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Holistic Wealth

By Sharon Desjarlais, CC and Michele McGrew

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Top Five Tips for Creating Decadent Destination Retreats

It was a cold December in 2009 when MaryFrances Barbisan, a registered nurse and massage therapist, escaped the frigid Canadian air with a last-minute getaway to Mexico. As she strolled along the sugar-white shoreline, she came upon a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. "It was so luxurious and mysterious, it captivated me," she says. Someday, she thought, I want to be the kind of woman who rents a house like that on a beach like this.

That memory remained planted in her mind until 2013, when she flew down to South Florida for a two-day business-building retreat with us. We were just about to dig into lunch when she offhandedly mentioned this dream she had of going back to that home for an extended stay.

Right there at lunch we sketched out a decadent healing retreat for her clients. Her blue eyes lit up, yet she continued to squirm a bit with nervous tension. Was she really the kind of woman who could get clients on a plane to another country to work with her for just a few days?

Fortunately, we'd worked with her long enough to know she had all the tools she needed to successfully lead what she called a Radiance Rejuvenation Retreat in Paradise. Within weeks of designing her healing retreat, it sold out. And by December of that year, she was working with clients and enjoying a luxury vacation in the Mexican casa of her dreams.

MaryFrances brought in more than $55,000 as a result of those retreats. How'd she do it? "I really had to let go of a lot of the limiting factors inside of me," she says. "I had to make the commitment to my journey and what I wanted my life to look like. The retreat was a vehicle to change my life."

retreats - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Do you dream of leading healing retreats in other states, or even other countries? Here are our top five tips for creating decadent destination retreats your clients will love as much as you do.

Put Yourself in the Picture First

As a healer, one of the keys to longevity in your practice is the ability to balance your needs and values with those of your clients. When you design your retreat, start with what you love. What inspires you? What experiences do you enjoy facilitating? Where does your soul long to explore?

As MaryFrances discovered, "You have to really know who you are, what you value and what you want to get out of the experience. Because if you don't put yourself in the picture first, you're no good as a leader."

MaryFrances values adventure, beauty, fun, vacations, luxury and bikinis! "My retreats gave me all of those things. I was completely in my essence. And when I'm in my essence, my contribution to my clients is magnified a million times."

Another tip you can take from her playbook? Schedule plenty of downtime for yourself. Take long walks, create meditative space and give yourself time apart from your clients to regroup and recharge so you can feel your very best.

Give an Experience

When someone invests in a destination retreat, they're not just going on vacation. They're embarking on a journey — a pilgrimage — to wholeness of body, mind and spirit. From the moment your clients arrive, you want their experience to embody the theme of your retreat and your business brand.

MaryFrances' brand is all about beauty, luxury and extreme self-care. When her guests arrived they were greeted with a glass of champagne and a warm embrace. The sounds of the ocean lulled them into a state of peace and relaxation as they watched the sunset together while the aroma of a delicious, healthy dinner wafted through the air.

After dinner, everyone retired to their private casitas, where they slipped into beds covered in organic cotton linens, draped in gauze, and surrounded by the lush beauty of nature. Her guests got a taste of the transformation that awaited them even before the healing work began.

Once your retreat is underway, keep things interesting by weaving in different experiences throughout the day. Flow from group activities like yoga or Qi Gong into dyad exercises and then into personal reflection or journaling time. And be sure to give your guests time in between to relax and integrate their breakthroughs.

Create a Safe and Sacred Space

Making your guests feel safe and seen is the key to getting them to go deep into their healing experience. Start by creating that sense of safety before they ever embark on their journey by sharing information and setting up agreements in advance.

As soon as a new client says "Yes," send them a welcome kit that includes a personal letter from you letting them know what they can expect from your time together. Include an intake form to help you discover everything from their food preferences and allergies to what their biggest goals and challenges are. That way you'll be well equipped to lead them through this deeply personal journey of healing and self-discovery.

By creating healthy boundaries and agreements with your clients, you can both feel safe. "I tell guests up front, they must have their own medical insurance. And we make agreements at the start of the first day, like don't go in the ocean at night, period. It creates a strong container for the experience," MaryFrances said.

As a nurse, MaryFrances is also quick to point out that you need a first-aid kit. "Think of the obvious and the not-so-obvious potential disasters. What do you do if someone has an allergic reaction or they fall and hurt their knee? You really have to go through all the worst-case scenarios. Bring the antihistamine, the bandages, the bug spray. Being prepared is everything."

Invest in the Support You Need

Running a multi-day retreat involves a lot of moving parts, from the deep healing work you love to basic housekeeping chores. Managing those details can be a drain on your energy. And you don't win a gold medal for doing it all on your own.

As the retreat leader, you want to be able to focus on the deep transformation you're offering. Not on what to make for dinner or how to fix that clogged toilet. Holding healing space for even a small group of people will require your full presence. Honor that by investing in the help that'll allow you to focus on your brilliance.

As you're designing your destination retreat, ask yourself: Do I need an event planner? A business coach? A housekeeper? A chef? Build the cost of the help you need into the retreat experience so you and your guests can relax and enjoy your journey together.

Know What's Next

Many healers make the mistake of creating lovely retreats without any thought of what's next. But the truth is, people are always more likely to say "Yes" to your richest offers when they're already in your healing space. So rather than seeing your retreat as the last step in their healing journey, ask yourself, "What do I want this to lead my clients to next?"

MaryFrances used her Mexican retreat to enroll clients into a year-long healing program. And she just did it again when she took new clients back to Mexico for the second year in a row. Now, every day, she gets to be the kind of woman she knows she's capable of being in the world.

"Lots of people hate their jobs, hate their lives," she says. "They want a piece of the joy I embody and the tools to keep it. They want to transform, discover and awaken more of themselves. Everyone who's attended my retreats have thanked me for helping them get connected to their essence again. As one client said, 'You've given me my life back.'"

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