Mastering the art of letting go

Learning to let go is a life skill that’s vital at any age. During the pandemic, I found that the less I held on to certain goals and mindsets, the more happiness I found in my daily life.

Like anyone, I crave a sense of control. When the pandemic forced my life out of my hands, I started losing my cool. A mad combination of stress and anxiety made me severely burnt out. I was so emotionally and physically worked up that health issues started popping up left and right.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that I hit a low point and let myself down in multiple areas. I suffered emotionally, and my pre-existing autoimmune condition worsened. Plus, I lost a shot at my University’s Honor Roll. For weeks my mind was in a dark place, pitch black with bitterness. Against my wishes, I found myself spiraling into self-doubt and shame with no clear way out.

But I’m getting better, and here’s how I’m doing that.

Accept your failures, but learn from them

Prior to the pandemic, I was a typical straight-A student who was involved in student orgs. I was graciously given a top position at the school publication, where I was exposed to different sets of challenges every day. I was cruising in my new role for a while, but I was unable to manage that transition well with other responsibilities. 

Since then, I’ve learned to nip my stressors in the bud one by one. I introspected and kept to myself for a while. I have recalibrated my priorities and burdened myself to find my inner purpose.

Keep your mind and body occupied

As a complement to the first step, this one helps keep intrusive thoughts at bay. One of the biggest things that held me back the past year was my inability to stick to being decisive and assertive. I was making poor decisions because I was not in good holistic health.

I’ve found ways to keep myself grounded amid stressful situations. I volunteer in advocacy organizations and consciously dedicate time where I do house chores. It helps drown out whatever thoughts hinder me from becoming a reasonable individual.

Stay in the present moment

On any given day, I’m probably obsessing over small minor mistakes or anxiously worrying about what the future might hold. I’m too scared that I’ll make the same mistakes and flop around like a fish out of water all over again. 

I have to remind myself that I’m a changed person and that helps put into perspective the amount of growth I’ve had the past year. Seeing a professional and learning how to be rational and logical has changed me for the better.

When life gives you lemons

It’s easy to feel cynical when it seems like nothing is going your way. I have had half a mind to be a recluse and never interact with anyone again. Turns out, I just sucked at managing life and its funny, unpredictable, and often unfair changes.

As I finish the last few weeks of university and transition to a life where I can make better-informed decisions, I feel scared but at ease. From feeling suffocated, I’m starting to feel like the world is my oyster. Writing feels new and challenging again, rejection feels like a stepping stone to success, and job-hunting feels like finally being brave enough to wade in the deeper parts of the pool.

There are many things to be wary of, admittedly. But change is the only permanence in the world, and I’ve learned to build armor that will shield me from unnecessary stress and pain. 

Will there be failure, success, or just plain, everyday living? I don’t know. But if there’s one certain thing I’ve learned in the past year, it’s this. When life gives you lemons, maybe you should just try to let those lemons go.

What have you let go of this 2022 and how did you do it? Tell us in the comment section below!

For reactions or story suggestions, you can reach out to the blog contributor at gosabrinajoyce@inspiredspaceph.com.

We Almost Didn’t Make it to 2022

Our 2021 started with a box on our doorstep and some sad news: the co-working space in Makati where we have been consigning since 2018 was folding due to the effects of the pandemic. ⁠



The box contained unsold sleeves, battered tags, and a faded acrylic display that gathered dust as the co-working space remained locked up since March 2020. The only physical presence of our store was gone. For good.⁠

Carrying this box up to storage reiterated the weight that the pandemic pressed on micro-businesses, more so for ventures like us who offered non-essential goods.⁠

We wanted to sulk, and that we did. ⁠

But we couldn’t allow ourselves to stay down for too long. We needed to move on not just for our sake but also for the faux leather suppliers, partner sewists, riders, and everyone else whose livelihood were impacted by our small venture. ⁠

Thankfully, there were entities that offered assistance to small businesses. These opportunities, however, weren’t served on a silver platter. Taking part meant we had to organize our legal affairs, streamline our operations, and formalize all aspects of the business. ⁠

Not to mention, we had to squeeze in time for sending product samples, handling the email back-and-forth, calling to follow up, and attending virtual meetings – all on top of our day job.⁠

We’ve all heard it before – when a door closes, a window opens. But this year taught us that finding windows isn’t the end of the quest. You have to knock, hoist yourself up, and reach out with all your might for them to let you in. Many are willing to help, but first, you must help yourself.⁠

Now, we’re ending 2021 with a physical presence in two malls, consignments in two online platforms, two internally-managed online stores, and an e-commerce website. We’re far from being a multi-million business, but we’re thriving.⁠

We couldn’t have done it without the help of our partners, customers, and most of all, supporters like you, who take the time to read posts like this and keep us on your radar. You’re the ones who keep us afloat in the most trying of times and this we say with all sincerity: thank you. ❤️

10 Mindful Gift Ideas that are Actually Useful

Here are some mindful gift ideas that don’t only focus on sharing blessings this Holiday season, but also encourage caring for the environment, upholding animal rights advocacy, and supporting livelihood of local farmers, craftsmen, and small businesses.

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1. Reusable straws. Phys.org cites a study that says up to 8.3 billion plastic straws lie on shorelines all over the world. The simplest and most obvious solution is to sip beverages straight from the cup. But for drinks that are just more enjoyable with a straw like milk tea or whipped cream frap, reusable straw is a mindful gift that delivers. Amid the popularity of metal straw, bamboo straw is also a great alternative especially since many varieties are sourced locally and provides livelihood for our fellow Filipinos.

Who it’s for: Milk tea addicts, frap lovers, anyone who loves sipping cold drinks

Price: You can get a bamboo straw set for about P100-P300 in various bazaars and online stores.

Bamboo straws and canvas pouch with a milky drink on a table

2. A basket of fruits sans the cellophane or plastic wrap. Anyone would surely appreciate a basket of fruits as a Christmas gift, especially since Pinoys believe that having 12 round fruits at home when the New Year strikes attracts good luck. Ditch the cellophane or plastic wrap and go for reusable net bags instead. Top with a reused ribbon and you’re good to go.

Who it’s for: Health buffs, fruit lovers. This is also a good option if you’re giving one gift to a whole family. This is also one of the best mindfulness gifts for mom and dad to encourage healthy eating amid a series of Holiday parties.

Price: Woven baskets cost between P60-P200 depending on size and style (the one shown on the photo costs P130). Lambat or net bag costs P10. Prices of fruits range depending on variety. To make it truly a mindful gift, find out what fruits (or other fresh produce) the recipient likes and put those in the basket. 

A basket of strawberries on a table

3. Shampoo bars. The Philippines is the third largest contributor to plastic waste, according to a study conducted in 2015. It may not come as a surprise since almost all consumer items in the country could be bought in tingi (retail) sachets. Shampoo bar is a good alternative to its liquid counterpart that comes in sachets or plastic bottles. This makes an especially good gift for those who prefer personal care products that are made from natural ingredients.

Who it’s for: People who love taking care of their mane but wouldn’t want to contribute to plastic pollution

Price: Human Nature’s Zesty Vanilla Delight Natural Moisturizing Shampoo Bar costs 139.75 on their website. There are also many local artisan soap makers you can find online – and they offer amazing scents too!

Handmade natural soaps wrapped in brown paper with a jute string

4. Bamboo toothbrush. If you think shampoo bars could be a hit or miss as friends and family have different preferences for hair care products, you might want to move on to an item that’s a lot more generic: toothbrush. Dentists advice changing one’s toothbrush every three months so that’s quite a lot of non-biodegradable plastic sticks that regularly end up in landfills.

Who it’s for: Just about anyone with teeth! People who are willing to make small lifestyle changes for a good cause. This is also one of the best mindful gifts for him – he’ll use it for sure!

Price: Bamboo toothbrush costs around P50-P250 depending on the brand.

Two bamboo toothbrushes in a glass jar

5. Scented candles. Who needs chemical-loaded air fresheners or home sprays when you can enjoy the natural and relaxing fragrance of scented candles? Citrus-scented candles can be great in neutralizing strong kitchen odors from cooking; floral scents are a good choice for the bathroom; while vanilla or cinnamon-scented candles will make your home smell like freshly baked cookies.

Who it’s for: People who love a good home scent and can’t tolerate nasty smells. This is one of the best mindfulness gifts for her!

Price: Scented candles usually cost P150-P500, depending on size, brand and scent.

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5. Essential Oils. Holiday Season can be a stressful time. Heavy traffic alone can drive one nuts, add that to the pressure of ticking every name on the Christmas list, and making sure thay everything is set for Noche Buena and Medya Noche. Essential oils like lavender or peppermint can be a great natural antidote to stress. Throw in a jewelry diffuser for instant aromatherapy sessions anytime, anywhere.

Who it’s for: People who love chilling out with a good book or a Netflix marathon alongside a good, relaxing scent

Price: Essential oils usually cost around P200-P1,300 per 10g bottle depending on variety.

A small jar and a dropper bottle of essential oil

6. Vegan Leather Gadget Sleeves. Leather accessories offer a rustic and clean look that is nothing but elegant. However, animal rights advocates try to avoid genuine leather so as not to support leather farms and the drastic situations within its four corners. Luckily, vegan leather offers the same classic look and feel without having to hurt animals.

Who it’s for: People who love minimalist accessories, digital nomads and freelancers who frequently need to have their laptops in tow wherever they go

Price: Vegan leather sleeves for laptops, tablets, cellphones, and passports range from P299-P1289. Inspired Space vegan leather products are available in three colors: barako, tablea and bukayo.

Vegan leather phone and passport sleeves in a box

7. Locally-sourced coffee beans or grounds. For many Pinoys, Holiday season is the time for collecting stickers from international coffee shop franchises to get a free planner for the upcoming year. One way to even out the Holiday sales competition is to buy coffee grounds sourced from local farmers. There are supermarkets that sell local coffee by the weight. You can also grind the beans just before packing it up. Tip: skip the plastic and put the beans or grounds in jars instead. Decorate with a jute ribbon and it’s ready for gift-giving. You can also go the extra mile and add a coffee press or a gorgeous mug to make a coffee mindfulness gift box.

Who it’s for: Coffee lovers, people who can’t function in the morning without their caffeine fix

Price: 250g of local coffee costs around P150-P450 depending on brand and variety.

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8. Face towels. “I have too many face towels,” said no one ever! We might have hated getting face towels or handkerchiefs as gifts when we were kids, but one can’t overemphasize the usefulness of this versatile helper especially for people who are trying to lessen the use of disposable paper towels. More than just being used to dry the face after washing, it could be used as a sweaty back rescue, a shower washcloth, hot or cold compress, and so many others. Old face towels could be used as hand towels or cleanings rags – the possibilities are endless! You can also use a face towel to wrap items for a zero waste gift.

Who it’s for: Just about anyone who wants to lessen their use of disposable paper towels

Price: Face towels range from P25-P70 depending on size, quality and brand.

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What’s your favorite mindful gift? Tell us in the comment section below!

7 Green Holiday Tips for a Sustainable Holiday

A green lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean radically shaking up your everyday routine, giving up all kinds of meat, or replacing every product in your home with an organic version. We can all contribute to the environment through our own simple ways and by protecting nature, we empower it to take care of us in return.

Here are seven easy green holiday tips that will benefit the environment and make you feel healthier and closer to Mother Nature.

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1. Choose cruelty-free gifts

Giving gifts is a way to show love and appreciation to people around us. Multiply the love by choosing products that don’t harm animals and the environment. Instead of buying leather accessories, for example, opt for cruelty-free vegan leather that are just as durable and classy. Inspired Space SLEEK Vegan Leather Laptop Sleeves

2. Use recycled materials to wrap gifts

The most basic green holiday meaning is to to be kinder to Mother Nature amid the revelry. Instead of using gift wrapper, be creative and use recycled materials. For example, brown paper, magazine pages, and reused paper bags can do the job – plus, they’re free. Compostable jute strings and reusable (or recycled) gift decor like Christmas ornaments are also a nice, eco-friendly touch.

Gifts wrapped in recycled brown paper

3. Give potted plants as a gift

Yes, this is a very plantita idea indeed. But rather than giving loved ones things they may not actually use (and may end up in the trash later on), you might as well give them something practical for eco-friendly holidays. Help office mates relieve stress by giving them small, ornamental plants to put on their desk for that oxygen boost. Foodies, on the other hand, would surely love to have potted herbs in the kitchen. Not sure what plant to give away? Poinsettias are always a hit and would liven up one’s home for Christmas and New Year.

Potted plants in a basket for gifting

4. Choose organic for Noche Buena and Media Noche

It’s hard not to overeat when the whole family is together and everyone’s in a festive mood. But you can try to make Noche Buena and Media Noche a little healthier with organic ingredients without toxic chemicals. Also, here’s one of those green holiday tips your body will thank you for – make a good bowl of healthy salad to balance out all those slices of Christmas ham and queso de bola.

Holiday meal made of organic produce

5. Go for local instead of imported

Eating local food supports sustainability, promotes our economy, and lessens carbon footprint. If you can’t help but serve imported goods, at least balance them out with local products. Kitchen green holiday tips include mixing in guava, suha, and chico to your basket of round fruits. You can also add slices of kesong puti, longganisa, or local jams and honey to your grazing platter for a local twist.

Crackers with farmer's cheese

6. Try to limit the use of disposable dinnerware

Christmas parties equal big garbage bags full of disposable food containers and cutlery. One of the most important green holiday tips is to opt for reusable plates, cups, and cutlery during parties. You need to burn calories after eating a feast anyway, so what’s a few extra minutes of washing the dishes? But if you’re really not a fan of the chore, at least shop for compostable dinnerware made from root starches.

Table setting with stoneware and wood plate

7. Relieve Holiday stress with natural remedies

With all the shopping, planning, and year-end deadlines, holidays can indeed be a stressful time. But instead of popping a pill every time you feel an ache, try to pamper yourself with natural remedies first. For instance, lavender essential oil is known to calm and soothe and it’s mild enough to apply directly to your temples. Also, you can also help yourself relax better at night by skipping sugar-loaded Holiday coffee drinks and settle instead with herbal tea with honey.

Dropper bottle of essential oil

How are you living a greener lifestyle this Holiday season? Tell us on the comment section below!

4 Must-Haves To Start Freelancing Right Away

You don’t need a lot of equipment to get started with freelancing. This is probably why more and more Pinoys are turning to their laptops to find new ways of making money right in their own homes.

I began my journey as a freelance writer equiped with the four must-haves I listed down below. And to sustain my freelancing career, I personally needed the things on the add-ons list. Check out the list and see if these are the same things you might need in the nature of freelance career that you’re planning to pursue.

Here are my four freelancing must-haves:

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1. WiFi Connection. When I started applying for freelance jobs back in early 2015, I relied on my Globe Tattoo postpaid mobile WiFi for connection. It was reliable enough – it allowed me to browse job openings, post application proposals, send emails and go on Skype calls for interviews and meetings.

Back then, I still kept an apartment I shared with friends in Quezon City. But because I no longer had a regular job (read about why I left my work in a TV network in this post), I had more time to come home to my parents’ house in Cavite and I stayed there more or less half of the week. With this arrangement, having a mobile WiFi was super convenient. It also came in handy as I enjoyed my newfound freedom and went on weekday beach trips, my laptop in tow digital nomad-stye.

However, as the list of my clients grew, I started to reach Globe’s data cap as early as the first week of the month. And so, I had to register for extra data everyday on top of my monthly bill.

In 2016, I settled down with my husband and gave up my nomadic (sort of) lifestyle. We got DSL in our new home and only then did I fully appreciate how convenient it was to have fast and reliable internet connection especially for a freelancer like me. Because of faster internet, I was able to finish tasks quicker cutting back time I allotted for work.

Your choice of WiFi connection relies on the nature of work you do and the type of freelancer lifestyle you want to live. If you’re always on the road or if you chose to go freelance to be able to travel more, having mobile WiFi is definitely beneficial (just be sure to have plan B if you find yourself in a remote beach without signal).

But if getting work done right away is a bigger priority so that you can spend more time with your family, DSL connection is the way to go. (For reference: my Globe mobile WiFi plan back then cost P1499 per month plus additional data charge, while our current PLDT DSL plan costs P1299 per month).

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2. Laptop or desktop computer. This may not be a necessity for other types of online freelance work (I’ve seen posts on Facebook offering online jobs that only require smart phones… I’m not sure if they’re legit jobs though). But for a freelance writer like me, having a computer is essential.

The last time I owned a desktop was back in college. I don’t have a need for a high-capacity desktop computer as the type of the work I do mostly involves writing in Word and transfering the text to a Content Managment System (CMS). These tasks can be efficiently handled with a simple laptop.

According to readings online and some IT people I know, a laptop usually has a lifespan of four years – same lifespan as running shoes. That said, it’s important to take good care of your laptop so that its lifespan don’t get even shorter than expected.

The short lifespan is the reason why I choose not to invest in pricey laptops. As long as it can perform the tasks I need for my job, I’m happy with it. The current laptop I’m using is Acer Aspire E11. It’s three years old now and is starting to act out every now and then, so I’m expecting to buy a new one next year. (The last laptop I had before this was Acer Aspire One which lasted for six years – not bad for a gadget I overused for scripts and graduate school).

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3. Earphones or headphones with mic. If you’ve applied for a remote job and your employer seriously considered you for the post, chances are, you’ll need to talk to the hiring officer via Skype or other video calling platforms for an interview. You’ll definitely need earphones or headphones with mic for this (for tips on video interviews and other steps in starting out a freelance career, read this post).

You can take the risk and go on a video call without earphones, but there’s a big chance you wouldn’t hear your prospective employer clearly – especially if he or she has an accent that’s already difficult to understand. It may be forgivable to ask the interviewer to repeat the question once or twice, but more than that may just be too much. You wouldn’t want to come off as a person who couldn’t comprehend simple statements.

For those considering freelance jobs as English language tutors, having good-quality headphones is a requirement. I only go on video calls for occasional meetings maybe once every two months (my clients and I usually communicate through email), so the Samsung earphones that came with my cellphone works fine for me.

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4. Smartphone. You might be wondering why you’d be needing a smartphone when you already have a laptop or a desktop. Simple: think of it as your emergency escape plan. Just like working in a physical workplace, there could be emergencies – your laptop could go caput, your internet connection could fluctuate.

A smart phone with mobile data will come in handy to immediately inform your client about your situation. Remember, credibility is everyting when it comes to online jobs and going MIA on your client is a definite no-no. Better come clean right away and tell your client that you can’t work, rather than leave the client hanging until you appear back online.

Apart from the essentials, there are add-ons that you would need as you go along your freelancing journey. Here are some of the things I found very useful once I had actual clients:

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1. Calendar/organizer. Having a calendar or organizer may not seem important when you’re still setting up your freelancing career, but once clients come flying in, you’ll definitely need a board to organize your work schedule.

During my first months as a freelance writer, I got too excited and accepted multiple clients. I worked for four employers – a SEO article business based in Bangladesh, a SEO article business based in India, an internet marketing company in San Diego, and a kitchenware business in Oregon. In short, I had four different clients who expected four different sets of requirements from me.

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Above is a photo of a weekly calendar that I’ve kept from that time. Notice that Sunday was the only day I had to myself (I spent it with my family in Tagaytay, so it was covered in hearts). The rest of the week, my calendar was loaded with “6 articles for client A” and “3rd PR (press release) for client B” or “send invoice to client C.”

In a regular job, you could have multiple bosses but you’re all still under one company. So most likely, you’d just have to tell your superiors about a work load conflict and they could sort things out for you.

But as a freelancer, you manage and juggle your own work schedule. Your clients don’t know one another and don’t care whether you have other commitments. The only thing they care about is that you deliver tasks as agreed upon. Being organized is very important.

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2. Work space. Once you have clients, it is imperative for you to have a regular work station where you can focus and concentrate on your daily tasks. It may be something as simple as a chair and table at the corner of your kitchen, or something as grand as a studio allotted for a home office.

The important thing is, you must be able to sit comfortably in your work station for hours while working on your projects (for tips on how to improve your work space for productivity, read this post).

So there you have it! The must-haves you need to set up, and the add-ons you need to maintain a freelance career.

For current freelancers, what were the things that you found essential in your nature of work back when you were still setting up your career? Tell us on the comment section below!

Beginner’s Guide: Freelancing Scams & Frauds PART II

For the second part of our Freelancing Scams & Frauds series, I’m writing about an online freelancer’s worst nightmare – not getting paid for services rendered.

Many freelancers are very cautious during their first few interactions with a new client. It is usually during these first chat conversations or video call meetings that freelancers gauge the professionalism and trust-worthiness of the client. But let me tell you – you can be working for a client or an agency for quite some time…  and still be victimized.

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PART II. Alan Choo: Shady Agency Executive Who Suddenly Goes MIA

During my first months as a freelance writer, I was hired by an SEO online publication outfit. Let’s call it K-News.  Their main office was in New York City but they had remote teams in India and in the Philippines, mostly composed of HR staff, team leaders and writer/reporters.

I’ve got to say, the agency was pretty organized. After passing a writing exam and being interviewed by an HR officer via video call, I was trained under a team leader for some time before finding keywords and writing articles on my own.

It was a smooth and steady job. And for a newbie like I was, the pay wasn’t bad at $5 for a 300-word article plus monthly incentives if your pieces get many hits. Once a month there was a one-on-one online chat session with a Filipino SEO training officer, and a separate online training session per team with a New York-based Editorial Manager we’ll call Roger. Every week, Roger would send everyone an email update about article trends,  keyword ideas and even a list of top-performing writers and teams.

With freelance projects coming and going, K-News became a constant and secure source of monthly income for me. Every now and then, payments would be delayed by a few days to a week but I didn’t really mind. Some of my remote co-workers had already been with K-News for several years then, so I was confident that the company was stable and reliable.

That’s why I was completely blindsided when things started to take a wrong turn. It was my 10th month writing for K-News. A week of payment delay became two, and then three. A month without a dime being sent to our PayPal accounts, many started to freak out. A lot of us stopped working and demanded that we get paid first before we continue writing for them again.

After being bombarded with too many complaints and follow-up emails, the HR team finally came clean – for the past few weeks, they haven’t been able to contact Alan Choo (not his real name), the New York executive who was in charge of releasing payments. Apparently, Alan Choo was initially on sick leave and went missing in action thereafter.

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The Philippine team had only been in contact with two people in New York throughout the years – Alan Choo and Editorial Manager Roger who, at the time of the debacle, had already resigned. Our team leaders asked for Roger’s help in reaching out to the New York team even though he was no longer with the company. Roger purportedly did reach out to K-News but in the end, we were told that we had no choice but to wait for Alan Choo to come back to circulation.

It was such a frustrating time. One moment we thought we were part of a company, the next we were left hanging – even our team leaders didn’t know if we still had a job. We had this one link to New York and just like that, he was gone. No one would talk to us or answer our questions. And it was only during that time that we realized how sketchy K-News was, including its mother company.*

For the next weeks, there was nothing more

to do but bombard them with messages – Alan Choo and a Pinay HR staff member who was believed to still be in contact with him. In the end, some got paid while some didn’t – I was one of the unfortunate ones.

Lessons Learned From Alan Choo

This scenario is exactly why traditional employees are scared to jump off the wagon and start an online freelancing career. And given our case, they certainly have the right to be scared. K-News is not under any regulatory body in the Philippines – no one can demand them to pay us or reprimand them for failing to do so.

Some of my former co-workers in K-News mentioned the possibility of talking to a lawyer in New York to sue the company, but we all knew that it would require too much time, energy and money.

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It was good while it lasted. There were no telltale signs that K-News, or at least Alan Choo, would bail on us. But that situation taught me a lot of lessons:

  • Even if a project seems stable, legit, and regular, never get too relaxed and depend solely on it for income. After all, you are still a freelancer and there’s no security of tenure.
  • It will always be safer to have other clients on the side. When I was writing for K-News, I had two other clients that assigned lighter tasks such as press releases or product descriptions here and there. So when Alan Choo ditched the Philippine team, I had other sources of income that got me through until I found another regular stint.
  • When you have a regular project, make it a priority to set up an emergency fund. It would come in very handy during unfortunate events such as the K-News fiasco.
  • Check online forums, social media groups and other fraud-busting websites before agreeing to work for a client. A few months after Alan Choo failed to pay us, we heard that K-News was once again back in operation and was hiring new Filipino freelancers. I do hope applicants did a background check first and that they knew what they were getting themselves into.
*Another sketchy thing about K-News. After the whole payment brouhaha, one of my former co-workers applied for a writing job in K-News’ main competition – let’s call it Global Money Times. During her training period, she was stunned when she was given the log-in username for Global Money Times’ Getty Images account: “Alan Choo.” She immediately walked away from the job right then and there. I didn’t want to mention the true names of companies/people involved, but for the sake of newbies, here are links to related pieces from Ripoff Report, Medium, and Glass Door.

 

Read Beginner’s Guide: Freelancing Scams & Frauds PART I – Cunning Kumar, A Middleman Preying On Newbies.

Have you also encountered agency executives Alan Choo? Tell us about the lessons you’ve learned on the comment section.

Beginner’s Guide: Freelancing Scams & Frauds PART I

Let’s face it – being an online freelancer involves risks far greater than what a regular office job entails. Everything – deliverables, fees, projects – all depends on mutual trust.

You and your client trust that both of you will be online for video meetings, and that both of you will maintain correspondence about the project. The client trusts that you will accomplish deliverables on time and you trust that the client will pay you on time.

I’ve handled quite a number of projects since I started freelance writing in 2015. I’ve been blessed to have met a lot of trust-worthy clients (some of whom I still work with until now), but I’ve also had my share of clients who do not comply with what has been agreed upon.

In this blog series, I’m listing the scams, schemes, frauds and other forms of swindles I’ve encountered in the online freelancing industry so far. I hope you can learn from my experience and be more cautious in choosing your online projects.

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PART I. Cunning Kumar: Middlemen Preying On Newbies.

First on my list are middlemen preying on newbies because it was also the first “fraud” I’ve ever encountered as a freelance writer.

Some postings in online job platforms aren’t very clear whether you’d be working directly with a client or if you’d be working for an agency or a middleman. An agency or a middleman accepts projects from direct clients who need online content or articles. But instead of writing deliverables themselves, they look for writers who could do the task for them. If, for example, the direct client offers $10 for every article, the middleman pays the writer $2 (yes, they can be that cheap) and s/he keeps the rest.

During my first week in Freelancer.com, I was ready to get my hands on any project just to get started with an online career. I didn’t have a benchmark for fair online writing rates. And since I came from a TV news writing background, I wasn’t that confident about my content writing skills and thus felt uncomfortable charging high rates for it.

So when one client invited me to work for him, I immediately grabbed the opportunity despite the meager rates, if only for experience and to build up my portfolio. Let’s call this client Kumar. I checked Kumar’s Freelancer account and he seemed legit. He’s from South Asia and had a rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars, with more than 2,000 reviews. Not bad.

The thing that confused me about Kumar’s profile was that he described himself as a writer and an owner of a writing agency, not as an employer. So what was he doing hiring me? Aren’t we on the same side as freelance writers?

I read the reviews about him and saw that people were commending him for his work as a writer. I presumed that he wanted to hire me as part of his team, so I went ahead and decided to try it out.

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Kumar gave me huge work load – 8 SEO* articles (500 words each) for every batch, with a turnaround time of 2 days. It was far from an ideal online job. I had to spew out 8 articles all bearing the same keywords like “Six Sigma Black Belt Certification” or “Cisco CCNA Certification Training School.” If you’re clueless about what those phrases are, so was I. But I had no choice but to research and weave words into articles to earn a little money.

After a couple of weeks of fatigue from beating deadlines, the work arrangement with Kumar started to get exhausting. Kumar would assign me articles with more words but only minimal additional pay. When I tried to cut myself a better deal, he said he can’t change the existing rates though he might consider raising my pay if I were to be consistent with the quality of my work and deadline compliance.

Aside from this job with Kumar, I was also working on other online projects at that time to make more cash. The stress didn’t seem to be worth it. Yes, I was working within the comforts of home, but I was working 14-16 hours a day for not even a third of what I was making in my previous job at a TV network.

Apart from that, something didn’t feel right about Kumar. And so, I started investigating. I revisited his Freelancer account. Nothing much has changed, he still had a rating of 4.8 out of 5. He had the same reviews from Freelancer.com members from various regions including USA, Canada and Europe.

When I clicked on on the account of his reviewers, the truth unfolded before my eyes – his reviewers had empty profiles. In short, they were dummy accounts! I’m not sure if all 2,000 reviews were sham because I stopped checking after the first 40 or 50.

Right after getting payment for my invoice, I told Kumar that I can no longer work for him.

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Lessons Learned From Kumar

I committed a few mistakes with my dealings with Kumar, the first of which was that I accepted his offer even though his background as a client, an agency owner, a middleman or whatever he was wasn’t clear to me.

As a newbie, I was too focused on the challenge of accomplishing the task given by the client that I didn’t do much nosing around about whether that client is trust-worthy or not.

For those who are still gauging the online freelance writing industry, please bear these tips in mind before accepting your next project:

  • Research about the client thoroughly. If something doesn’t sit well with you, there’s probably something amiss.
  • Never underestimate your worth as a freelancer. I know of many newbie freelance writers who accept projects with minimal rates just to have something in their portfolio. I also had the same thing in mind when I accepted Kumar’s offer (if I was going to write sample articles anyway, why not make a few bucks while at it?) If that’s the case, get out of the project as soon as you accomplish your goal.
  • If the client is asking for more than what was agreed upon (like Kumar asking me to write 800-word articles instead of 500), be sure that the additional compensation is worth the additional effort.
  • However cunning your client is, try to end your working relationship in a civil manner. I stayed polite and classy when I told Kumar that I can’t work for him anymore. Despite deceiving with his fake reviews and taking advantage of newbies with his stingy rates, one good thing I got from Kumar was my first 5-star review in Freelancer and a comment that says “nice experience.”
*SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – Search engine optimization is a methodology of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the amount of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine — including Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. Definition from Webopedia.

Have you also encountered clients like Kumar? Tell us about the lessons you’ve learned on the comment section.

Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellness: the Best Gift to Give Yourself this Christmas

Most Christmas parties center on revelry, theme costumes, and flowing alcohol that would leave you with the worst hangover the morning after. Fortunately, the recent shindig organized by Friendly Alliances and Media Expression (FAME) Inc. was a breath of fresh air.

FAME Media Appreciation Night, held for media partners, bloggers and contributors in Trianon Plenary Hall in Makati, focused on physical, mental and emotional wellness. As FAME publishes Zen Health, Health and Lifestyle, DiabetEASE, and Travel Plus Magazines, one can expect nothing less.

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FAME Media Appreciation Night

Guests were treated to a lovely dinner and freebies, including free treatments at a nail spa station and cups of super food-enriched coffee (a lot healthier than fizzy drinks or cocktails) throughout the night.

The get-together also served as a media launch for the company’s newest branch – FAME Leaders’ Academy (FLA), an institute that aims to be a topnotch learning provider for organizations to develop their people’s skills, both personal and professional.

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Sleepwell distributing freebies at FAME Media Appreciation Night

Guests were also treated to short lifestyle and wellness talks by FLA Dean Hudson Pelayo, as well as two FLA faculty members: Asian Institute of Lifestyle Medicine founder Dr. Blecenda Varona and international motivational speaker and life coach Richard Tamayo.

A Gift to Give Yourself

Life coach Richard Tamayo’s short talk focused on stress management and emotional wellness – a topic that’s very fitting amid the Holiday hustle and bustle, and just before people try to draft resolutions for the upcoming year.

International motivational speaker Mr. Richard Tamayo gives a sneak peak of interesting workshop topics offered by Fame Leaders' academy during the FLA Official Launch

Did you know that compared to cooler heads, hotheads are six times more likely to suffer heart attacks by age 55? Now that’s one thing to consider before letting rage get the best of you when another driver cuts your lane!

Tamayo also talked about the emotional dangers of resentment and being unforgiving. Other people may have done you wrong, but it’s always your choice if you want that mishap to affect how you live for the rest of your life. As a quotation from an unknown author goes, “Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks, then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.”

In the end, no matter how much time you spend working out in the gym, or how many servings of fresh fruits and vegetables you get everyday, it wouldn’t do much good if your system is flooded with bitterness and negativity.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free… and to discover that the prisoner was you.” As we bid goodbye to 2018, it’s a good time to let go of unnecessary baggage and welcome a fresh and healthy start for the coming year.

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FAME Media Appreciation Night loot

The FAME Media Appreciation Night was made possible by Accuchek, Jimms Coffee, Sleepwell, Holistix Inc., His & Hers (nails & others), The Zen Institute, Sante Barley MAX, and Calcium Cee.

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FAME Media Appreciation Night

Traveling to Europe from the Philippines: Which Airline to Choose?

One of the main preparations that need to be arranged before going to another country is air travel. It’s important to find an airline that would cater to your needs and also fit within your travel budget.

Traveling to Europe from the Philippines isn’t exactly cheap and could require a little more preparation and research than your average out of the country trip. Luckily, there are loads of flight alternatives that could get you to Europe without having to cost an arm and a leg.

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Finding a Cheap Flight

The internet is every budget travel planner’s best friend. A few searches at Skyscanner, Farecompare, and Cheapflights and you’ll get a good idea about airline price ranges and flight routes. However, it was a combination of online and offline efforts that allowed us to book flights that met our schedule and budget requirements.

Upon searching online, we found that the cheapest flights for our itinerary (Manila to Barcelona, Amsterdam to Manila) was through multiple airlines, some with two or three layovers and some with a total travel time of more than 40 hours. That’s almost two days of vacation time spent just riding planes and waiting in airports – and that’s just one way! It may sound like an adventure for some, but we would rather shell out a little more money than suffer fatigue and endure stress before and after our vacation.

The most reasonable flight we found within our schedule and budget was Qatar Airways’ promo fare flights. The trip only required one layover in Doha and according to reviews online, Hamad International Airport is one of the most comfortable airports in the world. In fact, it was awarded as the 5th best airport by Skytrax in 2018 (since flight prices vary from season to season, I will not mention the actual cost of our flights to avoid false expectations from people researching about traveling to Europe from the Philippines; it’s easy to search for updated fares through the links above).

We took note of the flight schedules and prices but didn’t book online just yet. Instead, we went to a travel expo in SMX Mall of Asia where Qatar Airways was participating in.

Upon talking to a Qatar Airways attendant, we explained our travel itinerary and the details of the flights we were planning to book. We also told her that we were willing to adjust our itinerary if it could get us cheaper flights.

A few clicks on the system computer and she was able to present a few options with varying prices, schedules, and arrangements. In the end, we decided on a flight that departs from Clark* instead of Manila, and an arrival flight that’s a bit later than our original plan. These few adjustments allowed us to save more than P20,000 ($400) compared to our original flight itinerary.

*Qatar Airways offers free daily shuttle transfers from Trinoma to Clark.

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Tips for Finding the Best Flight for Your Trip

  1. Use an incognito window. When searching for flights online, be sure to use an incognito window. You may notice that if you search for a certain flight over and over again, it tends to get more expensive every time you visit the airline website. It’s because your cache records your activities and displays pricier rates to convince you to book right then and there.
  2. Choose a weekday flight. Flights on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays can get a lot more expensive than those on weekdays and you can see this for yourself by making mock bookings on airline websites. According to online sources, the cheapest day to fly is Tuesday. If you want to save extra, book flights that depart late at night or very early in the morning.
  3. Book flights at a travel expo… or at least, talk to an airline agent. Many would say that it’s futile to brave the crowd in travel expos since agencies offer the same deals online anyway. But sometimes, personally talking to an actual agent who can navigate through the airline’s booking system can offer more options and save you a lot of money.
  4. Got friends or relatives in Europe? Don’t use their fare estimate as a gauge. Europe residents can book flights to and from the Philippines way ahead of their trip, which could mean cheaper rates. Most Filipinos however, would only book their flight to Europe after having been granted a Schengen Visa (Applying for a Schengen Visa in the Philippines). And you could only apply for Schengen Visa three months before your planned date of departure (e.g. if you’re planning to go to Europe in April, the earliest you could apply for Schengen Visa is in January). With time allowance for visa processing, the longest lead time you could get between booking your flight and your actual departure flight is 2.5 months. A Dutch resident I know told me that our discounted Qatar Airways flights cost just as much as their Cathay Pacific regular flights – but they booked it 8 months in advance.
  5. Consider factors other than the price of the flight. For budget travelers, booking the cheapest possible flight may seem common sense. There are airline companies offering cheap flights from Manila to Europe, usually via Istanbul, Paris or Amsterdam for as low as P30,000++. But Google those airlines and a ton of bad reviews are sure to come flying in. Who needs a cheap flight if you end up sleeping off the first two days in your destination because you weren’t able to get even just a few minutes of shuteye in the plane? Also, having a 14-hour layover in a not-so-comfortable airport in the middle of nowhere can cost you money as you might need to stay in an airport hotel, visit the airport spa (to pacify your stress), or eat meals at the very least. pexels-photo-1323638

How do you hunt for airline deals and what are your requirements for a good flight? Tell us on the comment section below!

Traveling to Europe from the Philippines? Read These 4 Tips First

With airline trip promos left and right, accessible accommodations bookable online, and truckloads of travel information available through websites and blogs, more and more Filipinos are falling in love with the art and joy of traveling.

Though Asian destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Japan have been popular out-of-the country options over the last decade, many Pinoy travel junkies are now ready to kick it up a notch and travel to their dream destinations on the other side of the world: Europe.

But before being able to sail away in a gondola in Venice or enjoy those heavenly, buttery croissants in a boulangerie in Paris, everything starts with one simple task: research. Here are some planning and budget tips on how to make traveling to Europe from the Philippines one of the greatest adventures of your life.

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1. Choose your destinations carefully. Before anything else, schedule one quiet, relaxed evening for travel planning or travel brainstorming (if you’re traveling with a bunch of people), and list down the cities you’d want to visit for the trip. This initial list may change as you go along with your research, but you need a working rough draft at least.

The duration of your stay in each city depends on local attractions, as well as how long you’d be travelling. Average package tours to Europe usually last two to three weeks, so that’s a good gauge (Applying For A Schengen Visa In The Philippines – 2018).

In travel forums like TripAdvisor, many North Americans and Australians advice against visiting multiple cities per trip; instead, they suggest “immersing oneself in the local culture” by staying in only one city for a week or two.

In my opinion however, those travelers’ currencies fair better than Philippine Peso giving them the luxury to immerse in the culture longer because they could always go back to see other cities the next time they visit. This may not be the case for average Filipino travelers (and other Southeast Asian travelers for that matter). Airline tickets to and from Europe are bought with hard-earned money, so most Pinoy travelers would prefer to visit at least three cities during their trip to make the most out of their airfare.

Once you have the list of cities you’d want to see, locate them on Google Maps and try to create a possible route that would connect your chosen destinations. Your travel route should be realistic; research for transportation options between your chosen cities.

One thing you could do is browse existing tour itineraries by international travel companies like Trafalgar or Globus and mimic their itineraries. However, you have to note that these travel agencies use their own buses to transport clients, so you might need to adjust your itinerary depending on available commute options.

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2. Travel agent or DIY trip? If you’re the kind of traveler who doesn’t have the time or doesn’t enjoy the legwork of planning an itinerary and booking arrangements yourself, availing the services of a travel agency might be the better option. You need to shell out extra of course. I’ve been on a tour package to Europe before and below are my list of pros and cons:

Tour Package Pros:

  • No need to open that Google Maps app. A private tour coach will herd you from one attraction to the next. The coach is comfortable enough for sleeping especially during long intercity drives (an inflatable neck pillow, eye mask, and noise cancelling headphones would help a lot).
  • A tour guide will fill you in about the attractions you’d be visiting for the day including its history, where to take the best photos, where to eat, and what local delicacies to try.
  • As your luggage will be stored in the tour bus’ compartment every time you check out of a hotel, traveling light need not be a priority.

Tour Package Cons:

  • You have no choice when it comes to what attractions to visit because there is already a planned itinerary.
  • The whole group is working around a tour schedule, so you don’t have the luxury to explore at your own pace. The tour guide will give you one to two hours in an area, and that’s it (except for “free days”). The bus needs to leave on time to remain on schedule.
  • Travel companies encourage clients to avail of “optional tours.” Though you can always say no to these add-ons, there is a possibility that you would be stuck in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere if you choose not to take an “optional” tour like a river cruise.

If you’re traveling to Europe from the Philippines on a budget, DIY travel could be a better option. Aside from saving on agency service fees, you also have the freedom to book the most affordable travel arrangements for your trip like promo airline tickets, or an AirBnb instead of a hotel room.

DIY Travel Pros:

  • You can adjust your itinerary to your own taste and interests. If you’re a bookworm for example, you could add a visit to popular local bookstores in your itinerary (such as Shakespeare & Co. in Paris or Atlantis Books in Santorini). Or if you love beer, you can allot time for a Heineken experience tour in Amsterdam or a Belgian Beer tasting tour in Brussels.
  • You can travel at your own pace. Despite having a planned itinerary, you can always modify it on the spot – something that you can’t do when you’re traveling with a whole tour bus.
  • You can experience how the locals do everyday stuff like riding the Metro and shopping for food at local markets, allowing you to immerse in the culture.

DIY Travel Cons:

  • It requires a lot – and I mean a loooot – of research. Once you’re in a foreign country, you have no one else to rely on but yourself, your research, and Google (if you have WiFi access, that is).
  • You need to organize your bookings and itinerary yourself. You have to be proactive – you have to make sure that your time conversions are correct and that your booking expenses are all within the budget range.
  • There’s no one to herd you from one place to the next, so you have to keep track of time to be able to keep up with your planned itinerary.

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3. Plan your trip ahead of time. When planning a big trip such as traveling to Europe from the Philippines, I’d say it’s best to prepare around six months before your intended travel dates. The first three months would mostly involve light reading on possible destinations, drafting a rough itinerary, and planning which embassy to apply Schengen Visa in.

The next three months would be spent for Schengen Visa application, booking air travel, and arranging accommodations and tickets to tourist attractions.

Your itinerary should be final two weeks before your flight. A week before you fly out to your destination, take the time to sort out your bookings and categorize everything into two piles: booking confirmations that could just be saved on your phone, and booking confirmations that need to be printed out (believe me, there are still museums and tour buses that don’t acknowledge screen shots).

4. Prepare to go off your itinerary in case of unplanned situations. Despite how well you drafted your itinerary, no trip is perfect and there will always be a possibility that things wouldn’t go out as planned. Weather, construction works, transportation maintenance and other factors might get in the way, but that shouldn’t prevent you from having a great time. Be sure to allot extra for a contingency fund.