How to start online selling can be discussed for hours on end. In fact, are so many nuanced ways to sell your product or service online that you’ve only got to pull two random businesses to see that each have their own way of doing it.

This being said, most selling online is underpinned by two fundamental trains of thought – Hard sales vs Organic sales.

You may also hear this referred to as – cold sales vs warm sales or manual sales vs automatic sales.

As you can see, there are a lot of ‘vs’ going on, like there’s a Marvel vs DC showdown about to take place.

To be fair, each form of online selling is as contrasting in philosophy as Marve and DC are. And like these two superhero brands, each has its pro’s and cons.

Before we take a closer look at each, let’s take a quick look at our BATON framework so you have a point of reference as to how each differs.

In the context of this article, think of BATON as stages your customer goes through before they are sold too (offered your product/service). Each stage of the BATON framework can be summed up as follows:

  • Business – your idea meets the market.
  • Audience – bringing attention/awareness to your product
  • Tribe – customers opt-in to learn more about your product
  • Offer – offer/sell your product to this audience segment (tribe)
  • Network – scaling your business through different ways and means

Our focus in this article is on how a customer moves through Audience, Tribe and Offer. Because this is typically where most of the marketing function takes place.

I’ll show you how this plays out over the next two sections but linking back to the BATON framework.

With this in mind, let’s explore both forms of how to start selling online.

Hard Sales

To keep things simple, hard sales is where you sell your product to someone who’s just met you. It’s like asking someone who’ve you just met in the queue to buy coffee to go out on a date with you.

If we look at the BATON model, this looks like this:

Audience > Offer

(We’ve SKIPPED the Tribe stage – more on that later)

Selling to someone who’s just met you is typically done through direct advertising. Where you’ll advertise your product/service (mainly via social media in today’s age) to a wide audience. In the form of a banner, newsfeed ad, video ad in-between watching YouTube and so on.

The platform doesn’t matter. The key is, they’ve never seen you/product/service/brand before this advert.


The first advantage of this is that at scale, it can be very profitable. Once you’ve got your ducks in a row, so to speak – ad creative, media buying, ad specialist and data capture – you’re good to go.

How to start online selling
It’s easier said than done…

To be clear, this requires you to spend money on adverts, so it’s critical to have your ducks in a row. One duck you’ll need is the financial analysis.

For example, if spend £1,000 on ads in month 1. What sales did that generate? If it was less than £1,000, you’ve got a challenge. The inverse is you spend £1,000, and you generate £5,000 in sales. Now your hard sales are working.

The other core advantage of selling online in this way is that you can get started very quickly. Once your ducks are in a row, you essentially switch the ads on, and you’re product/service is now out there at scale. (The scale also depends very much on your advertising budget).


The benefits of selling online can seem attractive, but it’s important to understand the risks.

Therefore the first disadvantage to this way of selling is, once you switch off the adverts, no one sees your product no longer, and your sales hit a brick wall. In other words, all sales stop.

The second (hopefully obvious) issue is if your advertising media channels – Facebook, Google, YouTube, Website Banner – change in anyway way – become more expensive, regulation, change policy – you’re also stuffed.

To third and final big disadvantage (in my opinion), you need an excellent sales mechanism to convert someone who lands on your ad, which adds a layer of complexity to your business. And a huge duck you need to get in your row. This is often why marketing and sales go hand in hand in today’s online modern business.

To provide a contrast, let’s look at the other way of how to start online selling.

Organic sales

Organic sales mean you are offering your product to people who have seen you before. They’ve stood behind you for 6 months in the coffee queue every morning.

If we look at the BATON model, this looks like this:

Audience > Tribe > Offer

In comparison to the first, we’ve added a stage – Tribe.

Fundamentally this means the person has become aware of what your offering and opted in to receive more information.

Selling to someone who has seen you before is done differently from Hard Sales. Rather than presenting them with an advert at the Audience stage, we instead offer them information through content marketing.

There are two ways to think of organic sales in comparison to hard sales. (a) it’s a contrasting philosophy (b) it’s an additional stage to consider before your offer your customer your product/service. Either way, it also has its pros and cons.


The first advantage is a big one because it’s sought after by so many businesses, small and large – brand! By content marketing, you’ll build up brand awareness (and equity over time). In other words, people start to become familiar with you and, in turn, start to trust you simply because you’re showing up in their life consistently. (It’s a strange but powerful phenomenon).

So content marketing, if done right, will educate, entertain or inspire your audience. But most importantly, build trust in your brand. Without them ever having even bought your product. An example of an individual who does content marketing well is Will Smith – who then leverages this to make sales on his clothes brand –

If you’ve ever heard someone say – ‘Try so and so, I’ve heard their product is great for this…’. That’s content marketing taking effect at its finest.

The second advantage, which is in stark contrast to direct advertising, is that, over time, you will begin to make sales without spending any money on direct advertising, which is pretty mind-blowing. If you don’t think it’s possible, just watch a YouTuber who has many subscribers (followers) offer their product – often merchandise – to their fans. They never spent money on an ad to make those sales. They instead just asked their fans to buy.

With the YouTube reference in mind, the final big advantage over this form of selling online is that it costs more in time resource than a financial resource. This means if you’ve got zero budget to start advertising, then at least you know by content marketing you can still effectively sell your product.


The first disadvantage leads on from my last point. Yes, you can still sell your product online, but it’ll take longer to achieve compared to the alternative. This is because we’re relying on other factors to assist with the sale. The content itself will be a variable – is it entertaining, educational or useful enough to capture an audience’s attention? Is your consistent content good enough to get an individual to opt-in to learn more?

Add to that the genuine variables with the platforms that enable people to find your content. For example, it takes Google a long time to recognise your blog as something worth reading. Oh – and let’s not forget the fact that its algorithm decides if it’s worthy or not. This is the same with other platforms.

The other disadvantage is often overlooked. I mentioned that an advantage of organic selling is it’s cheaper than direct advertising. However, I emphasise – it still costs money regardless of what an online marketing guru leads you to believe.

Both through time and economic resource. Because of this, it’s more difficult to calculate a return like it is for direct advertising. Which completely stops business owners in their tracks. In actual fact, the benefits will continue to be enjoyed far into the future, but if you’re looking at sales this month – that doesn’t really help you. Even established businesses struggle with this. Most do content marketing because everyone else is doing it. Very few understand its benefits and how to calculate this long term.

Summary: How to start online selling

Confused about how to start online selling? Don’t be. Because the answer is simple.

You’ll want to do both because both are powerful ways to sell your product/service. And because they both work, they’re both worth doing.

In addition, you know that the advantages and disadvantages of both methods mean they actually complement each other well.

The decision on what to do first will depend on where your business is now, the budget available and how many ducks you need to get in a row.

But whichever you start with, endeavour to build our both marketing and sales systems into your mix. Not only will your customers thank you for it, but your revenue will rise year on year as a result.

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