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The trap of "fast-growing" businesses.

One day out of the blue, I got an email in my box with the following:

Subject: Opportunity

Hey Alex, My name is Emil, I am the head of the marketing department of the national group Acme Nutrition. We specialize in the research of target audiences and focus on offering the best quality service to our customers.

Therefore Branding and Packaging are important tools in getting recognition for our products.

We saw your website and we think your profile could fit our product’s needs. We are working on a new line of sport drinks that will sell in supermarkets all over Europe.

We will need:

If you fit our criteria and you are willing to collaborate with us in a form of partnership share in our business, you could be part of Acme Group and develop more projects with us in the future. Let us know if you would like to be part of this great and fast-growing company.


Whether you’ve been in the field for a long time or are just starting out, you might know that in the journey of becoming a creative you may encounter many ‘great, fast-growing companies’ offering you the real deal.
Start-ups will start filling your mailbox with requests for your services in exchange for more work in the future. Single entrepreneurs will offer you a big cut once the product does well in the market. Your neighbor that just opened a shop will ask you to design some stuff for him, etc.

All this sounds amazing, even more so if you are just out of school and need to build a portfolio. You keep telling your friends and family that you are busy and have a lot of work, that you are becoming an entrepreneur. You tell them enthusiastically that companies are offering you shares in their fast-growing business, and so on.

Although it sounds great and it can bring you good things for your portfolio, you keep being broke and you don’t learn that much with these kinds of projects. The reason why these strategies work so well with designers is because they sell the idea of growth – what we all pursue – in order for you to give them free work in exchange for nothing. Really, nothing.

You won’t get a higher salary in six months, and you won’t get paid for future work, if there is any at all. First, a company with any decency will have the money to pay a professional. Second, if they are a fast-growing company, how come they don’t invest in themselves?

Again, I go back to the words of my father, a very wise man: “Skinny dogs attract fleas.” That means that cheap clients bring you cheap outcome, professionally and financially.

Avoid free work or poor salaries based on promises of growth or more work in the future, as this will just make you work for expectations. And when nothing happens, you will end up disappointed. Do free work only if you want, to and because you know you will enjoy it and use it for your portfolio.

When the people who ask you for free work are genuine and appreciate your effort, you will feel their honesty. If instead they are selling you some bullshit about opportunities and long-term business ideas for the future, you’d better save your energy and look for real work instead.

What Emil was asking me in that email was to create their entire brand identity and all the products associated with it, a job worth several thousands of euros, and a job that will take months to be developed and finished. In exchange, he offered me promises.

When in doubt about these emails, just remove the clutter out of it to get to what they are actually saying. Sometimes it is just too ridiculous to be believed.