Networking for Business Growth

My career has evolved around one contact and opportunity leading to another and another, all opening up doors along the way

In our latest Networking Success interview, we speak to Kevin R Smith, the Founder & CEO of BOOM & Partners, a multi award-winning boutique business consultancy dedicated to transforming early-stagevisions into funded realities. His remarkable professional journey has spanned 45 countries across four continents and with a wealth of experience in two distinctive fields—SME Business Development in the UK and Macro Economic Government Advisory in emerging economies, Kevin brings a unique perspective to the art of building networks. Read on as we discover how a single introduction from a British Embassy led to a client relationship spanning a quarter-century and explore how Kevin’s vast international experienceand strategic insights have shaped his approach to professional relationships and business growth.

Kevin is the Founder & CEO of BOOM & Partners, a business consultancy that specialises in nurturing early-stage businesses to growth and profitability. With a career that encompasses SME Business Development and Macro Economic Government Advisory, Kevin has influenced a wide spectrum of industries both in the UK and globally. As the CEO of AWS International Business Development, Kevin assists British and foreign companies in developing international business and undertakes international development projects for governments and donors worldwide. He also serves as aNon-Executive Director, Advisory Board Member, and Mentor for Boardroom Advisors, providing strategic guidance to scale-ups and SMEs. Kevin’s commitment to nurturing entrepreneurial talent is evident through his roles as an Entrepreneur in Residence and Mentor at Bayes Business School (City of London University), Nottingham University Ingenuity Labs, and NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator. He also contributes as an External Advisor and Project Team Member for Prince's Trust and as a Fellow & Mentor for Foundervine. In addition, Kevin dedicates his experience to supporting under represented entrepreneurs as a founding member of Female Founders Growth, helping ambitious female founders scale their businesses and secure investment. A published author of 5 books, including 'Start-up to Scale-up', and a BBC Radio contributor, Kevin shares his wealth of knowledge and experience to inspire and support the next generation of business leaders.

A huge thank you to Kevin for sharing his time and wisdom with us.

Reflecting on your extensive international career, can you pinpoint a keynetworking moment that, if it hadn’t occurred, you believe your career trajectory might have been very different?

I am very lucky in that I have been involved in a wide range of businesses and activities. Onething that I learned very early is that the old adage of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’could so easily have been written to underline the importance of networking and building agood, high quality, network of contacts. I am not sure if there was any specific key moment butyou cannot be in the right place at the right time if you aren’t out meeting people. Certainly, my career has evolved around one contact and opportunity leading to another and another, all opening up doors along the way.

You’ve worked in some 45 countries across 4 continents. What strategies have you found most effective for building and maintaining a global network, and do you have to adapt your networking style to different cultural contexts?

For me, networking and developing contacts is very much about quality and not quantity, but ifyou get to the stage of many high-quality contacts then so much the better. I believe that no matter how busy you are it is important to devote time to network. But be selective about which events you attend as there are always so many opportunities. Decide why you are going and what you hope to achieve, but always have an open mind. Understanding local culture or practices can make all the difference and many years ago I became a qualified cross-cultural business trainer. But in any country try and ‘read the room’. Despite modern technology making virtual networking and meetings an every day occurrence I am still a firm believer that nothing beats face-to-face and starting to get to know your contacts as people.

Can you share an example of a time when a seemingly random connectionled to a significant opportunity or collaboration?

There are so many, but about 25 years ago a British Embassy in another country introduced me to a company that they could not help but thought that I could. I still do work with that client today and we have worked on many and varied projects together over the years.

You’ve worked with donor agencies like The World Bank and EU oninternational development projects. How do you approach building trustand rapport with stakeholders from such varied backgrounds?

Like in so many things, real experience counts for a lot. Either because you have worked on similar projects or because you have shared experience or contacts in your network. The fact that I have spoken at seminars in many countries and written five books further adds tocredibility. I guess that the older you get, the better the CV becomes.

Mentorship is a key aspect of your career. What has been your most rewarding experience as a mentor, and what have you learned from the entrepreneurs you’ve advised?

A few years ago I was asked in an interview what I was most proud of and, after giving the question some consideration, my answer was my work as a Mentor. I have been a Mentor for the NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme for about 10 years now but am also a Mentor for Prince’s Trust and Virgin Startup. In addition, I am an Entrepreneur in Residence at Bayes Business School (City of London University), and at Nottingham University. I do all of this pro bono as I like to think that I am giving something back and, just maybe, making a difference to the lives of some of the entrepreneurs. It is extremely rewarding, and I am always amazed at the skill and talent out there, but often they need a little helping hand in understanding how to scale a business and getting investment ready, and that’s where I come in.

In your role as founding member of Female Founders Growth, what unique insights have you gained about the hurdles women entrepreneurs face and how do you guide them in overcoming these barriers?

Over the years I have become more and more involved in working with female founders andother under represented groups. There is no doubt that female founders and ethnic minorities have a much tougher time raising finance, especially from VCs, and there is simply no justifiable reason why this should be so. As such, these entrepreneurs and the start-up ecosystem can either complain about it or do something to change it. I choose to do the latter.

Can you share a specific moment when a setback led to an unexpectedbreakthrough for you or someone you’ve mentored?

Any business, at any time, always needs to adapt or even pivot if circumstances dictate it. I have worked with many businesses where a major setback has caused them to reassess the business model or, indeed, the entire business. As a Mentor and an outside advisor, it can often be much easier for me to suggest the necessary steps rather than the entrepreneur themselves as they can simply be too close or too involved in the day to day business to see what might be obvious to me.

For early-stage founders who may be intimidated by the idea of networking, especially on an international scale, what practical advice would you offer to help them get started?

Networking can, and indeed should, be fun. I accept that some people are more outgoing than others, and so some will find it easier than others. But the more networking you do, the easier it will get, and often you will start to see many of the same faces from previous events. Have in mind a quick elevator pitch as to what your business does, but make it sound as interesting aspossible, and always seek how you can join the dots with those that you speak with.

Looking back on your impressive career journey, what’s one thing you wishyou had known about the power of networking when you were firststarting out?

When you start speaking with someone who you can very quickly see is both not your type of person or useful from a work perspective, it can be difficult to get away quickly without it seeming rude. I am now in the privileged position of often being a speaker at events and that makes networking much easier as people will then approach me if it is relevant and that makes life for both parties better. My final word would be, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and, like most things, the more that you network the better you will get at it, and the more fun it will become.

3rd May 2024

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in British English


to prosper or cause to prosper vigorously and rapidly