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.

Continue reading “10 Mindful Gift Ideas that are Actually Useful”

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.

Continue reading “7 Green Holiday Tips for a Sustainable Holiday”

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 equipped 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 the freelance career that you’re planning to pursue.

Continue reading “4 Must-Haves To Start Freelancing Right Away”

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.

startup-593327_960_720.jpg

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.

new-york-1930656_960_720.jpg

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.

dollar-941246_960_720.jpg

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.

pexels-photo-144230

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.

pexels-photo-164527

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.

pexels-photo-196655

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.