Business planning isn’t always the only means to an end. Sometimes sh*t just happens. You need to roll with it. Go with your gut.

I’ve learned a lot from said gut. Even though sometimes it’s left me in a fetal position, immobilized by the pain. But without pain, there is no reward. This I’ve always heard. But only recently have I really known.

In November of 2011 I got inspired to run the race; trusted my instinct; and systemically suffered. It’s the kind of suffering that comes following a trainer-sanctioned work-out. The day following you know you’ll get past the discomfort – though at the time it really sucks – and ultimately it will only make you stronger.

Back then all was well in my world. I had a thriving home-based consultancy and believed I was enjoying it. That is, not having to really get dressed in the morning; taking my dog for long walks at lunch; able to provide paper goods and time for elementary school events; accountable only to my clients … not even entirely to myself. Complacency is contagious. Comfort, comforting.

Then, one day, I heard of an opportunity that wasn’t really available to me. That in of itself was interesting! A former colleague-turned-CMO was looking for an agency. In a field in which I had extensive experience, I questioned why I hadn’t been invited to pitch. I was told they were looking for a “real” agency. After some begging, my friend-in-pity extended the offer to showcase my capabilities. I know she saw the hour of wasted time a favor, but I saw it as an opportunity. I cobbled together my best A-game freelance team and we were off with the finest ideas the industry had to offer.

That team and those ideas were good. So good we won the business. With one contingency: we had to become a “real” agency.

Within two weeks’ time I’d rented an office (Scituate Harbor); put the dog in doggie daycare (Nana); pillaged my closet for my best business attire (no more yoga pants); and hired my first employee (Kim, who took a chance too, leaving EMC to join start-up HPR where she still inspires me today).

The next few years saw many wins and losses. And, thankfully, only one “we need to fix this or we’re f’d” moment.

Fast forward four years and six months later … last week, we made the Boston Business Journal’s list of the fastest growing 50 privately held companies in Massachusetts (formerly known as the Pace Setters). Whoa. Didn’t see that coming? Me either.

In an industry where deliberate planning is at the crux of communication strategy, it’s almost embarrassing to admit that by “winging it” we landed on the map. Yet, we’re here. It gives me pause to wonder … are we often overthinking it all? Should we trust our intuition over our business plan? If I’ve learned nothing else, I believe success requires a balance of the two.

Today, I lead a team of the most exceptionally talented PR practitioners around. They didn’t all come with the PR pedigree that some agencies require. They landed at HPR because my gut told me they were up to the task. It’s what I was missing in all those years of consulting. Being part of something bigger than me, with people that cared about the business and with whom I, in turn, cared about.

As we approach our fifth year in business, I find myself asking the questions “what’s next” and “how do I plan for the future?” Simultaneously, I ponder “should I just let my sixth sense take me there?” Either way, here’s to hoping we make next year’s Fast 50 list. If intuition and hard work play a part, my gut tells me there’s a good chance we will.

Darlene Hollywood

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