How To Win @ Moving Overseas & Working For Your Self with Sophie Mcnay

by laura Liles

We Could retitle this blog post 'How to win at Life- with Soph McNay'.

Vacationers, meet Sophie, an extraordinary graphic designer and the architect behind Ciao Ciao Vacation's logo as well as a myriad of other visual delights that captivate our senses here at CCV HQ.

Having recently traded the sun-kissed beaches of Australia for the picturesque slopes of the French Alps, she's embarked on a sea change ... or shall we say slope change.

To say we're envious would be an understatement! Sophie's experiences have cultivated a few pearls of wisdom, and we're thrilled to share some of her insights with you now.



Soph – we love everything you do here at HQ! I’m going to be honest, we feel a little torn about revealing our secret weapon / branding guru to the world but we're not gatekeepers and you’re too good not to share. That being said, can you tell us a little bit about what you do and how your creative process works? 

Oh I am flattered! Haha. Of course I can. Every brief and each process is a little bit different, and my processes will always vary slightly depending on this. But like anyone who works in the creative field or is a creative will tell you - the creative process is never a linear process, and that being creative ‘on-demand’ can be a real challenge. However when being creative and idea generation is your job, often you are forced to do just that - be creative on demand. So with this being the reality, I have a little bit of a formula (if you want to call it that).

At the core of all I do and how I begin any creative is without any creative (funnily enough). I find the most important part of setting up a successful creative brief is establishing the foundations of the brand or a brief. I spend a long time with the client and doing research, getting clear on who they are as a brand, their values, why they do what they do, their USP and most importantly what message they want to convey to consumers. This is all pulled together before any creative has begun as an in-depth strategy document.

From here, it is about crafting a unique story and narrative that is drawn from this research and values, which will become the starting point and core of any creative. Once this story and theme has been established, this is when the actual ‘creative’ begins (or the drawing colourful pictures which my family is convinced I do for a living). But I find it integral to establish a clear direction and reason behind my creativity before I get started.

By doing it this way, you can ensure any creative produced is going to be entirely unique to that brand/brief.

Producing a ‘pretty design’ is never a focus of mine. I will never produce a piece of creative ‘just because’, every element and touch point will be carefully considered and crafted to tell the story at hand. It is with this that we can create brands and designs that have an impact, last in the market place and resonate with consumers. 

And wow - I realised that was a big essay around how my creative process is not creative haha (my bad!). But I honestly think it is how you set up and prepare for any brief that makes all the difference, as creativity is something that does need to flow and come to life in its own way and naturally, but it's about working out how to aid this process and point the daydreaming ideas into concepts that are relevant.  

You recently completed your own rebrand... tell us about the choice to change your business name to SM House?

I must say, being a brand designer, and tackling the task of your own rebrand has to be one of the hardest briefs you’ll receive! You overthink and overanalyze every element. We decided to rebrand as SM House with the growth of the agency at the front of mind. It was time to level up and put our own best foot forward as a brand. When SM House started (previously SM Creativ) it was all very spur of the moment and a jump now or not at all situation. I was presented with a pretty incredible opportunity at the time to step away from the agency world, and to step out on my own. This was an extremely difficult decision, as I loved my job at the time, but going out on my own was something I’d always wanted to do, so with this opportunity arising out of nowhere, it really was a jump-now and think-later situation. Given this, it meant we dove head first into the deep end of creative for brands, but it meant that adequate time or space was never given for my own brand/agency. It was only really two and half years later that we could finally swim back up and get on top of our own brand. A branding agency lacking its own strong brand identity never sat well with me, and I was never really too proud of my own brand, just all the brands I helped create. So when the time arose to focus on this, SM House was born… well reborn. 

So I guess in short, the decision for the change to SM House was to really future-proof the agency and give it the time and love it deserves. Plus, when you brand brands for a living, its pretty important to have a strong brand yourself - what's the saying - practise what you preach? haha


Soph, you truly are living the self-employed, digital nomad dream right now. You recently relocated to France. Where precisely are you based? What does your day to day look like now you’re on the opposite side of the world? Surely a croissant for breakfast everyday?!

I am indeed, and I’d be lying to say I don’t have pinch myself moments on a daily basis. It still feels pretty surreal that I have created this life for myself, and every day I am thankful for it. I’d be lying if I said it was an easy relocation - moving across the world is hard enough as it is, but trying to run an agency at the same time… let’s just say it was an adjustment! 

I am currently based in the French Alps in a town called Val D’Isere. I have been based here all winter, and it is honestly a winter wonderland here. 

My day to day is pretty incredible (if I don’t say so myself), and oh yes, croissants have definitely made a very comfortable (too comfortable) place in my daily diet - they are as good as you’d imagine they should be!!

I wake up around 5 am every morning to liaise with clients in Australia (as that is where I am originally from, and a lot of my clients are based). I get a few hours of work done whilst the rest of the town still sleeps, and then once the sun is up I will go and sit at a cafe (with said croissant) and do some more work, before heading up the slopes for a few hours of snowboarding. After lunch, I am generally back at my desk (after grabbing a baguette from the boulangerie for lunch) and jumping back into whichever brief I was working on that morning and will work into the night before waking up and doing it all again. I think I can pretty confidently say I have worked out a pretty perfect work-life balance. And I am continually pretty proud to have shaped this dream life for myself (as cliche as that sounds). And the croissant, baguette, cheese and wine cliches are also completely accurate, my life is a constant cheese and carb cycle - and I am not mad about it! 


We are so incredibly jealous!

How did you find the move? Any wise words or tips for anyone sitting on the fence about moving countries?

Well haha… where do I start? Let’s just say that the beginning was far from smooth sailing. It began when I was at the airport in Sydney, and I got stung for a disgusting amount of oversized luggage due to miscommunication with the airline (lets just say I paid more to get my luggage over than I did for myself and my plane ticket). Then upon landing in France, unfortunately, it was not over. I fell victim to a scam with my apartment which left me alone and homeless on the other side of the world where I knew no one. The first 2-3 weeks of my move were probably some of the most stressful weeks of my life. But thankfully with the help of some very kind people, I finally managed to land on my feet and find a place to call home. I was also extremely thankful for my incredible clients at that time who were extremely understanding and patient, as all projects at this time had to be delayed and pushed back. But all of this that happened definitely makes me even more grateful for the incredible daily life I now get to live. 

In terms of wise words for people thinking about moving countries, in short, I say DO IT! 

I would probably suggest that if you are moving countries whilst running your own business, maybe block out a month for potential hiccups and for time to settle in, as this is something that I wish I had done, as this would have alleviated some of my stresses in the beginning. But honestly, even with the challenges that may come with moving countries, it will be one of the most amazing and enriching life experiences you will have. I was probably at my lowest point at the beginning of my move, but I can confidently now say that I am probably the happiest I have ever been, and you almost forget all the sh*t you had to go through to get here. I think you have to remember that when things feel scary or hard, these are generally the things that are going to be well worth it in the end! Plus, I am a strong believer in giving things a chance, and if they dont work out (which I am sure they will), home is only a flight away. 

What a rough start but well and truly worth persevering.

Quickly tell us – Where are you aiming to get to over the Summer?

I am planning to base myself along the Southwest Coast of France, hopefully in Hossegor or nearby and I will operate the studio from here. I am planning to do a fair bit of travel throughout the summer, with a trip to Italy and a trip to Turkey already locked in. I’m so excited for all the inspirations along the way. There is something about the history and culture in Europe that is so incredibly inspiring, and I am pretty excited to trade the snow in for the ocean.


Sounds heavenly! Before we leave you to your snow angels and french wine allow us a few rapid fire questions;



Hate to be cliche, but it would have to be a spicy margy.


 Ice Cream or Gelato (It might not be a meal, but hey, on death row I don’t think there are too many rules or specifics around what qualifies nutritionally as a meal). 


Oh gosh this is hard. But I’d have to say a surfing trip to Sumatra this time last year with some of my close girlfriends. Everything about this holiday was amazing, I dont think any of us knew exactly what we were in for or what some of the islands had to offer - between no power and waves way bigger than any of us had even dreamt of surfing. But it was with all of this (and everything in between) that made it a holiday that I dont think any of us will ever forget!

We were living out our true Blue Crush childhood dreams. 



Oh gosh, this is hard. I think it would have to be either Iceland or the Maldives - but I feel like depending on the day, you'll get a different answer from me. 




Currently, it would have to be my Salomon XT Goretex sneakers with all this snow around.



"You don’t get what you don’t ask for."

"If it was easy, everyone would do it."

"Shit Happens."

2024 IN AND OUT:


IN: Going against society's expectations of you (or what you think they expect of you).
OUT: Doing things because you feel like you ‘have to’ or ‘should.’


Sophie, We think you’re a legend! I’m sure our Ciao Ciao community will love hearing about your unique approach to branding to your enviable, nomadic lifestyle – thank you for giving us a peek into your world.

Have a croissant for us!