UPDATE JUNE 27, 2018: It’s been almost two years since I first published this post. A lot has changed in both systems since then, so I have gone through and added a bit of new information and provided updated screenshots from their dashboards. The features described below are subject to change in the future.
The background: This is a post for my fellow creative entrepreneurs. Both Honeybook and Dubsado are client management systems designed to handle inquiries and the booking process, such as signing contracts and accepting payments. I initially wrote this review independently, but both companies have now contributed information and images to the 2018 update. I have referral codes for both Honeybook and Dubsado, which you can use by following each of those links.
I joined Honeybook in January, 2016. I was very optimistic about their platform and the potential it had to push my business forward. Enough so that I paid for the lifetime “founders” membership. (Lifetime memberships are no longer available to new members as of 2018). However, I was extremely disappointed in my experience with Honeybook. In order to cope with the platform’s shortcomings (more about them below), I limited the ways in which I used it. In the end, it became little more than a contract-signing platform for me. I was not getting the value I sought from the platform. As soon as I signed up for Dubsado’s trial, I felt a huge sense of relief. Though they also have limitations, they just better fit my needs. I paid for the Dubsado lifetime membership within a couple days (again, lifetime memberships are no longer available to new members), and I still feel like it was the best decision for my business. I compare the two platforms below.
This remains my biggest issue with using HoneyBook (and is unchanged as of June 2018), because I choose not to offer credit card payments to most of my clients. HoneyBook payments cannot be disabled, and you’ll pay 3% on all credit card transactions and 1.5% on bank transfer payments.
Notice the payment buttons at the bottom of the invoice. You can decide per each invoice whether to enable credit card and/or ACH payments, and Dubsado charges no commission over Stripe/Square/PayPal’s transaction fees.Dubsado offers payment options directly through Stripe, Square, and Paypal. You can choose which to enable for your clients per invoice you send. I primarily use Stripe’s bank transfer option which is capped at a $5 fee per transaction. The credit card option is available for 2.9% + $.30. The most important thing is that Dubsado offers the flexibility to choose per invoice whether or not to even offer each type of payment option. For most clients I disable the credit card options, saving me the ~3% fees. But I can always enable credit card payments at my discretion if I decide the convenience outweighs the fee.
HoneyBook does not allow you to disable credit card payment options. If you want your clients to pay with other (no-fee) methods such as check or cash, you are able to record those payments in the HoneyBook system, but you cannot disable HoneyBook’s credit card payment option. You would need to implement workarounds like sending agreements instead of invoices (which would then not track the payments amounts at all) or telling your clients not to click the “Pay” button. I’ve found that even when it seemed like the instructions were pretty clear to clients to avoid paying on HoneyBook and incurring a fee for me, I’ve had clients ‘accidentally’ still pay by credit card because they see that button, and I just lose out on that 3%. If we take a hypothetical $5000 invoice, you would end up paying $150 in fees for the HoneyBook credit card option. If I offer only the bank transfer option on Dubsado, I would pay only $5.
HoneyBook does have two payment features that Dubsado does not offer. Honeybook has added the capability for vendors to set up auto-payments for clients. While Dubsado also allows autopayments, HoneyBook allows this setting to apply to all future payments by one client, while Dubsado currently only allows it on recurring invoices. On that note, Dubsado allows the option of recurring invoices, which you can use to provide monthly invoices that auto-charge based on the invoice amount.
HoneyBook also offers an in-person payment option which allows you to receive a payment on the spot with a client. This is also possible within Dubsado by opening any invoice and selecting the payment option, but HoneyBook has an explicit feature for this, removing a step from that process and making in-person payments a little more convenient with them.
HoneyBook has made changes regarding their refund policy, as you now have the ability to give full or partial refunds directly from your HoneyBook platform. Of course, the refunds will only work if they paid you through the HoneyBook system. If you manually mark the payment as paid in HoneyBook, you will be unable to issue a refund.
With Dubsado, since you’re directly connected to your payment processors, you can issue refunds yourself through those systems without losing fees. If your client paid you in some other form that didn’t go through a Dubsado invoice, you can log into your payment processor and issue the funds directly from there.
HoneyBook has made several improvements to its email system in the last two years. They have added gmail integration so you can send emails from your own gmail account, though this wouldn’t be helpful if you don’t use gmail. If you do send emails directly from HoneyBook without gmail, then the emails will come from firstname.lastname@example.org, which can create its own issues like your own email vacation responder not understanding different clients as different people and instead just perceiving all HoneyBook emails as one person and thus only responding to the first email received. Honeybook did remove the HoneyBook branding from emails, which is an important step. Instead, you can add your own branded email signature when you need. One more new feature is the ability to send batch emails to multiple clients through HoneyBook, which isn’t offered by Dubsado at this time.
Dubsado allows you to connect your own email server via SMTP so you can send and receive emails directly from your own address. The advantage to this is that your messages come directly from your email. The disadvantage is that SMTP sometimes comes with its own issues. Extra steps are often needed in order to whitelist your own email server so that your emails don’t get flagged as being a suspicious sender. I never resolved those issues through my Bluehost, so I have used the SMTP on my gmail account instead and haven’t had issues with that. Similar to HoneyBook, Dubsado now offers “conversation mode” which allows you to message the client through your Dubsado portal (but it will still go through both your email accounts as well).
HoneyBook has now removed all of their branding from emails sent to your clients, including removing their logo from payment emails. They have also given more options with branding in HoneyBook. You can include company logos, header images, and apply company colors to things like client-facing buttons.
Dubsado has always promised zero Dubsado branding on any of your client interactions. Emails can come from you directly, and they don’t mention Dubsado in the text or display any Dubsado logos. They have since added more ways to take control, such as with client portals and buttons that can be customized with your own logos, colors, and banners. You also now have the option to set up your client portals on your own domain so that “hello.dubsado.com” is instead “client.yourbrand.com.”
5. Client Portals
HoneyBook is centered around the client portal, which includes a feed of messages between you and the clients and any applicable files such as agreements and templates. After getting feedback that clients disliked logging in for access to a file or document, HoneyBook created a “loginless” experience for their client portal. There are extra layers of security, like having the client’s link expire after 24 hours to protect potentially sensitive information. On the plus side, the HoneyBook interface is beautiful. All the agreements and different pages are very pretty to look at, and the intention is that you have all your messages and files in one place is a good one. On the minus side, you cannot turn off the portal, so that means that clients must click through a time-sensitive login button in order to access the website and see their files. You cannot just send a link to a file or agreement without having your clients go through that client portal to access it.
Dubsado allows you to enable or disable the client portal, allowing you freedom to choose how you work with your clients. And if you do want to enable the client portal, you can choose to enable a password or just allow clients to log in with their email address. You can even embed a client portal log in on your website, making it even easier for all your clients to access it.
If you enable the client portal, a client will see all of their files (such as an invoice and a contract) in one place. You can view and manage all your activity with your clients within their portal. See when they have interacted with a document, review all prior emails, and even interact together on project boards. As with the rest of your account, you can customize your client portal with your brand logo, colors and even a branded header. And as mentioned above, you can even customize client portals with your own url so clients have one place they can always go to log in.
But if you are only sending one form or invoice and don’t feel the need for the client to log into a portal in order to access it, then you don’t need to use the portal; you can just send a link or an email that goes directly to that form.
HoneyBook has cleaned up the design of workspaces with a sleeker design and a “only visible to you” section at the right where you can keep private notes and information. But the main workspaces still function in the same way as before.
Within each event, HoneyBook based its design on “workspaces” which are unwieldy in practice. Let’s say you have a wedding, so your first workspace is for the bride and groom. Every file and message you post in that workspace will go to the two of them (and only the the two of them). If you want to include their wedding planner on a file, then you need to create a second workspace: bride + groom + planner. If you want to send something to the planner but not the bride and groom. Now you need a third workspace: planner. And so on. I’ve had events where I end up with eight different workspaces. I would much prefer if permissions just followed each message, much like facebook. Every time you post something, you should be able to decide if you want to cc a third party or if you just want this one email or file to go to one person but not the other. Instead, you have to create an entire workspace for every different combination of people you want to message.
Dubsado’s “Lead and Job” format is about to change to a “Project” based one. Projects are pages that contain all your clients information and a record of everything you’ve sent them. “Leads” and “Jobs” are now labels you can assign to Projects. You can customize various stages of your pipeline or funnel easily in this new view, searching and filtering through projects easily.
Every time you send an email or a file through Dubsado, you can choose who to email and who to cc. You can also cc yourself on emails and files, which is an option that is missing from Honeybook. This allows for far greater flexibility in deciding who receives which emails and files. On the down side, Dubsado does not currently handle multiple clients for one job. You can list a second client as an alternative contact point for the main client, but you cannot list two different clients on one job, nor can you have multiple different client portals within the one job (which is essentially what the HoneyBook workspaces are). But for me, the flexibility of choosing who receives each file is far preferable to a whole mess of different workspaces that each hold one or two files meant for a different combination of recipients.
7. Workflow & Automation
Events in HoneyBook are sorted into a “pipeline” with steps such as “Inquiry,” “Proposal Sent,” or “Completed.” There are 7 standard steps and 4 customizable ones. You can manually move your events between different steps in the pipeline, as well as take advantage of their new workflow automation updates.
These allow you to string together actions such as sending emails, sending files, creating tasks and sending follow ups.
Both companies have a similar workflow feature that allows you to make templates for different workflows that include all the steps of your process. You can automate certain steps such as sending different files and emails, creating tasks, sending invoices and you can also manually check steps as completed. For example, you can email a welcome packet to a client who has just signed their agreement, or you can schedule a reminder email one week before the job date with all the details the client might need. However, HoneyBook’s workflows are more fixed, and once a workflow is set on a project, you will not be able to edit it.
In Dubsado you can create multiple workflows for different services you offer and attach them to different responses on your lead capture form. That way, when a client selects that they are interested in a particular service, it’ll kickstart that specific workflow. They have also created a new Workflow Overview, making it easier to keep track of all your active workflows.
8. Customer Service & Transparency
Both companies tout their customer service and say they are very responsive to customer feedback, but let’s be honest: HoneyBook dropped the ball with me on multiple occasions. When I first signed up and had a lot of concerns about Honeybook, they invited me in to their San Francisco offices to address my concerns, which seemed like such a great gesture. I met with reps who listened to my list of complaints and followed up a couple times with emails. However, they ultimately did not respond to my concerns, and instead steeped themselves in miscommunication errors such as kicking me out of their facebook group with no notice. They have since reached out to try and make amends. They have also generously added me to their affiliates program despite the fact that this post was really designed as a list of reasons to not use their product. Both HoneyBook and Dubsado have directly contributed information for the update of this post. I think we’re all fine now, and I am ultimately happy with the solution I’ve found for my CRM.
I will still say that Dubsado has amazing customer service. Because they are still a pretty small company and do not answer to venture firms, you can see the personal investment in their product. I’ve never had trouble getting a question answered, usually immediately or within a couple hours. As for feature requests and changes, I’ve only been on the platform for a couple weeks, and I’ve already seen new features requested and rolled out constantly. Plus, they publish this page of planned updates, complete with expected timelines, so that nothing becomes an empty promise of “we’re working on it.” Most importantly, the updates that they’ve planned align with features that I want.
9. Other Updates – Features Added Since this Article’s First Publication
HoneyBook now has a task management tool so you can see the tasks you have at hand like a to-do list. You’ll be able to assign a task to a certain project and sort by tasks left for each project. As mentioned with Workflows above, you can automatically create a task for yourself from a workflow as well.
In Dubsado, you have a variety of task and project management options. In the Task List tab, you can create and assign tasks to various users, jobs and dates. You can even create Kanban style Task Boards. Making Task Boards public will allow you to share the boards with clients in their client portal or with your admins and users on your account.
My personal thought is that it doesn’t make sense to rely fully on either of these platforms as your main bookkeeping tool, but they can offer convenience glimpses and insight to how you’re earning and spending on your business.
HoneyBook allows you track expenses inside HoneyBook on a per project basis and categorize them for tax purposes. This will help you better understand your net income at the end of a project. You can also see your profit, cost of goods, and expenses all in one organized place.
Dubsado gives you access to a wide variety of bookkeeping features including: transactions, categorizing expenses and income, adding expenses, seeing new profit per job, adding income, adding tax payment, chart of accounts, and reporting. This gives you full control over tracking and managing your finances.
HoneyBook members are able to track and log time within their project workspace, the time tracker tool, and will be able to create invoices from tracked time. There’s not an actual timer, so it’s just a way to log your time.
Dubsado doesn’t just let you log time you’ve work; it actually lets you time it within the system. Charge your clients by the hour? Set your rates, tax items, and category and hit go! Once you stop the timer, you can automatically apply it to an invoice or store for later.
In any contact form you use from HoneyBook you’re able to add “source” field, which allows you to tell where that client came from originally, like a facebook ad or instagram. Later on, you’ll see all your sources in your Reports section, so you’ll see what marketing channel is best for you, and what you might want to stop investing in.
Currently, Dubsado does not have lead tracking, thought they have plans to add this later.
Custom Mapped Fields
Custom mapped fields allow further customization in Dubsado. In addition to capturing and storing basic contact information for later use as a smart field (i.e. client name, contact, address, business info, etc), Dubsado lets you create your own. For example, a photographer could create custom fields that capture client’s birthdays, extra venue locations, or other key information on your forms that save to your client’s contact page. Then you can drop those into forms via smart fields later on.
Multi User Support
HoneyBook allows you to collaborate with other HoneyBook subscribers on your events, but Dubsado allows you to manage other users under your account. You can bring in an accounting user that only sees your numbers and invoices, or a basic user that would only see the jobs and tasks assigned to them, with options for additional restrictions like stopping them from seeing your template forms and seeing how much your company makes. Or, you can create admins which have full access to use your account.
Dubsado will soon launch their in-house scheduling software. The scheduler will also integrate with Dubsado workflows so that you can automate booking appointments. HoneyBook integrates with Calendly which will allow you to book appointments directly into your Honeybook from the Calendly software.
HoneyBook and Dubsado both connect with Zapier allowing you to connect it with other apps you may love. With Zapier you can do things like send an SMS to follow up on an inquiry, add a client to your newsletter list in Mailchimp when they book with you, or even automatically update an invoice in freshbooks when you get paid.
Dubsado integrates with various payment platforms including Stripe, Square and Paypal. They integrate with accounting service Quickbooks with Xero and Wave on the way. You can also sync Dubsado to your iCal or Google Calendar.
Dubsado also offers an exclusive integration with Cloudspot, a service that allows you to deliver online photo galleries to your clients.
The Bottom Line
- I am still very happy with Dubsado. It is a solution that works well for me, and I still have a lot of room to work with the new features and added functionality that I’m currently not taking advantage of.
- Everyone has different needs, but for me, the lack of flexibility with payments in HoneyBook is still the primary reason I won’t be going back to the platform. It may still be a good solution for you depending on your priorities.
- Both platforms are moving forward and adding new features all the time. The best way to see what works for you is to try them for yourself.
Try them for yourself
Dubsado offers a free trial of their platform. It’s not limited by time, but you get to try out three clients on the platform before you need to start paying. Use my promo code annawuphoto or follow the link above for 20% off when you sign up.
In addition, you can try HoneyBook for 14 days for free. You can also use that referral link to receive 50% off.
About Anna: I am a wedding photographer (Anna Wu Photography) and videographer (Seaglass Cinema) based in San Francisco but always running off on adventures all over the world. Come say hello on instagram or facebook @annawuphoto.