A NFL linebacker who launched a successful real estate business reveals 3 pieces of advice anyone can use to build a side hustle

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© Provided by Business Insider Brandon Copeland speaking after receiving the 2020 NFLPA Alan Page Community Award. Associated Press

  • Brandon Copeland has been working off the field to make sure he’s financially stable.
  • Copeland said early mentors and coaches helped him gain exposure to the world of finance.
  • He also teaches a financial literacy course at UPenn’s Wharton business school.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Brandon Copeland is making money off the field in a way few other pro football players have before.

Copeland, a linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, has been playing in the NFL about three times longer than the average tenure for players in the league. He’s overcome incredible odds to achieve career earnings over $5 million thus far, according to Spotrac.

He is also pursuing a wide variety of business opportunities to help him build generational wealth. He saves over 90% of his football salary thanks to his real-estate businesses and market investments. He also teaches a personal-finance course at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school and works with NFL rookies and the league’s players union, the NFL Players Association, to help fellow athletes on similar topics.

“As a player, I’m doing well financially,” he told Insider. “But I realize somebody else is writing my check, and they don’t have to run through wedges to do it. They don’t have to sit through pectoral surgeries to do it.”

Copeland gave credit to his mentors who exposed him to finance and helped him develop interests outside sports even as a high-level athlete. Now he wants to help others do the same.

“I was fortunate enough to be exposed to it at a young age,” he said. “That’s what changed my perspective on the world.”

Finding mentorship

Copeland’s high-school football coach, Biff Poggi, a former investment-fund manager whose team was recently featured in an HBO documentary series, introduced Copeland to the world of financial markets. After suffering an injury on the field, Copeland knew he needed to diversify his skills so he wasn’t entirely reliant on football for a career.

“I know for a fact one day I won’t be able to use my body to make money. That’s just the reality of the sport. That’s why I hustle so hard off the field right now,” he said.

Copeland worked at Poggi’s office in the summer learning about the stock market. It was there he saw a Bloomberg terminal for the first time. Copeland credits Poggi’s mentorship with getting him into finance and giving him the confidence to pursue an investment-banking internship at UBS while playing football at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Those experiences were literally sink or swim,” he said. “I think those are actually probably the biggest growth opportunities of my life.”

‘I don’t need to create something new’

© Provided by Business Insider Copeland. Associated Press

Copeland’s first business venture as an NFL player was a fitness app he started with some college teammates that didn’t work out.

“That experience taught me that if I’m going to do something, I don’t need to create something new,” he said.

Copeland was also day trading at the time, sometimes making transactions in the locker room from his phone. After his first year, he decided to use a more passive investment strategy and entered the real-estate business, where he could seek out mentorship and proven money-making strategies.

After a pectoral tear sidelined him in 2017, Copeland dove even further into real estate, buying six properties that year, he said. He flipped his first house, which gave him the confidence to aim even higher.

“Since then, I’ve been trying to level up,” Copeland said.

Now he owns a 44-unit building and a 66-unit building. More recently, he has been working on building out the business, including finding people to handle day-to-day details while he maintains focus on his NFL career.

“I still check in on things. I still make decisions when I need to. But ultimately, what I’ve been able to do the last few years is find people, invest more in the business and in the systems so that I can grow it,” Copeland said.

Keeping an open mind

In addition to teaching a financial-literacy course at Wharton, Copeland leads a similar offering for his fellow NFL players.

“They need to understand that their money needs to become their employee as soon as possible,” Copeland said. “I think of every dollar as an employee where every dollar needs to bring me back a quarter, so it’s just starting to train that mindset.”

It can be hard to try something new or move on from a job or lifestyle that shaped your identity, Copeland said. But don’t fear failure, he added. It’s important to keep an open mind to new opportunities if you want to succeed.

Copeland cited his UBS internship as a moment where he was well outside his comfort zone, but it prepared him for the future.

“I would encourage people to take on those types of opportunities and the benefits of crossing things off the list,” he said. “That is just as valuable as finding exactly what you want to do with the rest of your life.”

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