How to build the UK's Biggest Property Training & Networking Organisation with Simon Zutshi

And why you should always read contracts before you sign them

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In this episode, Legislate meets Simon Zutshi, the founder and CEO of The Property Investors Network, the UK's biggest property training and networking organisation. Simon share's tips for building a great business and being a landlord including why you should always read contracts before signing!

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Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in property, technology, business building and contract drafting. Today I'm excited to welcome Simon Zutshi on the show, Simon is the founder and CEO of the property investors network, the UK's biggest property training and networking organisation. Simon, thank you for taking the time, would you like to please share a bit of background about yourself and the property investors network.


Simon Zutshi: Yes of course. Firstly thank you for asking me onto the podcast. So I started property investors network back in 2003, and the reason why was that I found that investing in property can actually be very lonely, I'd managed to replace my income and leave my corporate career at Cadbury's, where I'd started as a graduate trainee and then became the senior manager. And I got into property a little through accident really and just realised it was a great way to make money if I joined it, and all my friends were working, my family, they had no investments apart from their own homes, and so I thought, 'Wouldn't it be good to get a group of like minded people around me?' Now that might sound really obvious these days but back in 2003, there were no networking meetings for property investors, I was going to breakfast network meetings for my business, and I'd met a great solicitor, mortgage broker, accountant et cetera. but none of them really had properties apart from their own home. So I think it's really important if you want to be successful you've got to surround yourself with like minded people who will champion and encourage you rather than tell you all the things you shouldn't do and all the things that can go wrong. So we set that up in 2003 as one meeting here in Birmingham, where I still live, and it's now 50 plus meetings around the country, and my business has actually been acquired by an international business, so we're not scaling it around the world which is a very exciting thing to do.


Charles Brecque: Congratulations.


Simon Zutshi: Thanks very much.


Charles Brecque: I was thinking if there was 50 meetings in the UK, if you're now going international, you must be extremely busy.


Simon Zutshi: Yes, so to be honest the business pretty much runs itself here in the UK, but I've got the great fun job of starting it from scratch, and obviously learning from things that worked really well and didn't work so well, and hopefully we're going to scale pretty quickly around the world, so I guess watch this space.


Charles Brecque: Great, very exciting. And in your journey since starting in 2003, what's been your favourite moment so far?


Simon Zutshi: You know what, having the network is great and I've met some incredible people through networking. I've learnt a lot of what I do now through people I've met and I think, you know, if you try and do things in isolation, you're not going to go as far as if you're connecting with other people. But a lot of people started asking me how I had managed to replace my income and I didn't have to work at Cadbury's anymore, and so in 2003 I started teaching other people what I had done, and it's great when I see people achieve success, they become financially independent, they replace their income, they can then do what they want and far quicker than I did it. And I get this real buzz that they've done it. They've done the hard work but we've been a little bit of a catalyst to maybe help them think differently, to think bigger and to realise there's more than one way of earning money rather than just having a job or running a business. And also it's the way people develop, the way they grow and they become a far more conscious, much more aware person because of all the personal development we expose them to as well. So, I think that's my biggest feeling of success, it's great to sell a company, it's great to have all these network meetings, but actually, it's the impact we've had on so many people, that's what gives me the real buzz.


Charles Brecque: That's great, and I can imagine we're talking hundreds of people potentially?


Simon Zutshi: Thousands of people.


Charles Brecque: Thousands?


Simon Zutshi: Yes absolutely, yes.


Charles Brecque: Great. And what do you wish you'd known before starting the property investors network?


Simon Zutshi: About business? Or about property? Or both?


Charles Brecque: Anything.


Simon Zutshi: One of the things is that when you start as a solopreneur, when you're doing things on your own, you think you have to do everything yourself. And so one of my other businesses, which is a property fintech business, CrowdProperty, I set that up in 2013 with a deliberate intention that I didn't want it to be all about me doing it, and it was a network, we found lots of great deals through that, we found lots of people who want to lend on those deals. So we put the platform together, all FCA regulated, but I deliberately designed the business in the first place so that it wasn't just me. And that would have been my biggest tip to anyone in property and anyone in business, don't think you have to do everything yourself, there are people who can do what you do, certainly as well as you, and even the team I have in CrowdProperty, the different roles they do, they do it much better than I could possibly do it myself. So think about going big but you don't have to do everything, that's probably my biggest lesson I think.


Charles Brecque: I'm a solo founder, and we now have a team but


Simon Zutshi: So you know what I'm talking about, right?


Charles Brecque: Yes we're definitely a different beast now we've got the team than when it was just me.


Simon Zutshi: Yes, and look sometimes you have to start things, get things going, but then the sooner you can bring other people in, the better, and that sometimes means a little bit of a step back in terms of income, and certainly property, if you give them to other people to manage, you're then losing some of your rental income, but it frees up so much time. And Charles I'm sure you found this when you bought on a team, there might have been a financial commitment for you there but actually it freed up your time to focus on the best value activities that you need to focus on.


Charles Brecque: Absolutely, and I guess the next challenge is what are those best value activities if you've given all your work away.


Simon Zutshi: Yes absolutely.


Charles Brecque: You've already touched on your international expansion, but what's the vision or plan for the next five-,


Simon Zutshi: So I actually sold my training and networking business, I've contracted to stay on for the next two or three years, which is what I love to do, I want to make sure that business grows and continues to prosper, and will look after our clients obviously, but I've got the exciting expansion around world. And speaking, I love training, so I'll always be doing something like, maybe not in property, who knows? Something else, maybe some sort of business or marketing growth as, you know, I've built and sold by then, there will be a couple of successful businesses, eight figure sales, which is good. So that's quite exciting, but I'm looking forward to having a bit more time, I think as solopreneurs and entrepreneurs we're very busy, I love what I do so it doesn't feel like work a lot of the time but I'm probably busy than I should be. So I think trying to have a bit of discipline to make sure I really enjoy the fruits of my labour for the last eighteen plus years is part of what I'm going to be doing.


Charles Brecque: And I'm sure that that time off will be well deserved.


Simon Zutshi: Indeed.


Charles Brecque: Great, and as founder I'm sure you've seen plenty of contracts, so what are the key agreements that you work with? And what are the common issues that you find with them?


Simon Zutshi: I think there's several different areas I can talk about, let's talk about property investing first of all. And in property, obviously you have rental agreements, which is fine, but when you come to do a joint venture, when you're working with someone else, which many of our clients do and I've done as well, first of all it's absolutely critical to have paperwork in place, and very often people meet their good friends, 'Oh let's work together.' And whilst that is fine in principle, you need to document it so that you know exactly who is doing what, what happens if it goes wrong, we have these best laid plans and things don't always work out, particularly in property things go wrong. And so I think in contracts it's really important to have a clarity, one of the problems with a lot of contracts, there's a lot of legal speak and I like contracts which wherever possible use as much plain English as possible, I think that's a really good idea. And try and bespoke the contract to the deal, I think you can start with templates obviously, but you've got to make sure that it is tailored to what you're specifically trying to achieve. And then also, at the end of the day when you sign a contract, a mistake I have made, and I will be really open about this because I have made lots of mistakes, a mistake I've made is where I've come up with an agreement with someone, I've then delegated it to someone in my team to put the contract together, my responsibility that they probably weren't briefed properly, they used a template, they put something together, and it actually didn't really represent what was agreed in the deal. My mistake, I didn't bother reading it, checking it properly, so not only is it important to put the contract together, make sure it's fit for purpose, you must absolutely agree it to make sure it's correct. Unfortunately it was in the other person's favour, that's caused me a bit of hassle. And likewise, I'm in a dispute with someone at the moment on a contract, we sold a big development, obviously everything was done through solicitors and my solicitor suggested something they put in the contract wasn't very good, so their solicitor took it out, and it was agreed amongst the solicitors.


And I don't think the other party when they signed the contract had read it properly, I don't think they realised it was taken out because then when there was a bit of dispute, and they are in the wrong here, they thought they were right because something was in the contract but it wasn't in the contract. So get clear on what you want in a contract, get it put together properly, and then obviously check it very carefully before you sign it. And it might sound completely obvious but I've made that mistake, these other people have made that mistake, and you probably know Charles, maybe other people do as well, I think it's a fairly common mistake.


Charles Brecque: Yes I definitely can relate to you need to read the agreements, it can be tempting to sign for the sake of getting the deal across the line, but if you don't know what you're signing, or if there is something missing, because often with contracts it's not so much what's in the contract, it's what's not in the contract that is important.


Simon Zutshi: Exactly, really good point. And you're absolutely right there that sometimes you want to do the deal and you've agreed the deal, you've put it together, and you think, 'Oh I'm finally here, signing the contract is the last bit,' but you've got to sense check because you might have great people put it together for you, but actually, does it really represent what was actually agreed? Because at the end of the day, hopefully you don't need to fall back on the contract, everything happens to plan but sometimes things can wrong, and particularly in property, delays happen, et cetera, and that's when you need to make sure if you need to fall back on that contract, that it is actually what you expected it to be.


Charles Brecque: Yes I agree, and I think especially when you do work with solicitors, it is quite tempting to think that, 'Okay they're going to take care of everything, therefore I don't need to worry.'


Simon Zutshi: You know what, sometimes solicitors make mistakes. That's not always the best route.


Charles Brecque: Yes, at least we're trying to do with Legislate is empower the users to create their own contracts, whether it's tenancy agreement, how to rent. We're doing simple agreements for now, where it is written in plain English, it is presented as a set of questions and answers, and at the end you have a bespoke agreement based on your situation.


Simon Zutshi: Yes, and that's exactly what I said, you're doing a great job Charles.


Charles Brecque: Thank you Simon. I'm conscious that I've already taken a lot of your time, I'm going to ask you the closing question we ask all of our guests, if you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would-,


Simon Zutshi: I think that obviously, I've already said this, but I guess it represents what has been agreed because for me that's what a contract is about. Technically if you agree something with someone verbally, that is an agreement, that's a contract but obviously difficult to prove in a court of law because he said this, you said that et cetera. So I like contracts that are plain English as much as possible, you sometimes need some legal speak obviously but really clear, and they represent, and I know the other person who I'm trying to do the deal with, they've been listening to me, we've reached an agreement, and that is then represented in the contract. And actually I quite like contracts that are as concise as possible as well, I hate it when you have a really massive contract and it feels like it's just jargon for the sake of jargon, that's my uneducated, un-legal profession background, but that's just my personal point of view.


Charles Brecque: No that's great, and I think you raises a pretty important point about the contract not being what was agreed, and I think heads of terms to contractors is a key part of any negotiation.


Simon Zutshi: Yes absolutely.


Charles Brecque: And also a good indication of the trustworthiness, or the good faith, of the other side.


Simon Zutshi: Yes exactly because is this contract saying, is it representing, what was actually agreed? And hopefully people aren't trying to change things or sneak things in. So if I've agreed to something on the heads of terms and that's what comes through the contract, that gives me confidence.


Charles Brecque: Yes, great. Thank you Simon for being on the show, best of luck with your international expansion.


Simon Zutshi: My pleasure.


Charles Brecque: And hopefully you can rest a bit more, soon.


Simon Zutshi: Great, thank you so much Charles. And when I say rest, I think having some relaxation and downtime is really important, but I'm one of these people, I could never stop and do nothing, I'll always be doing something, I'm entrepreneurial, and it's just nice to give yourself some space sometimes to work out what do you want that next thing to be.


Charles Brecque: I hope that I'll be in a similar position at some point in the future.


Simon Zutshi: Thank you Charles, thanks for your time today, and I hope you've got some value listening to this podcast.


Charles Brecque: It's been great, thank you.


Simon Zutshi: Thank you.

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