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Finsweet is now a Webflow development and implementation only agency
By Joe Krug
This story explains why Finsweet is no longer accepting client design projects. Moving forward we will work with clients as a Webflow-specific development-focused agency.
Here is the short version for those who don’t want to read:
- The core reason for this decision is to increase the happiness level of the Finsweet team and free us up to do what we do best.
- Any tension, confusion, and heartache we’ve experienced during website builds is solely generated by design projects.
- This gives us unlimited growth potential as design services can not be scaled to the extent development services can.
- Over time this will be a more profitable business model and aligns with our long term agency goals.
- Our designers will be ultra super empowered to do exactly what they want to do in terms of design (except design for clients :)). This means our designers will spend 100% of their time working on internal projects and community resources.
- This means the Webflow community will become a major beneficiary of this change. You’re welcome.
- We are great at design. We are F’in fantastic at implementation and development inside Webflow.
Here is the long ass explanation that goes through more information than we should release publicly:
Part I - The new business plan from 10 months ago
Let’s start in January 2020 when someone made an offer to buy Finsweet for 1.24 million dollars.
Within 48 hours of the offer I had a full business plan for what I was going to do next. I was going to build development-only Webflow agency 🙌
The plan was complete with prices, monthly costs, branding concepts, tech stack, and automations to build a super lightweight minimal risk company. I spent 5 hours total on the plan and it was based around removing the processes I disliked about Finsweet (design projects).
I made a list of the least-efficient things about Finsweet and decided that the new company would be built around eliminating those hurdles. It felt like a non-competing, lightweight, more focused Finsweet. And honestly, it felt too easy.
I was so certain that this would be a successful business venture that it made the idea of selling Finsweet super attractive. But I never did come around to selling the business. Instead, I pushed forward and doubled down on growing Finsweet.
I also never threw away that business plan. In fact, it’s been sitting on my work desk since January. Calling me… Tempting me to make a major strategic change in how we operate as an agency…
But why has it taken me 10 months to realize this is in fact what Finsweet needs to become a superpower?
Part 2 - Design project hurdles
Currently we have 2 different types of projects -
- Branding + design + development inside Webflow
- Development of designed pages the client provides
From our perspective at Finsweet, some design projects are wonderful. Some are ok. Some are “Fuuuuuck this is becoming a nightmare. OMG please make it stop.”
Our mission is to always leave our clients extraordinarily happy - and on their end they are always thrilled with the end product. That has become our standard.
But if I am being honest, sometimes we aren’t that thrilled at the end of the project.
We always go above and beyond for our clients. And we love doing that, but sometimes it feels like the client doesn’t understand or appreciate the expertise, time and effort we spend on their projects... Especially the times where we use significantly more resources on the project than we originally planned for.
If you design websites for a living, then you have inevitably experienced one or all of these core project problems:
Uncertain project terms or requirements before starting the project.
- Most design projects don’t come to us with all of the questions answered. They’re just starting the process. Which means there are a lot of potential landmines to discover along the way.
- “We’re hoping you can help us figure that out” and “We’re still figuring this out” is very common.
- This all makes large projects difficult to scope and price out accurately.
- Close to 100% of our client design projects deliver late solely because the client is late delivering content.
- Blablah Jones is on vacation this week or is out sick, and will get back to you shortly...
- It’s so common, late content doesn’t phase us anymore. It just happens.
- We send the designs and it takes days to get feedback from the client.
- Blahblah Jones had a really busy day today, or maybe they are on vacation again... :0.
- This inevitably leads to valuable downtime for our designers and creates a ripple effect down our project pipeline.
Late design changes.
- As the build process progresses and more company-wide feedback comes in, ideas start to change and people begin to disagree about decisions they dismissed as trivial months prior. We’ve even had instances where the client’s project manager loves everything throughout the multi-month project and then the CEO rips it apart 1 week before launch. As we work with larger companies, these issues become more frequent and more intense.
You may have 10 comments about how everything above could be fixed with better policies and procedures, but we proudly don’t do that. In fact, we have a zero tension policy at Finsweet.
That means we never charge more than the original quoted price and we never make our clients unhappy. If a client is the slightest bit unhappy, we are failing. So - if a client takes 2 extra months to finalize content - that’s ok, cost remains the same. If expensive design changes are made hours before launch - we make them at no additional cost.
We don’t only say that we’re “client-first” - we live and breath “client-first”. It’s deep in our souls. The zero-tension concept is for our clients, not for us. However it sometimes creates serious tension for us.
But don’t misunderstand - we are not failing with design projects. We churn out multiple beautifully designed Webflow builds for clients each month and our clients love the work. We have a long list of testimonials and high praise, and an even longer list of people waiting to work with us on their next website.
We have a powerhouse portfolio and we’re proud of it. But just because there is success doesn’t mean it’s the maximum amount of success we can achieve as a business.
This is where these new changes are designed to lead us. Into a deeper, more focused version of Finsweet success.
Part 3 - Making promises in business - design vs. development
Business becomes easier when you can make promises that you can keep with 100% certainty.
Keeping promises is the easiest way to form a strong relationship with anybody. Try it for yourself - make a bunch of important promises and then fulfill all of them. Boom! You’ve just made a new business best friend.
Alternatively, when you make a promise, and don’t keep it, you’ve broken a bond of trust. Breaking promises consistently will kill your bond. Keeping your promise consistently will fuel business growth.
When I make a promise, I will do anything to make sure that promise is kept. In the off chance that my promise isn’t fulfilled, I always follow up with something better than the original promise.
This means my team trusts me and our clients trust me. Which means our clients trust Finsweet.
Promises about design = impossible.
I can not promise with 100% certainty that a client will like our design work. They can love our portfolio, they can love the work from our designer, they can assure us that they’ll listen to all of our design directions but at the end of the day, you can't predict how some people will respond to your designs.
Design is subjective, which makes a promise hard to keep.
Two highly skilled designers can see the exact same website and disagree about its design quality. The client project manager can love it and the CEO can hate it. Neither is wrong. Art and design is subjective by nature which means it’s impossible to make hard promises about design. For all intents and purposes, design aesthetics are based on opinion.
Promises about Webflow implementation = easy.
If you show me a design for a website, I can tell you with 1000% certainty if we can build it to spec natively in Webflow.
I can tell you exactly what doesn’t work natively in Webflow and which type of customization we might need to make for that functionality to be possible inside of Webflow’s infrastructure.
If you have a technical challenge inside Webflow, I’ll likely have a solution for you in real-time on the sales call. I know every centimeter of native Webflow limitations. Limitations which are objective by nature. This means there are no surprises because development by nature is objective.
Development has rules. Browsers, html, css, js, etc. They are literally systems of rules which means by default, computers don’t have opinions.
Part 4 - Happiness of the team
Over the past few months, Finsweet has grown significantly. In popularity, in tools produced, in revenue, in team size, etc.
With more active projects, I’ve had a better view of what works and what doesn’t. And one thing I never realized was how stress-free and smooth our implementation projects go in relation to our design projects.
As I look back on recent growth, challenges and success, I see that implementation projects are often delivered with zero tension, zero delay, and zero surprises.
On a design project, it’s common for a designer on our team to say something like:
“Look what the client asked for here [unhappy face emoji]” or “I can’t believe they asked us to change that… We spent *@$& hours on it and they asked for it explicitly as part of the requirements.”
Again, it’s not like our designers are unhappy with their client design work. It’s that clients often make decisions that are counterintuitive to good design. This becomes expensive and redundant over time. Who likes the feeling of wasting time? Especially when that time belongs to a top-tier designer.
I believe that we are not reaching the maximum amount of happiness we can achieve for our team. We have room to grow in happiness - and this change is focused on that growth.
This new company change does not mean our designers are going to be left out in the cold or even that we will stop producing top tier design work. In fact it means the exact opposite. It means our designers will now be empowered to work on any design project they want to work on.
With this change, each Finsweet designer will now be tasked with maintaining an active internal design project at all times. The only requirement being that the project directly benefits the Finsweet brand.
We will have an active picklist of concepts for internal projects which designers can run with. And if one of those doesn't peak the designer’s interest, then we’ll set them free to imagine their own projects from the ground up.
Our designers will now be free to work on anything from marketing pages for our upcoming product releases to custom Webflow hacks and optimizations.
They will be free to create hot clonables for the Webflow community or build templates for the template marketplace. Anything you can think of that needs to be designed (other than client projects) will be designed and delivered by our team.
And we won’t just be doing this for one off projects. Instead we will open those resources up as reusable elements that other designers and developers can leverage for their own growth. In typical Finsweet fashion, we will continue to push the limits of what you can do with Webflow by pushing our team to their limits.
This means that at all times, our designers will have multiple options for internal projects - along with a technical team to back them up. Additionally, there will be absolutely no micromanaging when it comes to their design direction (Although we will use feedback from the community to build in real world constraints). This way their creative juices can flow without being told which colors to use or how to space elements on a page, but still be sure that they are solving real world problems along the way.
We trust our designers and want to empower them to design with their hearts. We’ve just converted half of our team into an army of marketers and educators - through design :)
I get so much more satisfaction waking up to amazing community messages in Sweet JS than receiving a glowing client review once every 2 weeks for delivering a beautiful website. We have people in our Sweet JS service that give us the most thankful heartfelt messages that we helped them deliver a feature they would have never been able to figure out themselves. This happens many times daily and we think this can be multiplied. So that is now our goal. To deliver happiness to the web design masses while fulfilling our goals of growing as an agency and digital products company.
Part 5 - Growth potential and scaling
First thing to know is that we don’t make decisions at Finsweet with money as the primary driver.
I think it’s a poor way to think about business and can eventually lead to failure. This is how I have felt since I started Finsweet and is how I continue to operate the business.
We do however make decisions that are intended to make people happy and create immense value for those we serve. This means we make decisions based on how it will benefit our team, our clients, and our community. Which surprisingly enough, usually leads to more money.
So while this decision started out as an employee happiness push… We now realize that we can make a heck of a lot more money long term with this approach, which in turn will help us release more Webflow related products, services, and tools.
So to recap...
Design can only be scaled so far.
Design is custom.
Design has opinions
Design is subjective.
It’s incredibly hard to find talented lead designers who are available for work, have the right attitude, and develop flawlessly in Webflow. Sure we have a bunch of them, but they’re a rare breed. Finding a team of 50 Finsweet-quality designers would be very challenging.
Implementation is so scalable that I’m smacking myself in the face for not writing this blog post in January 2020.
Instead I’ve just been sitting on handwritten development-only notes from earlier this year which include a shopping cart type setup that allows leads to choose exactly what they need implemented in Webflow and how we can help.
It allowed the user to scope a project by page count, section count, custom components, form functions, CRM integration, custom tracking, deep seo, third party tools, utm and referrer form field setup, and on and on… all broken down, and categorized with microselections of everything you could ever want in a Webflow build.
This plan essentially converts our service offering into a powerhouse web development product which allows us to offer a level of transparency on development projects that is simply not possible with design work. The natural clarity of these changes is already improving our sales process and we’re only one week into it.
In the last two weeks, we’ve confirmed 3 super solid development driven projects. I spent a total of 1.5 hours on the phone and exchanged 15 emails in total. These stats are for all 3 projects. This efficiency is not possible when pitching a design project. And that’s just the beginning.
Once we figure out this development-only flow, we’re going to automate a big part of the process.
For many projects, a lead will be able to generate their own Statement of Work based on their selections, generate their own invoice, and start the process without human interactions.
This will not happen immediately - but over time we will find efficiencies in this process.
You can expect us to build a Webflow implementation machine and present a value proposition so powerful that it will be silly not to work with Finsweet for your Webflow development needs.
You might be asking yourself: Self “How can they be so confident in future growth?”
And I would answer that it’s because we know Webflow can be taught. You can get really good at Webflow in months. You can become a damn master in years if you push yourself. This logic can not always be applied to design. Design is art and again, art is subjective.
We at Finsweet understand Webflow so well that we want to build an onramp to a successful career in web design by sharing our knowledge with the world and empowering others to follow in our footsteps.
Our mindset is that as long as you have the attitude we’re looking for at Finsweet, we can teach you how to do the rest. Which brings us to the second phase of this announcement.
Imagine a formal training curriculum that takes average Webflow users and turns them into top tier Webflow developers.
Imagine if you could get F’in Certified in Webflow web design and gain access to a steady stream of high quality web design work…
Imagine joining an exclusive community of the most talented Webflow designers and developers in the world…
Well... soon you’ll be able to do just that…. Because we’re already working on it.
You see, where most people run into trouble with Webflow is landing high value clients, and going past the native limitations of the platform.
I’ve seen people spend hours trying to figure out solutions that push the platform just past it’s native functionality only to discover that the solution was a simple script that was just out of their reach.
For years I was one of those people. After all, I am not a developer, and I am guessing neither are you. This is what draws us to no-code. But sometimes you just need that one feature that Webflow doesn’t yet support natively.
But when custom code gets involved, it’s easy to freeze and fail. Searching in the forum, on private groups, and on YouTube feels endless. But the demand is there. We see it every day.
A short list of custom features can turn a one week project into a two or three week project and one custom feature you don’t understand can ruin the entire launch.
These are the exact problems we’ve been solving for years now.
Over time we have run into solutions for almost anything you might want to do inside of Webflow. Not only that, but we’ve built systems around how to do it at scale and are now perfecting the process.
This is why we can deliver development projects faster and more efficiently than the competition. It’s also why we’re taking those solutions and not only convert them into a profitable business, but we’re also turning them into educational resources that benefit the entire community.
It’s all part of a master plan to share our tools, services, products, and design talent with a larger pool of people than we currently can now.
Part 6 - Webflow community
The group that benefits the most from this change is Finsweet.
The group that benefits the second most from this change is You!
You and the entire Webflow community.
One result of this company service restructuring is a higher output of Webflow community projects.
Finsweet is already the #1 producer of fire unique Webflow content and we’ve just shot steroids in the lion’s ass. Can you imagine if we double our output? Triple?
Most of what we do for the Webflow community is currently considered a ‘side project’, but we no longer want to look at what we do for you as a side project. We’re ready to turn those part time projects into full time workflows.
Right now our active list of available internal projects has a strong push towards community engagement, and in case you missed it, it’s one of the reasons we just hired Raymmar as our Chief Marketing Officer.
Pushing the limits of what’s possible with Webflow will always be a mission of Finsweet.
Pushing the limits of the value we provide the Webflow community has now been added to that mission.
Part 7 - Conclusion
Sharing this news makes me feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. 30kg plates were just released from the lion’s legs. This means we are about to run faster, live happier, and all be F’in sweet together.
If you made it this far, then thank you and welcome to the beginning of something we think will be huge for not only us, but the entire Webflow community. We’re excited to make this announcement and we’re excited to invite you into the next chapter of our operation.
Moving forward our posts won’t all be this long, but we are experimenting with long form storytelling as part of this new process. In fact, we will be experimenting with all sorts of storytelling methods moving forwards and we’d love to hear your feedback about all of it.
If you like this long-form content, tell us and we’ll do more of it (firstname.lastname@example.org). If not, we will just stick to videos :).
Click here to Join us for a live press conference about this change on November 11th.