How to start a retreat business

How to start a retreat business

by Sarah McCunnJun 04, 2024
How to start a retreat business

Have you experienced the magic of retreats and feel the call to set up your own business?

Perhaps you are a teacher or expert in a particular healing or wellness modality and want to take a step into sharing your skills in a focused and intimate setting?

In this article we walk through key retreat business considerations, including distilling your retreat vision, engaging in market research and location planning, to financial and legal factors.

Whether you are looking to run retreats as a passion project, or you intend to build a business that sustains you as a primary source of income, this article provides practical knowledge and insider tips from a retreat leader that will help you stand out from the crowd as you build a successful retreat business.

Two women sit at a table in a window looking through a document and smiling together

Why start a retreat business?

Running a retreat business can bring a wealth of rewards — from a sense of personal fulfillment to the achievement of a healthy, profitable earnings over time.

Purpose
Of all the retreat businesses I know, the thing that sets the successful ones apart is that they were initiated with a deep sense of purpose in mind that keeps the owner and hosts motivated through challenges.

Beyond a love of your subject matter, there needs to be a strong conviction that sharing this in a retreat format will be a worthwhile investment for your guests — as opposed to other mediums such as online courses.

Running a retreat that people feel transformed by is an investment of your time and energy on many levels. Without a strong sense of purpose, you may find running retreats draining and your guests will feel a lack of cohesion and depth to the experience you offer.

A lighthouse with an orange sunset sites on a small island

Passion & deepening of knowledge
The intimacy of a retreat and the way you get to teach and share your knowledge in that setting is uniquely rewarding. The real time feedback you receive, and the unexpected things you learn about yourself as a teacher or practitioner offer great material for deepening your expertise and emotional intelligence.

A man and woman stand in front of an easel, the man is painting in a workshop setting

Connection
If you desire to connect with other people who feel passionately about the things you do, running a retreat business offers an incredible opportunity to develop relationships over a number of days that often lead to longer term connections — beyond what happens at a conventional networking event or via online interactions.

Enhanced reputation
Escaping the restriction of screens or stages, in the intimacy of a retreat setting you’ll get to showcase your knowledge, skills, character and unique qualities. This can truly enhance the depth of connection and trust, which opens doors for onward recommendations, glowing reviews and opportunities for collaboration and partnership.

Two women sit with microphones, recording an interview

Financial rewards
There is no doubt that a well planned retreat that offers a unique and authentic experience can be as financially rewarding as it is emotionally enriching. However, if your primary goal is to make money rather than to bring a vision to life, your chances of success will be limited.

The Global Wellness Institute’s research shows that the wellness industry has been surging post-pandemic, growing by 12% annually since 2020 and more and more people are choosing to take care of their mental health by taking time out at a retreat. However, it does needs to be stressed that in an unstable economic climate, the retreat industry can often take a hit in favor of online or local wellness options.

Excellence driven by passion and dedication, coupled with adaptability and an agile approach to growth and planning will give you the maximum chance of staying the course.

A woman's arms can be seen typing on a laptop which sits on a desk with books and plants

How do you start a retreat business?

Market research and niche

One of the first steps on your journey of starting a retreat business is to get knowledgeable about the retreat marketplace. Just browse a platform like Retreat Guru or Book Yoga Retreats and you’ll see there are thousands of retreats globally — offering a multitude of spiritual and wellness modalities — all in idyllic settings.

🌠 In order to ensure your company stands out, you’ll need to carve out a strong niche and set yourself aside from the competition.

Screenshot from a yoga retreat platform showing retreat options

Ask yourself these six questions to help identify your space in the market:

❓Who are your potential competitors?

Identify existing companies or businesses offering similar wellness retreats or services and explore what they have to offer by visiting their websites and social media platforms.

❓What sets your business apart from competitors?

Determine your unique selling points and how you can differentiate your offerings in the market. Ensure this aligns with your passion and skills or your marketing will lack authenticity.

A red flower sits in a field of green buds yet to open

❓What are the current trends in the wellness retreat industry?

Stay informed about popular themes, activities, and services and values that resonate with retreat attendees.

❓What are the unmet needs or gaps in the market?

Explore areas where there may be underserved audiences or opportunities for innovation. Find out from people who are put off by retreats why that is the case — this knowledge is vital to reaching a wider audience!

❓Who is your target market and what are their preferences?

Define the demographics, interests, and preferences and financial status of the audience you wish to attract to your retreats, as well as their motivations for attending a retreat.

A woman sits on a rock at golden hour, meditating

❓How do your potential customers perceive wellness retreats?

Gather feedback and insights on what customers value most in wellness retreat experiences, and what they have found off putting about retreats or the wellness industry more broadly.

Insider tip:
💫 Don’t just take the words of the retreat providers to inform you what they are doing well — read through guest reviews on booking platforms to find out first hand what they loved (or didn’t so much) and use that to inform your offering.
A row of gold stars on a pink and blue background

Vision, brand & target audience

Vision

Your company vision will be your guiding star — steering your business through thick and thin — so be really clear on your values and what motivates you to create a retreat business for yourself and for your guests.

If you are reading this, you'll likely have a pretty good idea of what about the retreat industry makes you tick. Distilling your passion, purpose and target audience is key to standing out in this competitive market.

A close up of a woman's eye with a a rainbow prism of light shining on it

In our article The ultimate retreat planning checklist we offer a number of tips for establishing your vision, purpose and target audience, including a vision template to help you drill down into your why and who?

If you are struggling to encapsulate your motivations, try completing the statement below by filling in the gaps with a maximum of three words each:

My retreat will be a space for people who are currently experiencing_______________and are interested in attending because they want to feel more_____________. To help them achieve this we will be doing_______________in a space that offers___________________. My greatest gifts and skills which I’ll be using to support this vision are__________________The values which inform this vision are______________.

Insider tip:
💫 Knowing your true motivations and expressing them in your marketing and communications is vital if you want guests to make a time, energy and financial commitment. Don’t just rely on listing features and photos of a beautiful venue — make sure your purpose and belief in your subject matter come through in everything you share.


Branding

Effective branding creates a narrative around your businesses identity, enticing potential guests to your retreats and to you as an authority in your area of expertise. A memorable business name, impactful messaging, and a clear and emphatic voice — aligned with your values and vision — are essential ingredients.

Beautiful images, aesthetically pleasing fonts and a unique logo are all going to feed into an effective branding strategy, but what’s arguably more important is the story behind your brand.

Close up for a typewriter, with the words 'Stories matter' op a page

Insider tip:
💫 Sharing parts of your own life story in as far as it relates to your subject matter will create a sense of empathy and connection with potential guests. It’s great to have a list of accolades and certificates, but without a story to weave meaning into your offering you’ll have a hard time really captivating people.

You’d be amazed how much rapport can be built with potential guests before you’ve even met them when you share your story effectively.


📖 Storytelling resource
Film director and storyteller Mareesa Stertz offers a great free workshop ‘Your story is everything’ — which helps you pull out the most powerful threads of your life story to weave a narrative that will captivate an audience.

Location & facilities

Depending on your retreat offering and target audience, you may choose to host your retreat locally or in an overseas destination and each option has its advantages and drawbacks.

A local retreat offers better accessibility and makes it easier to involve an established network of potential clients, staff and suppliers — especially if you're already active in the wellness industry.

However, local venues may entail unpredictable weather or a lack of access to the kind of experiences you want to offer your guests.

Women bathing and praying in pools in South East Assia at a holy site.

Some key points to consider when balancing up the pros of and cons of overseas vs local retreats are:

  • Climate: The weather might be a crucial factor for the retreat you are planning. A surf retreat needs quite specific conditions, while a retreat which aims to allow guests lots of time connecting with nature on hikes and other activities might be less enjoyable if it’s pouring with rain each day!
  • Accessibility: Both your team and your guests' accessibility is important to consider. Remote islands might be highly desirable but they also require expensive and lengthy travel. Consider the transportation impact on your budget, schedules, and team, as well as your target audience.
  • Atmosphere: Guests come to retreats for a multilayered experience, and the overall ambiance is a hugely important piece. Choose a location that fits the atmosphere you desire and avoids overcrowded settings or places you may encounter noise or intrusion.
A woman is lying down having a massage with candles in the background
  • Luxury vs. simplicity: This will very much tie in with your target audience and your experience in the field. It might be challenging to draw people into a very expensive retreat when you don’t have reviews or a track record to back things up. There are plenty of breathtaking yet simple retreat venues out there for those wanting to create a reasonably priced retreat.
  • Facilities: Consider what facilities are going to be essential and desired for the activities you plan, e.g yoga decks and equipment, pool, spa services and day trip and activity options nearby.
Two women stand in a yoga studio playing with aerial yoga ropes
  • Natural settings: Views — whether mountain, sea, or garden — have a huge impact on the overall atmosphere and ability for guests to feel a sense of expansiveness as they take time out of their lives.
  • Catering services: Retreat food is pivotal to a successful retreat, and while the food can be simple, it does need to be satisfying and offer options for people with differing dietary requirements.

One thing we can say for sure is that choosing the right venue is crucial for a successful retreat, so take your time, be selective, and if you cannot visit in person ensure you get reliable testimony from those who have!

To buy or not to buy?
When thinking about starting a retreat business, some people will consider whether to buy a property to set up a retreat center in.

Having your own dedicated space has many bonuses, and you can rent it out to other retreat hosts when you are not running your own. It’s also worth noting that running a retreat center is in many ways a separate job to running a retreat!

For some who decide the retreat business is really for them, buying a home that has the capacity to hold retreats is an option and also means they can rent out parts of their property while they are not running retreats themselves.

The interior of a property with archways, terracotta walls and plants

Insider tip:
💫 Even if you have the finances to invest in a retreat property when starting out, we strongly advise renting for your first few retreats. Knowing what works in a property is a learning curve.

While you hone your craft and build your reputation, renting gives you a chance to find out what you need without the commitment. Give your venture a chance to grow without the pressure of making mortgage payments and fixing leaks!

Marketing

In order to get your business offering out there and ensure it’s going to entice suitable guests, you’ll need to have a consistent, well thought-out marketing campaign that expresses your vision honestly, effectively and platforms your story and expertise.

A man and woman stand in front of a white board covered in post-it notes, discussing them

Let’s look at 5 effective online marketing channels to focus on for your retreat business:

  • Social media: Engage with your audience on platforms like Instagram and Facebook to share authentic content, behind-the-scenes footage and live Q&A sessions to interact with followers and build a community.
  • Retreat website: User friendly platforms like WordPress or Squarespace can be used to create an inviting website to showcase your business and add legitimacy to your reputation. Include essential pages like about, services, retreat dates and a gallery to show guests what to expect from your retreat offering. Checkout these essential SEO tips for wellness websites!
  • Podcasts: The depth of the retreat format indicates a depth of passion and skill for your focus. This can be best fleshed out and showcased in a format such as a podcast or video interviews. Whether you start your own podcast or appear on podcasts of your peers, you’ll have a chance to get into depths that social media does not allow.
  • Partnerships and networks: Utilize your professional network and customer base for referrals, guest on podcasts related to your field of expertise and attend conferences, festivals and workshops where your target audience and potential facilitators and promotional partners are likely to be.
A man and two women are gathered around a laptop and one woman makes writes in a notebook
  • Testimonials and reviews: When choosing a retreat, reviews are probably the number one factor for curious guests making a decision on where to invest their trust and their money. Showcase customer testimonials and reviews and encourage visitors to leave feedback and share positive experiences on your website and social media.

With thoughtful use of these marketing channels, you can attract new followers and potential guests, better engage existing followers, and establish a strong online presence for your wellness retreat business.

Insider tip:
💫 Having video interviews of retreat leaders and hosts talking about their story and what their retreats offer to guests have been pivotal in all my choices to go on retreat. Video snippets can be fine on social media, but links to longer form conversations give people a much better understanding of what you are about - helping to build rapport and trust.

For people setting off to a retreat, especially in another country, trust is pivotal. If you can make people feel secure you’ll maximize the chance of them taking a leap!

Staff & facilitators

From the person who first takes a discovery call with a potential guest, to the team member facilitating a 7:00 am cold plunge on a retreat — recruiting a good team is pivotal to your businesses’ success in creating powerful, lasting memories for guests who’ll go on to sing your praises.


Whether you are offering employment or engaging with staff on a contract basis, ensure that your team consists of people who are fully aligned with your values, are empathic and personable and have run retreats, workshops or events before — especially if you have not.

A woman sites with singing bowls, playing one and sitting cross legged in a shady room with light shining on her

If you are running a retreat with simple accommodation or on a lower budget, you can still get great people on board to help you with catering, photography and facilitation by offering exchanges, and choosing people who are up and coming and looking to gain experience in the retreats.

By assembling a team of dedicated and compassionate staff, you can elevate the quality of your retreat experience and cultivate long-lasting relationships with your participants.

Insider tip:
💫 We cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you and your team enjoy each other’s company, compliment each other's strengths and know how to navigate stress, exhaustion and surprises together. In the intimate retreat setting, ‘bad vibes’ among staff will be felt, and can drastically affect the guest’s experience.

Having been on retreats where staff can be overheard disagreeing or chastising each other for items running late on the schedule, it’s really made the guests feel like they are walking on eggshells rather than deeply relaxing.
A woman hugs another woman from behind as they smile

Budgeting and financials

Starting a new business and budgeting and costing out of a retreat or series of retreats can feel intimidating — but it needn’t be if you start small and follow methodical steps.Retreats range widely in cost and level of luxury in terms of the venue, staff, food and facilities.

A black and white image of a pile of coins spilled from a glass vessel.

Here are some high level factors to take into account when starting to plan the financial side of your retreat business:

  • Developing a financial plan: Establish a stable financial plan aligning expenses with your values for retreat profitability.
  • Understanding costs: Differentiate between fixed (rent, personal expenses) and variable costs (meals, staff salaries) to budget effectively.
  • Calculating break-even and pricing: Determine break-even rates based on worst-case scenarios to ensure profitability. Adjust pricing strategy to accommodate varying participant numbers.
  • Competitor analysis: Study competitors' offerings, pricing, and customer feedback to evaluate your value proposition and pricing strategy effectively.
  • Setting profitable prices: Whilst it’s important to take into consideration accessibility and your own experience as a retreat host when pricing your retreats, setting the pricing of your retreats too low may devalue your offering.

By taking into account these considerations in your financial planning process, you can set competitive prices, manage costs efficiently, and ensure your retreat business stays both profitable and sustainable.

A sapling in a persons hand

Insider tip:
💫 Don’t be disheartened if you don’t make a big profit on your first retreat. It’s a huge learning process and there will likely be many payoffs beyond financial in terms of experience, connections and valuable lessons.

Do take time to calibrate after each retreat, learn from the lessons, and hone your financial planning.

Operations, logistics and legalities

Amidst all the creative inspiration, starting your retreat business entails some legal and financial hoops to navigate.

Setting up your company

Amidst all the creative inspiration, starting your retreat business entails some legal and financial procedures - such as registering your business, acquiring permits, and choosing an appropriate legal structure, such as an Limited Liability Company in the US or a Limited Company in the UK.

For business setup advice for UK citizens, HMRC’s guides resources are a good place to start and for US citizens, try this Small Business Association 10 Step Guide

A hand holding a pen and signing a document

Establishing a solid foundation from the start is essential for a seamless and prosperous launch of your venture and websites like Fiverr can be a great option for sourcing affordable, bespoke support from professionals such as lawyers and accountants.

Insurance

As you establish your retreat business, securing adequate insurance coverage is crucial to safeguard your business, staff, and participants. Seek advice to find insurance measures that align with your unique business needs and which mitigate risks effectively.

A woman sits with her back to the camera holding her glasses in her hand, talking to a man and woman who sit facing her and listening.

Legal protection & waiver forms

In addition to insurance, legal protection and waiver forms play a critical role in safeguarding your retreat business. Having participants sign legal forms can help clarify their assumption of travel risks and release your business from liability.

Insider tip:
💫 It can be tempting to DIY your way through business setup when you first get going, in order to save money. This can often backfire and lead to stress when you start to wonder if you’ve got all the important boxes ticked correctly!

Talk to other retreat organizers in similar fields and consider investing in professional help and guidance. It can take a load off you, giving you more time to make your retreat really worth the spend!

Setting up a business bank account and managing retreat payments:

To streamline financial transactions for your retreat business:

  1. Open a dedicated business bank account to separate personal and business finances with a reputable, well regarded bank such as Tide.
  2. Offer flexible payment options like credit cards, bank transfers, or online processors.
  3. Implement secure payment options on your website or as stand alone checkout pages for smooth booking experiences.
  4. Keep detailed financial records, track revenue, and ensure tax compliance, either by hiring a professional or using user friendly software such as Quickbooks.

By setting up a business account and efficient payment systems, you can manage retreat finances effectively and provide a seamless booking experience for participants.

A women looks at her credit card as she holds her phone

How to sell retreats with Checkout Page

With its array of flexible and customizable payment options —including a ‘Payment plan’ option — Checkout Page is a great fit for those wanting to take registrations for and sell their retreats from websites, social media platforms, newsletters, flyers and more.

Checkout Page of client 'The Giving Ground' showcasing their grief retreat and accommodation types


If you are itching to get going on creating your own page, starting with our wellness retreat template that will get you up and running in a few clicks! If you’d like to start at the beginning, let’s take a walk through creating an attractive no-code checkout page in minutes using our intuitive page builder.

Step 1. Create your checkout page

Title your page and select from a number of payment options in order to create setup that works best for you and your target audience:

Checkout Page form enabling you to create your page and set pricing

Step 2. Choose your page type

Checkout Page allows you to select different page layouts, as well as either a hosted page option or embed code for a website:

Checkout Page form enabling you to choose your page type

Step 3. Add a description to your page

Add a description for your event that will grab peoples attention and give them a flavor of what to expect.

Checkout Page form enabling you to add a description for your product

Step 4. Add images to your page

Add an image that works for your branding and retreat theme.

Checkout Page form enabling you to add images to your page

Step 5. Add files to your page

Checkout Page enables you to add files for download as part of your retreat registration and payment process:

Checkout Page form enabling you to add files to your page

Step 6. Adjust colors to suit your branding

Checkout Page allows you to customize various elements of your page, so that you can tailor it to your brand and set the right tone for your event!

Checkout Page form enabling you to adjust the colors of your page to match your branding

Step 7. Share your page

When you are ready to share your event with the world, you can select from a hosted payment link, embed code for your website and a QR code option too for posters, flyers and more.

Checkout Page form enabling you to share and embed your page

Step 8. Preview your page

Checkout Page shows a preview panel the whole way through the creation process so you can check that things look and function as intended!

Checkout Page form enabling you to preview your page

Conclusion

Starting a retreat business is a uniquely rewarding endeavor that will deepen your knowledge of your subject matter and your ability to work with others as well as support guests in transforming areas of their life and enhancing their wellbeing.

It’s vital that you stay anchored in your core motivations and values when growing your business, and balance ambition with humility in what is a very exciting but also crowded marketplace, prone to being first hit in an unstable economy.

In this article we’ve looked at distilling your vision, developing your unique story and marketing effectively to entice your ideal audience. We’ve looked at retreat properties, finances, starting a business and when to look for help getting things set up rather than trying to make a saving!

We’ve also seen how Checkout Page can help you sell your retreat, enabling you to set up attractive hosted payment pages in a matter of minutes.

Further resources

Once you are ready to start inviting guests to your retreat, we’ve laid out everything you need to know about How to create a retreat registration form using Checkout Page!

If you’d like to read more about the ins and outs of running a retreat, with tips from a retreat organizer, check out our article How to plan a retreat: a step-by-step guide on hosting impactful retreats.

If you are ready to get going and want a detailed checklist to make sure you tick all the crucial items off when planning your retreat, we’ve got you covered with The ultimate retreat planning checklist.

We wish you a fruitful journey with your retreat planning business and hope that Checkout Page can support you along the way!


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Sarah McCunn

Sarah McCunn

Sarah is a content writer with a passion for helping businesses grow. She enjoys creating content that helps businesses succeed and grow.


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