We established Gaia Retreat House 4 years ago in a small village (Küchen) at the heart of Germany, with a vision, faith, and determination to fulfill our dream. Today Gaia Retreat House, against all odds, is a successful international Retreat Center for Yoga, Meditation, and Mindful living training, that people from all over Europe are visiting and enjoying an exceptional experience, both on spot and online.
In this post, I would like to share with you some insights, that we got along the way and our personal experience of the process.
Location – To buy or to Rent?
For us it was no question, it was clear we would like to buy a house with accommodating rooms for up to 20 beds. More than we found the house, the house founds us, after traveling all over Germany spreading our vision to friends.
When you buy a venue, it gives you the freedom to set things the way you want, in the timing you want with no conditions from others. It reduces the risk of renting a place, paying for it, publishing a retreat, and having no response or participants at the beginning = loss of capital.
So, choosing this route, means that you should have a starter capital, which will be enough as well for the establishment period and for difficult times.
In our case, we choose a venue that was operating as a seminar house for 27 years and had already a good reputation. This fact was helping us at the beginning of our journey.
It took us 8 months, to renovate the venue, and bring it to the feeling we wanted to have in the house, “like Home”, is the first sentence guest are saying when entering here.
In these 8 months, we went through room by room, painted the walls, fixed every broken or un-working electrical switch, replaced all the floors in the house, and decorated all the rooms to the T.
Opening a Business
Living in Germany, we had to decide what kind of business entity we would like to open. There were 3 options, self-employed, GbR or GmB. Each has its own benefits and limitations. After investigating and consulting with an accountant, we have decided that the GbR format is the right for us. We went to the city hall and filled the required forms to open our new business. Since we had lots of renovation expenses we wanted to report on our first year, we have asked to open the business on a retroactive date, the first week we have arrived here. This point is very important to take into consideration.
After opening the business, the first step was to learn how to create invoices in the right manner to fit the Tax system of Germany. When we were ready with the design, we send it to the CPA for approval.
The last step was to open a Business Bank and PayPal accounts to be able to run our business financially. Now we were ready to start.
Building a Website & Social Media pages
Before doing so, you should characterize your objective, to understand what do you want to offer to people, and what kind of user experience you want to offer. Furthermore, to understand who is going to maintain the website daily, you or an external service provider.
After understanding all these aspects, you can choose the right platform to build your website with. We choose Wix, as it is a very user-friendly platform that can easily be managed by us, their prices are affordable and they have an amazing design template, to begin with. Another reason for this choice was that I am an experienced graphic designer, and had lots of prior experience with this platform, which allows me to build it fast with no need for programming knowledge.
What should be initially on the website:
Home Page (Landing)
- Small introduction Text
- Your Offered Services
- Few Testimonials
- Video (if you have)
- How to contact you
- Who you are
- Vision (if you have)
- Around here (to show what more is in your area)
- Testimonial Page
- Classes you offer locally
- Other events
- Services you offer online
- Writing articles is very good for your SEO
- How to contact you (make sure to have an email account)
- How to arrive at your place
These are the basic menu to build, afterwards you can be keeping developing your website according to your development.
Few important things to bear in mind, before starting:
- Research for keywords & implement them in your website text.
- Put H1 & H2 tags texts at each beginning of the page
- Reduce all used photos to the minimum size (low res)
- Name your webpages in accordance with SEO
- Use alt text in all your photos
- Connect your website to google analytics
- Connect your website to Facebook pixel
- Export your website XML file to google
- Register your website to all searching engines
- Optimize your website for mobiles!!!
Remember, your website is the main communication platform with your audience, it should be always updated and require daily maintenance.
Along with the website, we have opened FB & Instagram business pages with advertising
Concept & Run-up
It is important to understand what we would like to offer in terms of activities and food and to whom. We have decided that our kitchen will serve Veggie or Vegan food.
In the first year, to understand the operation of this business and our new venue, we started to operate it as a seminar house, renting it to teachers who have their own audience and looking for a place to accommodate their activities. We offered them accommodation & meals. This allowed us to get experience on how to run accommodation rooms and operate a kitchen that serves 3 meals a day.
We learned how long does it takes to clean the house, to buy food, to cook, what facilities we need, how long it takes to clean the house after an event, cost of laundry & food act.
In the second year, after having some insights about the operation of the business, we have felt it is time to start offering our own Retreats, which was our initial objective to buy this venue. It was clear for us as well that it will develop us better financially and for the future as a business. But how to start our dream, was an open question we had to face.
Marketing a Retreat House
Ok, so you feel you have what to give, you know what you want to give, but how you reach the people? Would they come? This is quite a scary moment we had to face.
To overcome fear, we just started to do things step by step. First to schedule our first Retreat, we choose “Yoga & Wellness Retreat” to start with, it a 2 month’ ahead date to give us some time for marketing.
Then, we built a dedicated webpage for it, which included clear information about what we offer, the terms, and a booking form to register. We also prepared supporting materials for the people who will register (registration form that they should sign and send us back, terms of payment act.).
Then, we looked at where can we market our retreat. There were a few options:
- Social Media business pages
- Social Media paid Ads
- Google Paid Ads
- Other Paid Ads
- Yoga & Meditation nich platforms (BookYogaRetreat, RetreatGuru act;)
To begin with, we starting to open accounts is about 6 nich marketing platforms:
- Book Retreat
Bear in mind that this takes time. You should be ready ahead of time with around 20 good photos and informal text for each platform. All these platforms are free to use but they take a commission of any booking made through them, each with a different percentage. As a beginner, you shouldn’t worry about the commission, as it is better to pay a commission for paid participants than to have no participants.
After one year of using these platforms, we can say from our experience that only BookYogaRetreat was providing us with paid participants, and slowly we have built on their platform good reviews from participants.
Parallel, we have marketed our retreat on our social media business pages and launched paid campaigns on FB & Google investing about 50-100 Euro a month, targeting men & women from all over Europe.
Both marketing channels were successful and yield for us the first 6 paid participants to our first Retreat within these two months of marketing. We were rocking sky
Building our confidence slowly, we kept scheduling more retreats this year, aiming for 4 retreats. Eventually, we had 9 successful retreats that year.
Two Years Later
After the first year of launching our first retreat, we felt confident enough to give up the seminar house activity and only concentrate on our own retreats, and we have created 3 main products:
- 4 Days Yoga & Wellness Retreat
- 4 Days Meditation with Yoga Retreat
- 6 Days Meditation Foundation Retreat
Each month we held two retreats for the whole year. We were ready with our yearly schedule for the next year in August, and start the marketing in November.
All our retreats were fully booked with people coming from all over Europe. Our website becomes full of great reviews and this created more flow of people coming here. We are very proud and excited of our hard work invested in our business, and especially from the result which was not obvious to us, to begin with.
What next? Building an online business along with our actual business.
Follow your dreams, as they can be achieved against all odds in the most unexpected places and ways.
If you tell us 4 years ago that we will be able to build a successful retreat house in a small unheard of village at the heart of Germany bringing people from all over Europe to participate in our retreat, we probably say you are crazy.
But deep inside us, we kept a dream and we were willing to go through any fear along the way, trusting the universe and life to guide us to the right path for us.
We understood along the way, that as much as loyal and accurate we will be with ourselves and our true will, it will magnetize to us what we truly want. It is very challenging, but worth every minute of it.
Remember to enjoy the way!!
Best of luck in your path to happiness. Never give up your dreams!!