Building a website with Webflow
Matthew Phua from Harvest Accounting recently took on a project to refresh the Harvest Accounting website. He shares his experience researching the platforms available, designing and building a website as a bootstrapped founder with no coding experience.
An aging website
Our previous website served us well when we were tiny start-up in mid-2019, but was beginning to look slightly dinky and outdated, and we felt it was not representative of what Harvest had grown to become in 2023. The original concept was to highlight our clients and thus we had an initial concept to display our client testimonials like a portrait gallery.
It was this decision that originally led us to use Format as the platform for our website. Format is actually targeted to photographers, designers, and illustrators, and other creatives to showcase their work. Their templates are very visually appealing and the site builder was easy to make edits, if not the most flexible.
The website did its job and served us well, but as the firm grew, the initial focus on images was backfiring slightly as we realised we wanted to share more stories and information through writing with the intention to educate and inspire other small business owners - through personal client stories, providing useful accounting and tax updates, sharing our own journey as business owners, and app and tech reviews.
We realised Format was limited and while it served it's purpose as a portfolio platform, when it came to writing longer text based articles, the blogging section was very limited and not customisable. It held us back from feeling excited about adding more content. Thus, we felt it was necessary to upgrade our website to a more flexible platform.
Specifically, we needed to upgrade from a portfolio (static) website, to full Content Management System (CMS - dynamic) platform, and the search was on for the next platform.
There are many platforms out there in 2023 for building a website, ranging from drag and drop, all the way to full coding knowledge required, and various levels of customisation. Here is a list of platforms I considered. My feature list and descriptions may not necessarily be correct, but this was my perception when researching different options.
- Wordpress - the most popular website builder. Apparently 40% of all websites are built on Wordpress. It has been around for ages. It is hugely customisable but in order to get all the functions you want for your website, you might have add on plug-ins. Some coding knowledge would also be useful make your website sparkle.
- Squarespace - along with Wix, Squarespace is a popular no-code drag and drop website maker. User friendly, but not as customisable as other platforms - hence many websites would have a slightly "cookie cutter" look.
- Wix - similar to Squarespace, but a bit more customisable, however it is harder to make a great looking website, and the learning curve is steeper.
- Ghost - this was getting a lot of buzz online, however it is not truly a website builder. Instead it is something that walks the line between Substack and Mailchimp. It's great for articles and editorial content and has a newsletter publisher baked in.
Enter Webflow, platform that offers unlimited customisability to do anything you want, with a graphical designer interface that handles all the code. It has a no-code approach and does not require plug-ins like Wordpress, can produce more bespoke looking sites than Squarespace or Wix, and has a strong CMS built right in.
One thing I appreciated about Webflow is that they have some of the best training videos I've ever come across. The presenter McGuire Brannon is super clear and logical in explaining how Webflow works, and sprinkles in a lot of jokes and irreverent cuts throughout to keep things interesting.
My main learning resource was Webflow's Youtube channel. They have also grouped everything into a course at Webflow University which would definitely accelerate the learning process. Here's an example of the style that Webflow training videos have:
Apart from the official channel I also learned from other channels such as Flux Academy on Webflow and site design in general. Here's a video that helped me understand the components of a good landing page.
Designing with Templates
With Webflow I didn't have to start my website completely from scratch. There is an active template marketplace with options for all kinds of sites and businesses. I began my search with all CMS sites and eventually picked one that was built for a hypothetical consulting firm that I felt could translate well to Harvest vibes.
Side note: there are many designers creating and listing multiple templates on the marketplace, for example I picked a template from Pablo Ramos. At the time of this article he has 85 templates. This seems like a great business model or additional revenue stream for creatives out there looking to have a highly scalable source of income.
Building and launching
Admittedly, completing the website took longer than expected. Some factors included:
- Getting familiar with Webflow
- Deciding on a template and adapting the design for Harvest - with so many templates available, it took quite a long time to settle on one!
- Being sure to stay on top of day to day work
- Porting over articles and images from the previous website - we didn't have that many articles so I just copy and pasted manually. If our old site was bigger, there would probably be a better solution, but I didn't look.
- Polishing the website and making sure it also looked good on mobile - this took longer than I expected - clicking through links and troubleshooting small issues.
- Publishing the website - I ran into a bit of trouble trying to connect the new website to our existing domain harvestaccounting.com.sg, but our hosting provider exabytes was able troubleshoot the issue and make it work.
Was building the website myself vs hiring someone the right move?
I created the original website in Format back when Harvest was a lot smaller. We do have more resources now. Perhaps it could've been completed earlier, but as a tech loving accountant with no coding skills and a creative streak it was a fun exercise for me, and was satisfying to learn new skills.
It's still early, and after publishing the site to go live one week ago, traffic remains about the same. However we have definitely noticed an increase in the number of actual inquiries, so it seems like the site is more attractive and better at converting browsers to prospects.
In the back end, it is easier to update our articles. Additionally, while Format only allows a single user to edit, we now have the option to allow additional users access to the CMS module for easy content updates without having to worry they change something elsewhere on the rest of the site.
Finally, a website we feel proud of, and embodies Harvest Accounting. Is it an improvement? You be the judge!
Though unrelated to accounting, all of us at Harvest Accounting are used to picking up fast on any Saas / Cloud software that our clients might be using. It was a very fun project to learn Webflow and to understand on what is popular and how powerful the tools are now in the no-code space.
Webflow is super powerful and a joy to use and design with. There is definitely a bit of a learning curve with so many options and customisations available on each component, but the platform is intuitive and once you understand the logic, paired with brilliant training resources, things will eventually click.
If you are a small business owner and you're comfortable using Canva for designing images, Webflow will challenge you, but will not make you want to give up.
If you're planning to create a new website in 2023 for your small business with CMS capabilities for regular content updates (Webflow also handles Ecommerce but I can't comment) I'd highly recommend trying Webflow.