Discussion #4668

Starting Pilates Retreats

60 min - Discussion


Join Lesley Logan and Gia Calhoun as they talk about Pilates Retreats and all of the factors that go into starting one. They will go over the types of insurance required for the host as well as the participants in addition to how to market your event.

Links and Resources

- Profitable Pilates

- So You Want to Host a Pilates Retreat Blog

What You'll Need: No props needed

About This Video

(Pace N/A)
Sep 03, 2021
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(upbeat music) Hi everyone, welcome to the Pilates Report. My name is Gia and today I'm really excited to be talking to Lesley Logan. She's the Founder and CEO of Profitable Pilates and she has also hosted many retreats on her own. So she's very knowledgeable about this topic. So without any further ado, I wanna welcome Lesley, hi.

Hi Gia, thanks for having me. Of course, thank you for being here. How are you today in lovely Las Vegas? I know, well, it's a little hot (laughs) but I guess it could be worse, it is Vegas but we are doing great. I'm excited to talk about this because it made me get to reminisce on all of my retreats and it just makes me wanna, I wanna be on one up right now.

Like that would be really fun actually. I bet, so actually brings me to my first question. So how long have you been hosting retreats and what was your experience like for your very first one? Yeah, okay, I really love this question and I'm excited, I don't think anyone's ever asked me about my first experience and I hope that this helps a lot of you as you consider doing a retreat for yourself or if you've done one and you were like, "Oh my God, that was not what I was expecting to be. So I've been hosting retreats since 2016.

We've done about 10 now. We would've had more but obviously for many reasons we had to cancel some last year. And our first experience was a whirlwind. Looking back I wished I had probably enjoyed the moment more but it's pretty difficult, there's a lot of moving parts but our first experience was really cool. We did it in Cambodia in Siem Reap, this beautiful town and everyone who came was one of my clients or my clients' family members.

And it truly felt like a family experience like a family vacation but I'm really grateful that I had a year to plan a retreat like that. And so that was definitely a big part of it. We didn't just throw it together and having that year experience, a year to put together all the moving parts, we can go into detail as we talk really helped it go off without a hitch and our guests, all of them have gone on another retreat with us either to somewhere else or some of them brought different family members to the same retreat. So I would say our first one went off with a bang for them, without a bang for them or with one but it was, we'll talk about, there's a lot of things that were happening in the background that as we've done the same retreat since, I'm able to be way more present and have a lot more fun with them. That's wonderful.

Yeah, I know when we talked earlier, I told you, think about 10 years ago, I had an idea, I was like, "I wanna start a Pilates retreat." But I had no idea where to start. So it obviously never happened because I didn't know what to do. So what advice do you have or what do you recommend as a first plan of action for someone who's thinking of starting a retreat? Yeah, so first thing you have to do is actually just think about the experience you wanna have. How do you like, when the retreat is over and you're asking people for a testimonial or they get home from their retreat with you and their friends are asking them like, how was it, what do you want them to say?

Because that experience, like what you're wanting to have is going to dictate every choice you make from the food to logistics and who's picking who up or who's planning airplanes or hotels, all of that comes down to the experience you wanna give them. And we take that into account for each retreat that we're doing because for Cambodia the experience we wanna make sure people feel very safe, feel like they're part of a family, feel like they're in a community. And so that dictates every decision we make versus when we've done more domestic ones that are on paper a little easier, safer, less risky, we can make different changes. So first you wanna think about that. Then you actually really wanna think about who is coming on this retreat, especially your first ones.

I promise you it's only people you know. So maybe it's a client's friend but truthfully it's not, like you're not gonna wake up and have a random person. I mean, maybe you might but I would call that extra, like a bonus. You will have to, you can't count on that, so when you're coming through your first retreat I need you to really think about the experience you wanna have. And then I want you to think about the people that already know they can trust you and you can ask them.

One of the things I did for our first one, I came back from my trip to Cambodia on a honeymoon and I was telling my clients all about it. And they're like, "Oh, I really wanna go." And so I was just like, "Oh, if I put a retreat together, would you come?" And they said, yes and the ones that said yes, I actually just asked them. "So would you like a week long retreat? Like want a weekend? What are some of the things?" And I only offer them things that I felt like I could produce.

And then that allowed me to really put together a retreat. So ask your clients what they want on a retreat. And then from there you can actually start to do the groundwork and the leg work of finding a place and putting one together. That's wonderful, so with regards to location, what kind of location would you recommend? Somewhere that's local to you or somewhere that's more remote or destination spot?

What do you think are the best practices or the pros and cons of each? Yeah, so again, you'll wanna think about the clients you already have and who they really are 'cause that's gonna dictate it. I honestly, Brad and I, Brad is my husband and he helps me do all the retreats. He does all a lot of the behind the scenes stuff. We really do recommend people stay local for their first retreat, that doesn't mean it's in your city but within a few hours drive because there are so many moving parts, you're gonna need to see the site, need to see the places, probably meet with different people.

And it's just gonna be way more convenient if you can drive over there, plus it's less risky, right? The barrier to entry is much lower, asking a client to get on a plane is a bigger hurdle than asking them to drive two hours away. So my suggestion for your first one is just be more local. That being said, you can go local and be in cabins and camping and roughing it. Or you could go into a spa, right?

So it's not like local means it's not fancy or it can be any of the things that I think the pros to being more local on your first retreat to get your legs, like to get your retreat legs is the best thing. Here's the thing, if it's something that's more remote the pros are that it's as quiet, people are truly retreating and they're only focusing on that. But the cons of that is your responsibility of their entertainment is much higher. So if you are someone who needs space, you're more introverted, you need a break, you're definitely gonna need to figure out how do I fill in the gaps for them because I've been on a retreat and it wasn't in a remote, the retreat space felt very remote but then we were really close to the downtown of that city. And there was about four hours in a day where you had nothing to do, so if you didn't drive into the city, you were just kinda laying around.

And that kind of felt weird, I felt like the host didn't really dictate that space very much. So I just wanna keep in mind like your energy levels and what you're able to give to people during the retreat, if you do something that's a little bit more high-end, the pros to that is there are probably a lot for them to do, they could lay by a pool, they could probably go get massages. If you're renting out a spa or a part of a hotel, the cons of that is that your margins are, your deposits and the price is definitely gonna be much higher, so then you're changing your price points. So you have to think about what that's gonna be. Going on a big trip, the pros of that is like, it's something really unique and it's very interesting.

And a lot of people are gonna go, the cons are gonna need way more time to sell that 'cause the price point is gonna be much higher. People are gonna need to save the date, they need to think about it. And it's harder to plan for things 'cause you're not there. So time differences are gonna play a factor. And then doing a lot of emailing back and forth with vendors.

Those are all wonderful things to think about. So I know it'll vary depending on the type of location that you have but what are typical costs that come with starting this type of business that people should be aware of? Costs, okay, they do vary and I just went on a weekend that I wouldn't call a retreat but if we were to call it a retreat, the cost was more for the workshops I was in. That's what I had paid them for. And they literally had no other costs except for their hotel and getting themselves there.

They didn't feed us, there was nothing like that. It was not a retreat but you can do a retreat like that where they come to do Pilates with you and then they go get their meals on their own, so your costs really, again, depend on the experience you're giving and what story you're telling what this retreat. So you're going to be out money right away when it comes to hold a space for retreat, you do owe them a deposit. And your, gosh, I can vary. I mean, I've paid several thousands of dollars as a deposit.

And then the rest is due upfront. Then there's usually depending on the place that you're renting out, there'll be cleaning fees and there could be fines for different things. So those will come later on and your expenses but right away, you'll have that. As far as your insurance goes, it really just depends on what your insurance company says. So there may or may not be cost there but reserving any chefs, any of those kinds of things, you're gonna be out the deposits right away.

And I wish I could give you a real ballpark, it's just gonna depend on the space. But I mean, I've done some research where I was looking at $1,000 deposit to $10,000 deposit and you haven't sold anything yet, so it's definitely an investment, a bigger investment and a bigger risk but don't let that stop, just make sure that you're keeping those things in mind as you're planning this. Yeah, that's wonderful, so I wanna go back to, 'cause you mentioned insurance and I know we can't necessarily tell people exactly what they need again, 'cause it varies so much depending on where it is. But what advice do you have for people about figuring out what kind of insurance they should get or what are examples of things that should be covered that you've noticed? So insurance is a little tricky when it comes to retreats.

If it comes to anything you do in your business, you should always be making sure your insurance company knows. Especially like when the pandemic happened so many teachers were starting to teach on demand and online, their insurance didn't necessarily cover that. So when it comes to retreats, you just wanna call up your insurance provider, let them know what you're planning on doing, is it covered? What information do they need? Pretty much anywhere in the world domestically if you're doing a domestic retreat, your insurance probably is covering most of the things but then there'll be other things that the place that you're renting their insurance probably will be taking care of.

So you wanna ask those questions when you're renting a space, you wanna ask them what they need from your insurance to make sure it's a go. And then when it comes to international, most likely your insurance in your home country is not covering that for various reasons. So in that case, it gets a little tricky because not every country that you're going to do a retreat will just sell you insurance. It's not like you can just call up the embassy and go, "Hey, can I get something?" So what you have to get is make sure that you have travel insurance and make sure every single retreater gets travel insurance. That is key, you put that in your requirements and when you're doing it, we'll go more into this on another question but that will be in your welcome packet.

Like, "Hey, here's next steps you need to be doing." So travel insurance and then you need to have, you need to talk to a lawyer, that's another expense you'll probably have to do is talk to a lawyer to get a waiver for your retreat. That is going to look very different than your waivers that are at your studio because anything can happen when they're with you. So there's a lot that you have to be careful of. So definitely you'll want a waiver and you'll wanna make sure that that waiver or your insurance and the lawyer, everyone knows what's going on and is very clear on what the activities are gonna be. Yeah, just as we've mentioned in previous Pilates Reports to make sure your waivers are just up to date and that you're protected 'cause you don't want anything to happen to someone and then they come back at you later on find a loophole.

Yeah, I mean, it kills me every time, it's like someone, I see it on Facebook groups and I see it everywhere where it be like, "Oh, can I get a copy of your waiver?" It's like, don't do that, don't do that because there's just, you want it, like if this is it, yes, it's an expense, probably between 400 and $700, depending on, the two attorneys that I use that's what they charged for a waiver. But you wanna make sure it is very explicit for yourself because you have no idea what can happen to someone and that's all risk that you're taking when, in anything that you're doing in your studio but especially on a retreat there's just a lot more variables. Yeah, very good advice. So as far as travel how do you arrange the travel for your attendees? Is it included in the price and you do it for them?

Do you just give them recommendations or do they figure that out on their own? What is the travel like for the attendees? Yeah, so first simple little thing in the US especially, I cannot act as a travel agent, it's totally illegal. So I actually can't be doing the booking of flights and stuff like that as just a Pilates teacher. So what I recommend is working with a travel agent, figuring out what their fees are and having them help you negotiate what you can for your retreat.

And then you just build that into your margins, you just put that into the price point and then you can, like if your retreat actually is going to require a flight, you can actually say, "Here's a recommended travel agent that will help you, they know where we're at, they know all the things." And so then as far as flights go, they can go with the travel agent or they can book themselves. People are spending a few thousand dollars with you to go on a retreat there, they're gonna book their own flights. And for us, especially with the retreats we've done that have been successful, oftentimes people are traveling somewhere else on the way, so it's nice for them to book it themselves or for them to work with a travel agent who understands exactly when we need them to be at our retreat and what time so that those things could be worked out 'cause you just don't want someone booking their flight and then they're landing six hours of the retreat starts, like that's gonna be really stressful for you, it's not gonna be fun for them, so just give them that but you'll wanna build those margins. And as far as accommodations go, that's gonna go with what your retreat is, right? So my retreats in Cambodia, the accommodations are included in the price.

But when we did Maui, we actually sold it as a Pilates vacation and they could bring their family, so they booked their own stays. So yeah, so it's but also, I mean, we did that for a few reasons, the margins in Maui are not great for renting hotel rooms. And so this way people could bring their family members and rent out an Airbnb on the same beach as where we're hosting the retreat and then we worked that out. So you'll wanna think about, again, the experience, what you wanna tell people, what's around, what's able to happen but yeah, you have to just be careful. In the US you cannot act as a travel agent.

So I would highly recommend finding one and then just working their fees into your margins, into your price point. That's wonderful, so for meals, how do you go about meals for your attendees, do you provide meals? Are they on their own to find meals? Again, I'm sure it depends on the location, right? It's totally the location and then there's a couple things, so I didn't know this but some places I've rented out, they have rules around who you can actually bring in to cook the food, so we'll definitely have to do a question on mistakes I've learned from but we have this amazing place and I thought like, "Oh, this is gonna be awesome, local retreat, it's gonna be great." And then we had so many limitations on who we could hire as a chef.

I lost my shirt on the food, so what I would recommend is a, go back to your vision. If your vision is like, I want to see family and community and I want everyone to stay together, then you are probably going to need to take care the food, because it's gonna go with experience that you're giving. But then that means three meals a day off. (laughs) I have been on retreats where they've only fed me twice a day and I'm like, like the next place to eat is like an hour away, I don't know about you but I'm not on a juice fast I need food, so I'd be really, really mindful that people expect to eat three meals a day and if you are not gonna provide all the meals, you do need to make sure it's very clear like, here's what to expect, here's how many meals you're getting, here's where you can get these other meals from in your free time, here's what you should be bringing. But the other thing you have to consider is the type of person that you're inviting to this thing.

So I'm gluten and dairy free, most people know that about me, so they know if they come on a retreat they can have food allergies because I have them. So that's really helpful but you'd be surprised like all the different food allergies, well, maybe not Gia, maybe not Pilates listening but there's some crazy things out there that people won't eat. And so you just need to be mindful of that. And so what we actually do when people sign up for retreats we actually have a questionnaire that they fill out and it asks them food allergies. And we're very specific, if you don't fill this out, we assume you can eat anything.

And we won't order because when you're thinking about it gluten free, dairy free, egg free, the price point of food somehow goes up with less ingredients. (laughs) So we order meals based on the food allergies that we have and we hire chefs to come in and it's all based in there. But you have to just be really mindful that you gotta feed people. And I know that means the money goes up but trust me, if people are hungry they get angry and then you have problems. So I would consider what that looks like.

If you're doing a weekend retreat, family dinner on Friday night, you can do smoothies in the morning, you can I have a whole smoothie bar. You just have to, it doesn't have to be omelets and croissants but you have to think about that and then you're gonna wanna have a lunch and then there'll be a dinner. So if you're not gonna provide lunch, then do they brown bag it, is there a place they can call? Like this last weekend we all would call the same restaurant fire on meals and then one person went and picked it all up. So it's not like it's bad or cheesy, I didn't feel like I was on a cheap trip but I knew going into it that I wasn't gonna have those meals, yeah.

Yeah, no, I'm preparations cute. 'Cause everyone's gonna be moving and active too. So if they're doing that, they won't have energy if they don't have food, so that's, I think is something to think about. Something that we did on one of the retreats that was more local was that we actually, because of the rules that I had to have, I couldn't have a chef come in and cook without having it be from this insured approved list, is that we actually worked with a nutritionist who prepped all the foods, all the food was prepped off site. And so therefore allowed to come in, we found a little loophole there and then she actually taught us how to cook our own food.

So we had to put together tacos. And so part of the retreat was actually putting together the meals as a family and then clean up as a family, it was so fun and then she also gave us like a whole little speech on nutrition and primary foods, which actually have nothing to do with food. So there's things that you can get creative with when you're putting a retreat together that can a, fill the time and also help you out with the meal situation. It turned out really well but I'll be honest I was really worried about how it was gonna be because it wasn't the way we pictured it being and we could figure out later in the fine print what we could have, so there's ways to get creative everyone but you gotta feed few people. So I wanna switch gears from the logistics of running a retreat and move on to marketing.

So common thing I hear from people is like, I don't have a big budget for marketing or I just don't have a huge social media or online presence. Do you have any advice for people with a small budget or a little to no presence online? Yeah, you are in great luck actually. I promise you, you don't need to do a retreat, you don't need to have an audience on social media, you don't need to have a budget for marketing. My first retreat sold out with clients I already had, period.

And I would make sure that you plan for that. Like if you're putting together a retreat, yes, it's really fun to play with a calculator, I love it, Brad and I have fun with Excel and going, "Ooh, if we have 20 people, we have this." Let me promise you this, your first retreats, plural, are going to be people who already know, like and trust you. And then their friends maybe, maybe, it depends on your clients. If you have clients who are big refers and like big connectors, you'll probably get some. But the reality is you have to when you're planning these retreats, you should be able to make your money based on the people who you already have.

And that way you can get testimonials, you can get pictures, you can get experiences, it is easier to sell a retreat once you've had a retreat, which I know is really hard. So that chicken and the egg thing, does like your classes, it's so much easier to fill your classes when you have pictures of people in classes and testimonials of people taking class. So same goes for your retreat. So don't let not having money to market or having a social media following to market. Most people have a following, they just don't think so.

If you have 143 followers, can you imagine 143 people in a room listening to you? That's so many people, that's a lot of people. (laughs) And even if you do low conversion numbers, 10%, it's 14 people come out of retreat that's a lot of people on your first retreat I'm gonna be honest. Yeah, so don't let that stop you. But what I would say is don't even let that be the crutch, right?

Like I think a lot of people use social media as a crutch to promote their business. The truth is if you need people to buy from you, it's happening in your contact sheet cards, like go into your contacts on your phone, that's where you're gonna sell these tickets to anything. And so don't let that stop you and then get testimonials from your first retreats. And when you're on the retreat make sure you're taking lots of pictures and sharing and tagging everyone and making this for fun. And then you could do a save the date for the next one and then it'll be a little bit different for you but yeah, don't worry, our first retreat we had $0 for marketing.

(laughs) Well, I like that idea too of taking all the pictures and using it for a save the date. 'Cause you could also use that once you have a bit of a budget to show like this is what my retreats are like. Do you have any other advice for people who maybe have a little bit of a budget or a bigger budget to spend on marketing? Yeah, so here's the thing, there's a great book called "The Power of Broke" and I try to keep that in mind with everything 'cause as my business grows, we have more money to do things and it's really tempting to go, "Okay, we'll just put some ad money behind that and it's gonna work." You never know, like you don't know if the ad's gonna work. So don't let having money on a marketing budget, make you go, "Okay, I'm gonna sell it with this." Like don't rest on your laurels, still stick to the people who already know you and ask them for referrals.

But then absolutely you can do ad spend on social media. Here's the deal, no one should boost a post ever, don't ever do it. I know this is not a social media ads report but like, please, if you get one thing from this, if you go I'm never doing retreat but I learned not to boost the posts, don't do it and here's why, you can't retarget people, so ads, it's not like someone sees an ad and then like, "Oh, buying a retreat." And I'm gonna be really honest, like a retreat is a big ticket price. So they're gonna have to see that ad many times. So you're looking at, you need to have the ability to retarget people.

So definitely dive into a Facebook ads course or hire someone who actually knows what they're doing. If you have a bigger marketing budget, 'cause you're gonna wanna target your warm audience only and you're gonna wanna do some retargeting when that comes to it. But I also would lean into something that we've done with some other retreats, it's like lean into local businesses and make sure that they know that we're doing it. And that doesn't cost us anything to let that different travel agents in Cambodia and Siem Reap know what we're doing because they get people who call them all the time. They're like, "Oh, you wanna work out?

There's actually a retreat happening on these dates you should come in." And so does that work? I've never gotten one, yeah, it's amazing, it's a good idea. It's all timing though, right? Like that person has to wanna come when I'm gonna be there, so I would say spend that money on really just making sure that you're connecting with the right people whose audience or clients have the people you want to come on your retreat. But for your first retreat I really still recommend, don't worry about spending money on marketing, spend that time and money on really making sure you put on the best experience for people who already know you and then you use that money to hire a photographer at the retreat.

And then for your next retreat, you'll have all that social proof and testimonials. And then you can use that for ad targeting. That's, great advice. So moving into pricing, how do you go about or how do you determine your prices for your retreat? And also what do you do about a refund policy?

How does that kind of come into play? Pricing is so huge and here's the thing, here's what I really want people to know. And I tell people whenever I've coach them on doing their retreats is this, this is not a paid vacation, you're not on vacation, I promise you. When you're leaving a retreat, it's fun, I have so much fun and don't, like I get the whole retreat and I go get massages every night in Cambodia, so I'm definitely enjoying myself but you don't wanna go "Well, if I only sell three at least I broke even, it's a paid vacation." Don't even let that be in your head. You definitely are not paying yourself to be on vacation because there's so much time spent beforehand.

So remember with my first international retreat we did a year in advance and the amount of time I spent putting it together, working with vendors, making sure I had a new waiver, my husband spent putting together all the meal plans like, okay, the tuk tuk rides, because again, back to the experience, we'd organize each person's ride from the airport, all that stuff, all that time, that goes back into the expense of the retreat. And so just because you on paper broke even or made money doesn't mean you paid for all that time spent preparing for it. So you have to keep all of that in mind when you're thinking of the price of something. So what I like to do is actually to think about how much money do I wanna make on this? Do I wanna make $15,000 profit?

Do I wanna make $10,000 profit? What would be like my, "Okay, I feel good about this money profit wise." And then you have to add the expenses onto that. And that's how you kind of figure out what you're charging. So the other thing that kind of gets a little tricky is some places have prices based on numbers of people. So you get better rates on rooms if you have X amount of people.

One of the spaces I was renting, Brad and I got free room and board and free food if we had 10 people but if we only had nine people I had to pay for our room and our food, right? So you have to keep all of that in mind, okay, worst case scenario, if I only have this many people, what are my expenses? And then if I have this many people, what are my expenses? What are the profit I wanna make on it? Okay, now how do I price that?

So I wish we could come up with a calculator for everyone. Maybe someday we'll do that for profit wise but we really have to break it down per retreat what that's going to be and every retreat we do things change because people change and you might have a vendor that you really love working with and you do a retreat. Like my yoga teacher does a retreat every year at the same spot. And every year I watch as prices jump 500, 1,000, 2,000. I think this last year was $2,500 more than when I went, same spot, why?

Chef's charging more? The house is charging more. So you have to really keep it in mind when you're putting this together. But please don't go, okay, so the room and board for 10 people is $10,000 and then you're like, "Okay, so the cost is I need this much, blah blah." And then you like tack on 1,000 profit. No, you've really gotta make sure you're keeping in mind all the hours you're gonna spend before and really how much do you wanna take home from this?

Because if done right this is another stream of income. If done wrong this could cost you a lot of money and time that you're not spending on your other business, right? So the marketing I spent on a retreat, during that time, I can't market anything else. So that means if my sessions drop or my classes drop, I can't just switch gears and go, can you pull this class. I've got this retreat that I'm trying to sell.

So you really have to keep all that in mind. So retreats are a luxury and most people are not expecting on a retreat with 30 or 40 people, so just keep that in mind, you're probably looking at a retreat between eight and 15 people, especially your first one. And then as far as like a cancellation policy and refund policy, how do you handle that? Great reminder, thank you for that. So you should have a no refund on deposits.

Like deposit should be no refunds at all. The balance, it's worth considering. I think what we've done in the past is like if you cancel six months before you don't owe us anything on the balance but we keep the deposit. If it's after six months, you start to owe us like 50% of the balance and the closer it gets, the more you owe us because what you're going to learn quickly is the closer to the retreat comes, the sooner that people want their money that you're working with, so chefs cannot cook the food without you buying it, so you're gonna have to pay them pretty darn close to the retreat because they need to buy that, right? The accommodations you're using are gonna want the money before you show up typically.

So the closer it gets to retreat, the less you should be refunding until there's no refunds whatsoever. Something that we do consider is allowing someone to transfer their spot for that retreat. So you can't transfer to the next retreat that we're doing because I don't know when that's gonna be right now but that it can change, right? Like my cost expenses can change. There's just not always a lot of wiggle room.

So what I would say is deposit amount is refundable, the balance I would do a sliding scale. And then for me, I allow people like if you couldn't come Gia last minute but your friend could come in your place, hey, that's fine, your friend can and you can figure out how you get your money back from her but it doesn't come back from me, does that make sense? Yeah, that makes complete sense. And I also agree about, especially as you get closer to it, like not refunding it 'cause you did all the work, the chef's needs to be paid, the accommodations need to be paid, so it's like a weird gray area. But I think it's just, you have to kind of take care of yourself too.

Just like with the waivers, you have to protect yourself in general. Oh, 100%, this can all be in agreement that you have like when people are on your website looking at all that's included, it's also an agreement. You can have them click the box, you can have a whole thing that talks about the refund policy. But you can explain to people like it's a business, I explain to people all the time why they can't get their money back. We had a retreat to Bali that was planned for August of 2020, obviously it didn't happen.

And they held my money, so they had all the deposit money and it gets really, really tricky. And so I just, be honest with people about why they can't have their deposit back. Be honest with people about why those a sliding scale and to say, "Look, this is not because I'm greedy. This is because this is a business and I have to pay vendors. And I also bought food and got rates based on X number of people agreeing to be there, so I can't give it to you and here's what I can do." And the average person who's going on a retreat is pretty, if they know you they're not gonna screw you over.

But if they don't know you, they can totally screw you over. And that's a risk that you're taking. And sometimes I kind of build that into my margins like, "Okay, what if one person here is a jerk?" (laughs) How are we gonna pay for that? (laughs) Yeah, I think especially if you're clear ahead of time and they know what they're signing up for then there shouldn't be any issues. And that's just, this is all also why you need a really awesome website that is really clear on everything they're gonna get.

And I think as a good time we can talk about what if you have to cancel? Oh, yeah, that was actually gonna be my next question. Yeah, for all you don't know I was on a retreat March, 8th through March 13th, 2020 in Cambodia. I had people from the US, had people from Australia. We literally were retreating from the world at that time.

Like none of us knew what we now know and there was not cases at the place that we were going. So it was more just the risk of getting there. And it's an outdoor retreat mostly. And the people who are sharing rooms, flew with the person they're sharing with, so for the most part we felt really good about it, we felt really safe about it, everything was safe. I mean even though while we were there they call it a worldwide pandemic, we were like, well, it was like, wasn't interesting time to be with people on a retreat dealing with that.

But at the time we also still had a retreat in Bali and our guests were like, "Oh, well maybe I'll come to Bali." Like no one knew what we know which is like, "Oh yeah, maybe I'll see you in Bali." And so we actually, so in our agreements and in our contracts is the ability for us to reschedule if there's an act of God. (laughs) So I highly recommend that when you work with your lawyer, that you have a get out of jail free card in there for yourself and that's what we did have. So we actually had the right to keep the money of our retreat guests for our Bali retreat because we had the right to postpone it and it was in our agreement. And so that's what we did with that one, with our other ones we had not actually advertised them yet. And there was only a couple people signed up for them just based on, they couldn't do the dates that we had for March.

So they asked for future dates and so we just told them, so we gave them the offer to have a refund or postpone. And they took the refund, of course but for me the I've just felt fine with that because I didn't know when we were gonna do it again because at the time Cambodia had banned Americans from coming in, so it was just kind of like, "Okay, I don't really know what we're doing." So that's how we did with that and we just refunded. It was so far in advance and I hadn't paid any vendor. So I had that ability but for our Bali retreat, like I said, they had our deposit money because that deposit for Bali I think it was $5,000 to reserve this space, it was a beautiful space, so amazing. But they had it and what ended up happening was this was August, this past May, Bali still was not letting Americans in.

And so we just felt like we could not postpone again. And we went back to our vendors there and we were very lucky we know them, they trust us. And so on the faith based that we will only work with them the next time we do a Bali retreat, they did give us the money back so we could actually refund all of our Bali retreat guests which I think more of them were bummed about that than excited about getting their money back because it just meant we don't have something to look forward to. So make sure in your agreements you have an act of God for yourself. And that it says that they're agreeing that you can for any reason, postpone the dates, maybe it's weather, whatever, right?

So it just makes you have that so that you have some wiggle room for yourself but this is the only time we've ever had to cancel anything. You may put in there that if you don't have X number of people signed up by X date, that you can cancel the retreat. And you'll wanna make sure in the agreement that you're saying that they're agreeing that you don't owe them any money for flights or any other expenses they had to come to your retreat because you have it in the contract that you could cancel by X date should you need to, 'cause sometimes you have minimums that you have to meet and maybe you realize you haven't met them but that I promise you, you're probably not getting your money back from the places unless you've prenegotiated that so I would say what I knew going into my retreat business is that I had many people, firm yeses that they were going to come, so I knew I had a minimum number of people to make the retreat happen before I put money aside. So when it's your first one, it's okay to get your clients to say, yes, I'm coming. And then reserve the place and then get the money from them.

Yeah, that's great advice, that totally makes sense too. So my next question is about your mistakes that you've made. What mistakes have you made and that you've learned from and then what kind of hardships generally come with this type of business? Yeah, so definitely plenty of mistakes. And you'll make them, you'll make different ones that I've made and you learn, here's the thing you learn from them, right?

And so one of our biggest mistakes was we had such a great time with our first retreat. And when we came back, I had so many people went, "Oh, yes, I wanna come." And we picked our next one and we just didn't give ourselves enough time, we really didn't. I thought the excitement that I was hearing from the people back home were like, "I can't wait to go to the next one" would be enough to sell out the second one. But actually my second retreat was my, is still this date my at least selling retreat. So what we did learn is that, what we didn't do is ask people opinions on dates.

So that would have been really helpful if we just said, "Hey, we're thinking of these dates, which ones can you go on?" We probably would have seen that most people couldn't have gone on the week that we were picking. So that was a big mistake. Other mistakes I've made, it's so tempting to partner up with other people on retreats and I'm gonna be really honest the margins are not really there your first retreat or two. So if you're someone who's already partnered up with someone don't freak out, don't look at your partner and go "Oh my God, we made a mistake." But here's what I will say, communicate, be very clear who's responsible for what, how many people are you expecting each person help sell and bring in, what are you each expecting to bring home from this and make sure it's in your budgets and it's in your price point because if you don't do that from the beginning, you will both be walking away with a few hundred dollars that you could have made just teaching one more day that week and put a whole lot less. So while I love all the people that I've partnered up with on retreats, the amount of work that's gone into it, honestly it was not a very profitable venture for us, so yes, it feels like it's like, "Oh, they're doing half the work, I'm doing half the work," you're both doing 100% of the work.

And so you just need to keep that in mind. Yeah, I also, 10 years ago when I wanted to start a retreat, I kept asking friends that were teachers too. I was like, "Do you wanna do this with me?" 'Cause I was like, I don't wanna do it alone. And that's part of the reason why it fell through 'cause they'd say, "Yeah, that's a great idea. I wanna be on board." But then they didn't actually wanna do the work that was involved with it, so it just flat lined.

Yep, totally and it doesn't make them bad people. All the people I've worked with, it's like here's the thing for whatever reason one of the retreats my friend got one person and I got six people and I didn't care. Like I see we're both doing this retreat. She felt like, oh, all these people are for her. We're human beings and we all have emotions and we all have reactions to things.

So you really do need to understand that if you're partnering up with someone just communicate clearly, like this is basically, you're getting married to that person, this business is your baby and you guys have to learn how to co-parent together, right? And so that would just be my thing is that like, when I partnered up with people I didn't know that. And it's clear in the result of the retreat, first of all the testimonials were great, but result wise as far as financial benefits and everything, what I learned is, especially in the beginning with retreats and especially if the margins aren't really there, like we did a local retreat in OHI and the price points to do anything there are much higher than somewhere else. And so we didn't charge enough, we didn't do the price point of the retreat correctly so that both of us could benefit. And there wasn't communication that was very clear on who's in charge of what.

And so some things slip through the cracks and some things got done twice. And so I would just make sure that that's really clear. Some other things that I would just say is I think it's really tempting. And we've talked to this a little bit is silly to me to think that other people are going to come to this. Yes, I have had random people on the internet buy a retreat from me but it wasn't my first retreat, it was my fifth retreat, right?

So I had SEO, I had testimonials, I had social proof. They happened to be Googling Pilates retreat, Cambodia. I'm the only person that comes up for Pilates anything there. So it just happened to work out for me but you can't bet on that, that is like, you just go, "Oh, bonus, that's great, that's one less person that I have to recruit, to sign up for this." So I think in the beginning I thought, "Oh, I'm gonna do this retreat." I'm one of the only Pilates retreats that's out there that I've ever heard of, all is people are gonna come. Nope, the field of dreams is the worst mantra anyone has ever, like if you build it they will come, no, that's the worst, they don't, they don't.

So there's that. And then also thinking that you could rinse and repeat, even though we've done Cambodia, Siem Reap six times, every single time is very different for various reasons. Like you may have been in business for 15 years, that doesn't mean the person who's been in business for 15 years that you're using is gonna be there next year. And so you definitely have to have backup plans. Like, oh, one of our retreats, we had totally lined up a chef, we had everything lined up because we couldn't pay her, we had an American bank, Cambodia bank, we couldn't pay her but everything was good.

And then we literally got there Sunday morning, we're supposed to put in our menu for the week, 'cause she changed her menus on Sunday. So we're gonna look at the menu, choose everything on Sunday, we had guests who were arriving in three hours and she's like, "Oh, I got a job working at a restaurant. I'm no longer doing my business anymore." Three hours before everyone's coming. (laughs) Yeah, so you have to go, oh yeah, we have to feed people and they're gonna be here in a few hours, so what are we gonna do? So just know that like, just because you've done, even if you pick the same place every time, which there are reasons to do that, there's pros and cons to that totally.

But just know that you wanna definitely make sure that you have backup plans and not expect everything to go the way it did the first time or the second time because there's always different changes. Oh wow, that's such a crazy story. I can't even believe that. It's so crazy. I'm gonna take some questions from the people attending, the first one is from Susan.

Yeah, this is a great question. So Susan asks, "What do you do apart from Pilates on the retreat?" Oh, this is great, so y'all, I don't care what kind of fitness retreat it is. People can not work out as much as you think that they'll think they want to, they'll think, "Oh my gosh, yes, I'm going on Pilates retreat." I went on a yoga retreat and we did two hours in the morning and two hours at night, three days in a row. No, some of the things that we've done is we do either Pilates classes every day but then I had brought in a nutritionist to talk about the real primary foods, right? So that was really fun and that gave me a moment to like have a break.

In Cambodia we have tour guides that take us on the temple tours for a couple of days, all that is priced in, we know how much each person is gonna cost, so we do that. So if you're going to a destination then pretty much a lot of the activities are put in, they're already there for you to decide what you're gonna do and you can have some things be optional that they pay extra for or you can have some things be included. So when we go to Cambodia, depending on the guests, we'll look at the guest list and see what it's going on if we have like, oh, like one time we had a whole family, like seven people from a family and then three other people. So we just asked if they all wanted to go to this waterfall and see these other temples. And we had to get everyone and we did and so it was extra because the tour bus driver had to take us places but we could do other things depending on the people.

But yeah, I would definitely consider other activities and looking at your certifications, like something I'm gonna do on our next retreat 'cause I'm a habits and routines coach and a mindset coach. And I do breath work, so the retreats will, are they Pilates retreats? Yes, we'll have Pilates every morning but we'll actually be doing workshops on how do you create habits and routines that actually allow you to do Pilates every day when you get home and not just on a retreat and we'll do some breath work. So just keep in mind the bodies that you're inviting, like the human beings that are coming, they might think they wanna do six hours of Pilates but I promise you just like myself, I did six hours of Pilates on Friday, on Saturday morning I was so sore, the thought of doing another workout. I was like, ooh, I don't know.

(laughs) So think about where you're going and what it's known for. If you are going, maybe you're in Colorado and it's known for hiking, like what are some hikes you can do, make sure you're insured for that. If you have to hire a guide put that in the margins. But think of some things that people can do, what speakers can you bring in? I have friends lead yoga retreats but they bring in a mindset coach and that person speaks for two days.

And sometimes maybe your friend is one of those mindset coaches who's like, "Yeah, if you put me up in a room in Bali and you pay my flight, I'll come and teach for free." Like you might have those people who are like, "Heck yeah, I teach for two hours on a retreat and get to stay." So just think about who can you invite? How can you fill the time? Because people, what we do is we do Pilates every morning. What we've done in the past is Pilates in the morning and then two days I did workshops on Pilates. And then the other two days we did tours.

We did simple tours. So you mix up and let the bodies have a moment to rest. That's great advice. Chrissy asks, "Do your retreats have themes like Pilates and cooking or anything like that? And if so, how do you determine the theme?" Okay, so first of all, love a theme, themes are great 'cause it really does help the marketing stand out, niche down wherever you can because people wanna know that it's for them.

Now if you do Pilates and cooking, which is super fun, I mean, go to Italy and do that, right? Like that just sounds like a place where you wanna cook. Yeah, my friend does a writing and cooking in Italy retreat. So you work on writing all day and then they cook, right? So a, make sure that the people who already know, like and trust you wanna cook.

Like if I did that with my LA ladies, I think they'd be like, "Oh, let me see how that goes." My girls were either, they were millennials who were too busy to cook or they were ladies who had a chef. You gotta always think about the people who already know, like and trust you and what they would want and ask them, like you don't know, ask them, "Hey, I'm thinking doing Pilates retreat, on this retreat would you like to a, cook, b, hike, c, meditate, you wanna learn how to write a book on this retreat?" And then you can actually, maybe you have a friend who's relationships coach and like you can, I know I said don't partner up with someone but maybe it's your retreat and then you hire them to do those activities. So yes, themes are great 'cause it really will market. But it's also going to, again, it's gonna niche you down. So the people you talk to, it's gonna be a smaller group, which is great.

I know that's scary for people, abundance mindset, no scarcity here but don't just pick it up out of thin air. Really look at the people who you think are actually gonna pay for your retreat and ask them what they want. Great, so, oh, Chrissy said, "I would not attend to cooking retreat myself." (laughs) My last question for you, I wouldn't either. I wouldn't, I would be like, I'm like, oh, are the massage happening? (laughs) Yeah.

(laughs) So my last question for you is what advice do you have for anyone thinking of starting a retreat or just doing any kind of business or starting something new that's outside of comfort zone in this industry? Yeah, do it scared. This is something that I tell everyone I coach all the time no matter what I'm coaching them on. You're never gonna feel ready, like you're just not. When you feel ready, it's probably not out of your comfort zone at all.

And it won't actually be challenging for you and you probably won't even put a lot of effort into it 'cause it's like, "Whatever, it's just really easy for me to do." So I highly recommend like, just do it scared, focus on the, but really truly everything you do, I can't say it enough, I said it several times, I don't care if it's a workshop, a retreat, you're starting a new class, go to the people who already know you. When Brad and I coach on people who are wanting to do other streams of income, if you need now money, if you need people to sign up for your retreat right now, if you need anything, the contacts you already have are who are gonna help you sell this. They're the people who are going to give you the best advice on what they want. They're gonna tell you what they want and they're gonna sign up for it. So don't worry about what other people are gonna say or think or do.

They're not thinking about you as much as you think. And I promise if you stay local and you go small first. So if I could leave anything with you, do a local weekend retreat first, get your muscles, get your retreat muscles going, see if you like it. The money, the financial risk is much smaller that way 'cause you probably can drive there, you know someone who knows someone who can get you there, can get you the context you need. That's gonna help you really understand putting retreats on, if you like them, what people expect on them on a much smaller scale and in a way that is still gonna have risk but it's gonna be a lot less risk and then go from there.

But please don't worry about being ready and I mean like, what is that cliche? Like life happens outside our comfort zone, always like in everything and everything. And it doesn't have to be perfect. I know that everyone's wanting to make their retreat look like it's too loom. You know what?

That's not what your clients are expecting. My first retreat was in these barely glamping, bungalows of Cambodia. And I had the head of Pixar animation on my retreat. She didn't complain one bit about having mosquito net over her bed and eating local food. Like don't worry, people who love you they just wanna be with you.

And so don't underestimate the power of the time they just get to spend with you. And so for us, we make sure that I have time on this retreat where I can fill my cup really quickly and just spend with our guests because and that's my favorite part. Like I love going shopping with them and getting massages with them and going hiking with them because that's what, like also just want that too, they want that connection and community. So just keep that in mind, don't underestimate yourself and stick with people you know. Wonderful advice, thank you so much, Lesley for sharing all this wonderful information.

We're recording this so it'll be up on the site in a few days but if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the forum and Lesley, where can people find you? Yeah, I love hanging out on Instagram. So Profitable Pilates is my IG handle, you can find me there. You can also find a bunch of free advice and other things over on ProfitablePilates.com. It's a brand new site, that's got hundreds of blogs now, guest bloggers so to help you really take advantage of any venture you wanna do in your business.

And if it's retreats, I wanna hear about it. Let me know how this helped you. Screenshot this and tag Pilates Anytime and me so we know which take away you had, that'd be really fun. Thank you again, Lesley. And again, please leave your comments in the forum when this is on the site, we'd love to hear from you and how it goes for you if you decide to start a retreat.

And we'll see you next time, bye. (upbeat music)


1 person likes this.
Brilliant insight into setting up a retreat. I live in the UK on the North Norfolk coast and have been contemplating doing a Pilates/ coastal walking/ massage / healthy eating break. Definitely given me some motivation and good ideas. Thank you.
Jo N that's amazing!! Have so much fun planning and I can't wait to hear how it goes xx

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