By Amy Boyington
From drawing up proposals to invoicing clients when a project has ended, freelancers have a lot of what I like to call 'hidden work'. Before I discovered some of my favorite tools to streamline these processes, I'd spend more time on most weeks doing all of my backend work than my client work. That's not the way freelancing should be; I started my writing business for more scheduling flexibility, after all, not to work longer weeks than I did at my last job.
Bonsai (also known as Hello Bonsai) is one of the more recent SaaS products I've started using to automate my hidden freelance work—you know, all that fun stuff you can't bill clients for. I used to be a hardcore AND CO user but, although I still love what it offers, I'm not thrilled about it touting its free service for a couple of years only to randomly start charging freelancers to use it (to be fair, Bonsai did the same thing, but I wasn't a user of it back then). Bonsai and AND CO are similar in their offerings. But if I'm going to pay for something, I'd rather get the most out of my money, and Bonsai gives me a bit more for a little less.
Hello Bonsai Pricing
Bonsai currently has three subscriptions: Limited, Plus, and Premium. Limited is its free plan, which is kind of like a trial. You can work on one project at a time, but only up to three per year. You'll have access to several features, though, just on a limited scale.
Most freelancers are going to be juggling multiple projects, so Bonsai has two paid options with more perks for busy freelancers. Plus lets you work on unlimited projects, lets you customize your branding, gives you access to chat support, and offers templates for proposals and contracts. It works out to $16 per month when paid annually or $24 per month when paid monthly.
Premium adds to what you get with Plus with subcontracting ability, collaboration tools, and the ability to add multiple users (although each user will cost more). This plan is $24 per month when paid annually, or $34 per month on a monthly subscription. You can start either plan on a 14-day free trial to make sure it's up to par with your needs.
What Does Bonsai Provide for Freelancers?
Bonsai is an all-in-one tool that helps freelancers with accounting, client management, project management, and more. Here are a few of my favorite Bonsai features for freelancers:
Contracts and proposals
If you've ever had to write a contract yourself without any idea of what you're doing, then join the club. Freelancers aren't always up-to-par with legalese but they're doing themselves a disservice without having a contract in place before beginning any major project.
Enter Bonsai's contract and proposal templates, which can make the paperwork process a whole lot easier. Use the proposals to outline everything you're offering your clients, and then draw up a contract once you both agree to the scope and payment. You don't need to know an ounce of legal wording because Bonsai's contracts are vetted by real lawyers. You can also adapt your proposals and contracts to make more sense based on your freelance work, like development or photography.
Here's a sample contract template you can customize in Bonsai:
Once you've finished your contract, you can use Bonsai to send it to the client for e-signing and then store the final copy in your account or download it.
Keep information about all of your projects in one central location in your Bonsai dashboard. Add social media, website, and contact information, plus notes and project details, to each client. You can also start new projects in Bonsai and assign them to your current clients so that they'll show in your Client panel.
Each project allows you to give it a name, set the currency in which you'll get paid, and set a flag to specify if you're charging an hourly rate or not. If you're charging an hourly rate, you can use Bonsai's built-in time tracker to automatically track how much time you've spent working on each leg of the project. Just hit the Start Timer button, set your hourly rate, and let Bonsai know what project to track your time for.
If you have a Premium plan, you'll also be able to bring collaborators into your Bonsai project, which is helpful if there are multiple pieces of a project, like content creation, design work, etc.
Invoicing and payments
You can invoice clients and get paid directly through methods such as PayPal, Stripe, or a wire transfer to your bank account. Bonsai invoices are simple and straightforward. You can add your branding with any paid account, assign the invoice to a client and project, and then add line items and taxes, discounts, and expenses, if applicable.
Bonsai recently added the ability to offer recurring auto-payments to clients who'd rather pay for a subscription service from you than pay multiple invoices. Unfortunately, you can only use this feature if you're currently accepting credit or debit card payments via Stripe.
Here's a sample invoice to give you an idea of how it'll look:
I often hear freelancers joke that their freelancing life would be so much easier if they didn't have to deal with accounting, and I'd have to agree. Tracking income, expenses, tax payments, and everything else that comes along with the job can be daunting when you do it on your own.
Although Bonsai won't replace a professional accountant, it can definitely help you keep your income and expenses in order to hand over for tax time. Import expenses directly from your bank account or use the app to enter them manually, and then attach them to invoices to bill clients. I do think this feature could be improved, however, if it had the ability to scan receipts using your mobile device and automatically enter them as an expense in your account.
Bonsai can connect to payment processors, like Stripe, to integrate your payment accounts with your Bonsai dashboard for payments from your invoices. Its other integration offerings are few, but it can connect to your Google Calendar to send you reminders for your tasks, appointments, payment due dates, etc.
It also connects to Slack, which is great if you work on any teams for client projects. The integration will send push notifications to relevant members of your Slack team when a project task is due or complete, a contract gets signed, or when someone views a proposal. You'll need a Premium Bonsai account to access this feature.
Hello Bonsai: The Verdict
Does Bonsai give freelancers a host of features they can't get anywhere else? Not really. It's similar to AND CO, Dubsado, and other invoicing services. It's fantastic at what it does though, like tracking your income and expenses and making all your hidden freelance work just a tad easier. I also prefer its UI and templates to other services.
Additionally, its pricing is attractive whether you're a freelancer who's just starting out or one who's well into their career. I do recommend purchasing an annual plan, though, to get a decent discount on what you'd pay each year for the service—and don't forget to factor the expense into your taxes!
To learn more about Hello Bonsai (and get 2 weeks for free), you can visit their website here.
Amy Boyington is a freelance writer and blog manager for lifestyle entrepreneurs and businesses. After working a few unfulfilling 9 to 5 jobs, she took it upon herself to create a career path that meshed with her family life. She now works with clients all over the world in a flexible freelance career that helps her be both a businesswoman and mom to her two children.