When she’s not being mum to her son Eustie or wife to her husband Henry, Lillie Holcombe is owning and operating one of Goondiwindi’s most beloved homewares stores, Harry and Kit. We spoke to Lillie about what it takes to run a business during a drought, her tips for juggling motherhood and business ownership and her secrets to success.
What was your inspiration to start your own business?
After getting married in 2018 we moved from Brisbane to Goondiwindi full time to our property. We had been living in a small unit in Brisbane and our farm cottage was a bigger space so I got the exciting job of looking to furnish our new home. Living rurally, it is difficult to find what you are looking for within your region. In Goondiwindi we are spoilt with the shops we do have available but of course you can’t always get everything you are after. Shipping costs of furniture pieces also tend to be on the expensive side. Experiencing these challenges got me dreaming of the possibility of opening up a furniture and homewares store that would house beautiful unique furniture that was different from what you usually find in regional Australia.
When did you know the timing was ‘right’?
I think most people would say my time was very, very wrong! I started setting up my business when I was four months pregnant and during the worst drought our area has ever seen. We are still in that same drought to date. And I opened the doors to Harry and Kit eight weeks after giving birth to my son, Eustie.
How did you make your big break?
I fell pregnant (haha) but seriously, I fell pregnant and thought ‘I’m out of time! It’s now or never’. I was finishing up my job in the city and moving to the country full time, without past employment history in the town I was moving to and knowing I wouldn’t want to work for someone else after I have my baby. I thought (wrongly) I would have so much spare time being at home once the baby arrived so I should start up an online business that I could work on in the downtime, what downtime?! But so far, I am so glad I did make the plunge, with full support from my husband of course. Things are going well.
What was your training prior to starting your own business?
My background is in marketing. I had six years’ experience in marketing for very different businesses including hotels and resorts to excavators and tractors. I had helped build numerous websites and ran all the marketing for my past employers. Working for such different industries, it makes your skills very adaptable I guess, and challenging as well. Having faced those challenges and had success in my roles it gave me confidence (probably a false sense of confidence) that I could now focus my efforts on an industry that I personally love.
What are the biggest challenges of being a parent and a business owner?
Work-life balance. It seems to be everyone’s, doesn’t it! I am a doer and knew I would struggle being a mum full-time. I needed a project and one that would hopefully help contribute to providing for our family. It is a hard thing to get your head around when you are looking down the barrel of unpaid maternity leave. For my whole working life I have paid my own bills and contributed to mine and my relationships needs and wants, but then you go on maternity leave and you can’t necessarily pay for your needs and definitely not all of your wants.
I try to work on the business each day but sometimes feel I don’t give enough to our young son, Eustie. I’m slowly working towards ensuring both my business and my family get the attention they both need.
What is your top tip for maintaining a work/life balance?
Write a to do list for each day, week, month and don’t overextend yourself in the work arena. Understand what is achievable in a certain timeframe and work to fulfil your to do list, which should include play/quality time with your family and friends.
What is your biggest learning since starting your own business? Is there anything you’d do differently?
Ask for help when help is needed! I had so much support around me when I started my business. My husband, Henry, is such a hands-on father and both my parents, Henry’s parents and my sister helped but I never asked for help in the business so things took a lot longer to do than they should have at the beginning. I have now learnt I can’t do everything myself and when help is needed, there is always someone there willing to lend a hand.
What do you do in your spare time to keep yourself sane?
I have just started to paint which is definitely bringing some sanity back into my life, and giving a friend a call. I rarely get to see my city friends so it is so nice to get on the phone and hear what they have been up to and vice versa.
What’s one thing other people should do who are looking to start their own business?
Learn from others who have made the plunge. I listen to a lot of podcasts about the history of businesses and how their business came to be. It is so interesting to hear about the wins and losses they have all faced. And there is a lot to take from that. It’s amazing how much you can learn from hearing the real-life stories of everyday people and building their businesses.
Finish this sentence: I can’t get through a work day without… a morning coffee from my local in Goondiwindi – Larder Café, a social media stalk of all my fav homewares inspo Instagram accounts and a cuddle from my little boy (I need more in a day than he is willing to give).