By Andrew Neitlich

What a butler can teach web designers about selling, with credit to Brendon Sinclair

By Andrew Neitlich

This week my wife put her foot down and insisted that we get a cleaning service to save our home from the sloppy living practices of our two dogs, two little boys, and of course, me.

As we looked around for such a service in the phone book, they all seemed to be pretty generic, and none were able to come out when we needed them.

Then my wife called a company called The Butler Did It.


The owner of the company came out to provide an estimate, and the way he went about it provides a great lesson to anyone involved in Web Design/Development:

– He arrived in a black Jaguar (used, but still impressive)
– He was dressed nicely, with polished black shoes, and professional business casual attire (which is rare in this part of Florida).
– He carried a nice brief case.
– He used a clip board and fancy pen to take notes and prepare our estimate on the spot.
– He showed us a portfolio of gorgeous houses where he had worked, including photos of the unique way his company vacuums carpets, folds napkins, etc.
– He provided a list of references, including a magazine article featuring his company.
– As he toured the house, he explained what his service does that no other cleaning service does (e.g. cleaning window sills, and other stuff that I have no clue about but that impressed my wife).

By the end of his visit, we viewed him as way more than a cleaning service. He was indeed a butler, and while anyone can hire a maid, few people get a real, live butler! We wanted to have a butler! We had to have a butler!

His prices were a bit higher than typical cleaning services, but not much, and by the time this guy was done with his presentation we didn’t care.

Now that’s how you sell services!

I was particularly aware of this approach to marketing thanks to a post Brendon Sinclair made in a Sitepoint forum some time ago. I can’t find it now(maybe someone can and will post the link), but he explained how he gets away with charging higher prices than the competition. Guess what? He uses many of the same techniques as the butler.

So credit for this blog goes to Brendon who, if he chose, could clearly be a very successful butler should he ever decide to change careers (although at this point he’s probably done well enough to hire butlers for his butlers) :)

But seriously, regardless of the specific service you offer, you can set yourself apart simply in how you dress, how you behave, and by communicating ways that you pay attention to important details that others miss.

And don’t forget to use a fancy pen!

  • Interesting observations. I agree that the way you present yourself can make or break a sale. Sometimes we, as salespeople, overlook the little details that can add up to a big first impression. Please let us know how this service works out. It will be interesting to see if “The Butler” lives up to what he offers.

  • M. Johansson
  • markchivs

    There’s a whole chapter in Brendon’s ‘Web Design Business Kit’ called “Presentation, Perception, Perfection!” devoted to this :-) (No charge Brendon)

  • I notice stuff like this everyday now…

    When I was calling for painting estimates, one guy actually wrote a quote on the back of a business card. The local company that did the most advertising in the area didn’t have anyone answering the phone and never returned my voice mail message.

    When I was in a woman’s store shopping for a birthday present, the staff were talking to each other and totally ignored me. I still ended up making a purchase of several hundred dollars.

    A new restaurant that does a lot of radio advertising. I walked in, there was no host to seat us. A waitress looked at us from across the restaurant but continued to ignore us. We waited for 5 minutes and then left.

  • rick_g22

    Just left? Well perhaps you should have been more direct. Like talking to the manager and tell him how awfully you were ignored. And only THEN leaving. MUAHAHAHAAHA! I try to do this everytime i can.

    Because, what use is punishing someone if he doesn’t know he’s being punished?

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Following all those presentation techniques is good but you also need to gauge the attitude of the prospect. They want to feel comfortable, so you don’t want to intimidate them by being all about your image, you need to be personable as well.

  • I would have never hired him to clean my house. There’s something to be said for looking the part. I hire painters who drive pickup trucks with ladders on top, I hire accountants and lawyers who wear business suits, and my cleaning lady was referred to us by a neighbor, and guess what, she looks like a cleaning lady as do the people who work for her, and they clean.

  • aneitlich


    Fair enough. So what should a web designer look like then? That’s the point of this blog, and I look forward to your answer.



  • Maybe someone showed him the Web Design kit, which I presume has some rather generic sales techniques. [keyword: presume; hint: I’m poor]

    While I have to agree with petertdavis, he is afterall the boss of the company, not the cleaner. Even if he were a cleaner, that outfit would still be fitting [pun not intended] – remember: butler, not maid.

  • Oops, forgot to post this

    Rick_g22: Because, what use is punishing someone if he doesn’t know he’s being punished?

    Actually, the worst punishment is not telling. Then they can’t change, which will probably lead to worse things than getting lambasted by one (or several) angry customers.

  • “So what should a web designer look like then?”

    I don’t think there’s a single answer to that question. Realize, first, that I have more experience hiring cleaners than I have being a salesman for a web design company. I’d say second-guessing your client would be the way to approach it. You’d dress as your client would expect you to appear. For example, if your client is an investment banker in Boston, you’d dress differently than if your client was a natural food store in Berkeley.

  • drakke

    Whats the goal here anyway? To establish a dress code to to build the perception of value.

    Take Toyota and Lexus. From their marketing material you would think the Lexus has slightly thicker steel in their body panels but this is not so. But the interesting thing is that we tend to think that it is.

    I’ve seen car commercials for standard cars and luxury cars and they tend to have comparable features. So what are we buying anyway? Maybe we like to feel special and maybe the product helps us. Presentation does count because bad presentation translates into bad quality in the minds of the customer. This is especially important if they have not seen your product yet.

  • Quite simply, good customer service will set your business apart from the rest of the pack.

    Matt’s post reminds me of an experience several years ago when we were trying to get estimates on finishing off the basement in our house. One guy came out to the house, took all of 5 minutes looking around, then quoted me a ballpark figure which I could also have done sight unseen. I already had such figures in mind before I called anyone in the first place.

    The man who got the job did exactly what your butler did – made notes, looked at our floor plan, asked questions, the whole nine yards. He got the job because he showed some genuine interest in doing the work, and the conversation we had demonstrated that he had the technical competence to follow through with it.

    We got the work done at a fair price, in a reasonable amount of time and were very happy.

  • Interesting post. Basically you’ve reiterated with an interesting analogy what many have said in the past – presentation is key.

  • A valid point, as far as selling goes the approach should always be to consult. One thing I would like to point out is that you called him, the issue with selling is more about finding people in need then it is your approach not to downgrade the importance of presentation.

  • A valid point, as far as selling goes the approach should always be to consult. One thing I would like to point out is that you called him, the issue with making sales is a lot more about finding people in need then it is your approach not to downgrade the importance of presentation but finding people in need is a whole other ball game.

Get the latest in Entrepreneur, once a week, for free.