Article | 15 Sep 2022

Freelancers on Freelancing with Siobhan O'Neill, Content Writer

Posted in Digital, Freelancer, Top tips, Tools & Advice, Freelancer's stories,

1. What’s your area of expertise?

I work across a range of subjects and sectors, but I have developed a niche expertise around catering – the kind you find in staff canteens – and especially public sector catering, which is the daily serving of millions of meals in the UK’s schools, hospitals, care homes, prisons and the armed forces. It’s unusual I know, but I find it genuinely fascinating, and I’ve recently launched a Substack to try to get the industry’s positive stories around feeding some of the nation’s most vulnerable people to a wider audience.

I worked for six years as Comms Manager for a charitable membership organisation working with the world’s leading hotels on their environmental, sustainable and corporate responsibility initiatives. So I also have a good understanding of sustainability in the hospitality industry.

2. When did you start freelancing?

I originally started back in 2005 when my first daughter was born. Before that I was part of the editorial team at Radio Times, but it soon became clear that trying to juggle being the kind of mum I wanted to be, with being a present and diligent employee was making us both miserable. So my family persuaded me to try building a freelance career.

3. How do you get new clients?

A variety of ways. Quite a lot come by word-of-mouth recommendation. Some thanks to my fairly unique understanding of public sector catering and experience around sustainability and hospitality. Some I bid for on platforms like The Work Crowd.

4. How do you charge? (Project/Day/hourly?)

It varies depending on the job. I’ve researched and written extensive and detailed horizon-scanning trends reports for the foodservice sector, and a scoping paper for Plan International. Jobs like that I charge for the whole project. Otherwise it tends to be a day rate. If I have capacity, I like to help small businesses and charities who can benefit from an experienced wordsmith, and then I’d break it down to an hourly rate.

5. What tools could you not live without as a freelancer?

The internet. Transcription services like otter.ai or Rev.com. My iPad, phone and laptop. And basic pad and pen. Oh and crucially these days, my glasses!

6. How to keep in the know about the latest industry trends?

I have a bunch of Google alerts for key terms, and I subscribe to a few industry-specific magazines and newsletters. A lot of it I hear about first from the accounts I follow on Twitter.

7. What services are your clients asking for in 2022?

I mean it really depends on what you’re good at I think, and I never promise stuff I can’t deliver. I’m first and foremost a wordsmith, so if people want video content or a podcast, I am not the woman for them. I’m no designer, sadly. Content remains popular and I have content marketing experience so whether people want a blog or to drive sales, I can help with that. I also have experience as a research analyst and in long-form reports / content / white papers, so quite a mixed bag. I see less interest in social media management as a freelance, because people seem to take that in-house now.

8. What skills do you think will be most in-demand this year?

After nearly 18 years freelancing, I am pretty old school and probably not the best person to ask about marketing through TikTok or whatever. But after a lean couple of Covid years I am seeing lots of interest building again in working with experienced freelancers. People seem keen to work with people who can demonstrate their chops, and are coming back with more work after the first successful punt. As we all spend so much time online, there’s always a demand for writers that can produce evergreen blog posts or can hit their SEO marks and help build audiences.

9. What’s your top tip to maintain happy clients?

Communication. People want to be kept in the loop. If jobs are going a little off-track or they’re taking more time, or turn out to be bigger than first thought, you just need to be up-front and honest. Clients will respond positively if you let them know and come with solutions to the challenge, even if it’s going to cost them more money that they first thought.

10. Describe freelancing in one word

Rollercoaster.