How I Streamline & Automate my Freelance Workflows with Bonsai
As a full-time freelance designer, the thing that I love to do the most and the reason I do what I do is to visualise visions. Unfortunately, that’s not all that my days consist of. Each and every project, whether I end up working on it or not, requires a certain amount of admin that eats up precious design time, and is for the most part a lot less fun.
When I first started Black & White Studios, I was doing all of this manually: creating proposals and invoices in Google Docs, adding projects to Trello, emailing my clients back and forth, and I didn’t use contracts at all! Thankfully, I discovered Bonsai, and I’m not over exaggerating when I say that it has changed my life!
In this article I share with you a bit about Bonsai, how I’m using it and how it’s helped me to streamline and automate my freelance workflows so that I can spend less time on admin, and more time turning my client’s dreams into realities, and hopefully you can too!
Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post which means that if you subscribe to Bonsai as a result of clicking this link, I'll get a small token of thanks from Bonsai. You won't ever pay more for purchasing through my links and please be assured that I only recommend products I have personally used and love! I haven’t been asked to write this, I’m just sharing because Bonsai honestly helps me so much, and I truly hope that it helps you too!
What is Bonsai?
Bonsai describes itself as an “all-in-one freelancing solution for the world's best creative freelancers.” It’s an app that helps to take the stress out of proposals, contracts, time-tracking, invoicing, payments, expenses, reporting and more.
Let’s start with an overview of how it works.
How Bonsai Works
When you log in to Bonsai, you’re greeted with a dashboard showing a project timeline, your income & expenses, any outstanding or overdue documents, time tracked, active tasks and the latest activity, so that you can see a pretty good overview of what’s happening in your business at any given time.
From here the three main actions and arguably Bonsai’s three main features are creating a contract, sending an invoice or sending a proposal.
As well as these three things, Bonsai also helps you to track clients, projects, tasks, expenses, time and more, all in one place! Boom!
When I have a new potential project, I just set up the client if they’re new and add the project. You can add as much or as little detail as you like and you’re ready to get started!
My Favourite Features & How I Use Them
When you get an inquiry from a potential client, one of the first things you’re going to have to do is send them a proposal and I don’t know about you but I HATE this part. There’s so much pressure to impress and offer the right things at the right cost and ugh, it’s the worst. But thankfully Bonsai makes it a lot less sucky!
You can set up a proposal template in Bonsai to use every time and just plug and play from there with each new project. I use a Design Proposal template and have customised it to suit me and my work. The majority of my proposals follow this structure:
The Client’s Information
A brief description of what the work will entail
A basic outline of what the deliverables will include
A note that commencement of the project requires a 50% deposit of the total cost
Moodboard Approximate Completion Date
Initial Concepts Approximate Completion Date
Developments Round 1 Approximate Completion Date
Developments Round 2 Approximate Completion Date
Developments Round 3 Approximate Completion Date
Description of other services that I can provide on an ongoing basis
Why me (Usually only for first-time clients)
A bit about me
Testimonials from past clients
In Bonsai this is all set up so I can just adjust the parts that need to change for different projects and I’m good to go! I send the proposal to my client and Bonsai looks after the rest, letting me know when they’ve viewed it, accepted it and which package they chose. Bonsai also follows up to remind clients of any outstanding proposals that haven’t been responded to, so that I don’t have to!
As I mentioned earlier, for a long time, I wasn’t using contracts at all, but I learnt my lesson one too many times. Contracts cover everyone’s butts and make sure that everything is clear, agreed upon and unwavering from the outset of the project. It keeps both parties accountable and looks after both of your interests, so it’s best to use them with every project. This can be easier said than done though, as contracts can be complicated, hard to write and tricky to get right, but not with Bonsai!
I honestly wouldn't know where to start with writing a contract but with Bonsai I don’t have to. All I do is create a contract, pop in some quick details about the project, who is involved and what the parameters are, and Bonsai pops out a beautiful, legal contract for you! From here you can edit the particulars of the contract to suit you and the project, and then you can sign away!
The bonus in this process is that once you send the contract, Bonsai can automatically create and send invoices based on the information that you popped into the contract! Ah, magic!
According to Bonsai, freelancers get paid an average of 13 days faster, and have 3x fewer late payments with their software, and I 100% believe that. Invoicing with Bonsai is not only super easy for me to do, but also for my clients to use. I can create one-off or recurring invoices that my clients can pay via credit card, PayPal or direct deposit in minutes.
Bonsai reminds my clients of any unpaid invoices and automatically adds a late fee to any invoices that aren’t paid by the due date, making it less likely that a client will forget to pay on time. These reminders coming from Bonsai means that not only do I not have to chase up after clients and their unpaid invoices, but I also don’t have to feel bad about following up or engage in any awkward conversations. Bonsai simply sends an impartial, gentle reminder and the client is clear on what is needed from them.
Some other useful invoicing features are the ability to schedule invoices for later, send invoices via a link if you want to use your own method of communication, or downloading invoices as PDFs which some clients may require.
The majority of my work is done on a flat rate, but there are some situations where an hourly rate works best, and Bonsai is great for billing these hours. I track all of my time in Toggl anyway so that I can evaluate where I’m spending my time and the cost vs actuals of a project, but I use Bonsai for any of these projects that are billed on an hourly rate. I just pop the time into the Time Tracking section of Bonsai, assign it to a project and that’s all I need to do! When it comes time to invoice, there’s a handy button to add any unbilled hours, I tap that and it adds any hours for that project that haven’t already been billed for and voilà! It’s as easy as that!
You could use Bonsai for tracking all of your time if you wanted, but this feature isn’t quite as advanced as I need from a time tracking software right now, so I just use it for billing time. Hopefully in the future as the feature is improved I will be able to do that in Bonsai too!
A few other features to note are tasks, expenses and accounting.
I don’t use the tasks at all at this stage, for similar reasons to why I don’t completely use the time tracking feature – it just isn’t fleshed out enough yet. It’s a fairly new feature and doesn’t have the capability that I need, but could be handy for tracking basic project tasks if you wanted to do that. I currently use a combo of Trello and my Bullet Journal for task management so I don’t need this feature at this stage.
Expenses and Accounting can be used in tandem as your accounting software if you wanted, but I work with my accountants in Xero for that. Like with time-tracking, I do use the expenses feature if I have any billable expenses, which are few and far between, but on the whole I don’t need or use either of these features.
Why I Love Bonsai
Clients love it
I’ve gotten so many comments from clients about how impressive and easy to use Bonsai is on their end. As a business owner, I want my clients’ experiences to be as seamless and enjoyable as possible, so if I can make all of these formalities a little less boring and frustrating through Bonsai, that’s a win for me!
It’s super easy to use
There hasn’t been one feature in Bonsai that I or my clients have struggled to figure out. The casual, helpful language, simple UI (User Interface) and seamless functionality make for a really straightforward user experience.
It looks beautiful
Bonsai is hands-down one of the best looking apps of its kind that I have ever seen. It’s super simple, looks professional but still approachable, and is nice to use!
It’s all in one place
Like I said at the beginning, before Bonsai I was manually creating these things all over the place and now they’re in one piece of software. I’m not saying that Bonsai does EVERYTHING perfectly, as I’ve already told you that I do my accounting and task management elsewhere, but it takes care of a lot of my admin in one place and does those things really well.
It automates things
You might think that automatically creating invoices and messaging clients isn’t a big deal, but just wait until you try it. The amount of time and stress I’m saved by Bonsai doing these things and more for me, is priceless. I’m also in the process of investigating how I can best use Bonsai with Zapier, an automation tool, to automate these processes even further, so watch this space. That will be a magical day!
The team listen to our feedback and implement our requested features
One of the things I value the most about Bonsai is the way that they communicate what is happening with the app and take on board their users’ feedback. Bonsai has an open roadmap and feature request system so that we can submit requests, comment and vote on others, and see the status of each one. It’s really exciting to be able to contribute and feel like you’re helping to make the app better for you and other freelancers, and to be listened to!
Hopefully this has given you an insight into how I manage my workflows with Bonsai and why I love it so much! Please give it a go yourself and you’ll see what I mean!
If you have any questions about Bonsai, my processes or anything else on-boarding-related, pop them in the comments below and I’ll be here to answer!
In the meantime, learn more about Bonsai and try it out yourself for free for 2 weeks here!