The Essential Guide to Filling Your Yoga Retreat
Step-by-step Directions from Retreat Organizers
We’re BJ & Lauren–we design retreats for teachers and coaches all over the world. We decided it was high time to write the MOTHER of all “How To” guides to market your retreat. We hope this guide helps you and your guests & clients have the best experience possible!
This is the Ultimate Guide to Filling Your Yoga Retreat... or Coaching Retreat or Photography Retreat or Culinary Retreat! This advice works for retreats of all types!
Why, hello, proactive retreat leader!
You just created an epic retreat experience–now how do you attract guests? Retreats can be incredibly fun, brand-building and stunningly profitable adventures….if you get guests to sign up. So what is the best way to market a yoga retreat? We design (and even accompany) retreats for instructors around the globe, so it’s important to us that we help them get filled! We’ve combined the best of our own practical advice with the best of the ‘net and compiled what is seriously and truly the Ultimate Guide to Filling Your Yoga Retreat.
We want to help you work smarter, not harder, to fill your retreat! We were tired of seeing garbage ‘tips’ on the web like “Just put a link on your Twitter!” We both know that it’s going to take a lot more than “I’m just going to leave this link right here…” to get your retreat filled. Some of the suggestions on this list might seem like common sense to you, but you’d be surprised what simple things you forget when you feel under pressure. In addition, we help unpack the “simple things” and suggest the best practices in each category. This page is full of clear, thoroughly explained ideas to get the ball rolling!
You can use the links below to jump to a specific tip, but we think you should read all of them. Each tip is filled with tons of expert advice, and you might just be be surprised what you find there…
+ Know all the retreat details inside & out
+ Get organized (grab a notebook or app!)
+ Immediately brainstorm a list of potential guests
+ Schedule time each week to fill your retreat
+ Offer referral fees or “finder’s fees” (commissions)
+ Partner with another instructor to lead the retreat
+ Send a clever “sneak peak” as an invitation in disguise
+ Create a super informative website
+ Create an engaging flyer or postcard
+ Talk about it at your class
+ Include the retreat in ALL of your newsletters
+ Send personalized emails directly to prospects
+ Send ACTUAL MAIL to prospects (!)
+ Using Social Media wisely (a LOT of how to’s here!)
+ Follow up with interested guests
+ “Next time!” What to say to the ‘next timers’
+ Host a Meet & Greet information session
+ Write an article for a local free holistic magazine
+ Making the most of paid advertising on the web
+ Create a payment plan & make it known
+ Parting wisdom & final FAQ
+ Bonus: Who we are & what we offer
+ Bonus: Teacher testimonials
* Know all the retreat details inside & out
* Get organized (grab a notebook or app!)
* Immediately brainstorm a list of potential guests
* Schedule time each week to filling your retreat
* Offer referral fees or “finder’s fees” (commissions)
* Partner with another instructor to lead the retreat
* Send a clever “sneak peak” as an early invitation in disguise
* Create a super informative website
* Create an engaging flyer or postcard
* Talk about it at your class
* Include the retreat in ALL of your newsletters
* Advertise in your email signature
* Send personalized emails directly to prospects
* Send ACTUAL MAIL to prospects (!)
* Using Social Media wisely (a LOT of how to’s here!)
* Follow up with interested guests
* “Next time!” What to say to the ‘next timers’
* Host a Meet & Greet information session
* Write an article for a local free holistic magazine
* Making the most of paid advertising on the web
* Create a payment plan & make it known
* Parting wisdom & final FAQ
* Bonus: Who we are & what we offer
* Bonus: Teacher testimonials
Do you have what it takes to fill a retreat? That is, do you have
- a large number of students to engage?
- a studio or partner willing to help in this outreach?
- an online presence in the way of a website, newsletter & social media?
- the time it takes to successfully sell a retreat?
- the patience to endure the slow, potentially discouraging times?
If your answer was “Yes” to all of the above, you’re in the right place!
It’s no secret that many people in the healing and helping professions don’t enjoy the “selling” part of the business. When I had an acupuncture practice, I would have much rather treated everyone and their brother for free, but education & professional licenses and certifications–not to mention rent, utilities, and supplies–don’t come free. Make no mistake: you will have to sell this trip. I wish there was a way around that!
But, when you’re clear on your intention for teaching this retreat, you will come to realize that you are simply letting people know about this opportunity you are providing. They are already coming to your classes because they receive benefit from your teaching; why wouldn’t they want to know about this retreat? Don’t be bashful about sharing the opportunity, and if some of your students can’t take advantage of it this time, maybe next time! (Although make sure you read about some of those “Next Timers” further down this list, ok?)
If it helps, consider making a Mission Statement for this retreat just as you did for your business; that way, if you find yourself lost in a sea of doubts or frustration, your original Mission can be your lifesaver.
The more you know about a “product,” the easier it is to talk about it and sell it. When I worked for Whole Foods Market, I both arranged and attended vendor demonstrations for the staff. In the beginning, I didn’t really understand why the trainers would give away so much free product in these trainings. I quickly saw that if a team member used a product and enjoyed it, explaining its benefits and selling it to customers was a breeze. You can only sell something you’re confident about and that makes you feel good (and rightfully so).
Also, you’ll be more able to answer your student’s questions. While it’s always fine to say “Let me find out and get back to you,” it’s best to utilize that momentum to keep the conversation going right there and then.
If you have any questions about your trip, please never, ever hesitate to ask the organizer. It can be intimidating, bringing your students to a city/country/continent you’ve never been to, and we want to make you feel as comfortable and confident as possible.
Our recommendation for a great organizational app that tracks your To Do’s (and more) is Asana (and not only because it is FREE!)
“Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.”
~ BKS Iyengar
During this exercise, it will also benefit you to brainstorm your ideal demographic, including their interests and where they hang out. This will make later steps (hanging flyers; creating targeted Facebook ads, etc) easier.
If you’re having a hard time coming up with a list of people, this is the first chance to pause and evaluate if this is the right time for you to be leading a retreat.
Write it down in your planner, make it official. Consciously create time for this aspect of the retreat, don’t just do a few things here and there when you have a free minute. Schedule 1-2 hours once or twice a week, and your retreat will fill up a lot more quickly than if you worked on your Marketing To Do list in your “spare time.” (Because, at the end of the day, do you have spare time? Me, neither.)
Make no mistake: the time you dedicate here is going to lay the foundation for a successful retreat.
“Hard work and humility are essential for spiritual sadhana.”
What Can I Do in This Scheduled Time?
Most of the things on this list this entire list, honestly! Specifically, though, here are some ideas for your weekly “retreat marketing maintenance” time. There will be more specifics about all of these practices later in this post.
- Create (and schedule) Facebook posts on your personal and professional page
- Create (and schedule) Instagram posts (Later is a good, free app for this)
- Replace tear-off flyers or refill postcards around town
- Post in the Facebook event page to keep it fresh and active in the Invitee list
- Follow up with Facebook event invitees who have selected “Interested” or “Going”
- Send personalized emails or snail mail to people you would like to attend this retreat.
“Wait a minute–where do you organize and escort retreats?”
We’re glad you asked, globetrotter!
- Bali & Lombok, Indonesia
- Ladakh (Tibetan Plateau)
- Myanmar (Burma)
- Cambodia (Angkor Wat)
- Peru (Machu Picchu)
- Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
- Coming soon: Iceland!
Of course you’ll want to know or at least know of this professional, and they’ll probably want to know or know of you to feel comfortable telling their clients about your trip. However, it is a win-win, as you get another paying guest and they get a nice bonus for helping a colleague and providing an opportunity for one of their own clients.
Your referrer doesn’t have to live in the immediate community, either; your best friend with a yoga studio in Colorado can certainly advertise for your international retreat (although it probably won’t benefit you to have her advertise your afternoon workshop in Florida).
Think of these rewards as just another part of your marketing budget. Plus, you only pay them if the referred guest actually goes on the trip; it’s a guarantee of no money lost, only gained.
This may be the happy compromise you make with your studio owner if they’re not too keen on you discussing your trip after class or distributing postcards or flyers in the studio. (More on this later!)
It’s super important to have a firm grasp on the figures and how the number of guests changes the costs of the retreat (and your earnings). BJ is the Spreadsheet King for our retreats! Flying blind may leave you with a small percentage of what you thought you would earn because you weren’t exactly sure how to budget for food, transport, contingencies, single supplements, etc.
If you’d rather someone ELSE take care of the math on your retreat, email BJ today and let’s talk!
Guests tend to respond positively to trips that benefit a charity or cause. Perhaps a small donation to benefit this cause is built into the fee for this retreat, as well. Look at you, doin’ good & changin’ the world!
When you are in the early-ish stages of planning your retreat, reach out to your newsletter list and/or Facebook fans and ask them for some preliminary feed back; for instance, to vote on a name for your retreat out of a list of your favorites. Don’t worry–it’s not like you are legally bound to go with the name they choose, although it might provide good feedback! This is a fun way to casually introduce the retreat and get people invested in it early on. Of course you can end with a “PS” inviting them to sign up early for an early bird discount. There–you’ve already send one marketing message in disguise!
We recently pulled a variation on this, when we were trying to decide if a Peru yoga retreat or a Galapagos yoga retreat was going to be more popular. I put a survey out to our newsletter list, and I was shocked by the amount of answers I got back. Lots of people answered the survey, but they also wrote directly to say “I’m in, save my spot” and the trip wasn’t even fully planned yet!
(*What is SEO? It stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it follows an ever-changing set of rules put in place by Google which determines your Google rankings. While the lion’s share of your guests will be current students of yours, if anyone is looking for a location and/or date-specific retreat, you better believe they’ll be looking to Google, and your SEO better be on point!)
What if you don’t have your own website? You can create a free one at WordPress.com, Wix.com, Weebly.com, amongst others. As a last-ditch or temporary effort, a Facebook event page or even a group page can be one spot to consolidate the retreat information, but it puts you at a disadvantage as not all of your potential guests will be active on Facebook.
What should my retreat website include?
Your flyers and postcards will be directing people to the website for all of the important information, so you better make sure it’s all there! Plus, answering the same question 50 times gets old quickly (or *ahem* so I hear), so it’s best to have it in black and white. Your website should include:
- Time & Date of Retreat
- Location address, with a map and any necessary directions
- Transportation info (such as parking, flight arrangements, etc)
- Cost and how to pay (where to send check and who to make it out to; credit card or PayPal details; payment plan options, etc)
- Outline specifically what is included on this retreat (meals, transportation, extras, etc)
- Suggested packing list or supplies needed
- The daily itinerary, both classes and excursions
- An FAQ is crucial, covering everything from the local food to health concerns (vaccines needed, altitude sickness info, etc), visa questions, how to get local currency, what of electrical plug will they need, about the hotels….the list grows and grows! But having a strong FAQ will make your guests feel comfortable in your very capable hands.
*Phew!* That’s a lot, right? But having that information clear and available simplifies life for both you and your guests. We take pride in the retreat websites we make for our instructors, ensuring they are informative, user friendly, and easy on the eyes. You can see some examples here, here, and here, or you can just head to RetreaTours.com to scope out all of our current retreat websites.
Flyers should have all the pertinent info and some stunning visuals, along with tear-offs with the website address. Or if you don’t like the look and potential messiness of tear-offs (I get it, I do), leave several copies at each location.
Postcards can be a fun way to use gorgeous pictures to entice potential guests. We find Vistaprint.com is typically the best-priced online printer, especially once you search for that month’s coupon codes. Of course, we also definitely advise supporting your local printers, if their prices are somewhat competitive (and they definitely can be when you factor in the cost of shipping from an online service). Or if you don’t need large amounts, you can always print at home, too.
Place them in your studio and encourage students to take them. If your studio owner has a problem with this, this can be a big problem for you. Work with the studio owner respectfully to come to a solution that works for you both. Seeing the postcard over and over at home might plant the seed in many of your students.
Where else do your students or your ideal guests frequent around town?
Perhaps the natural grocer, certain cafes, gyms or the YMCA, or metaphysical shops or bookstores? Hang flyers or postcards where you are able to around town in places where your ideal client spends time. I know fewer and fewer places hang community boards, but take advantage of the ones that still exist.
How do I create retreat postcards or flyers?
Well, if you’re working with us, we take care of that for you! If not, you have a few options.
- You can pay or barter with someone to design them for you.
- Canva is a very popular, free, user-friendly platform for designing marketing materials. In a pinch, though, I’ve used Power Point to create graphics!
- Fiverr is a global online marketplace offering tasks and services, starting at just $5 per job performed. The site is primarily used by freelancers who use the site to offer design services to customers worldwide.
The purpose of the flyer or postcard is to get people’s attention and drive them to the website where all the information is. Don’t make your marketing material too cluttered; focus on using some vivid images and making sure people know where to find the whole story (the website).
I’m including some examples of yoga retreat postcards, double-sided and color, that I’ve made for past instructors. You can click them to enlarge.
Why is this?
Even ten years ago, yoga retreats around the world were new and exotic, and above all, rare. If a person searched online they might come up with a few options that sounded interesting to them; now if they searched, they might find hundreds that suite their needs (amongst the thousands and thousands advertised online).
Maybe even more importantly, your students know and trust you already. Chances are most of them wouldn’t travel halfway around the globe to follow just any old teacher on retreat. They enjoy your teaching style, your shining personality, and want to travel with you.
What if the owners of the studio won’t let me talk about it?
We’ve had teachers tell us that their studios do not allow them to talk about non-studio related events in their classes. If this is the case, consider offering your studio owner a referral fee for any guests that come on the trip through their studio. Perhaps if you fully explain the retreat and offer to use the studio’s branding guidelines (colors, fonts, etc) they may be more open to it, as well.
Honestly, if you find yourself in this situation, you are going to have to come to a solution by working with your studio owner. If you can’t talk about it with your students, that puts you at a huge, perhaps insurmountable, disadvantage. Be clear about this with your studio owner before you commit to leading a retreat.
- Not sure how to set up an email signature? Click here for instructions for Gmail, and you can find other email provider instructions via Google.
WiseStamp offers a very cool email signature, with photos, for FREE (with the option to upgrade, of course). This might be a fun, eye-catching way to promote your latest offerings. I use a WiseStamp signature in my email and it always surprises me when people I email for non-business purposes ask me about our travel company; it usually takes me a moment to realize how they know about our business in the first place. You never know where your next connection might come from!
I’m including a screenshot here to show how you might use WiseStamp to highlight your retreats. You can click the picture to enlarge, and don’t forget that you have a few customization options in WiseStamp.
Have you ever lead a retreat or workshop before? Don’t forget to reach out to your former guests, as well! Even if they cannot attend, they may be more than happy to spread the word.
Pick up some cute notecards, maybe some that reflect your trip’s theme (paisley for India, something tropical for Costa Rica, etc). Let them know you thought of them while you were planning this event and why. If a direct email gives people the warm fuzzies, imagine what a real life card would do! Even if they can’t go, they’d be more likely to tell friends about your retreat (even if it’s indirectly, when sharing how they got an actual piece of mail, from a real person, in their mailbox!)
Mid-Page Pep Talk!
To succeed, you must have tremendous perseverance, tremendous will. ‘I will drink the ocean,’ says the persevering soul; ‘at my will mountains will crumble up.’ Have that sort of energy, that sort of will; work hard, and you will reach the goal.
Yes, we know you’re not 18 years old, but they good news is, 18 year-olds don’t even use Facebook anymore. The really good news is that, well, everyone else does! Pew Research Center’s 2014 study is pretty fascinating, and it illustrates that older adults are using Facebook in a big way. This is great because this is the audience that will typically have the time and money to go on such a retreat. So, let’s get into the nitty gritty about how to best use Facebook. We’ll first talk about your personal (friend) page, and then your professional (fan) page.
We understand you don’t want to bombard your friends with this information non-stop, but posting about it initially and then little updates along the way are pretty innocent. After all, you’re excited about it and want to share it with your friends, right? Let’s get two things out of the way:
- Not everyone is seeing all of your content. Facebook has some funky algorithms, so you can’t assume all of your friends are seeing all of your posts. In fact, unless they have subscribed to your updates, I guarantee they aren’t seeing all of them.
- People aren’t paying as much attention to you as you think. I’m sorry, it’s true–and it’s liberating! It’s highly unlikely anyone will see a post and say, “OMG, Sara just posted about that 12 days ago!!! ENOUGH!!”
If you ONLY have a personal page, this is the place you’ll create an Event Page through which to invite people. Alternately, if you’re leading a retreat with us, we can create it on our RetreaTours Facebook page and make you an event admin on it, so you can directly invite your friends. More on Event Pages in the Professional Page section below.
Professional “Fan” Page
This is your brand page that people can “Like” (as opposed to “Friend.”) From here you can also create an Event page; this is a better place than on your Personal page, as you still invite your personal friends but now you can also promote or “boost” the event (more on “boosting” in a bit). Click here for Facebook’s instructions on how to create an Event on a computer, and here for an iPad.
Remember that creating the Event is only the first step; the crucial part is actually inviting Facebook friends* and sharing the event page on your Personal and Fan pages. (*Unfortunately on Facebook Fan pages, you can only invite your friends, not everyone who has liked the page.)
During your scheduled weekly Retreat Marketing Time, make sure you’re posting inside the Event Page. This will go through to all invitees who are still on the fence, pushing this to the forefront of their mind. You can post pictures from the destination, inspiring travel memes, and travel advice.
You can also take time during your weekly Retreat Marketing Time to schedule Facebook posts. You won’t just be posting your retreat information over and over, of course; one day you can post a photo from the location, the next you can link to an article that talks about how spending money on travel and experiences is better than spending money on objects; another day can be a fun fact about the location of your retreat; and let’s not even get into all the pretty travel-quote memes floating around the internet… Scheduling these posts ahead of time is one way to make sure it actually gets done; that way you don’t have to worry about it throughout the week. Click here to learn how to schedule Facebook posts.
Ads and Sponsored Posts (for Fan pages only, not personal pages)
If you’re active on your Fan page, you see below your updates the number of people who’ve actually seen your posts. Shockingly low? Don’t feel bad–it’s all part of Facebook’s plan.
You’re probably well aware, just from a user perspective, that Facebook is a big player in the advertising game. While one could be upset about it, it’s also just part of the cost (literally) of belonging to such a highly connected, free platform.
Facebook’s algorithms only allow 2-12% of your audience to even see your Fan page posts in their feed. (Obviously they can still go to your page and see them, but let’s be real–how often do you go directly to business fan pages to see what they’re up to?) Of course, Facebook says this wasn’t to drive ad sales, but to save your feed from being one big chunk of advertising from prolific business pages. Fair enough–it can be a bit of both.
But the good news is, Facebook’s Sponsored (or “Boosted”) posts kinda rock! (Note: We typically only advertise in the form of Sponsored Posts, as we personally never look over to the ad columns. However, I know people who have also had success with ads. But, I’ll be focusing on Sponsored/Boosted Posts since we have lots of experience in that realm.) Here are Facebook’s instructions regarding a boosted post. Just to save you a bit of time, one thing to know up front is that the image associated with your boosted post cannot have more than 20% covered by text; you may have mastered Canva, but make sure your images fit Facebook’s guidelines before you spend too much time creating a beautiful, text-heavy graphic.
The best part of Facebook Ads and Boosted Posts is that you can carefully select who sees the ad, based on gender, age range, location, and interests (interests in the form of a Facebook “page” they’ve already liked). So, if your retreat is only for women, you can eliminate any wasted ad money right off the bat by not showing the ad to men. Want to target Kundalini yogis? You can choose interests such as “Yogi Bhajan” and “3HO” to target your ad. Running a weekend retreat in Florida? Maybe you’ll only advertise in the surrounding counties. It’s really a fantastic way to have your advertising dollars ‘work smarter’ for you.
You don’t have to spend a fortune. We spend between $5 and $15 per sponsored posts to gauge interest, and then add to the budget if we think it’s wise. Facebook will show how many of the people who’ve seen and interacted with your ad are “Organic” (non-paid) versus Paid. We find that even our Organic numbers get really high with boosted posts because more people are sharing, liking, or commenting on these posts, and their friends see that activity and join in.
In this article, Yoga Trail has a slightly depressing but fully enlightening anecdote about what gets people’s attention on Facebook. Click the screenshot to see the full article. The gist is that their post about BKS Iyengar only got 30 shares, 12 comments and 62 likes, but a post of a puppy in Savasana got 3,448 shares, 2,033 comments, and 18,467 likes. Yikes. But it gives you insight, that you need to be posting eye-catching or otherwise engaging photos with your posts. I highly recommend reading this Yoga Trail article, “Facebook Yoga.”
One other helpful note: your friends and fans tend to see profile picture changes and cover photo changes more than other photos you post. Making a graphic for your retreat and using it as your personal and/or professional Facebook cover photo (or profile picture) will give it more exposure. Click here for a great reference as to what sizes covers, posts, and ads should be.
Does your target audience use Instagram? Then you should be using it! Some tips:
- Connect it to your Facebook account and Twitter to get the most exposure for your effort.
- Hashtags! Make sure to use #yogaretreat and the location (such as #MachuPicchu or #Nepal). You may even want to develop a hashtag for your future guests to use when they are on retreat and posting to social media. We had one group in Bali that called themselves #BaliBenders, and that was a fun way for all of them to share their photos on Instagram.
- Not all hashtags have to go in your caption, as too many can make it look messy. Instead, include the most important ones within the text of the caption, and then make a comment with your other ones!
- During your weekly scheduled Retreat Marketing Time, you can plan out your week of Instagram posts. We like the app “Later” (which used to be called “Latergramme.”) It’s free for 30 posts a month, and we think one a day is totally fair! It’s not fully automated, but the app will push a notification through to your phone telling you it’s time to post.
- Bonus: you can pre-write all of your captions and they will be saved to your clipboard, so you only have to paste them into the Instagram caption area.
- Extra Bonus: You can schedule and write the caption from a computer by visiting Later.com.
Remember: Utilize any and all social media outlets you have, but only really focus on the ones your target audience uses. Don’t spend all your time marketing on Snapchat or Periscope if your ideal guest is 50-70 years old. Know your audience.
It’s your job to connect with them, but you probably don’t want to feel like you’re being pushy. A simple message (for those Facebookers or emailers) or conversation goes a long way. The key is to ask them if they have any questions about the trip. This is not only a genuinely helpful gesture, but it’s also a subtle nudge to get the idea of this retreat back onto the front burner of their brains.
People are busy–heck, you’re busy, I’m busy, we understand. Just because they’re not actively pursuing this retreat at full steam doesn’t mean they’re not interested; it just means they have kids to pick up from soccer practice, overtime at work, busted plumbing to take care of, and the flu. A friendly message from you 10-20 days after their initial interest might be exactly what they needed to remind themselves that, yes, here is an opportunity for self-care in a gorgeous setting! When I gently follow up with guests who have expressed interest and then fallen off the face of the planet, I often get a note back saying, “I’ve been so busy, thanks for checking in–where do I send the deposit again?!”
“…Forget the future, for it is beyond your reach! Control the present! Live supremely well now!” –Paramahansa Yogananda
Three weeks ago a woman wrote regarding an India tour to ask if we were offering the same trip next year because she was unable to attend this year. I explained that due to our packed schedules and the timing of these festivals in India, this trip may not happen again for 3-4 years. With that knowledge, her schedule magically cleared and just this morning I received her deposit.
Sometimes saying “next time” is a knee-jerk reaction to an amazing but intimidating opportunity. It gives us an easy out without us having to examine our own motivations and fears surrounding this opportunity. When “next time” is out of the equation, you may be surprised to see some of your students schedules clear up, too.
Pro Tip: Sometimes you may feel the urge to convince people to attend your retreat—you’re confident they’ll enjoy the trip and benefit from it; you’re pretty sure they have the time and resources to attend; and what’s more, you really need that 6th person to sign up! However, we have found time and again that if people are extremely hesitant and fearful, it is best not to press the issue with these folks. They tend not to make the best travelers or guests, and besides, you shouldn’t have to twist someone’s arm to attend your awesome retreat!
If you are leading a retreat with us, we can help you create a gorgeous photo-heavy PowerPoint slideshow to show during the info session to help you guide your guests through the outline of the retreat and answer their questions. If possible, we can also Skype or FaceTime into the actual Meet & Greet, too!
Offer a discount or special offer for those that sign-up during the session or even within the next week; for example, $150 off the retreat price or a private session with you before or during the retreat, etc. This can motivate people to seal the deal sooner rather than later.
If you do host a meet and greet, remember to make a Facebook event for that, too!
Explore the opportunity of writing an article for a free, local holistic magazine. Seemingly every community has some version of a free, health-oriented magazine, quite often in a franchised version of Natural Awakenings magazine. Click here to see if there is a Natural Awakenings magazine affiliate near you. If not, you probably know if there is a similar magazine out there (and you may even stock it at your studio! Some other big ones include Natural Solutions and New England’s Spirit of Change. You can find others at this link. It may be easier getting a piece into more localized magazines, like Natural Awakenings, rather than regional magazines, as they tend to be hungry for good content!
You aren’t able to just write an article about your retreat (you knew there was a catch!) but instead larger, more engaging topics, such as:
- a particular health benefit of yoga
- a tie-in between an upcoming holiday and the benefits of yoga (Thanksgiving and reducing family stress, e.g.)
- something relevant to the local terrain, interests, or population (how yoga can help hikers, or golfers, or busy college students…you get the idea)
- something relating to the magazine’s own monthly theme, if they have one
Get creative! You will have a brief bio and contact information at the end of the article which can drive interested people to your retreat website. This is a good practice to get into if you can; you end up building your own stockpile of engaging articles that you can post on your website or print out and have as flyers in your studio. An educated audience is an engaged audience.
However, getting the word out about your retreat is obviously very helpful…but at what cost? Here are our thoughts on the best use of your advertising money. Long story short: we don’t advocate it unless you feel you’ve run out of other options.
Commission vs flat fee
Some sites, like RetreatsOnline.com, charge you a flat fee, so you’re paying whether someone signs up or not. Other sites, like RetreatPlace.com give you an option of a 10% commission fee or a flat fee. The benefit of a commission is that you only get charged if someone that finds you through that site actually goes on the retreat; however, the amount is always higher (well, unless your retreat is extremely inexpensive!)
There are so many sites, though–where are potential customers actually looking? I’ll tell you where they’re looking: BookYogaRetreats.com. Their SEO is absolutely unmatched. Go ahead, take a second and Google “Bali yoga retreat” or “India yoga retreat” or “ [ALMOST ANYWHERE!] yoga retreat.” Yeah, they’re first almost every single time, whether it’s through an organic search or an ad. So, if that’s where potential guests are looking, maybe that’s where you should put your advertising dollars.
As of this writing, they charge a 14% commission, which at first can deliver a good old-fashioned sticker shock (remember, it’s 14% of the total trip cost, not just 14% of your profits!) However, they only take a cut if a guest actually attends your trip–you don’t lose any money if no one signs up through them. You may consider this after you’ve exhausted your other avenues (that is, don’t spend money to fill the trip while there are still people who are on the fence or markets you’ve left untapped). Maybe 3-5 months before the retreat you can consider advertising on BookYogaRetreats.com. The money you earn from more guests, minus a 14% commission, may be worth more to you than guest slots remaining empty. Or, you may choose to keep the trip more intimate and not open it up to the world at large, which is OK, too.
If you diligently follow all of the tips here, we hope you won’t even have to explore this option!
Kundalini Programming Note:
We recommend advertising on SpiritVoyage.com for your Kundalini retreats. They have a free listing option and also a paid option. We have found that the Kundalini community is very open to traveling with various teachers, and we have had instructors have great success with this approach.
Remember, if you use any credit card services, you’ll have to pay a fee for that service; for instance, with PayPal, you’ll be charged ~2.9% +30 cents per transaction (3.9% for international transactions). Make sure you account for this in your overall price; you may even choose to offer a 3% cash discount to those guests who pay by cash or check.
Wait! I have a few more questions!!
When should I reach the minimum number of guests for my retreat?
This depends on the deal you have with your retreat center. For local weekend retreats, you can be filling it up until the day before. But for international, 2-week long retreats, you know that your guests are going to have to plan ahead–get time off work, make pet-sitting arrangements, renew their passports, buy their flights, etc. We typically have an arrangement with our overseas retreat centers that we can cancel 4 months out and get our deposit back. or have it applied to our next retreat there. So, think about how much lead time a guest needs and what your deposit arrangement is with your venue and set your deadline accordingly.
When should I start advertising my retreat?
It depends on the length of your retreat (e.g., weekend vs 2 week) and the preparation your guests must make to attend. If it’s an afternoon workshop, you can advertise weeks to months in advance, and you may even get people registering the day before. If you’re headed to Asia, guests need to get a visa (maybe renew their passports), potentially get vaccines, get time off work, find child and pet care, and buy their international airfare. International retreats were not built in a day, and we like to give our instructors 1 year from the start date to sell the retreats, if not more.
As mentioned above, you’ll have to reach your minimum by a cut off date (depending on your retreat center’s cancellation policy; could be 3 to 6 months), so that “year” doesn’t actually give you a year to get to the minimum number of participants, but instead 6 to 9 months. Once you reach the minimum, though, you can continue selling spots until any hard cut off-date. For example, for an Indian visa on arrival, you need to apply at least 4 days in advance, so guests cannot decide 3 days before. But as long as a guest is willing to pay the potentially inflated international airfare (due to such short notice), there’s no reason they can’t come!
Any apps you guys like to organize retreats?
Ooh… good question! Here are a few of our favorites; they don’t help to organize the retreats directly, per se, but we find them pretty indispensable.
This app is an amazing way to keep track of your expenses, and you can categorize them any way you see fit. It’s not a way to market or even plan your current retreat, but it can make your numbers more accurate for next time. How much did you really spend on taxis, snacks, water? We don’t know what we would do without Expensify. It’s a great tool for daily personal budgeting, too!
This currency conversion app is crucial for foreign retreats. You can use the web version, XE.com, but the app version is so much more convenient. Obviously it’s handy on retreat to figure out costs in your native currency, but it’s important to keep track of the destination currency fluctuation, particularly if you’re paying in that currency.
We felt like we were the last ones to the WhatsApp party because virtually everyone we know in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America uses it. However, it’s still (slowly) catching on in the U.S. The reason we like it so much is that it is an incredibly easy and FREE way to contact people both locally and abroad, through both voice and text (with photos, too). Chances are that your contacts for foreign retreats will be using WhatsApp, as well. If your guests download the app before they leave home and have their loved ones also download it, they can call home for free with any wifi connection (or cellular data).
In fact, play around in your app store by searching for your destination city or country’s name; you might be surprised how many resources you can find, from language to food to sight-seeing apps!
Are you sure all this marketing this isn’t overkill? It feels a bit….much.
We understand how it might feel like overkill to you; after all, you’re in all of your classes (we hope!), you’re behind all of the direct emails, snail mails, Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram photos; you’re the one hanging flyers, writing articles, sending newsletters, reviewing the website… It’s totally going to be a HUGE presence in your life, as it should be.
But your guests are only seeing a portion of that–they’re not in all of your classes, they’re not seeing every Facebook post, Tweet, or Instagram; they’re not on the receiving end of all direct emails, snail mails, and newsletters, they’re not seeing every flyer and poster, reading your articles. That’s kind of the whole point: you have to take twenty actions so that hopefully your potential guests will see one or two.
So yes, you may feel some days like you’re living, breathing, eating, sleeping this retreat, but trust that your potential guests are not. And, of course it depends on the scope of the retreat. A 1 or 2 day local workshop might not call for all of these measures; a 2 week retreat in Peru certainly does.
We mentioned Thomas Smith’s 1885 take on advertising that still rings true. Obviously this isn’t a peer-review journal study, but I know that I can certainly relate to it, especially with all the social media noise out there. Here’s what he wrote over a hundred years ago about the effective frequency in advertising:
The first time people look at any given ad, they don’t even see it.
The second time, they don’t notice it.
The third time, they are aware that it is there.
The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it somewhere before.
The fifth time, they actually read the ad.
The sixth time they thumb their nose at it.
The seventh time, they start to get a little irritated with it.
The eighth time, they start to think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
The ninth time, they start to wonder if they’re missing out on something.
The tenth time, they ask their friends and neighbors if they’ve tried it.
The eleventh time, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The twelfth time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
The thirteenth time, they start to feel the product has value.
The fourteenth time, they start to remember wanting a product exactly like this for a long time.
The fifteenth time, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
The sixteenth time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
The seventeenth time, they make a note to buy the product.
The eighteenth time, they curse their poverty for not allowing them to buy this terrific product.
The nineteenth time, they count their money very carefully.
The twentieth time prospects see the ad, they buy what is offering.
Obviously it could use a good updating, but I think the underlying premise holds true. People typically need to let an idea marinate for a while before committing to it.
Any other tips?
- Yes! When people DO contact you about your retreat, make sure you ask them how they found out about it. This is so utterly important, I have to say it again: ask every person how they heard about the retreat (unless you know they heard it from your mouth at the end of class!) This way you know what marketing methods are working best for you and how to better focus your efforts next time.
- Also, keep in mind that these are great business tips whether or not you’re trying to fill a retreat. These steps will you make you a more conscious business owner and will bring your marketing game to a new level.
“Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light.”
― Yogi Bhajan
We hope these tips have given you some new ideas to go forward and confidently fill your retreat. Please let us know if any of these tips worked for you by writing us or leaving a comment below!
Who are we, anyways?
We are BJ Graf and Lauren Rathvon, creators of RetreaTours, a full-service boutique tour company and travel consulting service. Originally specializing in cultural tours, we quickly found our niche designing custom tours for retreat groups—with a twist. If a guest is flying halfway around the world, we figure they want to see more than the inside of one yoga studio or conference hall. Instead, we hit the highlights of the area we are in, visiting two to four major sites in the chosen destination. We combined the depth of a retreat with the breadth of a tour and we got the RetreaTour®.
We’ve hosted many successful RetreaTours (you can read our instructor testimonials here and our guest testimonials here) but we can only lead so many a year–that is, until we figure out a way to clone ourselves. We want to widen this opportunity to more instructors, so we’ve also developed Self-Guided Retreats in some of our destinations.
When we can’t be on tour with you personally, you’ll be in the hands of our trusted travel agents, guides, and hotel staff. This will mean more day-to-day work on your part, but that also means more earnings and/or a lower price point for your guests. A win-win-win!
For a bit more about us personally, head over to our bio at Retreatours.com.
What we do
- Help choose the best option, RetreaTour or Self-Guided tour, for your group
- Assist in selecting a destination and choosing the best time of year for that location
- Design a customized itinerary for your group
- Create a website for you to advertise the trip to your clients
- Act as liaison with your destination’s hotels, transportation, and local guides
- Communicate with your guests in regard to itinerary & logistics (travel insurance, vaccines, packing list, etc)
- Give suggestions to your guests for international airfare
- Collect guest deposits and payments
- Collect information from guests (dietary restrictions, emergency contacts, etc.)
- On the RetreaTours, we are on hand to help manage the details & ensure your guests are having the time of their lives
- And let’s not forget…make a final payment to you at the end of the trip!