I fancy myself a pretty organized person. But when it comes to freelance writing, it’s easy for me to lose track of things.
Did I save that contract in Microsoft Word or Google Docs? Am I on invoice number 1038 or 1039? I thought I was happy with the rate my client is paying me, but I’ve been working on this project for who knows how long — is it even worth it?
When we’re our own boss, we have a lot of balls to juggle. If you were working in a traditional office, you might have a system for categorizing files or an accounting team to track work-related expenses. But since you’re on your own, how are you supposed to track everything?
In swoops Bonsai.
What is Bonsai?
Bonsai is an online platform that aims to help freelancers streamline their numerous daily tasks.
When you create an account, go to the dashboard to access things like your contracts, invoices, proposals and client information. By keeping everything in one place, you can stay organized and hopefully accomplish tasks more efficiently.
Bonsai’s goal is to provide you with everything you need for a freelance project, from start to finish (or proposal to payment). You’ll receive a 14-day free trial when you sign up, which should give you time to get a feel for how Bonsai can influence your daily life.
What can you do with Bonsai?
Here’s what you can do with Bonsai.
Keep track of clients, projects and tasks
From your dashboard, you have a section for clients, where you can store information like clients’ contact information and social media profiles, and even how much money they owe you.
For example, let’s say I enter information for my three main clients, Finance Company, Travel Blog and Beverage Website.
Then you can create projects for each client. Under Finance Company, I may add projects for credit card pieces, student loan pieces and equity pieces. For Travel Blog, the projects could be January blog posts, February blog posts, etc.
Finally, you can create specific tasks under each project. For instance, under January blog posts, I might add each individual blog post as a task, assuming I write more than one blog post per month.
This is essentially a digital version of a binder filled with folders and color-coded tabs. Monica Geller from Friends and Amy Santiago from Brooklyn Nine-Nine would have a field day with Bonsai if they were freelance writers.
In the top right corner, you’ll see “Start Timer.” When you click this, you can choose a specific project and even a task to time. You can also add notes, like “research” so you know you spent that time researching, not writing.
The timer is especially helpful if you charge clients by the hour. I don’t charge hourly, but I still prefer to use the timer. If I charge $100 for a piece but realize it required 10 hours of work, I might think twice before taking on a similar assignment.
Before signing up for Bonsai, I used a time tracker called Time Doctor. The program experienced several glitches over the months I used it, which was annoying because I was charging by the hour back then. So far, Bonsai’s timer has been more reliable and accurate.
Kim T., a writer who has been using Bonsai for two years, says invoicing might be her favorite part of the platform. “Bonsai is great for effortless invoicing and payment,” she explains.
“Effortless” really is the appropriate word. You can create an invoice, then link it to the timer so that the amount of time you spend on a project automatically shows up in the invoice. This can save you time plugging in numbers if you charge hourly.
Or you may choose to create invoices manually. Bonsai provides you with invoice templates, so you don’t have to start from scratch.
I despise creating invoices in Microsoft Word, even with Word’s templates, so I have to agree with Kim — Bonsai’s invoices are a huge plus.
Write proposals and contracts
Time to pitch a big project? You might need to write a proposal.
Bonsai provides several proposal templates depending on what type of work you’re proposing. There’s one for writing projects that divides the proposal into Context & Objectives, Timeline and Why Me.
There are also templates for other types of work, like Design or Consulting. (Because we all know at least one writer who has expertise in more than one field!)
Once a client accepts your proposal, you can write up a contract. Bonsai’s contracts are even more customizable than its proposals, and it’s the customizability that Kim says makes Bonsai stand out from other platforms. There are numerous contract template options, including a “custom” option that helps you create a contract from scratch.
Record business expenses
The Expenses section is where you’ll keep track of items like Uber and Lyft rides, airplane flights, business meals — anything a client might reimburse you for. You can subdivide expenses into categories like Advertising, Office Expenses and Supplies. Bonsai will track which billable expenses you have been reimbursed for and which ones you’re waiting to be reimbursed for.
You can also track non-billable expenses, which can be useful when tax season rolls around and you’re thinking, “Oh, what business expenses can I write off?”
Be your own accountant
The more clients you have and the more diverse your freelancing work is, the more likely you are to benefit from an accountant. But if you’re already paying for a subscription to Bonsai, why bother hiring an accountant? Use the platform to act as your own accountant!
You can link the Accounting section to your Expenses and Invoicing sections to track your business budget. The layout is useful for tracking both billable and non-billable expenses so you can see how much you’re spending on your writing career versus how much you’re bringing in.
What could improve about Bonsai?
The invoicing may be convenient, but the system isn’t flawless.
You can only customize invoices to a point. The sections are “Item name,” “units,” “rate” and “total.” But for one of my clients, I need to have a separate section for “item code,” and I don’t need a “units” column.
It would be great if I could just replace “units” with “item code,” but unfortunately this isn’t an option.
When you set up an invoice, you choose a payment method, and a few of these methods involve fees. I always request direct deposit when I can, but Bonsai charges a $5 fee for direct deposit. I’d rather just create an invoice through Microsoft Word and pocket the $5.
Kim has been using Bonsai for much longer than I have, and although she’s a fan overall, she finds herself wishing she could use the platform for more complex tasks.
“It’d be wonderful if I could take a client/project and run a report that tells me the total amount billed as it relates to the total hours spent,” she says.
We can only hope Bonsai continues to develop each section so that freelancers can do even more with the program.
Bottom line: Should you give Bonsai a try?
If you’re a freelance writer with multiple clients and/or projects, it’s certainly worth setting up a Bonsai account. Storing all my information in one place has made me feel less frazzled.
Your ability to access certain features depends on which plan you select. Here are your options:
- Bonsai Plus ($19 per month): Ability to create invoices, proposals and contracts, track expenses, access an accounting module and use chat support.
- Bonsai Premium ($29 per month): All the features you can access with a Plus membership, as well as the ability to subcontract through Bonsai and white-label (or legally replace a brand’s logo with your own). You can also add multiple users to your account for $9 monthly per member.
If you’re looking for a more affordable deal and are open to long-term commitment, you can sign up for annual billing. You’ll receive the equivalent of two months free, which comes to only $16 per month for Bonsai Plus and $24 for Premium.
You might give the two-week trial a go and see if you want to sign up for Bonsai Plus. However, I don’t see much use for Premium unless you either have some very specific, advanced needs, or you employ other people and want to add them to your account.
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