doing good business

It’s sort of funny to think of aging hippies as business people, but we can be. As “radically left,” and dedicated to the common good as I strive to be; as off-beat and casual (aka quirky, wacky) as I hear I am, I’m figuring out I’m a business person, an entrepreneur — by choice, by avocation. (There’s nothing that says you can’t be both. Both Main and Wall Streets might work better if there were more alternative businesses around, but I digress…) I realize now that I thrive on making concepts come alive, and I love connecting people. I’m starting to recognize that that’s what business, at its best, may mean — at least for me. Of course, with the finca, being my favorite lil’ business around, I’m all the more excited about new business we are drumming up; the growing number, and kinds, of group stays we’ve been hosting. It’s good — in all sorts of ways — business.

Yoga by the pool: tamar melen photography

Yoga by the pool by tamar melen photography

A few blogs back I asked folks if they might be interested in leading a group workshop or retreat at the finca. Too vague. I got a handful of noncommittal responses in return. So I decided to go a bit deeper. I started reaching out online to people who lead groups, in anything I could think of — yoga, writing, watercolor & sketching, bird watching, paddle boarding, or drumming (etc etc etc) and introduced them to the finca, as a place they might want to check out for the future. That worked out great. The leaders are delighted of course, because the participants have a great time, and because they were able to either make a little money, or pay their travel, food and lodging for a week at the finca, and usually all of the above.

As I saw how relatively easy it was to organize and pull off these successful group retreats and workshops, I started seeing opportunities for friends, colleagues, and neighbors, who could, and dare I say, should, be leading their own. I decided to keep going, and go deeper. And that has been really fun.

First was Elizabeth, a writer/professor at SUNY. Elizabeth was editing my book when we started talking about the benefits of writing retreats. From years of teaching, she has scores of online and classroom students. She mentioned she’d love to do a memoir writing retreat week with them sometime. So what now? It was an on-going dream she’d had for years, without any idea, when, or how…it would ever happen. So voila! Why not now? I helped her with some basics on structuring it, (ironically this was just as she was helping me structure my book) a few marketing ideas to get the word out to her students, and some travel logistics. The next thing you know, she’s filling Casa Grande, and hosting her first writing workshop. That was last year. This June, Elizabeth will host her second retreat; with more students than last year’s, and some repeat participants who didn’t want to miss out. That says a lot, but it’s not uncommon.

Then I started thinking about Vicky, our Spanish teacher, at our local community college — up in Port Townsend, Washington. Vicky has taken a couple of her students with her to Spain. I’ve told her about a Spanish language week we’d enjoyed so much in the Pyrenees last year. Bingo. It dawned on both of us, that together we could pull off a great immersion-like language “camp” for intermediate Spanish students, centered on Vieques — and its natural and cultural history. We worked together to plan the week’s activities, organize the food service and what all else. Vicky held her first week this last winter and has just released the dates for next year’s. Think she’s pretty well booked (some of her students called last year’s “The best vacation ever,” so word has gotten out) but if you’re interested, check out SpanishLanguageCampVieques

bird watching at the beach

Our first Spanish language camp

After years of watching groups from the sideline, whether they’re writers, yogis, divers, or marine biology graduate research students, I’ve learned about what it takes to make workshops really work — easily, wonderfully for all concerned. I judge our success rate by the numbers that sign up for another the next year. Sometimes it’s the same participants who want to return for more. The group often expands over the years with more and more folks signing up.

It’s fun to watch their “business” grow, as well as our own. And in addition to the array of interesting group leaders, the finca, itself, is part of the success. I like to think it works it’s magic on folks. There’s something about group stays at the finca; I’m intrigued how the place seems to make people just feel at home. Is it just the impact of the buildings? – its funky worn lumber? Or the sounds of these palm fronds in the breezes, on the roof? Something here helps folks connect with themselves, and with others. It really does become the group’s own tropical summer camp.

Last week I was explaining all this to my Goddaughter; how much I love this win/win/win thing we have going, and helping folks realize a dream, sharpen their professional leadership, or just make some money. They win by learning they can do something they didn’t know they could. I feel empowered by empowering them. The finca wins, and the guest, the participant, who has just spent a great long weekend or week in the sun, learning and playing, wins. She immediately thought of her friend Chelsea, who founded Wildcraft Studio School in the Columbia Gorge. She’d been looking for winter ideas for her peeps; her every expanding list of Wildcraft participants. As soon as Chelsea and I connected in email, we both got excited about the possibilities. She’s off now, conjuring up some great Wildcraft week at the finca. Stay tuned…

By now I have distilled the secret sauce formula for what it takes to make a winning retreat or workshop, down to three things: — a fun, knowledgeable leader/content provider — an easily transportable subject matter or activity (i.e. sketching vs. steel sculpture, yoga vs. weightlifting) — access to a database list of your own/potential participants large enough to get you a minimum of seven, maximum of 25 participants. If there’s anything else, it’s a sense of adventure, a bit of trust, and sense of humor.

La Casa Montessori School has been coming to the Finca for 17 years!

La Casa Montessori School has been coming to the Finca for 17 years!

The leaders who are both “go with the flow” and pretty darn organized do the best. Or maybe just have the most fun. In all the amazing folks who have wandered through our doors, there has got to be at the very least a few more adventurers who are not only capable of the stretch of “hosting your own” group week with us, but who might benefit from it…financially, personally, professionally. Heck it’s a free, paid week at the Finca.

Like I said, I love having the chance to connect with people. It’s why I love being an innkeeper. If I can help you connect with other great folks, all the better. We’re building a network of friends; folks who like learning and doing in a beautiful natural place. Whatever this finca magic is, utilizing and sharing it just seems like good business.

Making work play,