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How to host an EPIC business retreat
5 steps for an unforgettable business event
As part of my Business Made Beautiful Mastermind, I recently hosted a 2-day business retreat in Palm Beach on the gorgeous Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia.
The weekend was a great success with lots of learning, laughter, connecting and some champagne to get the party started!
I’ve had many people ask me about how I put it on – did I pay the guest speakers, did I use an event planner, where did I get the decorations from, what was the budget, etc.
So I thought I’d uncover exactly what’s involved with hosting an epic business retreat and what my key learnings were. Here goes…
1. Delight with an instagram-worthy location
It was my first time hosting an event in a private house.
I had been wanting to do this for a while and had even recommended hosting retreats in a home (as opposed to running an event at a hotel) to some of my clients and seen that it worked well – when done right.
Previously, I had hosted retreats and events in luxury hotels in Sydney and in Queensland. For these events I enlisted the help of Jade from Event Head, who did a superb job.
But this time I wanted to have a different experience and hold my business retreat in a home because I wanted a chilled out, intimate vibe and, importantly, I wanted to celebrate and spoil my clients by giving them a unique experience and a bit of a luxury escape at the same time.
It was just a matter of finding the right place.
My friend owns a beautiful home called The Dreaming that I have been lusting after for years. It’s regularly used for photoshoots and featured in home magazines. The property is designed by the same architect of Qualia, Hamilton Island, which is simply divine.
It was available for hire at the time I needed it and I thought it would work beautifully.
So I went ahead and booked it and was able to get it at semi-mates’ rates. Perfect, I thought.
However, even though it sounded great to hire a property from a friend, it didn’t really work in my favour. The owner, my friend, proved to be a little difficult to get in touch with to answer essential questions such as how much parking was available, how many fridges they had, whether there was any internet or even to supply me with an invoice.
This was frustrating. Whether it was because I was a friend or because I had paid less, the experience I had was that my booking was not a priority.
But it was an INCREDIBLE property as you can see for yourself…
The total cost of the property was $2000 ($1000/night) + $300 cleaning for the two days.
- It can be difficult to find the right property at which to host your retreat. If you would like to host your event in a private house, check out Airbnb or other luxury property sites, but be aware that not all will allow events and that you will typically be charged more to host an event.
- Pass on holding it a friend’s place. In hindsight, I would have preferred to pay normal rates to have peace of mind and better customer service.
2. Plan an agenda worthy of a stage
As I’d held events quite a few times, I knew what was involved so I felt pretty confident in planning and co-ordinating the entire event myself. When I say myself, I mean with my team of three.
I had templates that I’d created previously that have assisted me to plan other events – including templates for an agenda, speaker bios, budget, running schedule and emails to send to those involved (you can grab these templates here). This made planning the event quite an easy process.
One of the most important elements for me was to be able to provide attendees with high-value content on topics not covered so far in the mastermind.
To do this, I brought in world-class guest experts to present on key topics and I also had a mix of students in the mastermind, who are also subject matter experts in an area, to present as well.
Ordinarily these guest speakers would charge a speaking fee, however, they happen to be my friends so I didn’t have to pay. Although, I did take care of their accommodation.
This meant that right from the start I was never going to be presenting myself. In the past, I have MC’d and presented, but this time I had brought in an MC and planned not to present any content.
Instead, I spoke briefly at the start of the first day and then briefly at the end of the event. In hindsight, this wasn’t enough. I feel like I should have had more of a presence on stage than I did.
The format of the presentations was mostly sit and listen. This worked well for the most part. However, I did receive feedback that attendees would have liked to have an hour or two to sit with their laptop and get stuff done.
I also chose not to use the retreat as an opportunity to sell the next round of the BMB Mastermind to current members because it genuinely was about the students and their experience – not about me – and I didn’t want to take away from that.
- If you don’t have a speaking spot at your event, be sure to be the MC (or vice versa). It isn’t enough to just top and tail it.
- Decide whether to use the opportunity to sell or upsell your products or service. You have a captive audience so it can be a great opportunity to introduce other offerings you may have but it’s entirely up to you and what you are comfortable with.
- Plan to incorporate at least one session where attendees can workshop in groups and implement some of the content.
3. The little touches made a big difference
How you execute your retreat is a reflection of your business which, when done right, can be a great brand-building opportunity. Hence, event styling matters.
A little known fact is that my first business, called Showpony Publicity, was actually in event styling.
This has stuck with me over the years and what I tend to do is pick up random things up as they catch my eye, while going about my day-to-day. I basically go along accumulating funky things until I get to use them in my own home or at my next event.
Sidenote, one of my most lucrative jobs to date has been hiring out big coloured cushions for parties. I just dropped them off and picked them up and made a small fortune!
For this retreat, the special touches I used to create the experience and vibe were:
- Branded custom rose boxes from Valentina Boxes
- Quote candles and hand wash from Damselfy
- Pink flamingo straws, balloons and blow-up pool toy from Mr & Mrs Jones – I forgot to mention earlier that I had a surprise flamingo theme happening
- And finally I had gift bags, notepads, pens and goodies from Kikki K.
These touches proved to be great fodder for social media. In total, spent $800 on event styling.
- If you want your retreat to be unforgettable, details and styling are important. Consider hiring an event stylist to create something special. The leverage you will get from attendees Instagramming and talking about it is well worth the investment.
- Don’t forget to keep your event styling on brand and/or enhance it.
4. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality food!
Hosting an event for predominately women meant that food is hugely important.
I’ve run several events in past at venues where catering has been on-site and part of the package. This time though, the food (and all the equipment such as cutlery, platters, tea and coffee station) needed to be brought in.
Organising the catering ended up being more difficult than I had originally thought.
One big hassle (and what turned out to be A LOT of work) was needing to bring in equipment such as glasses, bowls and platters. The catering company did supply some of the equipment but I still had to supply a lot of it myself.
As was providing the drinks. I ended up supplying those, too.
And I also don’t know what I was thinking when I didn’t hire someone to serve the food and tidy up!
Thank goodness my family and friends stepped in to help out.
The cost of catering came to $1700 for 2 days. Plus, I also had to provide the drinks and the alcohol.
Unfortunately, there were a few issues with the catering company. The fruit wasn’t ripe enough and turned out to be inedible and also they forgot to bring the coffee percolator! Hello, big fail!
I had my whole family involved in helping out at the retreat, which I am hugely grateful for, as there were lots of things that needed to brought in – flowers and all the props – it required multiple car trips there and back to get everything ready (and take back).
- Employ staff to serve food and clean up.
- Sh*t happens. The catering company I used had great reviews. Unfortunately they failed on this occasion, which was just one of those random things. These little touches around the house were a lot of work for my family and friends (my helpers).
5. Brief your photographer… well
I didn’t get the photographs I wanted but the videos were amazing.
For this retreat, I had organized a photographer to shoot the first day. But, I didn’t brief him properly, which sadly meant that I didn’t get the kinds of images that I wanted.
However, the good news is that the venue, location and general environment was so instagrammable that tons of pics were taken by the retreat attendees themselves. Students also live-streamed from the event.
- Provide a written brief to your photographer in the form of a checklist. Get a copy of the Photographer Brief & Checklist Template here.
- Always give your photographer a detailed brief to ensure you get exactly what you want.
6. Film (lots)
Leverage the bejesus out of the event by getting great video footage.
For the second day of the retreat, I had organized a video crew to film footage of the event and capture client testimonials.
An event is a fantastic time to film testimonials because your attendees are all in the one place and you can get a consistent look and feel, and quality recording.
I decided to step things up and hired a videographer, instead of just a video person.
I organised hair and makeup for half a day (I used Stacey Macpherson) for myself and also my clients who were going to be filmed.
I also prepared a list of questions that I wanted ask my students. On the day, I had them printed out and gave them to each person to review while they were getting their hair and makeup done. Grab a copy of the Questions to Ask For Video Client Testimonials here.
Everyone loved the little pamper session and I got a high-quality production that is on-brand and the end result is incredible in terms of social proof.
It’s the first time I’ve spent upwards of $3000 on video and production (and hair and makeup for my clients) but was totally worth spending the budget because the outcome was priceless.
- Invest in video production. You might need to spend more money than you anticipate but good quality video is worth every penny because of the leverage you’ll be able to get from it in terms of promotion and brand building.
I met the goal of my retreat
The goal of the Business Made Beautiful Mastermind retreat was for the women to meet, connect, make friends, increase learning and have a unique experience.
I wanted to have world-class experts at the retreat for students of my mastermind to have learnings that would complement and further the training that I had given them.
And that is the whole purpose of the business retreat, the mastermind and this community. It’s evolving with what the students need by giving them access to the resources they need, when they need it.
By the way the total budget I spent was $8,500.
Why I would do it again
Every time I run an event, I swear I will never do it again. However, as I write, this I’m already starting to plan the next one in May 2017. (Get on the waitlist for my mastermind here.)
Despite some of the things that didn’t work, I would 100% opt for hosting a retreat in a private home again because it puts people at ease and gives a different vibe.
The location was ideal because it was far enough away from the attendees’ homes and workplaces to put them into a completely different headspace. The luxury property was also part of the experience of getting them into the retreat vibe.
And for those that stayed nearby in an Airbnb together, it gave them the opportunity to really connect and have an awesome time together. I love the fact that the girls that attended got so much out of having time to engage with each other, which is so important in all the programs I run.
Another great thing that happens when you put people together in a beautiful location for a retreat is that they do the marketing of the event for you without you needing to say anything. At the retreat, people were Instagramming, videoing and broadcasting on Facebook Live non-stop without being prompted… And they still are!
I hope by sharing all my learnings, you’ll be able to host your own success retreat in 2017.