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Writer Beware – IKO Brands Probably Isn’t the Opportunity You’re Looking For

12/29 – this has been updated to include a reply from IKO Brands regarding the article and the writer’s experience in the hiring process.

As a freelance copywriter and with the relationships Geek Insider has fostered over the years, I personally know a lot of other writers and a lot are in our audience. If you’ve been in the business for any amount of time, you’ve likely encountered companies that offer excessively low compensation, have unrealistic expectations, don’t pay, or advertise themselves in a way inconsistent with their actual practices.

Rarely do you find one that embraces each and every one of those undesirable traits. Well, I found one.

Unfortunately, I recently applied with IKO Brands and after they astoundingly checked each and every one of those negative checkboxes, I had to put out a warning for all freelance writers.

STAY AWAY!

IKO Brands Advertised Job Opportunity

Here are their job requirements for the position that I applied for:

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Of course, there was one area that really caught my eye.

We have variable compensation dependent on the subject covered, the writer’s experience, and whether we are gifting a product to the writer or not. Please include your REAL rate in your message, and what that rate might look like with bulk work on a consistent basis.

“We have variable compensation dependent on the subject covered”

“Please include your REAL rate”

Okay, cool deal. The pay isn’t a set rate and depends on the amount of work required. I’m game!

So, I sent in my application and resume and right about 24 hours after confirmation that everything had been received, this was the first email they sent me.

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Cool… my toe is in the door. On to the “brief form.”

After basic info, they ask for your desired rate per word, 3 writing samples, and a 60-second video talking about your writing experience. But this “brief form” had a red flag that I should have heeded.

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“1,000 words and pay $20”

Hmmm… .02 a word? Other than for someone new to the wonderful world of writing that is trying to build their portfolio, that low of compensation is unheard of.

I thought to myself, “surely this is just the rate for the trial assignment. Why else would they ask for my desired rate?”

I should have paid closer attention to the “You will be paid for your trial article ONLY IF your content meets our standards and you begin writing for us.”

It’s the “and” part that I have a BIG issue with but we’ll get into that shortly.

I decided to go forward and submitted the form and before long, they sent me another encouraging email.

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Woohoo! Another step forward and they “LOVED” my submission. Now into the area I shine most – actually writing.

I open the Google Doc to pick out my assignment and get started.

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Naturally, I chose the “Beard-Style Apps” and went to work.

Now, every writer knows that the first writing assignment for any company takes longer than normal. You simply spend more time on it because you want to do your best to impress and you have to get into the flow of whatever topic you’re covering. This one requires at least 3 linked sources and they want a “personal interpretation” of the topic. In other words – unique.

Now, since they didn’t mention a specific app and I wanted to avoid any issues with covering potential competitors, I decided to angle this to cover the main benefits of the various apps. 

How to Easily Style Your Beard Like a Pro”

All in all, I spent about 2 hours on this.

Bleah – $10 an hour but I was proud of how it came out and submitted it assuming there would be much better compensation once I was brought on board.

As you can imagine, I was excited to receive this next email.

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They were “super impressed” with my work! This is looking GREAT at this point so I set up my interview for the soonest slot available and got ready to impress the heck out Howard on this final step.

But that’s where the whole charade of theirs collapsed.

IKO Brands ACTUAL Job Opportunity

The time for the interview arrives and I excitedly sign in to the video conference. Howard and I exchange pleasantries, he complimented my long, gray beard and I joked that that’s why I picked the trial article that I did, and then we moved into the topic at hand.

The first red flag (or the second if we count the one I mentioned earlier) is that Howard says that work is only paid for “if it is accepted for publication.”

That’s bad enough, but then he proceeds to tell me the process.

First, it naturally goes to an editor and he informs me that they’re all “retired college professors” and if the work needs any editing, they’ll send it back for revisions. Oh joy, an editor that is going to nail me on any little mistake but okay, I’m confident in my skills and figure that after a learning curve, I’ll be just fine.

Then he mentions the second stage and while I can’t remember what the position is called, they too can send it back for edits.

“Oh, brother,” I thought to myself, “this is getting a bit convoluted but as long as the compensation is worth it, I’m willing to give it a shot.”

Lastly, your work goes to a THIRD stage that can ALSO ask for revisions.

Jesus… that’s a lot of potential time that could be spent on a single article.

It’s at this point that another HUGE red flag was revealed – the ONLY time that IKO Brands will pay you for your work is if this third stage declares your work as “accepted for publication.”

So, let’s recap.

  • You have to write long-form, well-researched content that includes 3 external resources.
  • Your work goes through 3 stages where it can be sent back for revisions.
  • You’re only paid if your work is accepted at that final stage.

That means that even after all of the time you spend editing your work, you could still be denied pay.

What-The-Actual-F%$K???

All my alarms were going off at this point but I still thought that with my professional writing abilities and the anticipation that the salary would be commensurate with the assignment and amount of work required, it could be worth it.

*Insert loud buzzer sound*

WRONG

It was then that Howard revealed that all writers start at the same rate.

Hmmm… why would they ask my desired rate AND advertise that compensation would vary “dependent on the subject covered???”

Then it was time for the big reveal.

IKO Brands ONLY pays .02 a word on ALL assignments. He made NO mention of potential increases.

I stopped him right there.

I was livid and had to contain myself and remain professional.

I told him that he was offering a rate that I started at 5 years ago and that I make exceptionally more by writing content that doesn’t have anywhere near the requirements that they do.

He genuinely looked shocked.

“How long does it typically take you to write a 1,000-word article,” he asked.

I told him that of course, it depends on the amount of research required but that no matter what, I could make upwards of 8x more than he was offering and that I’m ALWAYS compensated for the work. Not just if it is “accepted for publication.”

So, I said that we could just end the interview as I wouldn’t be interested in the slightest and I asked about receiving pay for the trial assignment.

And that’s where they showed their true colors and that “and” part mentioned above came into play.

My content had met their “standards” and I had been accepted into a “full-time” position. Surely that meant I met the requirements.

NOPE!

Howard proceeds to tell me that you’re only paid for this work if you actually accept the position.

Once again – WTAF!!!!

All the hoops in the hiring process. The time spent researching and perfecting the article. Taking time away from work that actually pays a living wage in order to explore what seemed like a beneficial opportunity. All a complete waste!

He assured me that they would be deleting my submission and that the work wouldn’t be used anywhere and so far, I haven’t found it being used anywhere.

Luckily for me, I have a few avenues where I can publish this work so that it’s not a complete waste of time but the fact remains, they severely under compensate their writers.

To the owner(s) and management of IKO Brands, I say this: 

Stop taking advantage of writers. You have “former college professors” working as your editors but you literally pay your writers pennies. They’re the ones that do the majority of the actual work and you want “well-researched, quality content” that can take even the best writers well over an hour, and yet you pay less than even content mills pay.

To my freelance writer friends and those in our audience looking for additional work, I implore you to keep all of the above in mind before applying. They present themselves as a great opportunity but let’s call it how it is – they use deceptive practices to draw in applicants.

I work for several marketing agencies on a daily basis, partner with numerous different ones here at Geek Insider, and have had my fair share of industry-related interviews over the years and I have NEVER encountered a company like this.

As the title says, IKO Brands is probably not the opportunity that you’re looking for.

******************
Update 12/29

So… I got their attention. I actually received this a few days after publishing this article but with life, my day job, and the holidays, I’m just now getting around to adding this reply.

I have to say… I’m impressed. Not only that they took the time to respond to my concerns, but that they state they’re making changes based on my experience. So, while I’m leaving this article up, I did want to share what they had to say so that you can make a fully informed decision regarding any opportunity with IKO Brands.

Addendum 1/4/23

I neglected to mention in the last update that they did indeed end up compensating me for the working actually gave more than they advertised. If you’ve had a recent encounter with IKO Brands, I’d love to hear from you and hear whether or not they have in fact changed their practices.

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11 Comments

  1. Avatar Chris Arg says:

    Life saver, I just got the first email from them and was a little pumped after reviewing their website. Thank you, there are loads of “mills” out there at the moment, but luckily nothing with three revision stages that I know of. Also, do you have any advice on finding better-paid writing jobs?

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hi Chris. Thanks for reading and glad you saw it before experiencing what I did. I did post an update due to the company writing me and stating they are changing some practices based on my experience and reporting and I’m interested to see if they actually do. As far as better paying writing jobs, I’ve had the best luck with Craigslist. it can just take a lot of leg work looking through each major city for decent opportunities and avoiding the content mills.

  2. Thanks so much for this article! Reading their reply to you gives me some hope about moving forward. Hopefully they’re serious. If they ask for an 1,000 word trial article, I’ll know not to continue– that would mean they lied to you about the changes.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Thanks for reading, Andrea. Would love to hear an update on your experience

    2. I had a similar experience recently so no they have not changed their practices. I told them I would report them to the better business buro and the response I received was that I’m disqualified from freelancing with them because of my unjustified threats. I wish I saw your article before I tried to apply but I think it may have been around the same time. Hopefully, you have saved some others a headache. Thank you for writing your experience!

      1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

        That is unfortunate to hear but it’s equally unfortunate that this doesn’t seem to be a one-off experience. This article has gotten a few replies recently that reveal IKO Brands appears to be all talk, smoke, and BS. Hopefully more people see this before applying and going through the disappointment of yet another content mill disguising themselves as a “great opportunity.”
        We hope you’re able to find some steady writing work with a legit company and we’re sorry you went through this.

  3. OMG. That was soooo helpful. What’s most interesting to me is that as of Nov. 1, 2022, the NYC Human Rights Law required employers posting jobs that would be performed in NYC to post a “good faith salary range.” This is a remote position and while I haven’t looked at the details of the law thoroughly, it seems that it may be broad enough (applies to jobs that “can be performed” in NYC) to apply to this job. So without getting into whether they pay enough or pay fairly, I wonder how they don’t have to indicate up front, in the posting, some range of what they’ll pay. That’s a double-edged sword, of course. If they post a high range, that’s attractive–but then they have to pay it. If they want to pay bupkes (technical term), then who’ll bother applying except the exact people who couldn’t, uh, write, and turned out to cost the company so much money?

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Interesting point!!!
      While I’m down in Texas, it does seem like this “former” practice could run afoul of a few different laws. What I find interesting is that this article was posted only a few days before the grand pooba (technical title) reached out with his “concerns.” It just took me a couple of weeks to post his reply. Thanks for reading and I’m glad it was helpful.

  4. Thanks, Matthew. Very helpful. I got as far as the request for the writing assignment, and then, as soon as I asked for clarification about it, and some info about their pay rates, their president, Dylan Dove, who had been communicating with me, suddenly ghosted me. Despite repeatedly contacting him via LinkedIn and through my email where he and I were in contact — no more communication after that. Which was upsetting until I read your experience with them. And now I consider the ghosting a godsend. Thank you again. Life’s too short.

  5. Hello,

    I’m leaving a comment because of my own experience with IKO brands.

    First I will say they have made some improvements.
    1) They changed the ‘trial article’ from 1000 words to 500 words. – However, now you aren’t even paid for the trial assignment even if you do accept the position.
    2) I’ll just copy and paste this from their email.
    “We’re offering some new opportunities for growth, promotion, and visibility on your site. At the beginning of every month–starting in February–we will be evaluating all writers who produce 10 articles over the last 30 days. Assuming you hit that without any major issues, you will be promoted to “Writing Lead” for your site. This is contingent on your maintaining that publishing rate going forward! You will receive $0.04/word and will have more ability to engage in editorial processes (e.g., choosing topics to write, writing different forms of articles like editorials or opinion pieces, etc.).”

    That’s the only improvements they have made however things are still not as they seem. While your article is very insightful there is more nonsense occurring after the interview process that should be reported. After a few months of abuse I have about had it with the flagrant disrespect and worker abuse.

    1. If you do not produce an article that is sent to publication within 5 days your account is permanently suspended unless you have messaged them about it previously. This sounds reasonable until you remember that you are not in charge of what is ‘acceptable for publication’ and if your editors turn you down multiple days in a row you can have your account terminated on no fault of your own.
    2. When IKO Brands assigns a writer an article they give them a small writing brief for the writer to follow for each article. I have born witness several times to a writing brief being changed after initially submitting a completed article. Of course, the article gets rejected for not meeting the standards in the new writing brief.
    3. They have three distinct style guides. Two for general writing, and one for each of the websites they own. I had to ask to be sent the second general writing style guide so I could understand why I wasn’t getting my article past the editorial stage. Again, receiving zilch for completing an article without following a hidden second style guide.

    They continue to sell themselves as having college professors on their editorial staff but here’s a tidbit about that little piece of information: they only allow editorial staff to edit any article for a maximum of 30 minutes. Per article. This is likely because they pay their editorial staff an arm and a leg per hour.

    How do I know all of this? Well, because when you agree to work with IKO Brands you can look into their Canvas and find salary information and instructions for their editorial staff.

    Needless to say, I suppose I’m back on the job finding grind.

    $0.04 a word is fine and all, but it’s not worth the amount of hoops you have to go through to get paid.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      WOW
      That’s all I can really say so I’ll say it again… WOW

      They really made it sound like they were SO concerned over my experience and review that they were going to make serious changes.

      Changing briefs, lock outs, and the BS “acceptable for publication” are all just ways to keep from paying writers for their hard work, in my opinion. I agree that .04 isn’t too bad but these stipulations for pay are just beyond unacceptable.. especially considering the fact that they made the attempt to “clarify” the situation and promise positive changes.

      Smoke and mirrors and from everything I’ve seen, they’re nothing more than a thinly-disguised content mill