As many entrepreneurs know, making it to year two of your venture is an accomplishment in itself. But doubling your attendance rate? That’s a feat most businesses can’t boast—unless you’re the Nantucket Yoga Festival. So how did Joann Burnham, the festival founder and owner of Dharma Yoga Nantucket, grow the event by 100 percent from year 1 to year 2? Here’s her story in our Business of Wellness series.
The Tent That Started It All
“All really successful ideas start with a seed of inspiration,” says Joann. “I was driving to work at Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm and I saw a huge tent [on the island]. Space is hard to come by here, and I was so surprised that it was empty. I thought, ‘There’s got to be something in that tent in that beautiful location!'”
That tent was Joann’s seed. At home, she told her husband she knew what they were going to put in that tent: a yoga festival. “It was a moment of divine knowledge from above,” she says. “When you’re clear, and your mind can’t talk you out of it, we all have the ability to connect with our intuition and be receptive to ideas and light bulbs.”
Her seed of inspiration was the easy part, she says. “Any great idea takes heart,” says Joann, “but then there’s a lot of work to do.” In the first year, Joann says she started with a big wishlist, and pared back from there. “Year 1 didn’t look anything like my fantasy. We made no money, but we got 100 attendees and it was in THAT tent.”
That revered tent was divided with cable and wire into four classrooms and a vendor area, and hosted the first annual Nantucket Yoga Festival in summer 2011. “It was a lot to take on,” Joann says. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears, very little delegating and a lot of me wearing all the hats. But I didn’t mind it because I was learning so much.”
How to Get Anyone to Care
With a background in sales for wineries in a previous life, Joann came to the table with a plethora of experience in building relationships and securing support. “I had no problem cold-calling people,” she says. “I’m half Sicilian—we don’t give up.” And she didn’t: She says she would call five, six, seven or eight times until she got a response. “It’s not personal; it’s business.”
What Joann was really doing was making a connection with people and brands she wanted to be involved in the Nantucket Yoga Festival. “It’s a lost art form,” she says, “calling people. Now, we’re more likely to send an email and sound impersonal. But when you actually speak with someone, you can convey how much your heart is in your business. It comes through—they can hear it in your voice.”
Even when she succeeded at reaching people, Joann ran into hurdles because her festival was brand new. In fact, many potential sponsors told her to call back after she’d been doing it for three years. She didn’t count those conversations as a loss, though; they ended up being the foundation for relationships she has with sponsors now because she wanted them to be a partner from the beginning. “It was sheer tenacity, I think, that made some of these things happen,” she says.
How to Get People to the Table
The fact that Joann and her husband already owned a yoga studio on the island placed them in an ideal position to bring attendees to the festival for year 1. Because of the increase in vacationers during the summer, Joann says that their yoga studio classes double or triple during warmer months. They were able to promote the festival to their regular attendees and invite them to bring friends.
Joann also acknowledges that she owes a lot to the location. “There may be other festivals, but there’s only one Nantucket,” she says. “You can absolutely feel a different vibration here. It’s an exceptional place to practice in a group. And it’s a really transformative experience.”
Festival attendees clearly agree, as they keep coming back. “We have people now, in year 6, who’ve been attending since year 1,” says Joann. “And that’s the goal, to become an automatic event on someone’s annual calendar and have them bring their friends.”
Such word of mouth helped the festival grow by 100 percent from year 1 to year 2. From there, “everything has grown at the same pace in a manageable way, ” says Joann. “Attendees, sponsors, space. We needed that initial growth, financially, to be sustainable, but now it’s steadily growing.”
That growth is giving Joann freedom to figure out how to bring in the “yoga curious,” as well as engage the Nantucket community. “We just want people to come and sit at the table, and decide if they like the main course or not.”
Joann has tried to do this by offering a free community event every year. Usually it’s a yoga class, but this year the festival is hosting a community concert. “Everyone is interested in music,” she says. “We hope we can get a bigger group of the community there with the concert.”
Offering a diversity of teachers and classes is another way Joann is trying to expand the attendee list. “We’re able to do that now because teachers have heard of us. At first, it was just our friends and teachers we knew. Now, we can offer a broader range of classes with more teachers who bring in their own audiences.”
“I’ve literally seen people’s changed in deeply profound ways by the festival,” Joann says. “I’ve seen them develop happier, healthier lives. It’s such a great gift to me, and why wouldn’t we want to share that with everyone?”
Advice for Starting Your Business
With year 6 of the festival just around the corner (July 7-9, 2017), Joann now feels like the event supports and supplements everything she does financially. “The revenue has grown exponentially,” she says, “and our studio and the festival serve each other well.”
But that wasn’t the case in year 1. So what advice does Joann have for new wellness entrepreneurs?
- You can’t make a big decision because of money. “If your intention is to make money, don’t do it. It’s not that you won’t make money, but you won’t be fulfilled doing it.”
- Be SO clear about what you’re presenting. “When you’re creating something, start with ‘What do I want to offer?’ not ‘What can I get?’ And have a deep love for what you’re pursuing.”
- You don’t have to start big. “If I had it to do over, I think year 1 would have just been one day. Then we would have expanded to the Friday night celebration, Saturday and Sunday workshops.”
- Surround yourself with people who support you. “Not blindly support—people who will tell you when it’s not great, who will be honest in a loving way. Everyone else is irrelevant; they’re not your people. Your committee and crew is made of the people who truly want you to succeed.”
This year’s festival is posed to be the best yet, with expanded classes, special guests and new partnerships. “We’re SO excited about partnering with like-minded businesses to bring fresh ideas and voices to the festival,” says Joann. “I’ve created long-term bonds with other business owners that are pouring into the festival.”
One of those is a partnership with The W.E.L.L. Summit for a Saturday-night event: A VIP session with Dr. Drew Ramsey at the Nantucket Culinary Center. “I saw him speak because of The W.E.L.L. Summit and creating that kind of new partnership is exactly how we want to grow,” says Joann.
“We want to be a tradition,” she continues, “part of people’s year, every year.”
Learn more about The Nantucket Yoga Festival, taking place July 7-9, 2017, by visiting their site.