Malaysian Bestselling author and successful entrepreneur Marcus Teoh has successfully used zero budget marketing to make his business grow significantly.  In this article, he shares his secret and discusses how entrepreneurs and start-ups can use zero-budget marketing to seize opportunities. 

What is the fastest, free, and fun way to make money in business if we are just starting?  That would be how we can promote our products or services to potential clients and get their commitment to purchase in the shortest possible time.  As you are seated down reading this article how would you respond immediately if you must reach out to as many people as possible in the shortest possible time?

Are you going to:

A. Call a friend who is a decision maker or is someone very influential and ask him/her to help promote? 

B. Blast a compelling message in multiple WhatsApp/Facebook/Telegram/WeChat groups in hopes to generate sales?

C. Post a message on your social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or YouTube and hope to generate leads?

D. All the above

Regardless of which option you have selected (I would guess you would have picked “D”) the result of your choice comes down to 2 important metrics, the number of people you reach and the value of your relationship with these people.

Why do brands pay millions to celebrities just to endorse their products?  Celebrities have both, high number of people they can reach (via social media or traditional media) and high value of the relationship.  If there were an advertisement campaign showing a photo of Usain Bolt holding a can of beer, which is unlikely to happen as it contradicts his image, some of his fans would be influenced to buy this particular brand of beer.  The relationship value of a fan who idolizes a celebrity is high because this celebrity has a strong power of influence.  How we wished that we were all as well-known, wealthy and owns a strong and muscular body like this World’s fastest man.

Reality is most of us are not like him and will not be like for our entire lives.  How do we still excerpt such influence within our community, especially if we are in business so we have a better chance to be profitable.  All we have to do is just to ask others to buy from us.

That is the bad news.  Before I go into the good news, let me share an experience that first frightened me before eventually it helped paved the way to the business I am running today.

Back in 2009 I started a business with my business partner to sell branded handbags.  We went to factory outlets in Europe and purchased handbags from Bally, Prada, Gucci, Fendi and Miu Miu that we believed would sell in Malaysia.  Being very new in business we made a major mistake.  After purchasing the handbags and have them shipped to Kuala Lumpur, we realized that we have spent a significant sum.  Now we had to get rid of the stocks and turn them into cash.  We did not realize that we have to still market our business.  That is to promote our products.  

Naïve we were when we thought these the top designer brands would just sell by themselves just by us shouting out that we are selling at largely discounted prices.  Our plan was to run events and invite designer bag lovers to come and buy from us.  Designer bags are expensive in Malaysia.  With the purchase directly from factory outlets in Europe, after factoring in shipping, taxes and running costs there was still a healthy margin.

We missed one important part of the equation, which was marketing.  How could we get people to come to our event, known as a “Designer Handbag Sale” as we had no database or existing pool of customers to start with.  We tried to engage an event marketing company but the cost of organizing the event was too much for us.  Our stocks from Europe would arrive in January 2010 and we had to leverage on Valentine’s Day to move our stocks.  Within a month, we went all out to prepare for our maiden sale!  We only allocated budget to purchase our stocks and we were not ready to spend on advertisements.  We had to find ways.  It was a very tensed period for us before we tried using social media.  

I noticed that I had more than a thousand friends on Facebook.  I thought, why not invite them to our designer handbag sale?  Some friends were supportive while majority were not convinced that we could sell authentic designer handbags at discounts up to 50% from retail prices in Malaysia.  Back then the concept of “Factory Outlet” stores were only known to Malaysians who have travelled to the Europe or the United States.  Nevertheless, at least we had somewhere to start with. My business partner and I also promoted our handbag event on multiple groups online and on free web pages.  Thankfully, our first event was promising.  While we did not make a lot of money, we knew that we could grow our customer base by continuing with our social media marketing.  Our second event three months later saw people queuing to our designer handbag sale even before we were ready to welcome customers.  We rented a café to display our products and it was a sweet success.

After a few rounds of repeating the buying and selling via events, we made enough money for me to quit my full-time job as a senior business analyst.  Eventually our largest event was in Singapore as our customers would have to queue for more than an hour to come into our sale.  I thought I would be rich.  It didn’t last long as the landscape changed when many companies also came into the business, our currency was weakened and my business partner would go and start her family in a different country.  

The whole experience taught me a valuable lesson.  My Facebook account is so valuable.  In an emergency where I no longer had cash to market my business I could use it to spread a message, to market my new handbag business.  Scarcity and necessity forced me to be creative and turned adversity into an opportunity.

 Maybe that was just fluke.  In 2017, I became an author when my first book Now or Never – How to Start a Business with only RM199 (approximately USD40).  Again with no budget, no publishing experience and no connections to someone extremely influential my book went on to be Top 10 Weekly Bestseller for twenty-one weeks in Malaysia’s largest English Bookstore chain.  That year my book was Nominated as Top 10 Business Nominee alongside books by Richard Branson, Jack Ma and Tony Robbins.  What a miraculous achievement.  Again, my only marketing tool was my personal Facebook account and WhatsApp.  

A year later, a friend and I wanted to start a business networking group.  While we have been members for more than six years we decided to launch a chapter of our own.  Equipped with sheer determination with little knowledge on how it was supposed to be done we leveraged on our influence and personal networks via Facebook and created history.  In seven months from two of us, we reached 108 with zero budget spent creating history to become the first chapter in South East Asia to be launched as a “Diamond” chapter.  A diamond chapter is a chapter with more than 100 members.  The highest number of members in a newly launched chapter back then in Malaysia was 57.

Have you or your loved ones ever wanted to do something but decided not to because of not having resources or cash?  If the intention and determination is strong enough, nothing can stop a person in achieving his goals.

Here are five tips for every entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur to learn how to market your business with zero budget.

  1. Build connections and influence immediately and consistently. The best way to do it is via social media.  It is like a savings account.  The currency in a bank account is cash.  The currency on social media is followers, friends or fans and engagement.
  2. Understand psychology before technology.  Technology helps us reach our potential customers quicker and in larger quantities.  You want to know what they think first to offer them a solution they can’t resist.  Should a platform is no longer in business, psychology can be applied in another platform.
  3. You don’t know who knows who, know a person without judging.  Never underestimate the influence of one person by judging the surface.  The person whom you dream to be connected to could just be this one person you choose not to pay attention to.
  4. Stories first, facts later.  Millions of movies are produced, millions of books are sold.  What do they have in common?  Great stories.  Master the art of telling stories and showcase your masterpieces online. 
  5. Believe in yourself.  In the social media world there are many opinions and messages.  It is easy to get discouraged or “attacked”.  Follow your heart, others have their own to follow.

The recent pandemic led to a lockdown and the lockdown has helped my training business focused on zero budget marketing grow significantly this year.  If you think you have nothing, you can wait for scarcity and necessity to show you your opportunity.  Alternatively, you can be proactive and get your mind and circle of influence ready to seize the opportunities!  Invest your time in zero budget marketing today.


Marcus Teoh is the author of Now or Never – Start Your Business with only RM199. He started writing when he was at the lowest point of his life, unsuccessful in his training business and his relationship.  With no budget and no experience, with just determination and discipline his book was launched in nine months and went onto Malaysia’s largest English Bookstore Chain’s Weekly Top 10 Bestseller List and was even nominated as Top 10 Business Nominee. Other nominees were books by Richard Branson, Jack Ma and Tony Robbins. Today Marcus is an international speaker and trainer sharing his zero budget marketing strategies and inspiring authors and business owners to pursue their dreams through his talks and coaching.  Since COVID19 lockdown, he has a new found interest in cooking and is starting a home cooking community so everyone can cook and earn from home by sharing their masterpieces on social media.