The reading level for this article is Novice

‘The Apprentice,’ the TV show featuring New York businessman Donald Trump, has more than just entertainment value – the first series also had some important marketing lessons and no-cost strategies that any business owner can benefit from.  In case you missed them, here’s a closer look – 

In episode 10, titled “Wheeling and Dealing,” members of two teams competed against each other to make the most profit from operating pedicab (rickshaw) services for a day in Manhattan, New York. The losing team lost one member; everyone else got to stay for another day in an attempt to become The Donald’s newest high-paid employee.

  • In this contest, the teams came up with new ways to market the rickshaw company’s services, and expanded on its existing business methods. You should learn from them –

Team 1 focused on the company’s core business (transporting people) and tried to get money from two sources – (i) fares paid by people for rickshaw rides, and (ii) pre-selling tickets for future use.

Obviously (i) is a hard way to make big dollars, so (ii) made sense to multiply the income –

Getting money in advance (ii) is a classic no-cash strategy. In this case, the team could count the money they made on the pre-sold tickets as revenue for the day of the contest, even though the services wouldn’t be delivered until later.

Trouble was, they didn’t pre-sell many tickets, so they didn’t get much cash in advance.

  • Nothing wrong with the idea
  • – but the people they were trying to sell multiple rides to didn’t see there was any urgency to act. So they put off making a decision.

The message is: If you’re planning pre-sales and want money NOW – find a hook, a reason why your target should respond immediately: “To get this benefit, Ms Rickshaw Rider, you need to act now.”


Team 2 thought outside the square by focusing on not only what their business could do (sell rides), but also on what benefits it might offer that others would pay for.

Traffic in Manhattan is often close to a standstill, or moves slowly. Which means that there are a lot of people in vehicles and walking who have time to take notice of what’s going on around them.

Pedicabs can keep moving through the traffic and attract the eye. So Team 2 decided to sell advertising space on the sides and backs of their rickshaws. They knew those messages would be exposed to a captive audience – and that’s appealing to advertisers.

Note that Team 2 added a new source of revenue without adding one cent of extra cost to their business (the rickshaws were operating already and the space the ads took up was blank). Pure profit.

And they did that without in any way detracting from or harming their core business (providing rickshaw rides).


Team 2 won the competition hands down. They only made about $650 from pedicab rides. But they made more than five times that amount – $3,450 – from selling advertising.

Think about that when you’re looking at ways to put financing together for a startup or want to boost your revenue: What can your business offer that will produce additional income for you?

  • Another thing to note: Instead of trying to break new ground when they had very little time available, Team 2 went to people they already had established relationships with. Much easier sale.

Team 1 seemed just to make cold calls on people they didn’t know – meaning that they had to sell themselves and THEN the product (a book of tickets). Much harder sale.


  • But Here’s the REAL Winner

Who was the big winner – Team 1 or Team 2?

Neither. No contest – in the short and long terms, the real winners were the owners of the pedicab fleet that the contestants used, Manhattan Rickshaw Co.

  • Think about the publicity the owners got for themselves. Almost one hour of exposure on a TV program seen in dozens of countries. Tens of millions of viewers not just in the USA, but all over the world.

That’s important for the rickshaw company – because tourists in New York are especially likely to take a ride to see the city’s sights. The program showed them an interesting and fun way to do that.

Then there are all the newspaper, TV guide and Website previews and reviews of the show that refer to their business. (You’re even reading about them here!)

Want to estimate the value of all that? Hundreds of thousands… no, MILLIONS of dollars worth of free publicity that is incredibly more valuable than paid-for advertisements.

Was that good marketing? You bet. No-cost promotion at its best.   

How can you get publicity for virtually no cost? One way is to follow the same approach: Come up with a creative promotion that attracts the media’s attention and has something to do with what your business is all about.   

No need to be a big business – the strategy works especially well at a local level and/or on a smaller scale. You sell fishing gear?  Your annual “Biggest Fish” contest will capture press interest. 

So will the fashion show your clothing business sponsors for charity.  Especially if local celebrities (who will get you even more coverage) provide their modelling services for free to aid the worthy cause… You get the idea. 

This Business article was written by Marshall Bird on 3/23/2005

Marshall Bird LL.B, LL.M is an international lawyer and author of the best-selling “”No-Cash Startups: How to Start a Business Using None of Your Own Cash,”” which reveals the shrewdest ways to set your venture up using minimum money, and much more.