Welcome to the first volume of Freelancer Horror Stories — a blog series by A Million Words Later.
I asked freelancers to share their most horrifying tales. It can be about scams, unreasonable clients, impossible assignments, or even actual ghosts!
First, a big thank you to all the members of Freelance Writers Philippines who sent their pitches. This project wouldn’t be possible without our strong sense of community.
Without further ado, here are this month’s stories:
1. It Started on Christmas Break – Joshua Munoz
2. Grandmother from the Other World – Mary Ann Santiago
3. The Newbie Freelancer and the Client Who Kept Calling – Cjane Padilla
4. Work On! – Cecilia Estrada
5. 25 Emails – Bianca Grace Contreras
By Josh Munoz
Being a starry-eyed freelancer and a fresh graduate browsing Upwork, I wanted to earn money fast.
Whether it’s by writing (my main niche) or some odd job, I didn’t care. I was dead set on getting 5-star ratings and dollar earnings on my profile.
So when I saw the job posting below, I thought: “Hey, I like FPS Games and eSports! This should be fun.”
I sent in my proposal, got invited to an interview, and everything looked great.
But in truth, it was by far the worst job I’ve ever taken up.
And the worst part? It was entirely my fault.
Unlike other stories, my client did everything a client should.
He was nice, respectful, and clear when it comes to the job description
But my lack of negotiation experience got the better of me.
That journalist part is irrelevant.
Just take a look at the offer I sent him.
$60 for 1,000 entries.
Influencers all manually searched, extracted, and typed.
The $60 figure I gave him was legitimately taken out of thin air. I seriously wanted to slap my past self in the face.
I vaguely remembered my mindset going into this:
“Wow, my first client! I’m going to be raking in cash after all this — I better underprice myself since I don’t know how to automate things.”
…or something foolish like that.
Looking back, I undercut my price drastically, especially with the value I was imparting to my client.
I even had a real strategy going into this, and I still sold myself short.
I had to look up the names, emails, and social media accounts of 1,000 influencers.
Little did I know, that work’s actually super tough.
So once I got the contract, I diligently filled one row out.
And the second.
Then the third.
Finally, 30 minutes later, I finished a grand total of 8 entries.
By then, I was already worn out.
That’s when the sheer volume of the work hit me: 8 out of 1,000 done in 30 minutes.
Boy, was I in for a bumpy ride.
I was seriously debating whether or not I should end the contract right there.
But I hated the idea of ruining my JSS or receiving a 1-star rating, especially when I just started Upwork.
And so, I begrudgingly continued.
Oh, and did I mention this was around Christmas time?
The first milestone deadline was 500 lines in 5 days too.
Imagine: at the height of Christmas festivities, instead of celebrating, I was working like a robot for 12 hours daily — up until 2 AM some days.
I even considered hiring someone to do some of the work and take the loss.
It was that bad.
But I trod on.
I finally finished it.
My client asked for a few revisions, but it all went smoothly.
He even gave me a 5-star rating. Bless his soul.
Additionally, he gave me a $30 bonus since I smashed the second deadline.
But the real joy was getting the job over with.
After that whole experience, I learned to never take that sort of job ever again, especially at that price. I also realized the value of hourly rates.
Also, I realized that the working life is hard (still only a fresh grad, so I’m still adjusting huhu).
Two months later, just a few weeks ago, the same client messaged me with the same task as last time.
My client, once again, asked for my rate.
Unlike before, I have gained confidence.
I was feeling bold.
So I asked for this:
My price? $0.5 per row, or $100 for 200 lines.
I asked for more money for 200 lines than for the 1,000 lines I did two months ago.
Reasonably, I expected him to decline. And, honestly, I wouldn’t mind.
It’s because, since last December, my client list has diversified within and outside Upwork as a long-term writer.
I realized: I didn’t need to work for this client anymore, especially since the job isn’t furthering my writing career.
So, I offered him that rate. That was the pay I would be willing to work for.
The ball was in my court.
It was up to him to catch it — take it or leave it.
To my pleasant surprise, he found the rate acceptable.
And the requirements and deadlines became so much more lenient, too: just 50 lines every week.
And with my client list, I just had enough space to squeeze this job at the end of every week.
The moral is: there is importance in positioning yourself vertically to your client and knowing your worth.
Freelancers should not be toe-suckers. They’re specialized providers of value.
If circumstances allow, always price yourself with confidence. Be stubborn with your rates, and don’t settle for less.
With that said, I hope you come out of this learning the value of freelance work.
My dream is for Filipino freelancers to close in on the rates of western freelancers, one cent at a time.
Naive idealism? Maybe, but a man can dream.
It’s a collective process. Price yourself accordingly, and let your confidence and work do the talking.
I wholeheartedly believe if we start pricing ourselves higher, it would uplift and benefit all Filipino freelancers.
Joshua more than proved he had iron-like resolve and self-discipline by accomplishing something outside his comfort zone.
Despite being underpaid, he understood that his reputation as a freelancer is much more valuable than money.
Remember, we freelancers shouldn’t expect to have everything our way.
There will be times when an assignment seems impossible and unfair. But if Joshua can scrape the data of 1,000 influencers in 10 days, even “impossible” and “unfair” can be conquered.
Mary Ann is a licensed healthcare professional, animal lover, baking enthusiast and aspiring writer. A reliable comrade to a few who can make small talks worthwhile.
By: Mary Ann Santiago
We used to live in an old house with a large yard filled with tall, fruit-bearing trees back in 2001.
Some residents of our village share supernatural experiences within the property. One remarkable incident is about a mysterious old lady.
She seems to be guarding the area.
According to rumors, the lady looked strong for someone in her late 80’s. She has a medium-built body and gray hair formed into a bun.
Our neighbor, Sandra, told us about her one-time encounter with this lady.
Sandra assumed that the lady was my grandmother because of her age and appearance. She had no idea who my real senile grandmother is, who’s been bedridden for a year already.
Sandra told my mom that she asked permission from the woman to cross the fence to get some malunggay leaves.
As she waited for her response, the old lady stopped.
She put down the plant she was holding and glared back at Sandra as if she did something so delinquent.
Sandra was so terrified that she rushed back to her home and never went out the whole day.
I will never forget that incident.
This is a confirmation that the entity haunting me isn’t all in my head.
Growing up, I never told anyone about the lady even after moving to a new home.
Truth be told, I haven’t experienced seeing her in my waking life, but she occasionally visits me in my dreams.
The lady comforts me there whenever I am downhearted and discouraged in life.
I believe my so-called “grandma” has never left me ever since.
I remember when I just started freelancing. I would stay up late at night – learning new skills and making proposals to clients.
I began to feel discouraged after weeks of submitting proposals to no avail.
One morning, I woke up from a dream.
I felt the slight ache in my heart as my so-called grandma made her presence felt again.
Surprisingly, she spoke like a real loving grandmother and said reassuringly:
“My child, calm down. Everything will be okay soon.”
I felt uplifted and hopeful that something good will happen.
I checked my email and saw an email from a company I applied to.
It’s relieving to know that my freelancing career has finally begun.
I will be forever grateful for the “love” coming from my so-called grandmother from the afterworld.
Being a freelance writer in itself can be daunting.
Remember, we’re not just expected to write. We also have to build an online reputation, find clients, maintain relationships, and more.
For us to thrive, we need to draw courage and inspiration from somewhere. And for Mary Ann, it was her so-called “grandmother.”
The beautiful thing about Mary Annf’s story is the fact that her grandmother used to be something (or someone) they feared.
We’re afraid of a lot of things we don’t understand. But with a little change in perspective, even fear can and will lead to positive change.
Cjane is a pharma editor by profession, but she’s always been a writer by heart. She enjoys reading crime thriller novels in between her jobs and motherhood. She is fond of the beach and is longing to have some quiet time camping.
By: Cjane Padilla
Jing called me, sounding really desperate.
Her exact words were, “Neng, anong gagawin ko?!”
My heart raced in panic. I didn’t have any idea what she’s talking about.
You see, I convinced my older sister to pursue a career in freelancing.
She may not be that young anymore. But having a background in accounting, I know she has the work ethics and attention-to-detail to be successful.
My sister had a ton of experience working for different businesses as a bookkeeper, accounting assistant. At one point, she even worked as a cashier.
Yes, an accounting graduate working on the register.
That can be a horror story in itself. However, this story is about a freelance client who wants more than he pays for.
I thought, “Sayang opportunities, Ate.”
She could be working for bigger companies or banks that can provide more stable and rewarding career opportunities.
But knowing her, she’s scared. I just don’t know where that fear comes from.
Still, I didn’t give up on her.
I was persistent and determined to help her get a career as a freelancer.
Finally, she listened. She started building her online profiles on different online job sites.
I was excited for her. And soon enough, she had her first client.
Then her second client.
We were celebrating!
“Sabi ko sa‘yo eh!”
She is on a roll.
She didn’t stop searching for jobs that might interest her – sending proposal after proposal.
My heart is so happy for her.
No more long commutes. No more unstable jobs.
No more overworking.
We haven’t been celebrating long when her third client entered the scene.
My sister thought, “Yes, I can do this. Sending promos through a client’s social media accounts – that should be easy.”
We were talking about the job until 2 AM. I helped her figure things out.
It went fine for a while – maybe two days with two hours of paid work each day.
Remember: just two paid hours each day!
She was hired part-time, about 10 hours per week. But during this project, the client started to call her constantly.
Apparently, this client is very meticulous.
Having just assigned the task, the client wants immediate feedback.
It almost felt like he wanted my sister to tell her what she’s doing every minute. The calls went on and on; several times daily.
Sometimes, the calls even lasted until the wee hours of the morning.
Keep in mind that the hours spent throughout these calls aren’t paid. My sister, obviously, was left exhausted.
All that micromanaging for only $3 per hour, 10 hours per week. And she still has a full-time client to work for!
That’s when I got the call.
She sounded so desperate – almost like crying.
I listened and waited for her to calm down.
Then, I advised her to talk to the client as nice and as clear as she could.
I told her to make her message to-the-point. More importantly, it must be completely honest.
Of course, she had her worries.
“Pan’o pag di ako binayaran? Pa’no pag nag–leave ng bad rating?”
I told her, “You’ve done nothing wrong. You proved your worth, and even went out of your way to do the project.”
She listened to my advice and sent an email before starting her work the following day.
I prayed for her to get a positive response. And luckily, she did.
Her paid hours increased from 10 hours to 20 hours per week.
The calls didn’t really stop, but it’s been reduced – thank God.
I breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing this from her.
That happened just two weeks ago. Now, my sister is comfortably managing her time working for two clients.
She still hasn’t got her energy back, so finding a new client can wait for now.
My sister always tells me about her clients and freelance work. She likes to keep me in the loop with what’s happening, and I’m always glad to hear every word of it.
She told me that her horror story won’t stop her from reaching her goals of landing high-paying and premium clients.
And the only way to do that is to never stop.
A lot of freelancers are afraid of bringing up issues with clients.
Understandably, we feel as if it’s our duty to meet their demands and make them happy no matter what. After all, they’re the ones paying us.
But the thing is, we are not employees and clients are not our bosses.
We are professional service providers. Our resources — including time, energy, and money — are ours alone to manage.
Jing is lucky to have a sister who can coach and push her into making the right decisions. If you ever find yourself in her shoes, remember the following:
By: Cecil Estrada
I switched to freelancing because I was working in Quezon City while my aging mother lived in Cavite.
Even though it was a terrifying decision, even though I had a promotion lined up, the need to be with family was too great to ignore.
So, I made the switch in 2019.
Like anything new, the start of the journey was a bit rough.
Then, in 2020, it became super rough.
Here’s what happened.
June 29th, our 6-year-old dog gave birth for the first time.
July 3rd, I passed the interview and exam for a new job, which I began on the 6th.
So far, so good.
In fact, all was going well.
But the universe always seems to find sadistic ways to balance things out.
Our dog couldn’t handle being a mother. She kept biting and stressing out over her puppy.
She was so stressed that she even bit my mother – the person she’s closest to.
So, we had to separate our dog from her puppy.
Guess who had to be the foster mother?
Let me tell you, caring for a newborn puppy is no joke.
You don’t sleep because it’s always hungry.
You’re always on high alert for any small change in the puppy’s behavior.
While all of this was happening, my mother slipped from the stairs and hurt her back.
She vehemently refused to go to the hospital. Then, she got worse.
We had no choice but to take her to the hospital.
There, we were informed that she had to undergo surgery, which required traveling to Manila.
At that time, Manila was one of the epicenters of the COVID outbreak.
Can you imagine all of the physical and emotional stress I was under back then?
I hadn’t slept properly for over a month.
The fear for my mother’s health and mine constantly gripped me.
I thought about hospital fees, how to coordinate hospital procedures, our dogs – some of the thousand responsibilities I’m left with. Most importantly, I had freelance work on my plate.
There were times when I’d just stop for a moment – feeling as if I was living somebody else’s life.
On top of everything, I was embarrassed.
It isn’t always easy to get a client when you’re a freelance writer. As much as possible, you want to establish a solid working relationship with every client you come across.
Due to the circumstances, I was constantly absent or tardy. When I managed to get some work done, the output was subpar.
To be fair, my clients advised me to take some time off. But I couldn’t do it.
I needed the money.
So, I had to keep working from the hospital.
As of writing this, I still work for the same clients.
They stuck with me through a difficult phase. And for that, I will always be grateful.
My family survived that period, but not without a few (literal and figurative) scars.
We had to give the puppy away since I had to concentrate on my mother’s recovery after her hospitalization. But the most important thing is, we’re still alive.
Looking back, I would not have been able to make it if I didn’t switch to freelancing.
For one thing, I would not have been in the same location because of the lockdowns.
Yes, I lost my benefits and a truly stable income. But I achieved my goal of being with family, especially during hard times. And at the end of the day, who do we work hard for if not for our loved ones?
The way Cecilia handled 2020 is nothing short of admirable.
I know — each one of us fights our own battles. But if a loved one is on the line, you know the struggle just got real.
Your only choice is to keep working hard.
Remember, freelancers need to look out for themselves. You can’t count on benefits, emergency leaves, or anything that can help you through financial and personal hardships.
At times, we also need to make difficult decisions. Giving a puppy away after caring for it, for example, would’ve been really tough for me.
So, whatever you do, don’t give up. Treat life’s challenges as defining moments that can springboard your success.
Bianca is an aspiring writer who is finally getting her communications degree after shifting courses for the nth time. Most of her work is fueled by coffee, sugary drinks, and the company of a brooding Shih Tzu on her lap.
By: Bianca Grace Contreras
Being a freelancer is blissful in a couple of ways.
We’re able to control how much work we can take – if we want to be contracted or outsourced for a one-time project.
There’s a myriad of ways freelancers can make ends meet, but not without the occasional horror story or two.
Here’s a tip: when you’re applying for a writing job and their email is peppered with typos, take it as a sign.
This is how the story starts.
I’m a little bit of a trigger-happy proposal sender on Upwork – a platform where freelancers start their adventures filled with regular and part-time gigs.
A certain company named “Global Freelancing Network” contacted me over Upwork and showed interest in hiring me.
It looked legit, I’m not gonna lie.
I was sent an onboarding email, terms and conditions, even a form with a table that showed the rates they pay freelancers.
It looked pretty good. And for someone who legit took the extra time to do legitimacy checks, the company indeed looked like the real deal.
So, I immediately showed my interest.
The process was fast. I read through the T&C, filled it up, and I was on my way to employment!
The company sent me this rate sheet and now that I think about it, these rates didn’t do my skills any justice.
I was ecstatic at the prospect of getting some form of regular work!
Yay for you Bianca! I actually had a contracted job!
But you know, if it’s too good to be true, then it’s probably not real.
What I had gotten into was so good, it was a slap to the face.
In a matter of three days since I was “hired,” I was assigned to a rather friendly fellow named Arnab who would be my “project coordinator.” He gave me the task of creating about 20-25 e-mails for an email list prompting subscribers to watch a two-hour webinar of some sort.
The deadline? Three days.
That’s fine by me. How hard could writing short emails be?
I’m pretty skilled in my own right, so I knew it would be a no biggie.
Arnab sent me the material, and being a diligent writer, I went straight to writing.
I made about five drafts and sent them to Arnab for checking.
He was less than thrilled – stating that the drafts were poorly-written and not according to his taste.
“His taste,” he says.
No problem, I’ll just do it again.
I made three more drafts and sent them over, which made Arnab flare even more.
Arnab: “Not like this! I’ll send a sample.”
Me: “Alright. Please let me know what I should fix.”
He sent me his own version of the email – albeit poorly written – with the intent of making the emails more “flowery,” so to speak.
But if I followed his way of doing it, the emails would simply look absolutely spammy.
Wasn’t it our goal to not make it look like spam?
Regardless of what I thought, I still did as he asked.
He wanted spam mail, I gave him spam mail.
Truth be told, the project was pretty easy – if only Arnab wasn’t so nitpicky.
After maybe eight email drafts, I was quite frustrated.
So, I did one last draft for him before churning out the needed 25 emails. When that one was sent, I was quite appalled with what happened next.
Arnab: “I told you to write like in the sample I gave you! Do you even know what you’re writing about?”
Me: “I’m writing emails about the two-hour webinar you sent me, which I watched.”
(This was by force, and I watched about 45 minutes of it before giving up because I was THAT frustrated.)
His response was, to my surprise, this:
“What webinar,” he asks.
I was working on a job wherein the project coordinator had no idea what it was all about – despite him giving it to me.
Even worse, he insisted on making me follow his less-than-stunning email sample.
I proceeded to disregard any revision request and churned out the 25 emails for submission.
I did not stay long with Global Freelancing Network at all, as I was never paid for the work I’ve done.
It’s a learning experience that I hope never happens to me again – or to anyone, for that matter.
In the freelancing world, recruitment agencies or individual recruiters are neither clients nor freelancers. They’re middlemen — bent on profiting by taking on client work in bulk, outsourcing the jobs, and underpaying freelancers.
There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing, especially if all parties are honest, clear, and happy with the arrangement.
Without clear communication, things are bound to go wrong. The worst part is, it’s always up to the freelancer to clean up the mess.
That’s exactly what happened in Bianca’s story.
If recruiters themselves aren’t aware of the client’s requirements, how do they expect us freelancers to do our jobs right?
You just finished reading Freelancer Horror Stories Vol. 1 by A Million Words Later.
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Until next time,
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