I planned a small food blogger retreat recently, and it was quite a success. Why would you want to plan a blogger retreat? That’s a very good question. Food blog conferences are largely impersonal, and it’s hard to really get down to business and learn from each other. Small gatherings are the way to go. You learn best from just sitting down with a group of people and sharing, sharing, sharing. So here are a few tips on How to Plan a Retreat… a food blogger retreat or any business retreat, really!
Choosing a place to stay: I had planned to host my first blogger retreat in my home… then disaster struck! We had a pipe leak and soon our kitchen was practically demolished. Plan B: I called my CPA to discuss renting a house, and she assured me it would be a write-off as long as I kept a good agenda of the weekend. So that’s what I chose to do! I’d suggest three nights, so you have two, full days together. Here are a few things to think about when choosing a place for all of the bloggers to stay:
- Would you feel at ease hosting these people in your own home? Are there enough places to sleep where no one is going to feel uncomfortable? Is your family going to be present, and will that be awkward? Do you have a good kitchen for cooking together? Are there places to visit in your town that are interesting? Are there good restaurants or food-themed places to visit?
- You could always try to contact local places to get the lodging sponsored. You might consider proposing to them that you’ll be writing about their venue on your website, but you’d also need to inquire about the attendees’ interest in writing about it as well. Keep in mind that if you choose a hotel, you’ll need a good spot for gathering. Being housed separately makes it a little more difficult to get together and really bond. A large house with several bedrooms and a large, central living area (and outdoor gathering area, too!) is a nice option, if you’re able to find something like that.
- Renting a house on your own (or with a co-host) is a good option, especially if you are in need of a big write-off 🙂 I suppose you could ask each attendee to pitch in too, if that’s the route you wish to take. It is nice, however, to be able to offer the retreat to your invitees and just tell them that all they need is to cover their flight. If you’re booking slightly off-season, it will be more affordable. Check VRBO.com, AirBnB, HomeAway.com. Take a chance, email the owners to tell them what you’re doing, and they might give you somewhat of a discount (especially if they know you will feature their property or mention them on social media). I was able to get quite a good deal on a really awesome house.
- Think of the time of year and where you are hosting. Is weather going to be a problem for those flying in?
- One thing for sure: make sure there is a good WiFi connection. And hot tubs are a big, fat bonus! A venue with a well-stocked kitchen is KEY.
How to select attendees: This is a big decision. Expect the food blogging world to be envious of what you have planned and bummed that they weren’t invited. But know this… you can only invite a handful of people, and there are a lot of things that play into the decision you make about who you want to attend. For my first retreat, I invited a few people that I had known in the blogging world for a very long time (since I originally was going to host it in my own home). I knew we would have great things to share with each other and that they wouldn’t feel awkward staying in my house. For my next retreat, I’ll be using the guidelines listed below! Here are some things to think about:
- You are hosting a blogging retreat with a very small group- so you want to invite people that can learn from each other. It’s important to think about who you want to invite and what they might have to contribute to the group. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to invite all experienced bloggers. There are newer bloggers too who are very talented and have a lot to share. Those are good people to learn from too. Or perhaps you would like to invite a mix of seasoned and newer bloggers. Gather people with similar interests but varied backgrounds who can share their tips, their goals, their aspirations that may not be your own expertise, but you can learn from them. Put a lot of thought into who you are inviting.
- Something very important about the people you invite: they should be a group that is going to get along. Now… you might be saying, “Of course everyone is going to get along!” Not necessarily so. Things to think about: who is okay with sharing a bedroom with twin beds or a bunk (or even sharing a king bed), is this a wine-drinking crowd or a crowd of non-drinkers, are there dietary restrictions you need to attend to, and will a group of really young, single bloggers mixed with older bloggers who have families be a good mix?
- Is it important to invite people that you have already met in person, or are you okay with people you have only interacted with on the internet? Weigh the pro’s and con’s of both.
- Think about how big you want your group to be. At my first retreat, there were only 6 of us. That’s a great number. I’d say no more than 10, or you begin losing the intimacy of a small group gathering. Small groups really forge lasting, valuable relationships.
- Number One: You really want to create a drama-free weekend with your blogging friends. The point is definitely to learn from each other, but it’s also to bond and have fun together.
- Number Two: Invite people who want to learn from others AND are willing share everything they know.
- I’d suggest each blogger pay for their own transportation (flight) to the retreat that you are planning, but you also have to think about how you are going to transport everyone around once they arrive. Do you have a very helpful spouse or friend who will help retrieve everyone from the airport? Do you have a large SUV (or a couple of cars) available to cart everyone around, or will you need your attendees to split the cost of a rental while they’re in town?
Notes on sponsors: As I mentioned before, you can choose to try to get a place to sponsor your three-night stay. You can also reach out to brands to see if they would like to be a part of your blogging retreat weekend as a sponsor- either by donating money to assist in the costs associated with the event or by donating product for use at the event (or for welcome baskets for your attendees).
- You may choose to reach out to local companies with cool products so that you’re introducing your blogger friends who have traveled from all over the country to the local products of your region. Same goes with reaching out to nationally known products. Call or send an email introducing yourself and letting them know what you are planning. See if they’d like to contribute in some way to the event. Truth: the larger your audience, the more likely they are to help you out.
- Know that if you enter sponsors into the mix, you will have an obligation to shout-them-out on social media and on your blog too. Give each attendee a sheet listing all of the sponsors- with their websites and all of their social media links. Keep a sheet of those sponsors centrally located during your retreat so that everyone can refer to it if they would like to give a shout-out to someone.
- Something to think about: a sponsor-free weekend is a weekend to chill and focus on the business at hand: blogging.
- If you don’t have food/meals sponsored for your weekend, there are a couple options to consider. You can plan the meals yourself, shop for the ingredients, and ask everyone to split the cost. You can ask pairs of bloggers to plan meals, then shop for the food and split the cost.
- Reach out to local restaurants to see if there are couple who would like to host a group of food bloggers!
- Definitely find out if there are any allergies, food preferences or dietary restrictions.
How to decide on an agenda: Determine your goal of the retreat at the outset. Do you want to share blog business, cooking tips, photography techniques, something else?
- Since it’s a small group, I think it’s a good idea to reach out to everyone in the group and see what people are hoping to get out of it. Maybe there is a photography expert in the group, or someone who has secrets to making social media work, or another who actually understands best practices for SEO. It’s worthwhile to think about each of your attendee’s strengths, and include those as part of your agenda. Create your agenda after you have gathered this information.
- Plan to cook together, if at all possible! This is a great time for bonding and free-flowing discussion about so many things. Sometimes “life” discussions creep into your weekend together, and that’s great too. We’re all facing so many similarities in our day-to-day life on how we stay organized, achieve balance, remain attentive to family, etc. No one at home truly understands what we do, but your blogging friends do.
- Keep the agenda loose. You may wish to discuss some topics during lunch or over a glass of wine at Happy Hour.
- Plan some fun into the mix too. Is there a super-cool activity in the area where you are hosting that the group would enjoy? Is there hiking or biking? Assess interest from your attendees, and plan things based on that.
Links to a few retreats that I know have happened around the USA:
- Inspired Retreat by Oh Sweet Basil
- Better Blog Retreat by Two Peas and Their Pod and FoodieCrush
- Sizzling Summer Retreat by The Slow-Roasted Italian