From EA to business owner – Lily North

Lily North “I believe being an EA is a traineeship to directorship. I wouldn’t have made the jump to owning my own business without being an EA”

Editor Claire Muir talks to Lily North, EA at Halikos Group (and an Executive PA Media Awards finalist) and director of Belong Group and Belong Events in Darwin

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Since I was very little, I always knew I wanted to own a business. I remember my year three teacher asking me, and I said straight away: “A business owner”. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted this business to do but knew I wanted to be the person running it.

What happened after you left school?

I secured a job in retail and worked my way up to management. I then moved to Darwin at 19 and landed a job in admin at The Law Society – the regulatory body for legal practitioners. I was young, hungry and ready to put the hard yards in. I quickly became PA to the CEO, then an EA. I have always been a very organised person and I thrive on making processes quicker and easier, so being an EA suited my demeanour.

How did you develop personally and professionally at this time?

I didn’t attend university straight out of school – it took me a few years to realise that I was, in fact, capable enough to undertake a degree. While working full-time I began a degree in management and marketing – and took on the role of President of the Australian Institute of Office Professionals. This is where my passion for events and bringing people together really started. Each year we would host a large breakfast to recognise the efforts of office professionals, including EAs and PAs.

What came next career-wise?

After four years at The Law Society, I was ready for a new challenge and the position of EA to the managing director of a large multi-faceted development, construction and hospitality company in Darwin came up. Three years into the role, I progressed to the role of executive services manager. The jump from assistant to manager combined with the support of my boss was just the push I needed to start my side business, Belong Events. My boss has been an incredible business mentor and really helped gain the confidence to become an entrepreneur. In December 2020, I launched Belong Group which provides a wholistic media and presenter service to businesses in Darwin. I still work as an EA and manage my businesses at the same time.

Juggling the three roles, how do you find the work/life balance?

One thing I thought I would be better at is delegation. Running two businesses while working full-time was beginning to take a serious tole on my health and in 2020 and I became very unwell. As an EA you are conditioned to take on everything for others. You need to think of things before they happen and be ready for when they do. But what happens when you become your own boss? That mentality can’t continue. That was the biggest learning curve for me and earlier this year I hired my first assistant who is incredible. Rebecca has provided me with support I didn’t know I needed and I now have a work/life balance again.

To what extent has your EA role influenced how you run your company?

I believe being an EA is a traineeship to directorship. I wouldn’t have made the jump to owning my own business without being an EA. An EA is one of the few positions in a company that gets a bird’s eye view of running a business. In addition, you’re privy to the confidential pieces of information that even senior management don’t get a look in to. Throughout the years I’ve seen many EAs doubt their abilities particularly when trying to make a move to management.

Heading: What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

Being able to choose the direction I take my business in.

What’s next for Belong?

Belong has always run its own events but now I’m being asked to start running others. There is a need for good event managers in Darwin so next year we will be starting to take on event management as a part of our offerings. Eventually I hope to expand Belong interstate, particularly with some of our key events like the Belong Ball and Belong in Business Conference.

What advice would you have for other EAs with an entrepreneurial flair?

One thing that really helped me gain the confidence to start my own business was creating a brand and solid foundation of contacts for myself in Darwin. Be known for you – not as someone’s EA. Start going to those networking events. Start making connections with people. Take people for coffee or lunch and see how you can help them either in your role as an EA or if you’re starting out a business. You’ll be surprised at how many people will be there to support you when you finally do make the leap.