Everything you need to know about designing, preparing and hosting a transformational retreat

Retreats are an increasingly smart choice for those of us awakening to the change the world needs. When it comes to helping our clients through deep, transformative work, the container of a small retreat is unparalleled.

You might have experienced this yourself on a retreat that changed your life, and opened up your eyes to a whole new way of being in the world.

Or maybe you have a sense that the work you’re currently offering 1:1 or in workshops would be better experienced via deep immersion for a few days, with a group of truly committed clients.

Retreats: good for your clients, good for your business

As a bonus, retreats make a solid foundation for a lucrative business. This is especially true if you’ve found yourself trapped in the hourly-rate model for your services, where you never seem to get your head above water financially, and are constantly on the lookout for new clients. When you know how to create a retreat, your business can create the space for you to truly step into the gifts you’re here to bring to the world.

I’ve hosted over forty small retreats myself, and made millions of dollars in revenue using this model – so I know a thing or two about how to plan transformational retreats that are profitable, successful, and fun! (And oh, the things I wish someone had told me before I started on this path!)

Here are the questions to ask before you start planning your own small retreat:

Before you start learning how to plan a retreat…

Retreats are a really powerful container for change – but making them work takes a certain kind of leader. Before you start figuring out how to plan a retreat, it’s time to get really honest with yourself. Imagine yourself at the front of the room and ask “Is this for me?”.

The good news is, the qualities that make a transformational leader aren’t usually ones you learn in school or on training courses. They’re more about innate abilities to connect with people, hold space, and support transformation.

In my experience, the best retreat leaders:

  • Are willing to be vulnerable.
  • Can embrace the fact they don’t have all the answers, and are willing to hold space for what’s waiting to emerge.
  • Are ready to go deep and look at underlying patterns and the root causes of issues (in fact, are often frustrated that their current business model doesn’t always allow space for that)
  • Have natural “good energy” and intuition.
  • Are committed to their own growth and are actively working on their own path.

If this describes you, then great news! You’re someone who’s likely going to thrive as a retreat leader – read on for the next stages of planning.

(Not sure? Want to get clearer? Download the free Transformational Retreat Leaders Cheat Sheet for a 12 step self assessment to make sure you’re clear whether running retreats is right for you)

Want to know how to plan a retreat? Here’s what you need to know first

So you’re certain you want to host a retreat – maybe you even feel called or guided that this is your path – and you’re excited to imagine yourself at the front of the room, in a beautiful space, sharing your message.


Before you dive into booking rooms and planning activities, take a look around at where your business is at.

  • Are you clear on exactly what you want to share, and are you truly confident on a cellular level of the value you’re bringing
  • Have you offered this work in some form before, and received payment for it (even if only on a very small scale, 1-1 level)?
  • Do you have the support you need in place – the details of that are going to look different for everyone, but might include a business coach, a VA to handle the admin, or tech support for your website?
  • Finally, ask yourself if you’re really clear about who your ideal client is, and what they’re looking for.

Getting these business basics in place before you start is a smart move for so many reasons. It will mean when it comes to filling your retreat, you won’t be scrambling around to get a website up (you don’t need a website to host your first retreat!), copy written, or to connect with the people who are meant to be in the room. It also means you’ll be planning your retreat content and marketing with the right people in mind – knowing you’re meeting a need that’s already there.

What will happen when the retreat ends?

It’s easy to get caught up focusing all your energies on creating an amazing retreat experience – and that’s only natural. But the truth is, to create a flourishing business that’s able to grow and support your clients’ transformation beyond the few days you spend together, your retreat needs to be part of a bigger picture.

Some questions to think about are:

  • What new challenges will the retreat bring up, as a result of the transformation?
  • How will you continue to support your clients after the retreat ends?
  • How will you use the experience to grow your own business, and share the experience so that others are drawn to join future retreats?

With those foundations in place, the fun can begin! It’s time to dig into planning and preparing for your retreat.

Moving into action: doubts about how to plan a retreat

If you feel a sense of resistance about moving forward, don’t worry. It can feel daunting to move into action, and that’s to be expected when we’re doing anything new. It’s true that hosting a group of clients for a sustained period of time requires an energetic commitment that’s above and beyond sessional or one to one work. Group energies intensify and amplify transformation – which is what makes them such a powerful way to create change.

But if you’re called to do this work, the rewards are immeasurable. I am constantly amazed by the experiences that are co-created by the groups I lead on retreat, and by the growth and deep joy I experience as a result.

For the retreat itself, I find it easiest to split the planning into two main areas:

  • The content: What you’re going to be delivering
  • The logistics: How you will create that experience

Stage one: content

We start with the important stuff: What is the fabric of your retreat? What transformation are the attendees going to experience?

  • Set your intentions. I suggest setting three distinct intentions: one for yourself as a leader, one for your clients, and one for what the retreat will do for your business.  
  • Think about the overall shape of the retreat. On a big picture level, bring awareness to what it is you want to share. What’s the one main message you’re sharing? What’s the realization you want everyone in the room to leave with?
  • Then, move down to the details: the agenda you’ll follow over the time you have available. How will you structure what you’re sharing so that the flow makes sense; what elements of the work flow naturally into one another?
  • This is also the time to think about what handouts, supplies or tools you’ll need to support your content and who will need to be there to support you: will you need facilitators or be inviting guest instructors to lead part or all of what you’re teaching?

When it comes to the content, always bear in mind that you probably need less than you think. Think concept over content. What are the core concepts you want them to integrate? A few that you can easily remember and transmit to participants is better than impressive workbooks that no one opens again. It is the space between ideas that transformation – be sure to give your attendees that gift!

Attuning to people’s energies and responding in the moment are all more important skills to prepare than endless binders, powerpoints and notes. So when you’ve planned your initial program, ask yourself what can be edited out, pared down or given space to breathe.

Stage Two: Logistics

When you have a clear vision for your retreat, you can move on to the logistics. This is where you’ll create the container that will hold your content and allow the transformation you’ve planned to occur.

  • You’ll need to find the right venue, thinking about where the participants will stay and the space where you’ll do the work.
  • Start to negotiate costs, taking into account the extras: food, beverages, audio visuals and supplies.
  • Use the plan you’ve made for your content to map out the start and finish times for each day, and figure out when you’ll include breaks, meals and free time.
  • Think about the beginning and end of the retreat. How you start your experience sets the tone for transformation and it is key that you show up in alignment with the energy you want in the room. They will also remember how you close the retreat.
  • Think back to the intentions you set for your business – how can you make sure the retreat supports them?

And finally…

The final part of the puzzle is filling the retreat: finding out who’s going to be attending.  After all the planning, it’s incredible to begin to see the room fill up and anticipate the transformation that will unfold. Be sure to celebrate every participant who enrolls, and trust the process: by asking the right questions and doing the work, you’ve set yourself up to create the best possible experience.

So, there you have it: the foundations for planning your retreat. Don’t skip those initial stages of getting clear on whether you’re cut out to lead retreats,  knowing what it is you’re offering AND having a clear path for what your retreat leads participants on to.

With those in place, creating the content and finishing up the logistics for the retreat will feel like play – and you’ll know you have the structure in place to make this a sustainable strategy you can use again and again.

Need a hand?

cheat-sheet-coverRetreats are the foundation of my business for a reason: there’s nothing like the feeling of leading a room of participants committed to truly stepping into their own transformation.

But it’s also true that there’s lots to think about – especially the first time!

For the full detail on everything I’ve covered here about how to plan a retreat and more – from knowing whether you’re a natural retreat leader, to a comprehensive guide to beginning a retreat based business – download the Transformational Retreat Leaders Cheat Sheet here.

It contains a 12 point self assessment and my personal guide to everything you need to know to start profitable retreats in your business. I break down all these stages into manageable steps, with tips on how to navigate each one (and it’s free!). Just click here to get your copy.

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