Let’s go behind the scenes and hear the story of creating an unconventional leadership retreat.
The Savvy Social Retreat is taking the unconference approach to help business leaders reshape their perspectives and expand their horizons while not forgetting to make time for a heavy dose of rest and relaxation–the perfect recipe for a perfect retreat.
Listen in as I unveil the surprises planned for this retreat, as well as the strategies behind marketing and selling event tickets, in case you take up the mantle and host a retreat of your own.
Discover the magic of this retreat, the incredible offerings of Niagara on the Lake, and the high-level conversations that will shape this unique event–and the future of your business!
In this episode of the podcast, I talk about:
- The origin of the retreat (back to 2017)
- My marketing strategy and what I would do differently
- Why the retreat is NOT for new biz owners
- Valuing conversation over speeches and sales pitches
- The announcement of three huge surprises
- Why the Pillar and Post was destined to be the venue
This Episode Was Made Possible By:
The Savvy Social Retreat
The Savvy Social Retreat is an intimate, all-inclusive retreat designed to provide future-focused business leaders with an escape from the hustle, the space to refocus their priorities, and a deep connection with like-minded vision-chasers.
Put a pause on listening to conference speakers deliver shallow answers and start having meaningful conversations that leave you yearning for deeper connections and a renewed commitment to your vision-shifting ideas!
- “It felt very powerful to have that space, to think, to have that space to collaborate and connect.” – Andréa Jones
- “I had such a powerful experience, especially that last year when I called my husband crying, saying, oh my gosh, this was like the best thing ever. Little did I know that was November 2019. So little did I know that would be the last event.” – Andréa Jones
- “I started thinking about the vibe, the atmosphere. How did I want to participate in this, and how do I want my team to participate in this? How do I want my clients to participate in this? How do I want people who don't even know me to participate in this? Those were the questions that I was asking myself.” – Andréa Jones
- “I knew I was gonna use the word retreat in the marketing because there's something about that word that signifies the difference. It's not a conference. And I don't wanna use the word conference at all. In fact, in our marketing, we use the word unconference.” – Andréa Jones
- “We don't have speeches, okay? We have facilitators, and that means they're directing the conversation. So while they may have themes and they may have little mini talks to kind of introduce the theme, their goal, their job is to facilitate the conversations in the room.” – Andréa Jones
- “Someone mentioned to me, they said, Hey, when I go look at the Instagram, it looks like you're not active. Remember we did that nine grid, we probably did it, I wanna say, in January or February. And she was like, this event doesn't look like it's happening still, 'cause your nine grid looks stale.” – Andréa Jones
- “I think that is so super important when it comes to running a business, especially an online business, that we have to go to events like this in order to see the other ways of thinking. And we have to intentionally put ourselves in situations where we can experience a diverse way of thinking because otherwise, we bury ourselves into our internet echo chamber.” – Andréa Jones
Watch the Episode Below:
Andréa Jones (00:00):
From Idea to Conception. Today I'm diving into all of the things I did to market and promote the Savvy Social Retreat. This episode will be a little bit different in that it's not quite focused on social media, though that is included as well. I'm excited to dive into it. Let's go.
Welcome to The Savvy Social Podcast, the show that blends stories in strategies to help businesses create engaged and profitable online communities using the unique power of social media. And now, your host, Andréa Jones.
Andréa Jones (00:47):
So let me start with the concept of the Savvy Social Retreat, which is important in how I decided to market and plan the event. Spoiler alert, I have never done an event like this before, but I had attended one. So in 2018 and 2019, I attended an event called Gather North. It had actually be 2017 as well. So 17, 18 and 19, I attended an event called Gather North, which was run by Avery Schwartz, who is the founder of Camp Tech, an amazing powerhouse person who lives in Ontario. And the reason I went to the first one was, it was at a hotel called Pillar and Post, which is about 45 minutes from me. And I went on a whim because a friend said why aren't you going to this event? It's literally in your backyard. You've gotta come <laugh>. So without even thinking about it, I bought my ticket and I went to the event.
So yeah, this had to be 2017, and it was amazing. The people in the room were totally different than the people who I regularly networked with. I was in a lot of online business spaces and these folks were in tech. But some owned businesses like my friend who invited me and Meg Case Bull, by the way, shout out <laugh>. And so that event was amazing because it felt very welcoming, even though I went to a space that I traditionally wouldn't have signed up for. And the style of event was different than what I had done in the past. While there were speakers and sessions, there was a lot of downtime. And I distinctly remember having a game night where we were sitting by the fireplace and pulled out games. One person was doing her nails. We were just talking about everything, business, tech, the future life love.
And it felt very powerful to be, to have that space, to think, to have that space to collaborate and connect. And y'all, I have never been to an event where I haven't gotten a client from it. Every single event I can trace back to a client or a student joining one of my programs and gather North was no different. I did walk away with clients from that first event. So I kept going back year over year. And I remember the last year, which was at a winery somewhere up in Northern Ontario, and I'm saying Northern Ontario, but y'all, it was just north of May. Like I live near Niagara Falls. So pretty much everything's north of me, <laugh>. And I remember driving home sobbing to my husband, and he was like, what's wrong? And I was like, nothing's wrong. I feel amazing.
And I was so sad that the event was over because I had, oh my gosh, so many amazing conversations. We went wine tasting, we went for long walks in the it was a little cold, but it was nice. Like it felt like we were in the forest. We were around the fireplace just chatting. And like, I had such a powerful experience, especially that last year when I called my husband crying, saying, oh my gosh, this was like the best thing ever. Little did I know that was November, 2019. So little did I know that would be the last event. And actually in February of 2020 Avery announced that she would not be doing Gather North anymore. And then March, 2020 happened, and then <laugh>, you know, events kind of went out the window for a while. So fast forward to August, 2022, my mom came to visit me.
She is an event planner, and I was telling her about this idea to do something similar to Gather North. I really missed it. There's not any event that I could find in Southern Ontario that was similar. They're very like either very techie or marketing focused, or they're more like business like. You're, you're a leader in a business, kind of like corporate focused. I couldn't find anything that was more retreat style, you know, more conversation focused. So I was talking to my mom and every time my mom comes visit, we basically go wine tasting, <laugh>. And so we went wine tasting and we were, we were in Niagara on the lake. I was like, oh, I would love to host another retreat here. I remember when I went to one at Pillar and Post, and we were at a different winery, but they're all kind of close together.
So she said, let's go look at Pillar and post. So we went to that hotel and restaurant and we just walked around. They have these beautiful gardens now. We walked around the inside, they have outdoor pool, indoor pool. We even like went to look at the spa. They've got a hot spring. And I kept thinking, I really wanna attend an event here again. Like, this was so amazing for me. And Pillar and Post was my very first Gather North event. And my mom said her in her, all her event planner wisdom. My mom said, you should host your own. And I completely dismissed the idea. At first. I said, there's no way I am doing this. I don't want the responsibility of doing this. It sounds like a lot of work. And I have a baby <laugh>. Like, I think Ellie was like four months old at the time.
Yeah, I was not interested <laugh>, but she planted the seed in my head. So when I got back, or when my mom went back home, I was back at my desk. I said, you know what, I'm gonna reach out to Avery and see if she has any plans of doing another Gather North. And so I got on a call with Avery. She said, no. I said, well, would you sell the idea to someone else? And she said not really. And then she also said, you should host your own event and whatever you do, I will support you. And it was in that moment that I realized, oh shoot, I think I could do this. So this was like October, 2022. I said, oh, I think I could do this <laugh>, I have the power of Avery behind me. And she pulled up her numbers and was like very transparent about how much it cost and how she sold tickets and sponsorships and all of that.
Like very generous. And Avery and I have gone on to collaborate on other projects as well. She's just like genuinely like one of the best humans in the world. But that conversation sparked me to think about the event. And Avery challenged me to think about, you know, outside of, you know, speakers and location and all of that, what is the atmosphere that you wanna have at that event? Like, what do you, what's the one thing you want people to walk away with? And I, my mind went back to that moment where I was driving home with my husband on speakerphone, sobbing in my car, saying This was amazing, but I couldn't quite put into words why. And he's not really like about this kind of thing. So he was just like, okay, hun. Like he didn't really get it. So that like, if I could bottle up that vibe, that's what I was going for.
So the planning of the event started then, and I started thinking about the vibe, the atmosphere. How did I want to participate in this and how do I want my team to participate in this? How do I want my clients to participate in this? How do I want people who don't even know me to participate in this? Those were the questions that I was asking myself. So then the planning began, and y'all, this started off as a Google document. Since my mom is an event planner, I hired her to help me. And yes, I did hire her and pay her <laugh>. Like, she's not volunteering. There's something about like paying people that really makes it official. So I hired her. She started putting together a budget and I knew I wanted it at Pillar and Post. That was where I went to the first Gather North event.
It was relatively close to me. It wouldn't be a lot of travel for me, and there's not, like I said, there's not really anything like that in this area. So I knew I wanted to do it Pillar and post in Niagara on the lake, but beyond that, I didn't know. So I started brainstorming the vibe that I want. So reading off some of the things that I originally wrote down in about, around October, 2022, cozy mastermind, no speeches in all caps, <laugh> spacious downtime, collaborative, the gold is in the conversation. Talk about the messy, the real, the intimate appealing to the heart and the brain. So that's just, I have a whole bunch of things written down here, but those are some of the words that I started with when I was planning this retreat. And I knew I was gonna use the word retreat in the marketing because there's something about that word that signifies the, the difference.
It's not a conference. And I don't wanna use the word conference at all. In fact, in our marketing, we use the word unconference. So I took those words to my team and we had about three meetings talking about just the vibe of the event. So my copywriter, graphic designer, and Diodi, my project manager slash agency manager slash operations manager, <laugh> we all sat down and we talked about, you know, how are we gonna position this? Because when we were looking at our marketing, the positioning of it was key. We didn't want people to sign up and expect, you know, talks and speakers and like motivational, like, rah rah, here's what we need to go do. 'cause That's not really what we were doing. We wanted to make sure that we got the vibe right. So the positioning was the next part of the marketing that we worked on.
And most of that came down to Terrence, my amazing copywriter, to really ask me the right questions, gather that information, and disseminate it into our website copy. So once we had that, I worked with Amanda, our graphic designer, and Mandi, our web developer, to put together the landing page for the event. Now, around this time we were going through a mini rebrand. So this landing page was actually the first part of that rebrand. And it had all of our new branding. And y'all, if you go to it right now, onlinedrea.com/retreat. It looks gorgeous. Okay. Just, we just, we crushed it. So I knew I wanted to do that. So put the website together. And then I worked with my, while the team was working on the website, I got back together with my mom, Eula, our event planner, and we worked on price.
Now this is important because this event is not for beginners, okay? So we didn't wanna price it in such a way that it would detract from experienced business owners. And the question I still keep getting is, you know, who's gonna be in the room? Who is this event for? And so we wanted to position the price to really speak to a specific kind of business owner. Okay? So a specific kind of business owner who was not new, they were experienced and they needed and craved this sort of intimate setting. Also wanted the event to feel luxurious. And so selfishly I designed it about what would make me feel luxurious, which is all meals included, the hotel, the rooms included all like events, excursions included. For me, I wanted it to feel like a all-inclusive experience. I wanted it to feel like I bought a ticket and I'm getting a lot for this ticket, especially since the event is very conversation focused.
So the pricing was key. And then the last thing was our facilitators. I didn't actually invite facilitators until I sold a few tickets. First, I wanted to make sure that people were actually interested in this idea before I started paying facilitators to come in. But I had my list and I was looking back through this. Most of my list became a facilitator. So Avery I knew had to be there. So Avery Schwartz is our MC for the event. She is going to be that running thread because she's so welcoming. She's so personable. She's gonna help everyone feel comfortable and welcomed. And so she's gonna be there and it's gonna be amazing. And so I started with Avery and then I started thinking about who else I knew specifically people who were in Southern Ontario or Canada at the very least, who would wanna come and participate in this event.
And again, I really did focus on the facilitators being Canadian because I know what it's like to have feet in both worlds. You know, we kind of get excluded a little bit from our American friends. I get to wear both hats 'cause I'm a dual citizen. I was born and spent most of my life in the US so I know how to walk the talk. And honestly, I don't bring it up unless it comes up. But if you're Canadian, sometimes you don't get as many opportunities. So I made sure that my facilitators were Canadian, a very diverse group of facilitators and I wanted to make sure that they would bring the high level of conversation that I wanted. Okay, so I talk about this before even getting to marketing and sharing the event because this whole setup was super important to marketing the event because if I had not thought through all of these things, I think the marketing actually would be a lot harder. So we're gonna take a quick break and when we come back, I'm gonna talk about what I did to actually sell these dang tickets.
[Podcast Ad break] I'm so excited to officially invite you to my very first in-person retreat happening in Niagara on the Lake Ontario, Canada, November 3rd through 5th. So this retreat was designed for established business owners who really need to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You're tired of sitting on Zoom for yet another meeting with your kid crying and hollering in the background. And you're ready to work on the big picture topics like we talk about in this podcast episode. You know, these topics are so important and sometimes we do not carve out enough space to make important decisions in our business. And if that's you, this retreat is designed to help support you. So come join me November 3rd through 5th in Niagara on the Lake Ontario, Canada. This Hallmark picturesque town is perfect for hosting this retreat. It is all inclusive. Your room is included, all your food is included. We are gonna have some amazing conversations, some facilitators, and it's just one of those places where you gotta be in the room. So check it out at savvysocialretreat.com. I'll see you there. [Podcast Ad break]
Alright, we're back. So I had my website launched, this is December, 2022. I just paid my deposit at Pillar and Post which whew, that hurt <laugh>. Especially since we're paying for all the meals and all the food. So I had my deposit at Pillar and Post, I had the website done and we had the price set. So now it was time to sell tickets. And before I shared it on social media, I actually shared it with my private network first. And I think this is a great marketing tactic. There was an exclusive invite I personally emailed to about a hundred people that I thought would be a perfect fit for this event. And I did it in December of 2022. I will say this, a lot of people were on vacation when I was sending this. So if I did it again, I would make sure not to time it over the holidays.
'cause I think I actually started sending emails around like December 16 ish and people were like already checked out. But those initial sales started coming in mostly from people in my mentorship program and in the Savvy Social School. So people who I had already been working closely with. And when those first sales came in, that's when I knew that I was onto something. Okay? Now, I already had put my deposit at, at Pillar and Post. So, hmm. I hope <laugh> that I had it. You know, I hoped that I had it all together. I had never run an event before, but those first few sales ugh, felt so good. So after that, I started reaching out to more people personally that I knew. I created a list, invitation list of people who I knew would be really excited about the retreat. People who had been to gather north that I connected with, people who I knew lived near the area, especially people in like upstate New York.
They run into the same problem that we do in Southern Ontario is that there's not a lot happening in upstate New York. Like Buffalo doesn't really host a lot of like business retreats, if you know what I mean. So yeah, I started reaching out to people I know, my online friends and by may I had half sold the event. So we are, our goal is 50, 50 people in the room. That's our big hairy, scary goal. My minimum goal was 30. So by May we had 25. And so I was really pleased with the progress with 25 people. I knew I would at least come close to breaking even 30 was my break even point. At 50, we would have some profit left over. And that's honestly, you know, my goal was actually profit, right? Like as a business owner, I wanna have some profits so that I can reinvest and like do this event again and have that cash flow.
So, oh, I felt so good by that point. The attendee list was it looked so amazing. People were so excited I started announcing our facilitators because remember, we don't have, we don't have speeches, okay? We have facilitators and that means they're directing the conversation. So while they may have themes and they may have little mini talks to kind of introduce the theme, their goal, their, their, their job is to facilitate the conversations in the room. So that started happening. And around the same time we also decided to create an Instagram account. So this is where social media comes in. And y'all know if you've been listening to the show, I'm not a huge fan of creating more social media accounts because it always means more work, okay? So especially those of you who run small sized businesses, you know, less than 10 employees or team members.
Or maybe it's just you and you're doing the marketing, you are the marketing department. Whenever you add another platform, it's like adding more work to your plate. So what we ended up doing was we did Instagram nine grid and we did just nine posts all around the event, just like a static landing page style approach to Instagram. And we just chose Instagram because majority of my audience is active on Instagram. And that worked well for a while. But fast forward, so that was May, we did not sell any tickets from May until July. Or actually till August. So between May, 2023 and August, 2023, we didn't sell any tickets. And honestly that's because I wasn't promoting it. We did this giant move, y'all know, from teachable to circle. Plus it was the summer, then it was the Instagram bootcamp. So we had a lot happening.
And during that time I was still talking about it to my personal network, but I wasn't really marketing it. And then someone mentioned to me, they said, Hey, when I go look at the Instagram, it looks like you're not active. 'cause Remember we did that nine grid, we probably did it I wanna say in like January or February. And she was like, this event doesn't look like it's happening still. 'cause Your nine grid looks stale. So at first I was upset because I was like, I like this nine grid strategy. I've had it that way for the podcast for years. And people don't question that. But I think this is different because it's a live event. And because between December when we first planned it and August so much had changed about the event and changed in a good way and we weren't talking about it.
So a few things happened. We had our facilitators, so we didn't announce them on the new Instagram account. We announced 'em on mine, but not theirs. We were posting on mine, but not that other account. We also added in so many other things that just kind of add flavor to the event. Like there's a theme to the event, which is the future is, and that came after curating our facilitators. The facilitator topics are being added right now as well. Even though we had these planned months ago the event schedule was now up there. We answered more questions on the page about, you know, how are people gonna travel here, what are the travel options? When should they get here? All of those details. We also added in a private podcast for our attendees. So once you sign up, you'll be able to listen to the private podcast and hear from the other attendees and the facilitators about, you know, why they chose this event and what they're looking to get from it.
So you can start connecting a little bit earlier. And I chose a private podcast because I don't want another Zoom call <laugh>, like I'm zoomed out right now. And I personally with, you know, now I've got a 15 month old, I'm talking behind me. She is beautiful and I find that if I have a few moments to do something, I'm not gonna sit on my computer and watch a Zoom. I'm gonna listen on two x speed on a podcast. So <laugh>, that's my personal again, coming through. But our attendees have loved the private podcast, so we haven't been talking about that on social. So there were so many things that we hadn't been talking about on social that we wanted to start emphasizing again. So we revitalized the retreat page, we started sharing about Niagara on the Lake and the vibe of the event and who was coming to the event and the facilitators.
And we have sold two more tickets now since then. So if you're counting like 30, I think we're at 31 sales. So in between there we sold a few more. We do have a few comps in there too, like our facilitators, that's part of their compensation package. And then some of my team members, okay, so right now we've got about 31 people in the room, which is amazing. Remember my goal was 30. So we are sitting there, but here's what we're going to do going forward. So we have about, at the time of this podcast episode coming out, we have about five weeks until we have to close down sales because at the beginning of October, I have to submit my final room list with all of the details over to Pillar and Post. So about a month before the event, I have got to send that over.
So we have five weeks to sell, what, 10 more tickets. That'd be great, right? It would be great if we could do our max, which is 50. So 19 more tickets if I can count <laugh>. Yeah, so, you know, I I we'll probably sell between five to 10 more tickets. That would be a beautiful, beautiful thing. So here's what we're doing in those five weeks to sell those tickets. One this podcast episode, y'all are part of the marketing now <laugh>, if you're listening to this and you like the sound of this event, November 3rd through fifth in Niagara on the lake at the amazing Pillar and Post you gotta be there. Second, we added in some bonuses. So these are bonuses that have already been planned, however, we haven't marketed them. So it was in our budget already. You know, remember my mom, event planner, she put together the budget.
It was already a line item, but my plan, silly me, was to surprise people with it when they got there. And in talking to my team, they were like, but why? And they kept asking me why. And I couldn't put my finger on. I was like, it'll just be nice, like surprise. And they were like, but we could get more people to come if they knew that this was happening. So I was like, oh yeah, you're right. So the first surprise, we're having an offsite dinner and wine tasting at the amazing Château des Charmes in Niagara on the lake. It's about a 20 minute ride from Pillar and Post through Niagara's wine country, which y'all, 80% of the world's ice wine is produced here. And I'm on a personal mission to try all of the wineries <laugh>. So we're gonna do that as part of the retreat.
So they'll get to experience another location. We're in this like cathedral dome style room. We're gonna have a plated dinner serve to us with wine pairings and they're gonna give us a tour of Château des Charmes, which is just such a gorgeous venue. Fun fact, Amazing Race Canada just filmed there. So it's gonna be awesome. So that's first surprise. Okay, surprise number one, surprise number two is on the ride there we rented a vintage trolley that looks so cute and so Instagramable. And so not only are we going to we're not gonna just go there in like a bus. We are going to have this experience. And then I believe the trolley conductor is gonna give us a, a little bit of a tour of the area that we're going through. So like on your left, this is the, you know, vineyard that, I don't know, whatever, whatever the tour is, <laugh>.
So I'm so excited about this. It looks so cute and I think it's gonna be so memorable. So Château des Charmes with wine tasting, the vintage trolley ride. And then the third surprise, which I think is the biggest surprise, is what we decided to do in lieu of gift bags. So we're going paperless for this event. We won't have like, you know, handouts or things like that trying to, you know, save the environment and all that. Plus no one wants these. Like no one wants more stuff. And this is the part where I actually waffled a little bit because my swag bag from Gather North, I still have like that blanket and the beanie and I like, I fondly remember it. And also I know for a fact that over half of my attendees are coming in from the US and I don't wanna send them back with more stuff to like lug back to their place.
Whereas Gather North was definitely more local. But my audience tends to be US-based. So because of that, so instead of gift bags, we are gonna do headshots. So photography sessions, mini sessions for every single attendee. What <laugh>? Yes. So mini like photography content sessions for every single attendee. We're like setting up this I'm calling it a selfie station, but it's not really like you can take a photo there yourself, obviously, but the photographers will, will be able to sell you there or anywhere in Pillar and Post, and it's gonna be amazing bonus for our attendees, which I'm like so excited about it. And again, this comes from me thinking about, you know, what do I want out of an event? And I don't necessarily need more stuff. I kind of want an experience. And total side note, I think everyone's gonna think of me when they see these photos for the rest of time.
So a little bonus to myself. So over the next five weeks, we are working on wrapping up the marketing for the retreat and selling it out and really loving on our attendees and doing all dotting all the i's crossing all the T's so that it is an amazing experience. And so my goal from this is just like my sobbing moment in the car on the speakerphone with my husband from Gather North, is that my goal is that the attendees who come to our retreat don't walk away with, you know, pages and pages of notes. They don't walk away like feeling good after a session, but not having anything actionable. I want them to walk away with strategies, different way of thinking and talking points that they can actually implement in their business. So I'll leave you with this kind of idea. One of our facilitators, Crystal D'Cunha, did a diversity equity and inclusion certification for my entire team.
So this was last year. And this is why I wanted her at this event because the way that she facilitates conversation is an art. And it's not just about saying, here's how you, here's how you, you know, create equitable experiences in your business. It, that's not what it's about. It's about here's a situation. How does this change your thinking? Here's a situation. What's your experience in this? Let's ask that person their experience. You see how your experiences are different. It's illuminating different ways of thinking in ways that actually help you change and shift the way that you look at the world around you. And I think that is so super important when it comes to running a business, especially an online business, is that we have to go to events like this in order to see the other ways of thinking. And we have to intentionally put ourselves in situations where we can experience a diverse way of thinking because otherwise we bury ourselves into our internet echo chamber.
We watch the same people, we listen to the same podcasts, we scroll through the same customize Instagram feed experience, and we're not thinking outside of the box. And so that is my ultimate goal for those of you who are attending the retreat, is to help you build those connections and have conversations that you wouldn't normally have.
I hope to see you at the retreat and if you have any questions at all, my dms are open, my team's running the Savvy Social Retreat account, our DMs are open. Feel free to send a message on Instagram or an email. We'd be happy to answer it and have you there. But that's all for today. Bye for now.