THE SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL YOGA RETREATS: 4 YOGA TEACHERS SHARE WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T

By Susanne Rieker

I asked 4 amazing yoga teachers who have been running successful yoga retreats for a while for their best tips, strategies and insights. If you’re ready to offer your first yoga retreat or want to improve your marketing, you don’t wanna miss those super helpful insights and tips!

The Secrets of Successful Yoga Retreats: 4 Yoga Teachers Share What Works and What Doesn’t

Tammy Hayano | Hanuman Yoga Retreat

The Secrets of Successful Yoga Retreats: Tammy Hayano

Tell us a bit about you. What kind of yoga retreats are you offering, how many and where?

It’s been quite a journey! Five years ago, I quit my job as an elementary school teacher and decided to lead yoga retreats. I had only finished my yoga teacher training a year before and also did a JourneyDance™ training, but I thought, “Why not?” And here I am!

I’ve now led over 20 retreats collectively in Thailand, Bali, California, Hawaii, and Mexico. Generally, I organize about 6 retreats a year with a big range of experiences – 3 days to 8 days and rustic to luxury. The more I learn through trainings and workshops, the more I am able to bring to my retreats. I offer retreats for self-care, healing and transformation by giving participants a variety of experiences and approaches, e.g. yoga, meditation, QiGong, TRE/tension-trauma release exercises, innerdance energy work, JourneyDance™, craniosacral therapy, and laughter yoga.

Can you share your biggest learning in organizing your retreats?

It’s pretty fascinating to see the outcome (or as I call it, ‘natural response’) working with various venues and people. If things are aligned with my needs and values, there is flow and ease. When there is a block in the ‘system’, it effects other parts involved. If I’m working with a venue and the owner is greedy for money; or if a co-facilitator hasn’t put a lot of energy into marketing; or if I’m charging too little or too much, then that creates a break in the overall system. I think of it as having all these pipes interconnected, and I need to look at the big picture to see where something might be blocked.

For everyone involved (retreat organizers, venue, co-facilitators, instructors), it’s important to have an equal balance of professional business skills and the heart present. I know many amazing facilitators and retreat venue owners, yet they take two weeks to answer an email. That’s not who I want to work with. I also know many yoga retreat centers who are primarily interested in making money, with very little care or regard for their employees and customers. That was shocking for me to realize and also not the type of people I want to work with.

Choose carefully and ask what are the primary reasons for making your choices. This will pretty much guide everything on the conscious and subconscious level. Especially be aware if you are making choices out of wisdom and intuition vs. pressure, fear, doubt, desperation, ego, or anxiety.

What’s working best for you in marketing your retreats?

I receive most of my bookings through my own website, retreat listing directories, flyers that I create, Facebook, MeetUps, and personal announcements in my class. I find value in diversifying my marketing because people receive information through many ways. If say, posting your retreat on Facebook is the ONLY thing you’re doing, then that’s pretty limiting. You want to expand outside the box.

What’s something you tried in the past but it didn’t help you sell your retreats at all?

Early on in my business, I tried Google Ads and Facebook Ads, but it was too expensive and I didn’t receive any bookings through that. I learned that there’s a fine line between “doing what everyone else is doing” because it works vs. oversaturating the mainstream medium (e.g. Instagram, Facebook events or newsletters) by simply copying what everyone else is doing. I’ve got to like the marketing that I do and be skilled at it, otherwise it will show through my work that it’s sloppy, unoriginal, or not really me.

What are you focusing on today?

Balance! The workaholic-entrepreneur in me gets carried away at times. 🙂 Too much doing; too many ideas; too much I want to learn! I am focusing on more self-care and diversifying my life a bit (for example volunteering at an orphanage).

It’s also fairly new for me to work with co-facilitators, so I am working on getting clearer on what this means, my expectations, etc.

Finally, I always aim to keep my teachings fresh, current, and creative. If things start to go into auto-pilot and stale, then it’s time to add new energy to my practice.

What do you wish someone would have told you before you planned your first retreat?

Failing is part of the process. Knowing this now, start slow and small and build things up from there. I went straight for the “go big, or go home” approach, and the universe just laughed at me. 🙂

https://www.hanumanyogaretreat.com

Autumn Adams | Ambuja Yoga

The Secrets of Successful Yoga Retreats by Autumn Adams

Tell us a bit about you. What kind of yoga retreats are you offering, how many and where?

I’ve been teaching yoga and running retreats full time for about four years and I host between three and six retreats each year. I always host a couple during the summer in Oregon because Oregon summers are amazing and I have a really amazing working relationship with a small retreat center there. I’ve also hosted successful retreats in Bali, Greece and Nicaragua. In 2018, I will be leading yoga teacher trainings, workshops and retreats primarily in Oregon and Nicaragua.

I’ve been splitting my time between Oregon, Bali and Nicaragua for a few years. I’m nomadic by nature, but I crave the structure of being home. It’s wonderful to have three places that feel like home.

My retreats are all set in beautiful natural surroundings. There is something really powerful that happens when we slow down and put our bare feet on the earth, breathe fresh mountain air and swim in our earth’s magical waters. Lately, my retreats have been incorporating more practices to create freedom and joy, both on and off the mat. And I love, love, love helping people find clarity in their dharma. The dharma work is so powerful and I love being able to include it in my longer retreats. As far as the physical practice goes, my retreats are a blend of vinyasa and restorative practices.

Can you share your biggest learning in organizing your retreats?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there will be hiccups no matter what. You cannot plan for everything. You must keep calm and roll with the punches. Transportation will take twice as long as it should, retreat centers won’t deliver on promises, luggage won’t arrive on time, you will have yogis that don’t bring sunscreen to the tropics, and attendees that don’t pre-read any of the information you send out beforehand. You will also share many amazing experiences and memories with your students, so don’t fret the little things.

When it comes to choosing a location it’s important to choose wisely. Before putting down a deposit, make sure to talk to your students. Where do they want to go? How much can they afford to pay? Does a weekend, long weekend, or full week work best for them? If it’s possible, check out the retreat center and try the food. If it’s not possible to visit beforehand, read reviews online, video chat with the owners/managers, and talk with other teachers that have hosted at the retreat center. When you’re just starting out choose a resort/retreat center that specializes in retreats… they will be able to advise and guide you throughout the entire process. Also, don’t expect to the resort to market your retreat for you. If you want them to market for you, you must be proactive.

Group size. My favorite size for a retreat is about 13 people. I know that thirteen might seem like a really small retreat, but it gives me the opportunity to get to know everyone. On retreats that are over 17, I hire an assistant. I’ve been working with the same assistant for two years now. We have complementary energies and our teaching styles are fairly similar.

Pricing. When pricing a retreat, know that there will be unexpected expenses…. Especially when you’re first starting out. When you’re new to hosting retreats you simply don’t know all of the little components that cost money. Also, pay yourself! Do not underprice your retreat, it will only end up causing you stress. When I price out my retreats, I take an honest look at the minimum number of attendees I think that I will have and price accordingly.

What’s working best for you in marketing your retreats?

I list my retreats on retreat directories, create flyers, Facebook groups/ads/business page and send out info to my newsletter. www.bookyogaretreats.com sends quite a lot of business my way, but they also charge a hefty commission.

I’ve recently begun to play with Google Adwords. Adwords is all new to me, so I’m sure I will make plenty of “mistakes” along the way. 😉

I’ve found Facebook ads and boosted posts helpful for local workshops, but not so much for retreats. My advice is to build up a social media presence, but limit your time on it… especially if you’re a scroller like me. I’ve found engagement rates to be (typically) super low for Facebook business pages… groups are better. Now I automate all event posts and curated content. Anything else is posted when I feel inspired to do so. I have also received a booking or two for each retreat off of Instagram.

Most importantly is word of mouth.  I’ve found it helpful to get my tribe excited about my retreats and then they get their friends excited. It’s important to be seen around town and out in the community. I float around from studio to studio, say hi to the people next to me in class, and attend other teachers’ workshops when I can. My local retreats sell out months in advance simply because of my community.

What’s something you tried in the past but it didn’t help you sell your retreats at all?

I’ve spent money to have my retreats listed on sites that don’t get much traffic (before I knew to check)…. Now I know to check site traffic and keyword rankings BEFORE listing, especially if it’s a paid listing.

When I first started out I also wasted a lot of time working on my social media presence. I’ve had to set pretty clear boundaries for myself. I post and then I get out of there ASAP.

What are you focusing on today?

I’m focusing on incorporating more healing modalities into my retreats. For example, I include reiki, yoga nidra, self-myofascial release, and therapeutic partner work. This January I am taking a Thai Yoga Massage Course in Thailand and I am really looking forward to sharing what I learn during my next retreat in Nicaragua. I’m also working on my coaching skills and group facilitation skills. I will be working with a business coach in 2018 and also launching teacher trainings, so it will be a big year. While I have set quantifiable business goals, I’ve also made it a point to set a few subjective goals. If I had to give 2018 four words they would be: fun, easeful, free, and intentional.

What do you wish someone would have told you before you planned your first retreat?

It’s okay if it’s just your mom, your aunts, and your friends; in fact, it’s perfect!

Start with a local retreat.

Plan, make lists and timelines.

Market the hell out of it, but don’t spend a ton of money.

GET CLEAR on your intention for the retreat.

Before any yoga, get your group connected.

Know your strengths and use them to your advantage.

You can negotiate with retreat centers.

You’re “on” all day every day. If you’re an introvert like me, schedule yourself some self-care and down time.

Yoga Retreats Tips from Autumn Adams

http://ambujayoga.com

Lisa Andersson Rhodiner | Inspiro Yoga

The Secrets of Successful Yoga Retreats Lisa

Tell us a bit about you. What kind of yoga retreats are you offering, how many and where?

I’ve been born and raised in Sweden, but as I’ve been living and traveling around the world for more than 15 years I consider myself more “a world citizen”, feeling just as much at home in Bali and Portugal as in Sweden. I started practicing yoga about 10 years ago, but it was not until 5 years ago when I for the first time tried a yoga class in a studio I completely “fell in love” with the practice. I spent 3 years diving into trainings, mentoring and teaching full time at a studio in Bali and in January 2014 I hosted my first Yoga & Raw food retreat in Ubud. It was a real trial and error – without too much planning – just a strong desire to bring people together to practice share and learn.

Since that first retreat in Bali, I’ve kept on organizing retreats in Bali, Sweden and Portugal, which is my new home base. Sometimes by myself, sometimes as a collaboration with others. It’s a never-ending journey of learning, reviewing and improving. And as much as organizing a retreat is A LOT OF WORK (much more than I think many people realize!) – meeting and connecting to so many people from all over the world and seeing the impact the retreats have on them – it makes it so much worth it.

Can you share your biggest learning in organizing your retreats?

I’ve definitely learnt a lot during these years! One big lesson is to always try out a venue before organizing a retreat there. Get to know the people who run the place, try teaching / practicing yoga where you’ll have the yoga classes, check out the surroundings, check out where the meals will be and make sure to try out the food.

I’ve had retreats of all sizes. With 4 people and all the way up to 30 people. A huge group retreat is absolutely amazing and fun with lots of energy and community feeling. But it might not be as easy to get to know the people and feels less personal. Teaching a small retreat group is wonderful in a different way – as you have the chance to connect to people on a more personal level and can tailor the classes to those individuals more. I love both!

For theming a retreat I’d recommend creating a theme that you personally really like! Make it really juicy and something you’d like to attend yourself!

For pricing retreats it can be tricky as you want to get as many people as possible to come – but you also need to make sure that you cover your costs AND make sure you get paid for all your work too. I think it helps to think of who your ideal customer is and then price the retreat in way that it can suit their wallet.

What’s working best for you in marketing your retreats?

I find that personal connections to studios and people, who refer your retreats as well as social media has been the best way to promote my retreats. I don’t feel that newsletters have given many bookings and neither have big bookings directories…

What’s something you tried in the past but it didn’t help you sell your retreats at all?

As mentioned above, spending a lot of time on listing retreats on booking pages who in the end didn’t send any customers.

What are you focusing on today?

I always review and see how I can improve my retreats, and make it even more clear what they’re about in descriptions. I also look at delegating tasks to others – as I am no super woman who can do it all.

For next year I will offer retreats with even more focus on the food – adding on cooking classes to some, something I’m super passionate about as well. Some awesome chefs are coming to share and it feels really good to have reached a point where I can invite many of those amazing chefs I’ve gotten to know over the last few years – to share their talents with my customers.

What do you wish someone would have told you before you planned your first retreat?

Schedule time for yourself. When you host a retreat, you give a lot – and as much as it’s wonderful to be surrounded by people, taking some time away from the group (it can be a little walk or a shorter yoga practice) will give you more energy and you will be able to serve better.

The Secrets of Successful Yoga Retreats Lisa

http://inspiroyoga.com

Elena Mironov | Sparkling Yoga

Yoga Retreats Elena

Tell us a bit about you. What kind of yoga retreats are you offering, how many and where?

Here at Sparkling Yoga our main aim is to offer retreats that are life changing – so it’s not only about yoga, but also about meditation, learning to live life more fully, making lifelong friends and discovering some of the most beautiful places on the planet. At the moment, we offer retreats in 8 different locations: Norwegian fjords, Swiss and Italian Alps, Morocco desert, South of France, Spanish Pyrenees, Bali jungle and Copenhagen (city retreats). Currently we organize 13-15 retreats every year.

Can you share your biggest learning in organizing your retreats?

What I learned is to think how my decisions affect peoples’ lives in the long term. I know it’s a big thing to say but this determines the choice of locations, teachers, themes, group size and everything else. So often it would be a better financial decision to organize a retreat in a place that you’ve never visited but which looks good on photos, but it would be a huge risk to take a group to a place which you are not familiar with yourself. So instead, I would much rather commit my time and finances to scouting just the right places for retreats which sometimes takes years, but eventually find a location which is just right and can become a long-term destination for many amazing transformative retreats.

What’s working best for you in marketing your retreats?

Actually, over years I learned that the best marketing is word-of-mouth! I believe in your skills as a teacher attracting just the right students to the retreats, so most of my guests are the students who have been with me for many years and would like to expand their knowledge of yoga. Retreat directories and other marketing channels are great for opening doors to new students but in case of Sparkling Yoga, these channels bring just a small share of our retreat guests.

What’s something you tried in the past but it didn’t help you sell your retreats at all?

It’s a big effort to set listings up with retreat directories, but some of the directories are not that effective. And having said that, there are also some smaller companies promoting the retreats that are much more dedicated than large ones and really connect with their crowd to promote and fill the retreats. So the scale of the directory is not always what defines how successful the promotion is going to be.

What are you focusing on today?

I’m focusing mostly on introducing our guests to the three new retreat partner locations in Spain, France and Italian Alps that have been added this year (which has been a really big step for us). And in addition to that, focusing on developing new retreat themes and practices.

What do you wish someone would have told you before you planned your first retreat?

Hmmmm… great question! I would say to have less fear and focus on what really matters which is creating an experience that the participants will cherish for years to come.

The Secrets of Successful Yoga Retreats Elena

www.sparklingyogaretreats.com