Are you are an expert in your field, and love the idea of running a course or workshop in a beautiful location? Maybe you’ve run courses before, but would like to run a more up-scale retreat? You might be a yoga instructor, a chef, a professional photographer, a complementary medicine trainer, a dietitian, landscape painter, or a wedding planner. There are all sorts of areas where a week-long dedicated and focused course would be extremely popular.
So if this is your idea, exactly how do you start?
Who are your guests?
The obvious starting point is to decide who your customers are. Be very specific. If you are crystal clear on who you want to attract, the rest of your planning we be much easier. For example, if it’s a photography workshop, what experience level are you teaching? New enthusiasts and pro-level experts don’t always mix well, and it’s harder to teach both at the same time, so decide the expertise of your ideal guests, and tailor everything towards them.
Now you can outline what you’d like to offer your customers during the week, how many sessions you want to teach, how much free time your guests should have. What are the lessons you’d like to teach? Back to our photography workshop, how many shoots can you reasonably manage, and what is subject matter? Are you going to focus on landscape photography, or include workshops on portrait photography too? If it’s an oil painting week for budding artists, how many painting sessions would you like, and what kind of locations or subjects, indoor or outdoor, models, landscapes or still-life? If it’s a yoga retreat, how many sessions a day, what style of yoga, what additional sessions might be good to include (meditation, massage, dietary discussions, etc)?
Once you have this sketched out, it will make the rest of your planning a lot smoother. You’re likely to revise this many times before you decide on your ideal final format, so don’t sweat the detail just yet.
Choose the location
I’m going to focus on Tuscany, because that’s where we have our business, but the same applies anywhere you plan on running your retreat. Choosing the right location is crucial. Is it within easy access of the places you plan to visit during the week? Is it easy for your guests to find? What transport will you need to get guests on-site, and what transport will you need during the week? If trips to visit particular locations are important, you want to avoid long car/bus journeys for your customers – it’s a waste of everyone’s valuable time – so choosing a place where you can reach all the places you want to go, with minimal effort, is important.
Start work on a business plan
Unless you are funded in some other way, you will need to sell places on your course. So, start to put together a basic business plan that examines your possible income, and lists all your costs, including your venue, meals, transport, marketing, and any costs for you and your staff. Without this, the rest of your budgeting could get out of control, so keep this spreadsheet up-to-date. Work on it continuously. It will help you keep your eye on the ball, and help you make sure your week is profitable.
Choose the venue
Obviously, this is more critical for some subjects than for others. If you are planning a History of Renaissance Art course, then easy access to Florence & Siena (amongst other places) is crucial, but lots of places fit the bill. But if you are planning a yoga retreat, and need quiet, tranquillity, and large outdoor spaces for the yoga sessions, then you’ll need a venue that can provide this for you. Make sure you choose something your budget can afford. Yes, it would be great to run your course in a Renaissance villa or medieval castle, but these venues are expensive. Will your guests be happy to pay the extra?
The key factors to consider are size (how many customers can attend), facilities (meals, appropriate spaces for your sessions, guest facilities like private bathrooms, swimming pool, etc), and cost.
Choosing the food
Many people push food way down the list of things to prioritize, and this is always a mistake, especially if you are coming to Tuscany. It’s one of the culinary centres of the world, and most people know this. So it would be a shame to come to Tuscany and not have amazing food. In fact, it would be a disaster!
De-prioritise food to spend less, and you will always get complaints. Deliver great food (and wine) to your customers every day, and they will go to bed happy every night. And it doesn’t need to be expensive. The quality of the raw ingredients here in Tuscany is incredible, so a simple salad with good olive oil can taste out of this world.
You might need a specific diet (yoga weeks, for example, usually prefer to have a special diet planned), or you may need meals at odd times (say because you have a dawn/sunset photography shoot planned). So make sure your venue can work with you to deliver a daily menu-plan your guests are going to rave about.
Time to plan your detailed itinerary
I say detailed, but only insofar as you’re soon going to need to promote your week and attract customers, and they want a pretty good idea what they are getting for their money. So a daily plan, listing training sessions, locations, meals, special trips, and so on, is important. You can always change it later, as long as you don’t materially reduce the quality of your offer. But you need something to describe to your prospects now.
Don’t forget your customers are on holiday! In Tuscany, for goodness sakes! So build in plenty of fun and relaxation time. Go visit a winery or two, plan a night or two out at local restaurants trying out the local specialities (like the Fiorentina steak…unless your planning a vegan retreat), maybe take your guests on a guided hike to experience some of the beautiful scenery, maybe with a picnic lunch?
And don’t be afraid to mix it up. What about a cookery class or a trip to a natural spa? All work and no play made Jack a dull boy, so remember to make the week fun for everyone (you included).
Now that you know what the week is going to look like, you can tighten up your spending budget and decide on a final price to market spaces on your week. Make sure you charge appropriately for partners and spouses who want to come (if they are allowed!) but don’t necessarily want to participate. This is an often-neglected source of ready income.
Looks like you’re ready to rock and roll. Now it’s time to see if you can attract customers. You may already have a decent prospect pool to market to, and that’s great. But if not, think about what kind of people you want to attract, and how you plan to reach them. It’s unlikely your venue will be able to help much*, but don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from people you trust. At around this time you are going to need to secure your venue too, so don’t forget to talk to them so that your ideal venue gets booked by someone else.
Well, this all depends a little on your event, on your customers, and the time of year, but many of the specialist venues will be booking events a year or more in advance. It’s possible to organise a workshop on a shorter lead time (we know, we’ve done it), but remember to leave enough time to market your week effectively.
Well, I can’t sign-off without saying a bit about our little slice of Tuscan heaven, Podere Patrignone. We’re situated deep in the Chianti hills, surrounded by the most amazing scenery. We have a total of 15 double bedrooms available for you and your guests, each with private en-suite bathroom. And we have indoor and outdoor dining spaces for you all. We do all our own catering, using home-grown or zero-km sourced organic produce where possible, and we can customise your meals to suit any regime or budget you choose. We will be as flexible as you need us to be.
We have plenty of indoor and outdoor spaces for you to use in any way you need. If you need something specific, we can help get that ready for you. Need any particular materials, like yoga mats and blankets? No problem, we’ll source them for you. Want an end-of-week disco in the woods. Sure thing!
We can help
And we’re your ideal planning partner too. We’ve organised lots of events over the years, and have excellent home-grown cloud-based project management and budgeting tools that we can use to make sure your event is on time, and on budget, every time. We will have regular ‘face-to-face’ video chats with you, because talking to real people is always easier. And being a small family business, we’re always happy to roll up our sleeves and help out. Need us to scout out some locations for you? We’d be happy to. Need some particular suppliers identifying? We’re on hand to help. Want us to plan some trips to local wineries? We’d be delighted. Need a guided tour of the Uffizi? No problem. Do you need special permission to set up painting easels in front of the Duomo? We’ll find out and apply for permits.
* And if you need help with your marketing, we have years of professional sales and marketing experience to help you design an excellent and seriously smoking marketing plan. There aren’t too many venues that can offer that!
So if you have an idea for a retreat, workshop, training course, or you are planning a company meeting, then please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you. Talking costs nothing, and we’d be happy to talk through any ideas you might have. We won’t push Podere Patrignone on you if it’s not right for you, but we can help point you in the right direction.
I hope you’ll drop us a line.