Careers in Spain: Kay, Brand Storyteller

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

Kay Headshot 2015

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!

ACM Entrepreneur Series

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.

Madrid Metro

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!

Catch Kay on her website, or get snipets of storytelling success on her Facebook and twitter pages. She’s also on LinkedIn and happy to connect.

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!

Author: Cat Gaa

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  1. I am so glad y’all are doing this series! I am living in Spain but I don’t want to teach English, and most of the time it really feels like that’s my only option. I was just thinking about the other post (about Kate) earlier today. I’m eagerly looking forward to more.
    This one was kind of a let down for me because as interested as I am in knowing more about Kay and what she does (I’ve never heard of brand storytelling and I must admit that I don’t really get it), it was just like I was re-reading the interview that she did a couple of weeks ago on the Intentional Expat. I guess she copied and pasted some of her answers into this interview? Not the best use of my time, but I can’t wait to see more of these!

    Post a Reply
    • Hola Ashley! We’re bringing out loads of interviews in the coming weeks, so be sure to tune in – we’re glad you’re enjoying them!

      Kay’s website has a wealth of information about how to brand your business, so if you’re considering going autónoma, she’s a great place to get ideas! We’ll be getting into the mechanics of starting an SL in the coming months, as well, and we hope it’s of interest to you!

      Post a Reply
  2. I’m really enjoying these interviews, and I’m getting a tonne of information and ideas from them even though I am in a different position than the interviewees…..I’m from the UK and I have a family, but they are a great insight into looking at different careers and having an insiders perspective-more please! 🙂

    Post a Reply
  3. Good interview overall. Not much detail or real how-to, however. Everything she suggested I’ve been trying for over 30 years, to no avail in my case. I’ve been trying to get into Spain legally for longer than she’s been alive, and let me tell you, for non-EUs just finding a way in can be daunting.

    So she got in by having a boyfriend. Should have been more serious about that one at the end of my study-abroad period, when I actually had one. Now at my age, that’s not going to happen. So a freelance business is the only way in — and even then, you have to be well-established and making a mint before even getting the residence card.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Ana. Thanks for your thoughts. Keep in mind that there are still lots more profiles to come with even more ideas. Many of the professional expats we know are indeed entrepreneurs, but others have jobs at Spanish and international companies as well. Some people have achieved legal status through a partner and others have taken ulterior routes. There are lots of options. Stay turned for more!

      Post a Reply
      • Thanks, Como Consulting. Sorry for the negative vibe in that reply. I certainly don’t want to spread that around! 🙂

        It’s just when 30+ years have passed and you’ve done everything in your power to follow a lifelong dream in all that time … it’s easy to come to believe it’s just not possible. Ah well … I’ll just keep following. I actually DO love to hear about people who’ve managed it.

        Post a Reply
    • Ana, you sound really sad-in what ways have you tried to get into Spain? Hope it’s ok to butt in here admin?

      Post a Reply
      • Melanie, thanks for “butting” in. 🙂

        Basically by job hunting for years.

        Before the Internet, there was little anyone could do without personal contacts. I did what anyone did then — library research of companies, publications and schools, or the occasional informational interview with someone stateside, when I could score one. And just chatting it up with anyone and everyone I knew. No results.

        I’m an editor and spent years at a market research company, a newspaper and several other places before recently going freelance. Putting language together has always fascinated me, whether as a writer or editor. I especially love working with non-native English documents. I taught in Japan three times in the past 14 years.

        No legal job in Europe that fit my qualifications ever opened up. I did locate a few jobs over the years, but you had to already have a visa, or be British or Irish.

        The Internet provided me with research capabilities I couldn’t have dreamed of earlier. But even in a worldwide market now open to deeper penetration, the legal pickings were still slim to nonexistent for someone who wasn’t married to or cohabited with a European, wasn’t an executive turned country manager, an IT specialist, doctor, nurse, doctorate-level academic, et al.

        Admittedly, I’m in a crowded field whose non-EU practitioners just aren’t needed. Over the years I’d hear of journalists and editors who somehow got into Spain, or London, or elsewhere in Western Europe. Further digging, when it was possible, invariably revealed either a connection by birth or marriage or a fortuitous professional contact.

        Lately that last has been popping up, where I’ll hear of a young grad who lands a plum job or internship. My sister recently told me about her friend’s recent-grad daughter who regularly travels to London in her journalist job. Except to keep up with what’s happening in the field of international work itself — that’ll always make my heart race — I try to ignore these examples. Some things really are impossible at 60.

        Yet… I still keep up, still hang around sites like this. Force of habit, I guess, after all this time. You guys will likely see me around here at 85, seeing what you all get up to and what possibilities pop up…

        Actually, thanks, Melanie, for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences. I actually feel good after writing this. Kind of keeps the vibrations open. 🙂

        Have a great day!

        Post a Reply
        • Hi Ana, I understand that it seems tough for you, but nothing is insurmountable…..yes, it’s easy for me to say (I am lucky in that I have a British passport) but you have unbelievable skills already and experience on your side. You could totally transfer your skills to other careers/self employment, or why not take a sabbatical? I’m really not being flippant here (so I hope I don’t sound it) and I have no qualifications to advise you, but you sound like you have regrets already and regrets suck! I know of one American family who lived in Spain for two years and they are returning their soon-they could probably advise you better along with Cat and Haley of course! 😉 If you’d like their details just shout. Have a fabulous weekend and I was about to say, “Keep dreaming!” but instead I’ll say, “Stop dreaming and start doing!” 😉

          Post a Reply
  4. Great, great read. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey. It sounds as
    if you have worked yourself to where you want to be . Congratulations and continued good fortune!

    Post a Reply


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