FROM time immemorial people have gathered around a campfire to share stories; the fascination of the flickering flames amid the enveloping darkness and the whiff of wood smoke may have been critical factors in the evolution of human creativity.

Now York businesswoman Melissa Talago, who runs the aptly named Campfire Communications, has hit on the concept of taking a group of small business owners and ‘solopreneurs’ into the open air so they can bounce ideas around with like-minded people and focus on what they want their venture to be - and share stories around the fire.

She ran her first ‘retreat’ earlier this month at a venue close to Leeds Bradford Airport, with people travelling from Portsmouth, Essex, London, Hertfordshire and Yorkshire to take part in a weekend of activities including workshops, networking, outdoor yoga and ‘campfire confessions’.

Issues covered included how to turn your business into a brand, finding the compelling stories about your venture to support your brand, and using PR and the different kinds of media in your marketing.

The bucolic experience was by no means ‘roughing it’ - the outdoor sessions were actually in the grounds of an hotel where participants stayed and could use the facilities. But just a few minutes’ walk away was a rustic setting complete with a tent and a campfire.

An experienced PR and communications professional, Mrs Talago said she was inspired to start the retreats because she loved the outdoors - including the distinctive smell of wood smoke - and was a firm believer in the importance of small ventures and micro-businesses. “The people who were on this retreat and who it is aimed at do work on their own or with a very small team.

“They don’t have people to bounce ideas off. It starts to limit your thinking because you are not exposed to other people’s ideas. Getting together, brainstorming and asking questions - that’s part of it.

“I love the idea of sitting around a campfire; it’s where you share stories. When you get outdoors you are freed up, you feel very relaxed and more creative. You step outside the normal constraints you have with work and everything is possible.”

She said the people who came on her first retreat opened up from the start. “They all shared their stories very openly and honestly, there was no holding back.”It was more challenging to get people to talk about what they did well rather than obstacles they faced.

One of the participants had written to her: “The campfire retreat was exactly what my business and I needed. Sometimes being so busy and involved with the day-to-day running of my business prevents me from seeing the bigger picture and this retreat gave me the time and space to really assess and plan for the future and the direction I want to take it in.

“From the incredible surroundings, the workshops, the people and Melissa herself, it was an incredible weekend of getting back to nature, brainstorming, business planning, and connecting with incredible entrepreneurs.” The next retreat is set to take place at the same venue from May 19 to 21, 2017. Mrs Talago said it was likely to cost about £500 per person. Go to