The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author only. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of GI, its members, affiliates, or other associates.
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.
4/10/23 – There have been multiple updates to this article, with the most recent being today. Be sure to read it in its entirety and the comments section. 4 months later and it appears it’s still “business as usual” over there.
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. As one who started here simply in hopes of expanding my portfolio (as a freelancer, little of my writing is actually in my name) and someone who is almost always looking for additional clients, it kind of irks me when I run into someone that feels… well.. unethical.
And as Managing Editor now, I have a platform to bring it to light.
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.
IKO Brands Advertised Job Opportunity
Here are their job requirements for the position that I applied for:
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.
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.
“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.
Woohoo! Another step forward and they “LOVED” my submission. Now on to the area I shine most – actually writing.
I open the Google Doc to pick out my assignment and get started.
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.
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 of 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.
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*
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.
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 in publication.
Luckily for me, I have a few avenues where I can post 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.
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.
I neglected to mention in the last update that they did indeed end up compensating me for the work and actually gave more than they advertised. If you’ve had a recent encounter with IKO Brands, I’d love to hear from you to find out whether or not they have in fact changed their practices. Shoot me an email or leave a comment below.
I received this email right at a month ago but once again, life and the day job made time get away form me and I’m just now getting around to posting it. Plus I wanted to give them a chance to respond to my reply below.
While it doesn’t really provide any new information, I want to be completely transparent on my dealings with IKO Brands.
I think it also shows the “power of the pen” and how we as writers can have a significant impact on the world around us. Especially if you piss us off.
To be fair, I did take a few days to think about his request before replying and though, as you can see, I offered to add another update to this article if he was so inclined to discuss “changes” at the company, I never heard back.
Got this email today from a prospective applicant. Looks like I was spot on and justified even mores in not removing the article as requested. Last name redacted for privacy.
Again, the opinions expressed in this editorial are mine and mine alone. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of GI, its members, affiliates, or other associates.