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

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:

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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 on to 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 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.

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 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.

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Update 4/7/23

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.

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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.

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Update 4/10/23

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.

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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.

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  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

      1. They asked me for a 500-word trial article

    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.

      1. Thank you for the detailed analysis. That took an incredible amount of work and moxie. You have saved countless writers’ pain. Now if only the journalism schools would stop onboarding and graduating journalists for a market that literally pays pennies per word. Meanwhile, 90% of the New York Times staff has never been to j-school.

        1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

          Hi Ned,

          Thanks so much for the kind words. We’ve received a lot of feedback on this article and to date, it doesn’t appear that IKO has changed their ways unfortunately. It’s a shame. It seems like a much better strategy would be to pay better wages for writers that meet a set standard. Less turnover, less negative feedback, and quality content you can depend on.

          But what do I know? I’m only a peon freelancer! LOL

          Thanks again Ned and good luck out there.

  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:

      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

  6. Hi Matthew. Did they pay you by cheque or by PayPal? I am currently working on a trial request from them and I’m hoping to know these before hopping on this.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hey Tim, how’d it go? My understanding is the trial isn’t paid any longer

  7. Hello, I recently received an identical email, but fortunately, I came across this article beforehand. Since I’m a new freelancer in content writing, I would like to know which companies or websites I should be mindful of.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hi there. So far, this is thankfully the only one I’ve ran across lately. While I’ve encountered content mills in the past, unfortunately I cannot recall their names. Just do your due diligence and do a quick search for the company name. Read comments on Glassdoor. Look at the deeper results pages too. Some good reviews and info can be found in the pages further back. I am SO glad that this one is on the first page and a LOT of people see it every week. Hopefully people see it before applying. Good luck out there.

  8. I wonder if Dylan Dove actually exists. I wrote a reply to the email about the 60-second video request explaining my experience and it comes back as undeliverable. Shouldn’t a recruiter be accessible and since my experience is clearly in the resume, why do I need a redundant and unnecessary video?

    Another red flag is the fact that the application process doesn’t include writing samples/links, which I thought was odd and I wondered about the shadiness even prior to reading the article and comments


    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hi Lynnette. His email worked when I went through the above but no telling what has happened since then. The video portion is indeed a head scratcher and seems like yet another waste of time. I’m sure most writers spend at least a little time writing a script for the thing and once you couple all the time spent on everything else.. PLUS the low pay.. it’s ALL a waste of time.
      They’re STILL trying to take advantage of new writers and those of us looking for extra work. It pisses me off… hence this article.
      Anyway.. hope you find a legit place. There ARE some out there.. just harder and harder to find them.

  9. Thanks so much for this Matthew!! I almost fell for it but stopped at the video submission. Get me on a zoom. Why do I need to spend time to record and upload a video? The less people pay the more they want from you.

  10. Avatar Anthony Medina says:

    You’re doing all the right work. Just saved me from going through some of this. They really prey on struggling writers and it’s unethical. I’ve been looking for a solid job for a while and this would have probably got me if not for your work.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Thanks Anthony. While I can’t encourage you to go ahead and apply, I have heard from them on this as recently as last week and they once again stated that they’ve made positive changes. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen though because this article continues to receive comments from applicants sharing what they encountered and it doesn’t sound very encouraging. I’ve even heard from some current employees via direct email and let’s just say that it doesn’t sound like a place I’d work. Good luck with your job search.

  11. I thought I’d give IKO Brands a shot, even after reading this—I’m looking for work, but it was also a little experiment because I didn’t go into it hopeful. I guess I wanted to see if they’d changed their rate of pay and workflow processes, but it’s apparent that they haven’t. I’ve just gotten off a call with Howard, who began by asking me if I have any questions. I led with saying that I’m assuming they’re fine with my rate of pay I shared in my application, and he said that every writer starts out at $0.02 per word and has to write 10 articles before they can review any pay increases. I immediately said I can’t proceed with the hiring process for that little amount, and he informed me he was unaware of my application form (because he’s not a part of that process and is basically the onboarding individual) and that he’ll pass on my rate of pay to the rest of the team and be in touch if that’s accepted. Also, I wrote a free 300-word trial article as part of this process. Within a couple of hours, I received an email to say that I’m through to the next round. I’m not convinced whether my article was taken seriously, and that felt like a waste of time. It’s very disappointing to waste writers’ time when they’re clearly looking for work, and it’s very insulting to say you pay so little!

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hi Amy. It’s rather disappointing to hear this news. Two weeks ago I was contacted by them and asked to remove the article because they had changed and the article was hurting their recruiting process. I politely declined but offered to include another update if he cared to provide more info, but I never heard back. I refused because of emails just like this that show they haven’t changed their tune much at all.

      I truly hope you’re able to find some legit writing work. Companies like this waste valuable time/money and I can only hope that potential applicant see this article and comments so they can make an informed decision before moving forward.

      Good luck

  12. I recently applied with IKO Brands on LinkedIn as they had several freelance copywriting positions open. I applied for each of them. The thing that made me search for them and raised a red flag was that I received like 8 emails all saying “Your resume looks great! Please complete this brief form and submit a 60 second video telling our team about your writing experiences.” The thing is they’re all identical. There’s no way that the president reviewed any of it and it’s not a bot. It reminds me of another recently that asked me to take an IQ test. It’s just really sketchy to me that clearly no one even looked at the applications.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hi Ellie. I can definitely understand using templates for replies (I use them daily around here) and autoresponders, especially when likely dealing with 100s of applicants per day. However, I’ve learned to not give these folks the benefit of the doubt. Were the replies all received within a short timeframe? Just wondering if they simply click a button and it send the reply. Which would indicate that they aren’t taking the time to review resumes. It would also help explain why they want a video of you discussing your work history when we already provided it in the resume.

      Anyway. Thanks for reading/replying and good luck with the search

  13. Thanks so much for this – I dont usually apply to jobs without pay ranges and was excited to get an email from them but a little wary. I’m glad I didn’t waste my time. even 5 years ago I would never write for 2 cents a word and jump through that many hoops. As a freelancer down on my luck right now, I dont have time to waste.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hi Elsa. Thanks for reading/replying. I agree, they are a HUGE waste of time. They want a significant time commitment from applicants and now they aren’t even paying for the sample article (if you’re offered and accept the position) as they were advertising before.

      After all the hoops, then you find out it’s .02

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re down on your luck. Hopefully you’ll quickly find something worthwhile.

  14. Avatar Delicious Potatoes says:

    Thanks for this article, dude. I applied on LI this week and got the same word-for-word response. Deleting the email and moving on.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Thanks Potatoes (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say). Perhaps one day they’ll change their practices but until then, hopefully people see this article before jumping through those hoops.

  15. Avatar What's in a name says:

    Thanks for this article, was looking for the websites they own when I stumbled upon your article. 0.02$ is low even when compared to rates in APAC. Definitely saved me the hassle of having to film a stupid video.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hey there. I’m glad you found the article useful. I completely agree about the low pay. They still appear to be preying on writers that are desperate for work. Especially considering that it’s all ghost writing and not even usable for a portfolio. Hopefully some day they will actually change and figure out that by paying better, they’ll get better quality writers/content. I have a feeling their turnover rate is massive.

  16. Avatar Saif Mahmud says:

    I just received the first email today and decided to dig up a bit more about the company. I took time and went through from beginning till the end of your article, and I think it’ll be a waste of time and effort if I continue with the reply. I’m from Dhaka, Bangladesh. Do you have any suggestions where I can write and get paid or get a full time writer job remotely? Waiting for your reply. Thank you for this article. God bless you!

  17. Avatar Anonymous says:

    You just sent me this link on LinkedIn. Man, I wish I had seen this before I started to work for them. If you thought that pay rate was bad, they switched to using AI and had the writers basically be editors. This time though, we were paid per hour and were only allowed to spend one hour on an article. It was a mess.

    I will say, when I was hired, we still had to do the trials and jump through all the hoops. I loved the team, but the system was super confusing and was constantly changing, and not in the favor of writers.

    1. Matthew Harris Matthew Harris says:

      Hey there. Yeah I hope a lot of people see this article and comments before they apply. The whole AI/per hour change just sounds like alternate way to screw writers. Editing AI isn’t writing. They are by far the worst “mill” I have ever seen. They should be ashamed of themselves but it’s obvious they’re not.