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The Great Solopreneur CRM Debate: Dubsado or Honeybook?

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Get your tea ready because I’m about to spill it all on my experiences with Dubsado and Honeybook.

I’ve been using Dubsado for 3 years now, which yes – means I’m grandfathered in at a great rate – but I’m always looking for the best tools to run my business, to save myself some time and put my best foot forward with clients, even if they cost a bit more. One booked project (over a lost client) can easily make up for the cost difference.

 

So I finally gave Honeybook a spin after having it on my to-do list for almost a year. To be frank, I have had a lot of issues with Dubsado from the get-go and testing out an alternative has been taking up a lot of my brainspace for a while now.

When I started out with Dubsado they used this incredibly light font that was very difficult to even see. Then they updated the UI and it was an improvement in the aesthetic and a marginal improvement in usability. This being said, it is a very powerful tool if you can get around the poor user interface and user experience.

The main reasons for me wanting to test out Honeybook were the brochures feature and a better user interface for myself and my clients. And I found a few more things to love while I was doing my trial.

Lots of Love for Honeybook’s Brochures

Honeybook’s brochure feature is very nice and similar in functionality to Dubsado’s Proposal feature – but with a much cleaner presentation. You can easily add packages that the client can choose between and even select multiple of a certain option if they want. It reminded me of the great Quote features that 17hats has (I loved that feature during my time with 17hats when I was designing and producing wedding invitations.).

Along with that, you can add images to the brochure and break it into sections to make it a full blown proposal – there is a bit of an issue in the verbiage for me with Honeybook, but it totally makes sense once you sort it out.

Honeybook’s BROCHURES are a place where you can show a menu of services, along with any background info or portfolio images you want to show to highlight your capabilities. From this document, clients can select their services which then auto generates a custom PROPOSAL.

So these brochures in Honeybook are pretty nice. You can add photos, text, text over photos, quickly add in your set packages, all in a  way that looks good and is very tidy. And there’s the ability to break it all into sections with titles that makes it super easy for a client to quickly comprehend and navigate – similar to products like Proposify, Bidsketch, or others. I love that.

But for me, coming from a proposal that I’ve designed in InDesign to perfectly match my branding (customizing for each prospect from one master proposal, and exporting as a PDF to link to clients in an email–herein lies the rub with my current system) it was kind of a bummer to be both restricted on design – the page width is quite narrow which really reduces the impact of some of my full page imagery – and font styling options – you’re limited to 4 set font sizes but a good range of font choices.

BUT BUT BUT, I think these restrictions would be fantastic for someone that is either not a designer or someone that is coming to Honeybook without a previous proposal setup. These restrictions make it quick and easy to make a beautiful proposal that will totally instill your clients with confidence in your service and professionalism.

Honeybook is a Great All-in-One but Too Contained for Me

Aside from the Brochures my main issues with Honeybook mostly revolved around the fact that it’s a closed system. I think Honeybook would be an excellent first choice for someone who is just starting out and wants one place for all the things OR for someone who is willing to burn down all their previous ways of doing things and start over. But that’s a hard move for me to make after having been in business for myself for over 6 years now.

 

My main issues with the closed system were:

Payment integrations

They do not offer any integrations. You use their system for payments and that’s it. This is totally ok – their rates are on par with other payment platforms and would be perfect for me if I was just starting out. But I have international clients that need to pay with PayPal. This wasn’t a deal breaker as I can invoice those couple of clients via PayPal, but it definitely was a tick in the Con column for me. Those clients’ payments wouldn’t be in the Honeybook bookkeeping system unless I manually imported them or I could sync with Quickbooks but, see below.I’m hesitant to engage with a closed system. I trust Stripe and PayPal with my payments currently, not only because they are tried and tested over the years, but they offer additional flexibility, support, and integrations. AND, while I’ve never heard anything bad about Honeybook’s payment platform, if I switch CRMs in the future, all my payment data still lives within those systems, not a CRM that I no longer have access to.Also of note, Stripe and PayPal offer ways to get your money faster should you need it. Worth noting because who knows when lean times are coming or when your child will be held for ransom, etc.

Bookkeeping

They only offer one integration – QuickBooks or you can do your books within Honeybook.

Yes, QuickBooks is the industry standard for bookkeeping, but it’s way more than I need as a one person business and I find it very confusing. (As part of this investigation I also did a Quickbooks trial and that is a program I want to avoid at all costs in the future. Seriously, I emailed my accountant to ask if she could help me set it up and I’m NOT a person who shys away from bookkeeping – I manage it all myself and send my accountant the necessary reports at tax time.) Quickbooks is also more expensive than what I currently use for my bookkeeping. I did not want to invest the time to figure out Quickbooks when what I’m currently using is just right for me. (Will I switch to Quickbooks if I choose to hire an employee in the future, maybe, but that’s a big decision that I won’t make lightly. And at that point, uhm yeah, I’m having my accountant double check EVERYTHING as I go.)

No Monthly Retainer Invoicing

This wasn’t as clear and I got two different answers from two different people at Honeybook. You can definitely setup an automatic monthly payment with Honeybook – where the client is automatically charged on a certain date, but it’s not clear if you can set up an automatic invoice.With a lot of my clients on a monthly package, I rely on those monthly invoices and I do not want to go in and set them up each month. That’s just more work for me and sometimes the monthly invoice day falls on a day that I’m off work or on a weekend. And while I’m sure some of my clients would like it to be setup on auto-pay, I know that there are others that pay me within their payment window as they’re able. I don’t want auto-pay to be the only option for all of my clients.

Again, I’m not 100% sure on this one, but the fact that it wasn’t an easy yes for their team, makes me unsure of it.

No Easy Way to Add Subcontracts

I don’t use this feature super often, but I do need it from time to time to send proof approvals for print materials or if there’s an addition to a project’s scope. Honeybook can do this but it’s more of a workaround than a standard feature.

SUPER SHORT Time Limit on the Free Trial

The Honeybook free trial is ONLY 7 DAYS! For someone running their own show that’s just not enough time to test out all the features. Yes, they will probably give you an extension if you ask but on the other hand, Dubsado has a no time limit free trial which really lets you kick the tires before committing.

So Here’s My Final Call

The Honeybook UI is heads and tails above Dubsado’s. There’s nothing that’s visually confusing, it doesn’t expand to a full-width monstrosity on my large monitor, and there is little to no mystery about how to do things – unlike Dubsado.

I also heard that Honeybook is planning to add a scheduling feature sometime soon so that will bring their level of features in line with Dubsado’s.

I SO wanted to love Honeybook, but it’s just not the solution for me right now. And their super nice brochure feature wasn’t custom enough for me to make the switch. So I’m sticking with Dubsado.

The Honeybook team was so super helpful with me, answering the million and one different questions I had and sending me links to videos. I would easily trust them if I were switching over.

What I’m Doing to Make Dubsado Work for Me

So for now, I’m sticking with Dubsado and I’m going to spend some time customizing my proposals with code and utilizing plugins from Colin Tierney. He has some gorgeous examples that are more on par with what I provide my clients that work with me for web development – full screen, hover effects, custom fonts – and I want clients to know from the get-go that we’re going to make something amazing so this will blatantly allude to that. I also want to stop directing clients to a PDF and away from my proposal on the web where they actually click the accept button.

A lot of my issues with Dubsado lie in the user experience more so than the user interface. The interface has improved over time. But there are a lot of inconsistencies between different screens on the site and where you click on things to make something happen. For example, sometimes to change the title of an item, you click on that title and an edit box magically appears. Clever, but how would I have known to click there? Then on another screen, there will be a gear button that you need to click to edit that.

And their proposals are ugly out of the box. They have weird spacing that’s hard to avoid and honestly look pretty juvenile and sloppy. I’m grateful for all the clients who’ve looked past my ugly proposals with a link to my well designed PDF in the past few years.

Despite this, Dubsado is a very powerful and dynamic tool. I’m hopeful that overtime things will sort themselves out and start to get a little more professional-like.

Other CRMs of Note

During this process, I considered going back to 17hats which was my first ever CRM and I also tested out Swell Enterprise and spent some time messing around with Pancake.

17hats is great. It’s nice and tidy with a clean user experience and it’s easy to present lots of options to your client. But there’s no proposal option and for me being a visual services provider that’s just not an option. I highly recommend it though if that’s not an issue for you. (Also they’re still using that Jenna Sue font which is as grating to my eyes as Comic Sans.)

SwellEnterprise is pretty new to me but seems super powerful. I ultimately chose not to invest too much time in my exploration of it though because it seemed really easy to get lost in it. There were multiple points of entry to create new clients, projects, tasks, etc. and it just seemed like something I might really easily mess up get lost in. I thought it was pretty cool though that you could customize what shows up in your menu.

Pancake has been around a while and I’ve considered it in the past. It’s a one time investment thing, which is a dream if you hate monthly or annual billing, and is also super customizable like Swell. Pancake is a system that you install on your own site and they will even set it up for you. It’s pretty cool and worth a look-see if that sounds like something you could manage for yourself. For me it was too much functionality, a bit like Swell, and the appeal of using a system like Honeybook, Dubsado, or 17hats that have a lot of users and a lot of support ultimately won out.

Which Will You Choose?

So, I hope I haven’t soured you on BOTH Honeybook and Dubsado. They’re both great in their own right.

If you are just starting out, jump on that Honeybook train, friend! But if you’ve been in business for a while and have bookkeeping systems or payment integrations you want to keep (maybe you offer services AND have a store), or have the know-how to handle some custom coding, Dubsado might be the right choice for you. There are also loads of people that you can hire to setup your Dubsado account just how you want it. I have no idea what the going rates are.

 

Get 20% off your first month or year of Dubsado.

Or get 50% off your first year of Honeybook.

 

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Jessica Suhr

I'm a designer, gardener, and animal lover, hell bent on creating beautiful, cohesive brands for fun-loving and level-headed small business owners. Read more about me here.

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