I’m Ed Zaydelman, founder of Experience VIDA Events and the VIDA Retreat Center in Costa Rica which is our laboratory for transformational experiences. I’ve worked in events and retreats for over 18 years.
Planning and producing retreats and events has been a major passion of mine. The positive impact they can have in someone’s life can be quite profound. Hosting retreats has lead me to a life of travel and adventure, impact, and purpose as well as profound personal growth and transformation. Which is why I hope to give you a few useful lessons below that I’ve learned along the way…
Some years ago, I started working with top teachers, practitioners, healers, coaches as well as various entrepreneurial leaders to help share their wisdom and transform people's lives through retreats and events. I became dedicated to teaching them all the in’s and outs of hosting retreats through a course I created called Retreat Lab. I wanted to take all the hassle and worry away, make them more income with less risk, and create greater impact in the work they do because they can relax and focus on their event and their craft. I also wanted to see these teachers thrive. They deserved it!
Through my years of experience, here is what I learned:
#1 5 W’s: What, Who, Where, When, Why
- What kind of event do you want to create or work on (Topic/Name)?
- Who - who do you see attending?
- Where you want it to be - choosing a venue, country, etc.
- When - What time of year? How many days?
- Why - why gather people for an event or retreat?
#2 Location: choose a location that has soul and speaks to you - something unique
- Pick a location that’s desirable to travel to – hot destinations you’ve been dreaming of will probably resonate more with your ideal attendees.
- Choose a location that has soul, style, and a bit of magic.
- Make sure you know the seasonality and weather conditions in the area you choose.
#3 Timing: give yourself at least 3-4 months to plan and market your retreat successfully
- In the first month, I suggest focusing on the branding, website, venue dates, and core details. I also start to formulate my budget in this time for expenses involved in the event or retreat.
- Marketing – try to give yourself at least a 3 month marketing window for active sales.
- Planning – begin all the core planning of logistics, schedule, budget.
#4 Experience Design: think about the entire guest experience from before the event to after
- What is your guest experience before the event even starts? Create a series of emails, swag bags, or other preparatory materials to get them excited.
- How does the schedule flow? Will there be free time, nature adventures, group bonding, or education?
- What happens once the event is over? How do you maintain your community?
#5 Budget: plan out your event costs from A-Z including cash-flow needs and timing
- Understand your per person cost – accommodation, food, transportation, etc.
- Find your break-even threshold – how many seats you need to fill?
- Plan well for when various payments are due – hotel, flights, additional facilitators, remaining deposits, etc.
#6 Sales: know your tribe, work with ambassadors and word of mouth, use social media
- Everyone wants to know how to fill their retreat – and it’s something that takes time and building a true following. But here are some other approaches.
- Online - Hosting webinars, creating a strong social media presence, paid Facebook Ad Campaigns, and setting up an affiliate system are all potential ways to spread the word online.
- In-person – set up your core team of ambassadors to help get the word out. Word of mouth is one of the most trusted sources, while commissioned sales, opening events, and handing out flyers can be other options.
- Find the perfect booking software to take payments, accept registrations, handle rentals, automate communications, manage finances and more.
- Partner with a Marketplace where a global community is searching for retreats!
#7 Forms: dietary forms, allergies, and medical info
- Makes sure to get your guests’ medical information upon registration, including allergies, medications, or dietary restrictions.
- Finally, gather any other key data – flight info, gender (for rooming), special needs can be done at the same time.
#8 Post Event: let them know what’s next and nurture your community
- Do a post-event metrics exercise right away – what worked? What didn’t work? What could be better?
- Facebook group – These are tried and tested, and have shown to support a strong community after an event. Live meetups can also be an awesome approach to build community!
- Content - Every 2-4 weeks email your tribe w/ valuable content – let them build content as well by sharing experiences, stories, or lessons.
#9 Filming: if possible get someone to film your event - it’s such a powerful tool
- This is critical for marketing your next retreat and awesome for those who attended past retreats.
- Consider doing a work-trade with someone if budget is an issue – lots of creatives love to travel!
- Consider getting video testimonials and other participant content that evokes emotion and expresses the impact of your event.
#10 Logistics: from transportation, visas, vaccinations, payments - make sure you have it all organized
- Make sure you get all the shuttle times aligned with flights and check for delays.
- Any guests from abroad may need to look into visa and vaccine issues (and/or insurance).
- Handle all payments with your guests as well as with your venue well ahead of time- sometimes payment plans can be helpful but they should be clearly outlined and, if possible, automated debits to keep on track.
Ed Zaydelman, Founder and mastermind behind Puerta a la VIDA Retreat Center and Retreat Lab, moved from New York City to Costa Rica in 2007 to embark on his own wellness journey and to build a Wellness Center and Community. After spending years working with top wellness experts and teachers, he created Retreat Lab in 2015 focused on producing one-of-a-kind experiences and curated educational content ranging from wellness to social impact, innovation, and beyond. Visit Ed's Retreat Guru teacher page!