Each week we ask small businesses about key issues. Here we speak to Neil McLeod, managing director of the Banff-based services firm Property Partners
How and why did you start in business?
I’ve always been fascinated by property and liked the freedom to make improvements to the way I do things whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Starting my own business was inevitable, although it probably took me a while to realise this.
How did you get where you are today?
I left Banff Academy at 15, studied construction at Fraserburgh College and architectural technology at Robert Gordon University (RGU), and went into my first trainee post at 18.
From there I went into civil engineering which took me to Inverness, where I bought my first property in 2007.
When I returned to work in the north-east I rented out my Inverness flat that I still own today, and began helping family and friends with their rental properties.
In 2010 I decided to obtain a letting qualification, back in the days when it was only a voluntary requirement, and made it into a business.
I added architecture and construction management knowledge, and obtained further qualifications to undertake energy assessments of existing and new-build properties. These are often required to meet various regulation requirements.
In July 2017, after successfully completing a large new-build commercial project for my then employer, I took the decision to make Property Partners my full-time occupation.
Who helped you?
Family, friends and my partner Moira have all been a massive help, from providing financial support and a space for my first office to cleaning the current premises and also the many projects I rope my dad into.
I’ve been very fortunate to have two advisers from Business Gateway, while the depth of knowledge and information via the Federation of Small Businesses and its legal hub are superb.
The one area that’s been a massive help that I was oblivious to when I started out has been networking. So much so that last year I got involved in establishing a local networking group with like-minded business owners.
What has been your biggest mistake?
Any time I’ve allowed myself to limit my ideas.
As the company grew, I realised we required more space but only considered renting. After a discussion with my business coach, it was agreed I’d find the ideal premises and we’d sort out the funds later. Fast forward to December 2019 and we bought our own town centre premises in Banff.
What is your greatest achievement?
Establishing a company that provides employment opportunities, and our ongoing long-term focus on developing the next generation.
So far, we’ve had an architectural technology placement student from RGU and a foundation apprentice from Turriff Academy who have certainly helped the company develop.
Helping them progress is really rewarding.
If you were in power in government, what would you change?
The property industry can be heavily regulated, which I’m more than happy to comply with.
However, the lack of enforcement measures can be frustrating when others clearly pay no regard to the regulations.
What do you still hope to achieve?
My ultimate goal is simple – to build a company that can operate without me.
Shorter-term, I’m focused on establishing ourselves in Banff, and getting our new premises fully up and running as a local business hub which other local companies or freelancers can use, too.
What do you do to relax?
Leaving my phone at home and going for a run, especially if it’s with the guys at Deveron Harriers. I find it helps bring clarity and focus to my thoughts.
Ideally, I’d have a property renovation project or two on the go as well – our new premises and my parents’ house being the two current projects.
What are you reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?
I’m reading The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, and if I’m out for a walk I tend to listen to property podcasts.
With the lack of sport currently, I’m not too fussed about TV. But you can’t go wrong with a bit of Grand Designs, and the new series of Friday Night Dinner on Channel 4 appeals to my sense of humour.
What do you waste your money on?
Moira would say craft beer, watching Aberdeen FC and my Turriff Golf Club membership, but not enough on clothes. I’m not so sure I’d agree.
How would your friends describe you?
Unless it involved a barrage of good-natured insults and abuse, I’d have to question whether they were really my friends.
What would your enemies say about you?
I’m not aware of having any. I fully understand the importance of continually being aware of how our company is perceived locally, be that positive or negative.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I drive the company Ford Transit Connect van. With the current restrictions, I can sadly only dream of driving a golf ball again.