When Brett Relander was a little boy, he wanted to be a professional basketball player. Though he’s grown up to be a digital marketer, not an NBA star, his passion for sports has still played a key role in his career journey.

Relander was introduced to marketing through his work with green-energy building initiatives in Dallas. During one project, he rubbed shoulders with a few members of a prominent NFL organization and was then asked to work on a sustainable building project for the team. Through promoting the project online with social media, Relander says he experienced his “light-bulb moment”; he’d found the ideal way to merge his love for sports with a viable, meaningful career path in marketing.

Since then, he’s dabbled in both the corporate marketing world and a series of entrepreneurial ventures, including the recent launch of X1 Fuel, a company that makes all-natural shakes for student athletes. The project is near and dear to Relander’s heart—he was a former kids’ day camp counselor and is now a father of three miniature athletes. Starting X1 Fuel let him blend his passions—sports, kids, coaching and fitness—with his professional interests.

At the core of Relander’s experience and expertise is a focus on people, whether they be social media contacts or kids on the soccer field. He’s always on the move, traveling around the country frequently to meet prospective business contacts, attend industry events, or promote his companies—so relationships and specific goals that ground him are crucial to his success.

Here’s how he does it—and his advice to anyone hoping to blend their interests to create the career of their dreams.

Bridging the Gap Between On- and Offline

Relander believes that if you want to be successful in digital marketing (or anything, really), you should focus on real-world relationship building.

“It’s the power of both real-world meetings and social media together, in my opinion, that really gets you to the places that you want to be—from your personal life to the things you care about with business,” Relander explains. “Being able to connect beyond just an avatar or a picture and to hear someone's voice is [powerful].”

Recently, for example, he met an author named Julie, who lives in Minnesota, on Twitter. She ultimately introduced him to a valuable business contact for X1 Fuel. The pair still talks, and Relander now works with her son, Jeremy, who is a college baseball player, X1 Fuel customer and brand advocate who helps spread the word about the company’s products and mission.

“[Meeting Julie] snowballed into a bunch of things that neither one of us expected,” he says. “The personal relationship side of things is of the utmost importance in my business. I’ve made it a top priority to get to know people in order to build sustainable businesses and do good things out in the world.”

Part of this process involves traveling all over the country to meet with contacts with whom he hopes to collaborate.

“Without the ability to travel, without the ability to easily meet with all of these people in person, you can’t take full advantage of the opportunities social media has given us for finding and connecting with people. Traveling allows you to truly get to know those people and expand your circle of friends and family beyond your local area. I love to travel to new places, to go and see new things.”

Go With Your Gut, Work Toward Your Goals

When it comes to making tough career choices, Relander says the old adage of “trusting your gut” rings true.
Relander has personal experience with weighty decisions: Over the past ten years, he’s worked in traditional corporate roles—with titles such as VP of Digital Marketing & Social Media, Social Media Advisor, Digital Media Consultant/Strategist, etc.—and he’s also built his own companies from scratch, such as the digital marketing firm Launch & Hustle.

Bouncing between steady, corporate work and entrepreneurial endeavors—particularly as a husband and father supporting a family—hasn’t been easy. There are pros and cons to both lifestyles, he says, and the back-and-forth nature of his career has involved several leaps of faith.

“I've been an entrepreneur pretty much my entire life—at least my adult life,” he says. “Taking a corporate job is a hard choice because it's a completely opposite lifestyle to that of an entrepreneur. Then, leaving that type of work is a hard choice, too, because you get accustomed to the ease of a regular paycheck and not feeling the pressure to build something new.”

Ultimately, Relander believes the path he’s taken to build a career tailored to his own passions is well worth the bouts of uncertainty. For others interested in launching entrepreneurial ventures, he suggests approaching the process with a realistic mindset and a willingness to embrace risk.

“Most small businesses don’t make it, so having the wherewithal to make the decision to go it alone is important,” he admits. “It’s a decision that people have to weigh for themselves, but ultimately I think it goes back to needing to find a way to follow your passion, even if it’s during nights and weekends, and you’re keeping your full-time job when you’re starting out. Sometimes you have to grow into it."

The same advice—forging your own path, rooted in your own instinct—goes for managing business decisions, too. “I spend less time worrying about what the competition is up to and more time focusing on what I feel is important for my business and my customers,” he says. “I think that has allowed me the freedom to do higher-quality work and to be selective about the things I do decide to spend time on.”

Relander’s plate is always full. He’s able to prioritize simultaneous projects (launching X1 Fuel, consulting for clients of Launch & Hustle, authoring articles on various social media publications—and, of course, maintaining his own social media presence) through strategic planning and by keeping his goals to a “vital few”—usually no more than three quantifiable, short-term objectives.

“Things change so fast, you have to be very fluid and very agile,” he shares.

Relander suggests that the road to career success is paved with a combination of perseverance, passion for the work and the people one meets along the journey.
His final piece of advice? “If you have passion, if you show your excitement, if you get out there and work it and surround yourself with the right people—anything is possible.”