as small business owners) benefitted from the content and connections.
Step 8: Market it
I created a page on my website dedicated to the retreat, which painted an enticing and very clear image of what the retreat would be like. I promoted it via my social media - particularly in Facebook groups in which I knew my ideal clients could be found. I invested a small budget in Facebook ads and promoted it via my newsletter to my mailing list. Lastly, I created a press release with an angle about the pressure small business owners feel and the need to escape and connect with others - and put it out. It ran in the Yorkshire Post, Huffington Post and on Working Mums.
Step 9: Pricing and booking systems
Knowing what to charge was a challenge. I wanted it to be affordable but equally it needed to make me some money. After polling people for their thoughts, I decided to set the price just below £500. This covered the cost of their accommodation, all meals and all the content. I think it was exceptional value given the amount of content and activities that were included. This was reflected in the feedback from the attendees too. I may increase the price slightly for future retreats - but as it was my first retreat, I was happy to keep it priced lower rather than going for maximum profits and not delivering!
I looked at a number of booking systems and the bottomline is that they all charge a fee. I opted for eventbee.com as it had a flat fee per booking rather than a % fee. You can incorporate the cost of this fee into your pricing if you want to recoup some of the costs.
Step 10: Build excitement
Once people had booked onto the retreat, I sent them a hand written postcard and little gift of matches and marshmallows as a thank you and to get them into the spirit of the retreat. So think about how you can reward people who book onto your retreat and get them excited. Reinforce why they made a good decision to book.
Step 11: Create your retreat content and itinerary
You need to deliver on what your sales page offered, so take your time to create great course content. Think about what your retreat promise is - mine included learning and workshops so I had to ensure that I delivered that. Also spend time planning out the non-workshop activities, imagining how they will play out. Leave room for flexibility and downtime. People don't want every minute of their day prescribed for them. Send attendees the itinerary in advance so they know what to expect.
Step 12: Finalise all details
The week before your retreat, make sure all final details and payments have been made with the venue. Talk through the retreat programme with anyone who is helping you to ensure you're working from the same page. When I sent out the itinerary to delegates, I included a packing list, map and helpful links to make it as simple as possible for them. Print off hand outs and ensure you have any other equipment or materials ready. Consider having things like health & safety forms and photography acceptance forms ready.
Step 13: Run it!
Get to your retreat venue in advance. Make sure you familiarise yourself with where everything is and have everything set up in good time. Welcome your guests as they arrive and possibly leave an itinerary or little gift in their rooms as a surprise. Be clear about where people should meet and when. Try to stick to your itinerary and timings as much as possible to keep it on track and to ensure that people get what they pay for. But have some flexibility for things that may crop up. Be available, friendly, open and honest throughout the retreat. Be prepared to be exhausted by the end of it! Don't forget to hand out feedback forms and ask for testimonials.
Step 14: Follow up
After a retreat you will have established a deep connection with the attendees so be sure to follow up with a thank you. Create a way for them to stay in touch - whether that's through a private group, a whatsapp group or just sharing of contact details. Use their feedback to tweak future retreats and as testimonials.
That's it! It was hard work but not nearly as difficult as I'd imagined and now that I've done one, all future retreats will be much easier as I simply have to replicate and tweak what I've already done.
If you are interested in attending a future Campfire Storytelling Retreat, add your name to this list.
Feedback from the retreat'Thank you for the awe inspiring retreat. Its unique setting - outside around the campfire - empowered me to be truthful and more forward with my PR strategy. I highly recommend this to any entrepreneur.'
'It has given me a deeper insight into what I am really doing. It's connected me with my real purpose.'
'A fabulous retreat which gave me some amazing tips and ideas to grow my business as well as getting back to nature, meeting like minded people and finding my zen.'
'Fab weekend, Beautiful Setting, SO much information with knowledge to deliver! This was your 1st of many! Great investment time & money! Thank you for putting it all together! Loved it and would recommend it! Feeling invigorated and very motivated!'
'Absolutely loved it! Thanks so much for a fantastically enjoyable, useful and thought provoking weekend.'
'Bloomin brilliant you PR and brand guru .....learnt lots about how to brand and promote my business with solid strategies and even more ideas!'
And how did it make them feel?
I could not be happier with how it went. If I can do it, you can too. Don't let fear stop you. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments. Book your spot on the next one here.