After being made redundant from a marketing job in 2007, Jag Panesar launched his own digital marketing firm, Xpand.
Now in its fifteenth year, the businessman employs half a dozen people from his office in the historic village of Saltaire and works with the likes of Lindt and HM Prison Service.
The digitally-focused businessman also speaks publicly, appearing on multiple podcasts and is due to talk at Keighley College’s TEDx event next week.
Mr Panesar spent four of his early years studying Business Management at Kingston University in London, graduating in 2003. A Bradford man born-and-bred, family ties brought him back to the district, where he began his career in sales and eventually, marketing.
The goal behind any business is “to make money, of course,” he says. However, “the goal behind Xpand is to help businesses grow. If we can work with an organisation and help them get their marketing right, then they are able to be profitable and employ more people, positively impacting their local community.”
The inspiration to launch his own business is not dissimilar from others in the South Asian community, who watched their grandparents and parents work hard to provide a more comfortable life for their children than they had growing up.
After “travelling around for a bit” leaving India and spending time in Tanzania, Mr Panesar’s grandfather, Parkash Singh Panesar, found a home in Bradford, where he settled with his wife, and five children.
Here, Parkash Singh Panesar earned a living and made a name for himself as a master carpenter and helped his two sons establish a car garage that they were partners in.
Mr Panesar said: “My grandfather was born in India in the 1920s and was a master carpenter. Back then there was a lot of free travel Between the British colonies and so my grandfather moved his young family from India to Tanzania, then back to India, before moving to the UK in the early sixties, searching for a better life.
“He was an honest worker and was very well respected. He brought up his four sons and a daughter here.
“The men in my family had car garages, a van hire business, and a construction company between them. When my grandad passed away in 2010, I thought about the impact that he had on me and my family.
“He was such a well-liked and well-respected person. He made his mark on the world, he left his legacy behind. As human beings, this is all that we have and that is what inspired me at Xpand.
“My grandfather encouraged his sons straight from leaving school to set up their own businesses. My father and uncle were apprentices with Ford and shortly left to set up their own workshops.
“I was given a good work ethic growing up around my dad’s car garage. I had to sweep the yard, bring people tea and coffee, and wash cars. It was great learning. The family business still exists but I decided not to join them.
“I admired that they all created something from scratch, none of these businesses existed before them and that for me is what I really love. To have set up Xpand with nothing except for a small amount of money to grow it into something that is able to employ people is incredible.”
“I always knew from as early as twelve years old that I wanted to open my own business.”
It was not all smooth sailing, finding a job in Bradford after graduating in London was difficult, and it was two years before he found a job as a marketing manager at a small firm in the district, before being made redundant after two-and-a-half years at the company.
The digital marketing director said: “I came out of university in 2003, and like many graduates, I struggled to get a job. I ended up working at a small manufacturing company, there was not a marketing position available, so I took a sales role.
“This was in 2005 and at the dawn of digital marketing, social media wasn’t even a thing then. I was made redundant a couple of years later and so I set up Xpand in 2007.
“Over the years, we picked up clients, moved into some offices and grew from there. We moved to Saltaire seven years ago.
He added: “When we started, ‘digital marketing’ barely existed. Now social media has changed the way we do things. The way we do things in the digital arena has changed completely since we launched fifteen years ago.”
For many, living through the pandemic has been some of the toughest times imaginable, with people from the South Asian community, in Bradford but across the UK, disproportionately affected by Covid-19.
During this time, different sectors from hospitality to construction had to move towards a digital-first approach to business, meaning that many digital marketing agencies had more work on than ever before.
The founder and director of Xpand said: “The pandemic was a horrible time for the world, and there was a lot of death and industries that suffered, but we found the demand for our services increased significantly.
“People knew that companies that were not digitally involved needed to adapt to the wider world. We had a record turnover year in 2020 which set us up for 2021, to completely shift the structure of the way we work.
“I think everyone in the digital marketing and creative sector has had a remarkably busy time. Businesses realised that they had to do a lot more marketing to get themselves out there.”
A successful digital marketer, Mr Panesar is also an experienced public speaker. He said: “I started public speaking in 2017 and I’ve spoken at various events, Leeds Business Week, being one, for example. I was just getting started and the Covid-19 hit. We did a lot of webinars, and now things are calming, I will be doing a TEDx talk at Keighley college next week.”
There are three key elements to success in business Mr Panesar said. “I believe that there are three key elements you need to succeed in business. Think of it as a Venn diagram. Number one you need to have the skillset, but the ability to do the job is not enough.
“The ability to communicate well and be organised is vital. If you can get these three elements right, then you can succeed in business.
Communication and organisation are two massively underrated skills. Education talks about it, but they do not place enough emphasis on them.
“For anyone wanting to get into business, it is knowing what to communicate and how to communicate it. With a little bit of skill and a lot of drive you can move mountains.”