Relentless Networking: How BJ Dowlen Turns Networking into OpportunitiesCarolyn Crummey
When we started planning this edition of Smart Hustle Magazine, we knew that we wanted to concentrate on the power of networking, an area that many Smart Hustlers should be focused on. It was only natural that, when choosing an entrepreneur who epitomized everything that is “relentless networking,” we chose BJ Dowlen, Founder and President of Bodyworks Enterprises, LLC. and creator of the BodyworksBallTM.
The Birth of the BodyworksBall™
Ten years ago, BJ Dowlen spent her days working as a partner in a large exporting business. At night, Dowlen, a Sports Performance Therapist, who had been working with elite athletes since the 1990’s, was building Bodyworks Enterprises, LLC., an elite sports writing and sports performance group. On a rare afternoon off, she went for a relaxing pedicure and was disappointed that the massage chair she was in was unable to help relieve the stress in her shoulders – the rotating ball only hitting her spot of pain intermittently. That is when the lightbulb went off.
For years, Dowlen had been getting pleas from clients to help relieve neck cricks from sleeping wrong or too much stress.
So that afternoon, as soon as her pedicure was over, she went out and purchased a chair massage pad, brought it home and took it apart so she could watch how the balls moved. She watched them all night long, thinking and sketching. The next day she started a prototype for a portable and lightweight self-massage tool that could be where you need it when you need it. Thus, the birth of the BodyworksBallTM. Dowlen started giving them out to her clients to use when they were on the road and not able to meet with her. The positive response was immediate, and it did not take long for interest in the BodyworksBall™ to spread.
Then, on October 29, 2012, devastation, in the form of Superstorm Sandy, hit. A resident of Brick, NJ, Dowlen lost everything – her home, possessions, and her business. It was at this point that she decided it was time to leave her corporate job and pursue her lifelong passion of getting people out of pain and rebuilding Bodyworks on a full-time basis.
Having seen her entire community and a significant portion of her home state devastated by the storm, it became paramount to Dowlen to get her BodyworksBall™ made in the USA. This was challenging, as it required expensive tooling and then finding a manufacturer to work with, which is not as easy as you’d expect it to be. To help work through the challenges, Dowlen started a documentary called NJ MADE that recorded what it is like to manufacturer products in NJ and the USA. She got local politician Senator Cory Booker involved by taking a tour at a local facility, and soon awareness was raised as to the challenges faced by entrepreneurs looking to make products domestically. This was a project that Dowlen was extremely proud of, and in 2015, her efforts were acknowledged when she was the only small wellness entrepreneur to receive the Manufacturing Institute STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) Award. She received her award alongside large enterprises like Boeing, 3M, American Airlines, Harley Davidson – and 129 other highly accomplished women.
Placing Yourself Where Luck May Happen – aka Relentless Networking
Dowlen does not believe in luck when it comes to business; she knows it is more about relentless networking and extremely hard work. This is what led to her big break with the BodyworksBall™, pitching her story at the Pitch Night event at STORY in NYC to the likes of HSNi CEO Mindy Grossman and Good Morning America correspondent Tory Johnson.
She truly had no idea.
Her plan for the day was to attend a small biz event by American Express Open (Dowlen Is a HUGE fan of going to as many small business events as you can!) in hopes of getting some advice on dealing with a few companies that had reached out to her about advertising the BodyworksBall™ over the holiday season. After that, she had a radio interview scheduled and then she’d be on her way home. However, that is not what happened. Instead, Dowlen went back to the event after her radio interview, wanting to properly thank the AMEX team for having the event and Rachel, the owner of STORY, for hosting the event. While there, she met Rachel’s sister Jenny, and the two of them invited Dowlen to participate in the Pitch Night event they were having later that evening.
It’s Not Stalking If It Works
If there is one thing you can learn from Dowlen, it is that you need to be very strategic when targeting whom you want to ‘bump’ into. She is a fan of using social media to get to her targets and actually uses the word “stalking” to describe how she goes about finding the people that she wants to connect with.
If there is a high profile person that Dowlen wants to connect with, she’ll even go as far as to leave an event early and go out to look for the nicest SUV or vehicle near the back entrance, which is most likely waiting for them. This is how she has connected with many of her targets. “It is a gamble,” she says, “and sometimes it does not work, but when it does you have created another opportunity.”
BJ’s Relentless Networking Tips
Dowlen offers these three relentless networking tips for other entrepreneurs and small business owners:
1. Create an Exchange: Depending on what your product or service is, Dowlen suggests finding those in the same space who are doing it successfully and reaching out to them to ask for an exchange. Make it simple – “I would love 10 minutes of your time, and in exchange, I’ll give you ‘X’.” Make your offer and approach unique and ensure that what you offer in exchange has substantial value to the person you are approaching.
2. Work Past “Sorry, I Don’t Have a Business Card”: If you are at a networking event, and someone does not have a business card, then take the information manually. If they are a high profile figure, then take their assistants information or someone else in their office. You do not always need the person at the top of the ladder; there are a number of individuals working and supporting them that are worth getting in touch with to make an opportunity happen.
3. Don’t Be Fake – It Always Comes Through: As long as you are genuine with people, you will be able to connect. If you are fake, people will sense that, and you’ll never get anywhere.
If you wonder if all this relentless networking has paid off for Dowlen and her product, pick up a copy of Oprah Winfrey’s “O List” from January 2016 or check out Inc. Magazine’s 2015 Best in Class for innovative office design products, and there you’ll see her and the BodyworksBall™. You may have also caught her in early May 2016 on HSN’s American Dream Show, where she appeared with her product in front of millions of viewers. This success is all because she refused to sit in Brick, NJ waiting for a lucky break, and instead went to where the opportunities could happen.