6 Useful Steps To Plan And Host Your First Retreat

As a long-time event organizer I have a few tips as to how to approach planning your first retreat.

Caroline Sumners
Photo: Caroline Sumners; Credit: 
Kimberley Garrod

Congrats! You’ve decided to run your first retreat and you want it to be so super fantastic that you stand out from the crowd and deliver the most awesome experience ever.

At this juncture it’s likely that you also have loads of ideas, but you’re not sure where to start.

As a long-time event organizer I have a few tips as to how to approach planning your first retreat.

Here’s our six-step plan:


1. Create retreat objectives

What do you want to achieve with the retreat? Is your goal to generate new business from existing clients? Is it to further add value to your tribe? Is it to develop your positioning as an expert? Spend some time consider this, as this needs to be very clear so that you can determine step


2. Consider the format and desired outcomes for participants

Are there going to be one-on-one sessions with any or all of the participants, are there group sessions, how much time do participants need to spend working on actions – is this individually or in groups? What are participants going to want to go away with at the end of the retreat?


6 Steps To Planning Your First Retreat
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The format and outcomes are key to sourcing the venue, as you need to ensure that you have the right amount of space available for your event and the different sessions that you want to run.

You might need private areas for more in-depth or personal discussion and you need to ensure that there are areas for group discussions. Perhaps you need an area for just relaxing and chatting. 

Finally, is the retreat a completely residential retreat (i.e. all in a villa/chalet with the participants staying in the same location as the retreat) or are the residential and day programs in separate locations and if so how will participants get between the two locations?


3. Select the venue

Now that you have the objectives and the format you know the importance of selecting the right location and venue. Do you want a private villa, or do you want to be part of a small, discreet luxury hotel? How much travel time do you want, how much transfer from the airport or train station? Most importantly does the venue style fit with your brand and your values?

E.g. there is no point selecting the uber fancy boutique hotel in London if your values are more relaxation and outdoorsy. 

The venue and location needs to resonate with your values and with your tribe. All the elements are intricately linked, so try not to overlook this.


4. Set expectations at the outset

Expectation setting relates to both the outcomes and the cost of the retreat including what is included and what is not included. Be clear about how much time the participants will have with you and how much time they will have on their own or in groups.


6 Steps To Planning Your First Retreat
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From experience, when I have run events the most complaints have come when the participants don’t feel like they get enough time with the leaders, so be super clear about this and sell the value of the overall experience and networking with all participants rather than just time with you.


5. Elicit help and support

It’s important to ensure that you have support in running the retreat. You may be a one-person business but you need someone alongside you to take care of the logistics. If you are running the retreat itself and you have lots of client and participant contact time planned (I’m pretty certain that is why they are coming) then you need someone there to take care of all the logistics, ensuring any catering arrives on time, that the event runs to schedule, any emergencies etc.

It may seem like an added expense, but trust me when I tell you that this is an important aspect too often overlooked. You don’t want to have to break a session short with someone because you have to go and deal with an issue. You cannot be all things to all people and you need your energy for leading the retreat



6. Review ‘all things money

Okay. So you have all the other elements planned – now you have to cost out the retreat and work out your break even, how much (if any) money you want to make and therefore what the cost to participants will be.

What can you afford to include, what added extras are there – are there gifts, are you including lunch only or also dinner? Keeping control of your budget and cash flow is key.

Also think about timing – when do you need to put down the deposit and final payment for the event (and when will you sell tickets?) 
What if you have to cancel? And don’t forget cancellation and event insurance – you don’t want to think the worst, but you definitely don’t want to overlook this for any reason.


Now, you’re all set for a fantastic retreat. If you’re in need of some inspiration for planning your first retreat then pop on over to our event style guide quiz and receive your complete event style-planning guide – packed with venue, style and location tips.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Caroline Sumners is the founder of award-winning marketing agency, Fifty One Degrees. With 18 years’ experience in marketing roles across multi-national corporations, Caroline helps SMEs to stand out in the market place with incentive travel, event & retreat planning as well as social media management and marketing consultancy. Caroline has a degree in International Relations, has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and often shares her workspace with her Miniature Schnauzer, Rufus. Connect with @cs1210 on Twitter.


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