Founder of SmartMouth Communications Beth Noymer Levine wants to help entrepreneurs succeed in business. Through her proven method in “organizing content,” she helps them reach their highest goals.
Throughout her career, Beth Noymer Levine has worked as a “public speaking coach, presentation skills trainer, and messaging consultant.”
In these capacities, Beth Noymer Levine helps “entrepreneurs and high-performing individuals and teams formulate their messages and become better messengers so they can achieve greater success.”
Beth Noymer Levine also “builds confidence and helps people share their genius by applying the principles of #audience-centricity, #transparency, #graciousness, #brevity and #preparedness to their public speaking.”
Through her work, Beth Noymer Levine wants “speakers and presenters shine by focusing on their audiences, keeping it simple, and being real.”
At SmartMouth Communications, Beth Noymer Levine serves clients nationwide. She also helped create the mobile app “SmartMouth Public Speaking Toolkit,” as well as developed the e-learning platform “SmartMouth OnDemand.”
Beth Noymer Levine has also been “quoted and cited” in several media outlets. These include Harvard Business Review, Forbes, BBC, Quartz, and The Wall Street Journal.
Likewise, Beth Noymer Levine also contributes regularly to Forbes.com and the American Management Association’s “Playbook.”
In 2015, Utah Business Magazine also named Beth Noymer Levine as one of the “30 Women to Watch.”
So yeah, overcoming myself was hard. Beth Noymer Levine, SmartMouth Communications
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Beth Noymer Levine: Of all places, I started out on Wall Street but as a communications person. It was the 80’s and the heyday of deals — IPO’s, M&A, hostile takeovers, even the emergence of swaps and derivatives — so the pace and level of activity were fast and hot.
I wrote the press releases, including the investment bankers’ and corporate executives’ quotes, as well as bylined articles and speeches for them.
In those days, deals attracted a lot of mainstream media attention, and so I also learned and practiced the art of media training during a time when an article in The New York Times could make or break the success of an IPO or a merger.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Beth Noymer Levine: In essence, a lot of what I did in those early career years was “load the lips” of people who were smart, successful and had a lot more life and business experience than I did but who couldn’t message their way out of a paper bag.
They would get lost in the weeds and needed help — whether for an investor presentation or a media interview — finding and articulating their key points.
I remember two things about this: first, it came relatively easy to me; and second, the clients were very appreciative.
That’s when I made a note-to-self that there was a niche business in helping people speak and present well.
I genuinely enjoyed it and enjoyed my clients.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Beth Noymer Levine: Oh gosh, I hate to admit this.
For probably the first five years of my business, the night before every significant client gig, I would play a tape in my head (and often say it out loud), “Beth, of all the harebrained ideas you’ve ever had in your life, this is the most harebrained of all! What on earth made you think you could do this?”
So yeah, overcoming myself was hard. But even as I allowed “the tape” to play, I recognized it was purely subjective.
Objectively, there were two really hard aspects of starting my business. First, SmartMouth was my career re-entry strategy after taking a break for motherhood.
I had off-ramped, so to speak, to have my three children and spent almost 10 years out of the workforce. Once my youngest was about to enter kindergarten, I had already grabbed my domain name, built an initial website, and SmartMouth was up and running.
Nevertheless, I still had a gap on my resume and in my experience, and because we don’t know what we don’t know, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be an issue or not.
Just in case, I applied and was accepted into a post-MBA program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. It was a condensed but intensive business school refresher for people who had an MBA or MBA-equivalent career experience. It ended up being a great confidence-booster.
The second was that I had no professional network around me when I started the business. I was living in Utah after more than a decade spent in New York and Atlanta, and all my friends and colleagues were back East.
On the East Coast, I had built a reputation and was a known quantity in professional circles. In Utah, people only knew me as a Mom. I’ll admit, this was hard on the ego.
It could have been totally deflating, and at times it was, but almost ironically two of my earliest and best clients came through Dads I met in the Little League bleachers. Go figure!
Honestly, the main thing that kept me going was that I loved what I was doing. I genuinely enjoyed it and enjoyed my clients. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that I’m prewired to love the “chase and kill” involved in growing a business.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Beth Noymer Levine: The business is great, robust in reputation and revenue (knock wood!). Grit and resilience may have had something to do with it, but I give most of the credit to my clients.
I always say I learn more from my clients than they learn from me, which is to say I learn A LOT from them.
Over the years, it has been my practice to listen for and learn what they want and need, how well our services match up to those, and how we can stay a step ahead and deliver value.
This is what keeps me going, drives me in fact, and what continues to fuel our success — staying laser-focused on our clients, what they need, want and value. It’s all about them.
Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Beth Noymer Levine: Let me first say that the funniest mistakes are also the most embarrassing. Like the time, in my second or third year of business, when I got my first really big speaking gig.
I was in a target-rich environment (i.e. lots of potential clients in the large audience), excited and nervous, and wearing a fabulous light tan-colored jacket. Let’s just say that my excitement and nervousness became quite apparent when I raised my arms to gesture toward the screen!
Strategically, though, I made an almost ironic mistake from the get-go.
When I established SmartMouth, as I mentioned earlier, I was emerging from motherhood and building a business that I felt I could grow alongside my children and around their schedules.
After all, I still needed to be as hands-on at home as possible. What I told myself, and later told others, was that this idea I had had years ago — to start a niche business helping people to speak and present well — was perfect because it was transactional, in-and-out, no need to be on the line for long-term client relationships.
After all, I would say, I already had three very demanding long-term client relationships (i.e. my kids). I soon learned what most entrepreneurs and business people already knew, which is that you want long-term client relationships, that it’s a lot easier and more efficient to keep existing clients than to find new ones.
I laugh now when I think back to my transactional one-and-done philosophy regarding clients. Luckily, I had enough clients who wanted an ongoing relationship and forced me to see the light!
Plan ahead for an exit. Beth Noymer Levine
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Beth Noymer Levine:
- Bigger isn’t necessarily better. There’s so much emphasis on the metrics of growth, size, scaling and capacity. And while all of those are good things, positive things, maybe that’s not your ultimate goal.
I spent a good deal of time, probably too much time and quite a bit of money, chasing the holy grail of bigger, only to realize in the last couple of years that I actually favor quality — of clients and employees — over quantity.
As the founder or CEO, that’s a choice you can make, but I would suggest making it consciously and proactively.
- Balance is a myth unless your time horizon is long. Admittedly, this is one of my Mom things. When you have kids at home, balance does not and cannot happen on a daily basis.
Balance happens over time. It’s really only once you’re an empty-nester that you can even attempt to achieve anything approaching balance on a daily basis.
Kids are the masters of unplanned and unforeseen circumstances. There’s no way to plan ahead for one of your kids getting stranded in a snowstorm after school during a packed work day.
That’s just one example that jumps to mind. I really wish someone had told me early on not to expect balance. I have more of it now than I’ve ever had, but I’m an empty-nester now.
- You’ll fail more often than you succeed. Failure is so important and so beneficial, but too few people tell you that and if they do, they whisper it.
To fail means to try, take a risk, then learn and move on. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying new things, and if you’re not trying new things, then you’re probably not improving or enhancing your value.
I sometimes cringe when I think about some of the different initiatives we’ve attempted over the years, particularly the ones that went nowhere.
For example, a few years ago, we did a major marketing blitz to offer a new service called “CEO Narratives” — aimed at helping CEO’s reach their audiences and connect with truly authentic, vulnerable messaging and talks.
We had a grand total of 0 takers. This one doesn’t make me cringe per se, I still think it’s a good idea, but it failed so we took the hint and moved on.
- Leading is the heavy lifting of growth. Growth does not happen on its own, it requires leadership. Not directing, but leading.
I don’t think I realized how much time and energy would go into leading — including motivating, listening, managing — in order to achieve some of our growth targets. I have learned to be a better listener over time, and it has informed my leadership style overall.
Ironically, the motto of my business is “communication is the currency of success” on the theory that no one succeeds alone, everyone needs to communicate in order to get things done, achieve goals and success.
The same is true for growth. It can’t be achieved alone, without leadership, which, of course, requires communication. It comes full circle.
- Plan ahead for an exit. As I reflect, in the 16th year of my business, I wish someone had told me to have some exit ideas in mind as I was growing it.
Perhaps that way, I might have built the company with less of me out front and more of my employees, I might have built it to meet a certain minimum threshold ARR, or I might have sought out more strategic partnerships with like-minded or adjacent services companies.
I’m not without options or ideas down the road, but I probably have fewer than if I had had a couple of exit strategies in mind from the beginning.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Beth Noymer Levine: Check out SmartMouth Communications on:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!