Interview conducted by Chanèle McFarlane
Photography by Keidi Janz

A corporate career can serve as the perfect stepping stone to entrepreneurship. Don’t believe us? Just ask Halla Rafati.

After several years as the Director of PR and Communications of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, she eventually decided to start her own agency. Before she knew it, she had joined forces with her business partner, Catriona Smart, and was officially an entrepreneur...with her former employer as her first client!

As Co-Founder and Managing Partner of boutique PR agency, Halo PR, Halla has built a name for herself both locally and internationally (one of her first jobs was travelling throughout Europe as a regional marketing coordinator for the Jordan Tourism Board!) for her expertise in media relations, corporate communications and brand positioning. Currently, Halo PR serves several clients in the real estate development, food, beverage and travel and hospitality industries.

Now if her success as an agency owner isn’t enough - Halla is also Co-Owner of Coco & Cowe, a resource for the modern young women, and they recently unveiled their exciting new venture, CocoCon! Designed to create community, connection and conversation for a diverse group of women, CocoCon will be a full-day conference that features high-profile speakers, engaging panels and interactive breakout sessions. To kick things off, they hosted a mini CocoCon event at the end of June and we can’t wait to see what else they have up their sleeves!

With a commitment to both delivering remarkable results for her clients and paying it forward to the women in our city, we can’t help but admire Halla’s career and lucky for us, she took some time to share her story and her best advice!

Here’s Halla on bouncing back after divorce, maintaining focus while scaling your business and why staying connected to our intuition is key to success.

Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade? 

My whole life is one big lemonade stand. But if I need to call one thing out, it is, without a doubt, my first (and only…for now) marriage. After my divorce, I was broken in every way imaginable. To spite him, I stayed in the same city we were living and refused to go back to my hometown. As a result, I managed to turn the darkest moment in my life into a time of self-discovery and perseverance. I made the bestest of friends and my career took off. The anger that I initially felt after such a catastrophic divorce manifested into a need to be the best possible version of myself. The outcome is the sweetest damn lemonade I’ve ever made.

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After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?

It was clear Halo wasn’t going to be as small as initially planned. As soon as it was formed, we signed 5 clients in 3 months so we had to hire the right people to make sure we were doing great work for each account. What is easy to lose focus on is…focus. Halo started as a PR agency specialized in travel, hospitality, food, beverage and real estate development. When you have demand, it’s easy to shift that focus – whether it’s for the challenge or the money. We’ve had a client or two that we had no business signing and it showed in our relationship with them, the passion we had for the account, everything. To scale your business you need to stay true to your focus and be progressive and specialized within that realm. Put gentle pressure on that focus, and apply it ruthlessly. In other words, stick to it and don’t give up unless you have made a very conscious decision shift focus. That will scale your business in the way it’s intended.

How do you measure success in your career?

I’m a results-oriented person. I like to see the tangible and feel the intangible outcome of hard work well done. I look at the numbers, the process it took, the quantifiable results, and, most importantly, I check my gut to make sure I have a good feeling about it. If it doesn’t feel right, I go back and try another strategy. When I’m happy with the outcome, I move on to the next challenge. My team’s success and our client’s success is my overall success.

"A healthy body is a healthy mind and vice versa, and I try to care for both so I can be my best self, both for me and those around me."  

How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?

All of it. Every single ounce of success I’ve achieved came out of risk. Professionally, I prefer to live outside my comfort zone. It is exactly the opposite of how I like to live my love life.

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Was there ever a moment that you questioned your decision to become an entrepreneur? How did you overcome it?

I never questioned my decision because I know in my heart this is the path for me and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I have, however, looked back and told myself, “sh*t, I wish I knew that before we started this…”

There’s a lot no one tells you when you own your own business. Its like pregnancy – no one tells you the whole truth until you’re living in the reality of it.

What is the last investment you've made that has made your life better?

Catriona is a big self-care advocate and I didn’t fully understand what that meant until I was essentially forced to take some “me time”. The investment I’ve made in myself, for my physical and mental health has been life changing. I understand the importance of speaking to a professional, whether as a leadership coach or as a therapist. I believe in maintaining a healthy diet and clean eating. A healthy body is a healthy mind and vice versa, and I try to care for both so I can be my best self, both for me and those around me.

What is your biggest professional pet peeve?

Tardiness. Anything past 5 minutes late is unacceptable to me. Respecting other people’s time is so important. Everyone has stuff to do so don’t waste the one thing that’s the most valuable to every single one of us.

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Have you ever had anyone doubt you? What did you do about it?

I’m sure people doubt me all the time, but that’s none of my business.

What would you say is the biggest mistake you've made and how did you rectify it?

The biggest mistakes I make are the ones where I ignore my intuition. As women, we have such a precise sixth sense and its important to stay connected to that. I check my gut every time I’m about to make a big decision. It never fails me when I listen to it.


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