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Reviews and expert opinion Bonsai

Emma Ayres Emma Ayres Project Manager @WebsitePlanet

Although Bonsai’s project management capabilities are very basic, it makes up for this with its fantastic contract builder, automated invoicing, and CRM capabilities. If you’re happy to pay slightly more per seat, Bonsai is an excellent choice for freelancers and small agencies looking for an all-in-one workflow management solution.

Overview

Bonsai Makes Freelance Task Management and Administration a Breeze

Bonsai's task management software
Bonsai promises to streamline your freelance administrative tasks

The Holy Grail for every freelancer is a software solution that takes the pain out of administrative tasks. Let’s face it – none of us chose the freelancing life because we love writing contracts, managing invoices, and submitting our own taxes. So, when I was asked to review Bonsai, I was genuinely excited.

Before we get started, though, I need to address the biggest elephant in the room – Bonsai isn’t exactly a project management platform. Sure, it has some project management features, and the built-in time tracking is pretty good. But where Bonsai truly shines is with its workflow features, which include pre-built contracts, proposal templates, and automation.

If you’re a freelancer, or you run a small agency, there’s a good chance you’ll love Bonsai. I found it super easy to use, and I could genuinely see it saving me a lot of time with managing invoices.

However, if you’ve got a large team that needs collaboration features, or a detailed project that needs a variety of integrations to help it run smoothly, you’re better off elsewhere. Bonsai is also only available in English, which is pretty limiting for international businesses.

Bonsai’s 14-day free trial was the perfect opportunity for me to put it through its paces. So, settle in and keep on reading to see whether Bonsai is the right fit for you.

4.5

Features

Basic Project Management, but Fantastic Admin Tools

Bonsai offers some fantastic features, but its project management capabilities are extremely basic. It’s missing some core features like a variety of project management views and the ability to set task dependencies.

With that being said, Bonsai excels at its goal of simplifying the freelancer workflow. The contract builder is second to none, and the ability to automate the invoicing process can save you a lot of time.

Project Folders and Task Tracking

To track projects in Bonsai, you’ll need to set up a project folder. Whenever you create contracts, tasks, or invoices, you can assign them to the relevant project folder so you can find all the relevant information you need in one place.

Bonsai's project dashboard
I like how easy it is to see if you have any outstanding or overdue invoices

Bonsai’s task management is simple. Within each task, you can add a description and due date, and assign it to a collaborator. Unfortunately, that’s it. You can’t add sub-tasks, dependencies, or task statuses. There are no alternative project views, either.

This isn’t too restrictive if you have a relatively simple project that doesn’t have a ton of dependencies and doesn’t require a large team. However, if you’ve been hired to work on a more complex project, Bonsai probably isn’t the best choice.

Contract Builder and Templates

Bonsai’s contract builder is its best feature, as this lets you quickly set up contracts for new clients using pre-written contract templates. All these templates have been vetted by lawyers to ensure that they are legally applicable in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. There are also fully editable templates that can be adapted for use in other countries.

Bonsai's contract builder
If you don’t know where to start with freelancer contracts, Bonsai can help

Whenever you create a new contract, you’ll have to select your industry from a dropdown menu. You can also create a fully customizable template if you can’t find a category that fits your project, or you can generate a non-customizable generic Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Automated Invoicing and Financial Reporting

It’s really simple to set up invoices in Bonsai. If you’ve been using the built-in time tracker, you can generate invoices from within your project folder, or you can set up single invoices from the Invoices menu. However, Bonsai’s automated invoicing is where it truly excels.

Whenever you set up a new contract, Bonsai will automatically generate invoices pre-filled with client and project information. If you’re using deposits or milestone payments, that information will be automatically added to your invoices too.

You can also set up recurring invoices and accept payment directly through Bonsai with Stripe or PayPal. If you haven’t already uploaded your work to the project folder, you can attach your work to your invoice and lock attachments until the invoice is paid.

Bonsai's accounting dashboard
The color-coded chart in the Accounting dashboard makes it easy to see your financial health

Bonsai can also be used as accounting software, helping you to keep track of paid invoices. The Bonsai Tax add-on will also create quarterly tax estimates that automatically update as your invoices get paid. If you connect Bonsai to your bank account, it’ll automatically log your expenses and write off any that are deductible. This only works for freelancers in the US, UK, Canada, or Australia, though.

Client Relationship Management Tools

Bonsai also offers CRM features that help you to keep track of your leads and existing clients. In the Clients menu, you can add a new contact with just a few clicks and tag them as a client or lead. You’ll also be able to keep track of where they are in your workflow.

Within each contact’s profile, you can add additional contacts, see whether they have any outstanding or overdue invoices, and quickly jump to any active or closed projects. If you’re on the Professional plan, you’ll also be able to share a link to their client portal, which allows them to see your progress and review and pay invoices.

4.5

Ease of use

Streamlining Your Workflow Has Never Been Easier

I had a fantastic experience testing Bonsai. The UI is clean and concise, and the menu is clear and easy to navigate. I really like how nearly every page has quick links to other pages or features so you don’t even need to use the menu most of the time.

The biggest downside is that Bonsai’s onboarding experience isn’t all that intuitive for less tech-savvy users. It didn’t take me long to figure out how to set up a project, but I could easily see someone with less software experience becoming frustrated at the experience.

Getting Started With Bonsai

Sign up for Bonsai’s 14-day free trial and choose your plan. You can try any of the plans for free, but bear in mind that you’ll automatically be charged once the trial is over. Once you’ve signed up, go to the sidebar menu and click Projects, then New Project. Once you’re set up, this is where you’ll find an overview of all your projects.

Setting up a project in Bonsai
You can set up a project on Bonsai in a couple of clicks

The first thing you’ll need to do is select a client. Because this will be your first project, you can either add some basic details about your client now (and they’ll be saved in your Bonsai CRM) or you can select Sample Client. I did this during my trial as it lets you try out Bonsai’s features without notifications being sent to real-life clients.

Add a project name and select your currency. You can also add your hourly rate now if you know what you’re charging, or you can add it later from your project’s Settings tab. Click Create Project, and you’re ready to go!

Intuitive Dashboard With Plenty of Shortcuts

It’s clear that Bonsai was built to be as streamlined as possible. From your main dashboard, you can add new projects and update information in just a few clicks so it doesn’t take precious time away from your work. Your recent activity is also displayed on the dashboard so everything is readily available in one place.

Bonsai's dashboard
You can also start your timer and assign the logged hours to a project later

I particularly like that, on the right side of the dashboard, there’s a rotating list of recommended actions to help you get the most out of Bonsai. Sure, this advertises paid add-ons like Bonsai Tax, but it also reminds you to set up payment methods for your invoices.

Quick Start Guides and Tutorials

Given that Bonsai doesn’t really have an onboarding process, you’ll likely need to make use of its quick start guides and tutorials. These detailed guides show you how to use Bonsai’s core features, and most of them have video tutorials to demonstrate how these features work.

Bonsai's quick-start guides
I like that the guides use videos and images to demonstrate each step

If you’ve never used project management software before, or you just don’t have the time to evaluate the software before you add it to your workflow, then you’ll love these guides. They’re really easy to find from your Bonsai dashboard, too – just click the question mark in the bottom right corner, select FAQ/Knowledge Base, then click Getting Started Guide.

Search Your Bonsai Account in One Click

If you work with multiple clients, Bonsai’s handy search bar will cut down on the time it takes to find the information you need. You’ll find this at the top of every page (unless you’re creating a contract, proposal, or invoice) so no matter what you’re doing, you can easily jump to the information you need.

The search bar also uses auto-complete to suggest results as you type. While this is one of those features that doesn’t make a huge difference on its own, it’s a nice touch as it can save you time when you’re trying to find (or remember) information.

3.0

Collaboration Tools

Bonsai Isn’t Built for Collaboration – But That’s Okay

The biggest difference between Bonsai and standard project management platforms is that Bonsai is primarily designed for one-person teams. While there are collaboration features, they’re in place for freelancers to manage subcontractors or coordinate communication with their clients.

Team Communication

Bonsai’s communication features are fairly basic. You can invite unlimited subcontractors and, if you’re on the Business plan, unlimited partners to work with you. You can talk with subcontractors and partners under tasks, and these comments aren’t displayed to your client.

Subcontractors and partners have different permission levels that are pre-set by Bonsai. Subcontractors can add tasks, track time, and comment under tasks, but they can’t edit project information or view contracts, proposals, or financial information. Partners, on the other hand, have all the same permissions as you do, except they can’t add or remove other partners.

Bonsai also recently added a secure messaging feature that allows you to send messages without needing to use your personal email client. The other party will be notified automatically via email and asked to reply through this message chain so you can keep track of your conversation in one portal.

Bonsai's secure messaging feature
You can use the Secure Messages & Files feature to share files with your client

File Sharing

To share files internally, you can upload them to individual tasks. Both partners and collaborators will be able to download these files. If you want to share files with your client, you’ll have to use the secure messaging feature.

But no matter what plan you’re on, you’re restricted to 10MB per file, and you can only share images and PDF files. You’ll need to use an alternative solution if you work with different types of files, like video or audio.

Your client will be able to view contracts, proposals, and forms that you’ve sent through the project dashboard.

Bonsai doesn’t have a separate files tab for projects. If you need a file library, you’ll have to integrate Bonsai with a file sharing and management service (like OneDrive or Google Drive) via Zapier.

Mobile App

Bonsai’s mobile app isn’t anything special. On top of a very basic dashboard, you can manage your timer, invoices, and expenses. If you’re in the US, you can also access your Bonsai Cash account from your mobile.

But you can’t manage any part of your projects or check off tasks from the mobile app. So while you’ll have access to some useful features if you’re on the road, you can’t rely on the app if you need to work with clients in person. You’ll need to log into Bonsai on a web browser for full functionality.

4.5

Support

Good Customer Support, but Only One Channel

Bonsai only has one official customer support channel – and, unfortunately, that channel is only available if you’re on the free trial or you’re a paid subscriber. If you have any questions, you either need to hand over your card details for the free trial or hope someone’s monitoring the Bonsai Twitter account.

With that being said, once you’re able to make contact, Bonsai’s customer support is actually pretty good. Bonsai uses Intercom, which effectively means the customer support channel is a combination of live chat and email. You type your question into the chat box, and if someone’s available, you’ll get a live response. If you log off, you’ll get a reply sent to your email automatically.

I sent in my question and I received an estimated response time of one day, so I went on with my day. Bonsai doesn’t specify when support is available, so I wasn’t expecting to hear anything from the support team that day. Surprisingly, I got a response within 15 minutes.

Bonsai's customer support
Bonsai uses customer votes to determine what features users want

The next morning, I dropped a message into Intercom at 9 am BST when it said the team wasn’t online and I got a response within 30 minutes. So, while Bonsai doesn’t explicitly offer 24/7 support, it’s pretty speedy even outside of US working hours.

4.0

Pricing

Fair for Freelancers, Not Worth It for Large Teams

Bonsai offers a 14-day free trial for all its plans. If there’s a feature you want to evaluate during the free trial that’s not available in your current plan, it’s easy to upgrade your trial. Just be aware that if you upgrade, you’ll automatically be charged for your new tier when the trial ends.

Bonsai’s pricing is pretty simple: there are three paid tiers starting at [-] and a handful of paid add-ons. These optional add-ons will give you advanced features, such as granting users full account access or adding tools to estimate your taxes. You’ll also get a discount for paying yearly.

Bonsai seems expensive on the surface, especially when compared to other project management tools. However, given that it includes accounting and CRM tools on top of its project management capabilities, it’s worth bearing in mind that Bonsai can do the job of multiple software tools.

Overall, Bonsai’s Starter or Professional plans are decent choices for freelancers. Meanwhile, small agencies will benefit from the Business plan’s Team Seats – you’ll get three included and you can add more at an additional cost.

Comparison

How does Bonsai match up to the competition?

monday.comCompare4.8Compare
SmartsheetCompare4.7Compare
BonsaiCompare4.1Compare
HubSpotCompare4.1Compare

Bonsai REVIEW: BOTTOM LINE

Bonsai is a great choice for freelancers and small agencies looking to streamline their workflow. Even though its project management capabilities might be lacking, the ability to create all types of contracts in a few clicks and automate invoicing makes up for this limitation.

That said, Bonsai isn’t ideal if you need to manage more intricate projects or collaborate with larger teams – for that, I recommend monday.com. Not only is the per-seat price cheaper, but you’ll get fully customizable project views, hundreds of workflow automations, and a team dashboard to help you communicate with other project members.

FAQ

What tools do I need as a freelancer?

As a freelancer, you’ll need software to help you manage your invoices, log your income and expenses, and manage your clients. Not only does Bonsai have all these features, but you can also create contracts in a few clicks, thanks to Bonsai’s lawyer-approved contract templates.

Bonsai vs. QuickBooks – which is best?

It’s difficult to compare these software platforms. Bonsai helps freelancers to streamline every aspect of their workflow, and its invoice automation is fantastic. On the other hand, QuickBooks focuses solely on accounting, and it’s a great choice when you need to create custom reports, cash flow statements, and more.

Is Bonsai secure?

Bonsai is fully GDPR-compliant and encrypts all sensitive data both on its application level and on its database. It uses Stripe, PayPal, and Plaid to handle payments, which are PCI-compliant, and use industry-leading encryption to ensure your clients’ financial information is safe.

What are the best alternatives to Bonsai?

While Bonsai is one of our top project management tools for 2022, it’s not always the best choice. If you need to manage an intricate project with a larger team, monday.com is an excellent choice. Or, if you’re a freelancer on a budget, take a look at Zoho – it’s free for up to three seats and it comes with multiple project views.
Emma Ayres Emma Ayres
Emma is a freelance content writer who specializes in thoughtful and insightful blogs and articles. Her main passion is the intersection of human behavior and modern technology, particularly in the context of marketing and cybersecurity. Outside of work, Emma loves video games, superhero movies, crochet, and cuddling her German Shepherd.
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