“You need a lot of passion and drive, as there are many times when it gets tough.” Sarah McBriar, founder of Belfast’s AVA Festival, explains the challenges involved in starting your own business.


Sarah McBriar

Place of work?

AVA Festival and Up Productions Ltd


Director and Creative Producer.

How long have you had the job?

I started my own business and festival two years ago.

What does a typical day involve?

I split my time between London and Belfast, so my day varies depending on where I am. If I am in London, I will cycle or walk to my desk space, usually drink two cups of coffee and start the day with the long list of things that I need to get done in that day/week. I will have a number of Skype and phone meetings, with a few in-person meetings – a lot of my work is done via email and calls now. I have a monthly planning meeting with my team on Thursday mornings and try to arrange a number of networking opportunities across London, building working relationships.

If I am in Belfast (at least one week a month), my days are full with on-site meetings, studio and design meetings, press announcments and partner/stake-holder meetings. When I am in Belfast my days last around 14 hours, are rammed and very productive. A lot of the creative and logistical work happens in Belfast, with the business and planning in London.

Highs of the job?

Creating a festival from scratch and watching it grow and flourish; along with receiving feedback from people who are genuinely getting something out of it.

Lows of the job?

A lot of solo work can be difficult but it is part of the process of starting a small business. I think any freelancer or young entrepreneur/small business owner can identify with that.

Who are the people who’ve had the biggest influence on your career and why?

Jon Stemp, Chief of Infrastructure at Manchester City Football Club and Owner/Director of Proleisure. I was initially his assistant, then progressed through to a project manager within his company. I learnt a huge amount from him regarding business, organisation, leadership, managing teams, balancing work and fun! I owe a lot to his guidance and mentorship.

My brother, Matthew McBriar [of Bicep]. He has such confidence and conviction when it comes to his work. He is a true creative and artist. He has supported me and given me confidence to start my own festival from the outset and believed I could do it. Exactly the same as my parents. You can’t really ask for more when it comes to family support.

Jessica Bowles, Director of MA Creative Producing at CSSD. Jessica was my MA director – she gave me a huge amount of confidence and encouraged me to take risks, constructively gave me feedback to my festival plans along with connecting me to great people in the industry. It was a game-changing course for me.

How did you get the job?

I started my own business! It took years of experience as a project manager, growing a business within a business, completing an MA and a lot of planning.

How can we get your job?

Start from the bottom. Graft. Work hard. Listen and learn. Intern and create strong networks. Value your working relationships. Experiment with small projects and learn creative and business practice – don’t neglect either (if you want to run a business or be a creative producer). You need a lot of passion and drive, as there are many times when it gets tough.


AVA 2016 will be hosted on Saturday 4th June 2016 at T13 Belfast. Tickets start at £22. More info here.

20th April, 2016

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