How Katie Parla built her successful brand

You've seen her cooking on Good Day New York. And chances are, you or someone you know is one of Katie Parla's more than 37,000 followers on Instagram, an account I don't recommend looking at if you're hungry.

Katie is a food and wine expert, author, and tour guide based in Rome, Italy. She also happens to be one of my dearest friends. So when KP was in town this month, it occurred to me that I should talk to her about how she built her brand and her business basically from nothing.

Katie says it was a singular drive to be there that kept her going after she moved to Italy because she couldn't afford to buy food for a long time. She says she ate a lot of borlotti beans out of the can.

Katie moved to Rome 15 years ago, straight out of college.

She now has a sommelier certification and a master's degree in Italian gastronomic culture, which is a master's in the food history of Italy, that Katie describes as a professional pizza-eating degree.

And she's parlayed (or should I say Parla'd?) those degrees into a successful career.

Katie says it wasn't a lucrative profession to talk about and write about Rome at first, but the only thing that mattered in her life was being able to stay there. So she made whatever sacrifices she had to make to stay.

Katie's learned a lot over the last decade and a half. One lesson? Forget about the work-life balance everyone talks about. Katie says she hasn't figured out a way to do her own thing and be her own boss that gives her work-life balance.

So she's made her work her life, or her life her work. I'm not entirely sure which is which.

How do you do that? Katie says she's crafted her profession so she can be enjoying it while she's doing it.

She's a big believer in saying yes to everything. Even if you're overextending yourself a little bit, say yes. That doesn't mean you should sell out.

Do not work for free. Katie says if you're writing or producing something for a company that's got money, ask for some. Get paid for your work.

But also maintain your integrity and don't take things for free. Katie says one of the reasons she was eating cans of beans for so long was because she wouldn't take anything for free. It was a sacrifice, but it meant she wasn't beholden to anyone and was able to write what she wanted.

Also, take advantage of the educational system if you're living abroad. Katie got her master's degree and certifications in Europe at a fraction of the cost of going to a university in the United States.

On the flip side, don't underestimate the cost of writing and publishing a book. Cookbooks are hot right now, but even a successful one like Katie's Tasting Rome can be expensive to write and release. Katie says she has gone into debt to bring a cookbook to life, so don't assume it's an easy way to make money.

If you're going to Italy check out Katie's website. She has information there about tours, restaurants, and things to do and see. She also has free culinary guides for a host of cities across the world, from Miami to Modena.