When life hands you lemons, are you willing to make sangría? Kay Fabella, our inspiring friend who has become an entrepreneur in Spain, took a setback and launched it into a successful business and career as a brand expert. Kay works to shape and share the story of local madrileño brands and is among many other young emprendedores who are helping to power Spain’s recovery.
Like many expats, Kay studied in Spain and fell in love, planning to one day move back and make her mark. Learn this California girl’s success story in which passions collide to create a business with staying power.
Your Name: Kay Fabella
City and Comunidad: Madrid, Madrid
Job Title: Brand Storyteller
Why did you initially come to Spain?
I had studied abroad in Madrid for a semester while I was in college. I absolutely loved it and knew I’d have to find a way back. I just didn’t know when or how.
After finishing my undergraduate degree in three years, I worked for two years in a job that I eventually realized wasn’t for me. While I was deciding what to do next, Spain crossed my mind again. I figured if I could move back to Madrid for a year, I could support myself teaching English while finally becoming fluent in Spanish.
It goes without saying that I fell in love with Madrid… and my incredible Spanish boyfriend that I met my second year here.
How did you transition into your current position?
I originally started as a freelancer because I wanted to build a portfolio to apply for marketing jobs. I wanted to use my strengths in social media, writing, and being bilingual to help other businesses. But over time, I was able to craft a personal brand that allowed me to turn freelancing into a full-time business. Now when I receive job offers on LinkedIn, I turn them down because I can’t imagine working for anyone else!
Madrid has a steadily-growing start-up ecosystem, and I was able to meet a lot of local entrepreneurs and expat business owners through networking. I realized that the one thing that we all struggle with is answering the question, “what do you do?” in a way that is compelling, convincing, and clear. And that clarity comes from knowing how to tell your story.
So I focused my services on helping business owners use storytelling to create targeted communication strategies online, attracting their dream clients and growing their business.
How are you legally working in Spain?
My Spanish boyfriend and I did pareja de hecho, which is the equivalent of a domestic partnership. This guarantees me residency and a right to work here for five years, and can be renewed after that.
How does working in your field in Spain differ from your home country?
I would say the biggest difference is in price point. Salaries in Spain are lower than in the US so I can understand why business owners here are more careful about how and where they spend their money.
Since I can work from wherever, I can dictate the hours I want to work. But I’ll admit I’ve adapted to the Spanish hours of working until 7pm/8pm rather than closing up shop at 5pm if I were back home — it was bound to happen! When you’re trying to accommodate the hours of clients from all over the world, it also makes sense to put in a few extra hours before calling it a day.
What has been the hardest part of working or starting your own business in Spain?
Building a business is not without its challenges, especially in another language! You have to do your research on everything from taxation to monthly Social Security fees (which vary month to month depending on which stage of your business you are in). It’s also important to find competent, trustworthy people to work for you to help you expand. All in all, it’s an exercise in persistence and perseverance, but I imagine that comes with starting a business in any country, not just Spain.
Any advice for non-EU citizens seeking a job outside of teaching?
This probably goes without saying, but before you transition into a new career, you should do your homework and strategize. Reach out to people already in your desired industry via online forums, blogs, or social media. Never stop asking questions. Get a second opinion wherever possible.
Network with people who’ve already taken the path you see yourself on. This goes for professionals AND entrepreneurs looking to make a living doing what they love.
It goes without saying that you should also be strategic of how you present yourself online. No matter what industry you work in, you’re going to be Googled. If the job experience you have on your LinkedIn doesn’t accurately reflect your current ambitions, then future employers are less likely to take you seriously. You should have a hand in writing the story of how you’re perceived online.
It also helps to learn the language of the country where you want to work. It just makes it easier to navigate some of the tougher professional conversations you’ll inevitably have. If possible, find a coach who can help you through the transition.
As one of my favorite marketing gurus says, “Everything is figureoutable.”
What are your plans for the future? Will you stay in Spain?
I always knew I wanted to live abroad at some point in my life, so living in Spain is a dream come true. Outside of the US, I’ve lived in Paris, France; Cambridge, England; Morelia, Mexico; Madrid, Spain; and Mumbai, India. And that doesn’t include all the countries I’ve visited!
But out of all them, I have to say Madrid is my favorite!
It’s hard to beat the quality of life here. I love the terrazas filled with people enjoying a drink on a sunny day. I love that you have cafés run by young entrepreneurs right next to old man bars where the viejitos are sipping on their vermouth. I think I love Madrid for its mix of old and new, its wealth of cultural activities, and for a generally easygoing approach to life. It also helps that I can speak like a madrileña now too!
For now, the plan is to stay in Spain and build a business that lets me work from anywhere. Ideally, I’d like to be able to go back and forth between California and Madrid. For now I’m working hard to make that happen!
And if you’re in Madrid on March 17th, join Kay and three other female entrepreneurs at the US Embassy for a roundtable on starting a business in Spain! Get more information and tickets here.
Stay tuned as we feature more expats who have made a successful transition from teacher to trabajador! If you fit the bill and would like to be featured, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!