Want to get paid to take a fun vacation with your clients? Who doesn’t, right?
As a coach (or any service provider), I’m a fan of retreats. You and your clients can get away, you can be face-to-face and fully in the moment that hourly sessions do not always allow for, and you can infuse your coaching with the beauty that surrounds you.
They are fun, is what I’m saying :).
However, there are PITFALLS to doing retreats, and they can be costly. I’ve had the pleasure of running a few coaching retreats in my time, and here are a few things to think about before you hop onto the retreat bandwagon:
1. Retreats and live events take MUCH LONGER TO SELL THAN YOU THINK.
Why is this? Because the sales cycle for retreats is incredibly long. You might spend a couple months planning a coaching service or product launch, and then a week or two actually selling it. A retreat takes months to sell, so you need to be prepared. Part of the reason the sales cycle is so long is because it’s a more painful sale. People have a knee-jerk reaction when money comes into the picture, but they have a bigger knee-jerk reaction when MORE money comes into the picture :).
What I mean is this: They not only have to pay for the retreat (reaction #1), but they also must pay for the travel and hotel (reaction #2). This creates a double-pain point that many people have a hard time getting over. Their first reaction always is: “This sounds great…when are you doing it again? Maybe I’ll come then.” It takes a while to overcome those objections and make people feel great about making an investment in time and money.
Unlike an online class where someone can drop in or watch the recording later, retreats are time-bounded events. You are either there, or not there, and you can’t catch up if you miss it. This type of event creates another hesitation while folks try and see how their calendar is sizing up. Some people can commit to travel months out – some have to wait till the last minute. I started selling tickets for my latest retreat in June, and the retreat wasn’t until the end of October, just to give you an idea of my timing.
Lesson: Make sure to allow 3-4 months (or more!) to sell your retreat on top of your planning. It seems like a lot, but you’ll need every second of it :).
2. BUDGET LIKE CRAZY. And be strict with yourself.
I know, it seems simple and obvious, right? But this is where a lot of people lose money on retreats. First off, there are your sunk costs that determine the price right up front: Hotel rooms for you and your team, conference space, any food or beverages that you provide as a part of the conference, and AV or presentation fees that all hotels delightfully charge you. These are going to be higher than you might think because you are a captive audience and hotels relish that. For instance, I just had to pay $4 a person for water at lunch. I had purchased an all-day full beverage package for everyone, but…the hotel served us lunch outside of our room and so, therefore, tacked on an extra charge. #Awesome.
And then there are the extras that you *kind-of* know about but maybe also don’t. For instance: Taxes and service fees. These vary, but they aren’t often quoted upfront. Make sure to ask, and try and negotiate if you can. I had limited negotiation ability because I chose to host my retreat in a popular destination during their high season. They didn’t need me, I needed them :).
And finally, there are materials and fun ideas that you have that cost money as well. Marketing (website and ads), a photographer at the event, journals or books that you might provide as a part of the conference, and even pens and playdough. Think through each of these costs because they add up – and it’s easy to go from profitable to not so much overnight.
Lesson: Do a strict budget ahead of time and capture all costs and your break-even ticket sales number, so you don’t end up in the red. I didn’t do this on my very first retreat – fortunately, I had high ticket prices ($3800 per person) so I was able to turn a decent profit. At my latest retreat – I knew EXACTLY where the money was going.
3. So, the price of the retreat is determined by all costs. Make sure you factor in your time as well!
This is also where people go wrong. One big cost of any service is YOUR time. Your time for marketing the retreat, preparing the design, and delivering the content at the event. Once you do one once, you can save a lot of prep time but there is always the delivery to account for as a part of the process.
The retreat needs to be worth your time! Only you can decide how much profit is worth your time, but calculating out your hourly rate + expenses + attendees will give you the ticket price. Don’t determine ticket price based on “what you can sell,” determine it based on what it actually costs. Otherwise, you’ll end up resenting all of the time you are spending on a project that isn’t actually supporting your business.
Lesson: Be clear (and overestimate) about how much time this event will take you so you are set up for financial success and your ticket prices correspond to your level of effort.
4. Plan on having at least two sales cycles.
Now – depending on your goals for attendance and the content of what you are covering, how you sell a conference or retreat might vary. But I’d plan on having two big sales pushes penciled in on your calendar. One 3-4 months out when you open up enrollment and start selling tickets, and another one about 6-8 weeks out when the conference is getting a lot closer. The reason is the same one I listed above – people commit at different times, and having two big sales pushes will help make sure you get the attendance levels that you want.
Lesson: This is basically planning two different launch cycles or sales funnels – however you want to word it. I’ve done big online sales launches for my retreats followed by personal one-on-one sales cycles as the date got closer. I’ve never been able to fill a client retreat using just one sales method…I’ve always needed at least two, if not more.
5. The higher the price the more contact with you during enrollment.
If you have a new high-end retreat that is expensive (think $1000 or more), you need to let people experience YOU as a part of the sales process. Expect to create a sales cycle that involves 1-on-1 conversations with folks because the more people spend, the more they need to have a feel for you. Once you are established and have word of mouth and testimonials, it’s easier for people to sign up without talking to you first. But in the beginning you need to give them that contact so they understand the experience.
Lesson: Nothing replaces personal connection :).
6. Quantity isn’t always a winner in terms of profit.
I’ve used two models for my retreats: The luxury fewer-is-better “everything is included” model where the ticket includes hotel and all food, and the less luxurious more-people-is-better “the conference + lunch” is included model. We often think that quantity is the way to go – sell more tickets, reach a bigger audience, have a bigger impact, and make more to boot, right? BUT – that depends on how many people you can reach.
And the hard truth is that if you are starting out, you probably will have a smaller pool of people. So, you might find that you can do better following a more luxurious retreat model, rather than playing a numbers game. Think on it, do the math, and focus on what is best for your audience. Lesson: The model may surprise you!
7. Don’t do too much of the “fly the plane while building it” with retreats.
I’m a fan of selling something that you are still working on because otherwise most of us will never put ourselves out there – but I’m NOT a fan of doing that during retreats. Why? Because people want to see EXACTLY what they are going to get when they sign up, so you need to have big and small details nailed down.
Every time someone has given me feedback on why they can’t come to one of my events, it involves them not having enough clarity from the Agenda. That’s hard for me, because I tend to work on things till the last minute in many iterations, but learn from my mistakes and get really REALLY clear on the retreat before you start marketing it.
8. Think through every SECOND of the client experience as part of your planning.
From how you greet people the second they walk into the room (to how you tell them to find the room), to breaks, to when you have lunch and how long that is going to be, to how they are going to feel at the end of the day – think on every second of what it’s like to be your client.
Nothing sours people on the experience more than poor logistics.
I’ve been to retreats and conferences where I didn’t know when lunch was going to be (so I was hungry and frustrated, because I didn’t want to step outside, but my blood sugar was killing me), to retreats where the materials were so cheap and poorly thought out I immediately devalued the content and started resenting my ticket price. Even telling folks where the bathroom is (and breaking in the morning so they have time to use it after drinking coffee!) will help their experience. To me, this is what separates good from great. You want to keep people fully engaged in the moment with you – not worried about when they can eat.
Lesson: This is the most important part of the experience. If you can’t hold their attention because of logistics, you aren’t serving your clients.
And my last lesson is to do it for the right reasons. The right reason is never money. Money can and should be a part of the equation, but do a retreat because it’s the right way to serve your clients (and you!).
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Christie Mims is a professional Career Coach, founder of the Forbes Top 100 Website The Revolutionary Club, and lover of anything covered in chocolate. Her other big love? Business building! (Because world domination is fun). She’s been paid to speak, write, and help other coaches build their businesses (and make thousands) – because more than anything else, she wants you to have work you love. In her opinion, owning a successful coaching business is a dream more people should be able make a reality.
Want her chocolate-covered help to solve your coaching business issues? Check out her magical coaching mentoring and her sparkly website right over here. CLICK. (It’s waaaay more fun than feeling stuck in your business).