As a business owner, I’ve found myself going down the endless research rabbit hole often. You’ve been there… What bookkeeping software should I use? How should I send invoices? What’s the best project management software?
Over the next few weeks I’m doing a deep dive into client on-boarding (or Client Relationship Management CRM) softwares. I’ve done the testing + comparing for you over the years, and narrowed it down to my top 3 recommendations.
Let’s dive into the up and coming proposal software — Bonsai.
Part 1: What are my favorite features unique to Bonsai?
Design: Hands down, of any platform I’ve researched, Bonsai shines most design-wise. Minimal design, clean typography and very user friendly.
Contracts: Bonsai includes contract templates within their platform — a great perk if you’re just getting started! Though I haven’t read through their provided contracts, so I can’t 100% recommend them to protect your business. (If you’re looking for my recommendation, it’s this graphic designer contract template).
Specific to designers: I love that Bonsai is clear on who their product is for — freelancers. This means they understand our needs most, and don’t have an abundance of features that don’t apply to us.
Part 2: How much does it cost?
Bonsai offers a few payment options:
Plus: $19/month or $192/year (save 15%)
Premium: $29/month or $288/year (save 15%).
Get one month free of Bonsai through using my referral link as a Bonsai partner.
Part 3: How well does Bonsai work?
Let’s take a look under the hood of Bonsai and rate each of the features as a designer we would use most in our business.
Client intake forms (grade: C): Bonsai does offer client contact forms to track leads, however you cannot embed the form on your own site or customize the fields. The design looks great, yet it’s definitely not ideal to send potential clients away from your site to get in touch. I also like to include different fields on my contact form aside from a comment box. But this works great if you’re just getting started and maybe don’t even have a website up yet!
Quote, contract, invoice (grade: B-): Each document is beautiful, however it can’t compare to its competitor 17hats regarding automatic contract signature + invoicing prompts following proposal approvals. Bonsai does allow you to have add-on options to your proposals with the pro account, which is a great perk!
After the client selects which options they approve in the quote, they can be sent an email that prompts them to “view the project” which houses any invoices or contracts you’ve created. You can set the proposal to automatically generate an invoice, however it will not pop up upon proposal approval as it does with 17hats.
When testing this feature, I found it confusing from the client’s perspective to look at the dashboard of all activity from the project. (maybe just my preference, though!)
Questionnaires (grade: F): Bonsai does not offer questionnaire capability. If you’re interested in using Bonsai, I’d recommend hosting your client questionnaires through Google Docs (my preference), or Typeform.
Time tracking (grade: B+): The time tracking component of Bonsai is pretty straightforward and easy to use. You can record time live, and add to a client invoice for billing.
If you’re looking for a more robust time tracking that includes reporting, categories where your time is spent, etc. — Bonsai won’t cut it. I’d recommend Toggl (free) for an in depth look at your overall time tracking not exclusive to client billing.
Overall — Bonsai has exactly what you need for billing hourly clients using their time tracking feature.
Projects at a glance (grade: C-): This isn’t Bonsai’s strength. Though you have the ability to view proposals, invoices, time tracked, etc. I wouldn’t rely on Bonsai to help keep track of your projects.
Instead, I recommend using a one page Excel or Airtable sheet for your “at-a-glance” view, or if you’re in my Share-worthy Design for Freelancers course you can use my exact Project Log (within the freelance organizer). Either way, you’ll need something to supplement Bonsai when staying on top of multiple client projects.
Easy for clients to use (grade: A): Very easy for clients to use! You can send messages with links to documents directly + easily through their platform, or snag a URL to send directly to your client through an existing email chain in your inbox, or your project management system. Love the flexibility here and that your clients won’t feel like they need to login to make payments.
How is the design? (grade: A+): Of any platform I’ve looked into, Bonsai has the best design — both on the client side and platform user interface. As a designer, this is a convincing feature in Bonsai’s favor over its competitors.
How is the support? (grade: B-): There are support documents, but they don’t cover each of the features. They also have a chat box to talk to customer support, however there can be a lag of a day or so to respond to your question. This can be frustrating if you have a pressing issue.
How easy is it to set up? (grade: B+): It was fairly easy to set up, however I would have appreciated more video walkthroughs using the tool, rather than a prompt to join a webinar a few days later. They have loads of support docs to help you along the way if needed.
What are the 3rd party integrations? (grade: A): It’s important that your invoicing platform has solid 3rd party integrations that work within your existing process. Bonsai works seamlessly with Google Calendar, Zapier, and Slack. They handle payments through secure credit card processing (Stripe), Paypal, Coinbase (bitcoin), Wire transfer, or mailed check. They support 180 currencies as well.
Is it friendly to use once it’s set up? (grade: A): Very easy to use once you have your account created! Simply upload your templates, or save your first proposals, contracts, etc. as templates once they are created, and it’s a cinch to customize for clients.
Part 4: My take away
What I love about Bonsai:
Design: Bonsai’s design sets them apart from competitors. Important for us designers!
Straightforward: If you’re looking for a proposal, contract and invoicing software — Bonsai has you covered. They don’t fuss with features you aren’t looking for, and instead focus on their strengths.
Easy to use: Because you aren’t overwhelmed with robust features + functionality, Bonsai is really easy to use. They’ve got templates to start with as well, which is a great benefit.
What I think could be improved:
Automatic contract + invoicing: I’ve tested this out, and you cannot automatically prompt the client their contract signature + paying the invoice. Once the proposal is approved, you’ll be notified to follow up and send your client an invoice + contract. This could delay the process, or hinder people from actually booking because of the multi-step process.
Pricing: It’s definitely affordable and still worth the investment, but when comparing to its competitors Bonsai offers less capabilities for the same (or more) cost.
Support: Anytime you start using a new software, there’s a learning curve. Though Bonsai is really easy to use, I do wish they had more robust help docs and quicker customer service as I’ve experienced with its competitors.
Overall, I highly recommend Bonsai! If you’re looking for only needing a proposal, invoicing and contract software — Bonsai has you covered. You can start a free trial (no credit card required) with Bonsai to test it out and see if its a good fit. You’ll also get 1 month free through using my referral link.
(Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive 1 month of Bonsai for free if you purchase through this link. You will also receive one month free!)
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