9 Reasons to Choose Dubsado Over Honeybook

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 was not asked by either of these companies to write this review, but I do have a referral code for Dubsado that you can find at the bottom of this post if you are interested. It is currently December, 2016, so all features described below are as of now and subject to change.

I joined Honeybook just under one year ago 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 ($500), which means I am still a Honeybook member now. I am still hopeful that they will truly listen to the issues I’ve had with the platform and change for the better. They do say that they are always working on new features. However, I’ve been 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. And as soon as I signed up for Dubsado’s trial, I felt a huge sense of relief. Though they also have limitations, they are rapidly improving and better fit my needs. I paid for the Dubsado lifetime membership within a couple days, and I feel like it was the best decision I could have made. Below are my top reasons for the switch.

 

1. Payments

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Honeybook Payments cannot be disabled, and you’ll pay 3% on all credit card transactions.

Honeybook forces you to enable their payments to handle credit card processing. They use Stripe, but Honeybook serves as the middleman and charges you 3% per credit card transaction, so they are making commission over the 2.9% + $.30/fees that Stripe actually charges. 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. So if you don’t want your clients to pay by Honeybook, 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 Honeybook, I’ve had clients ‘accidentally’ still pay by credit card because they see that button, and I just lose out on that 3%. In addition, Honeybook offers ACH bank transfers, which you can enable or disable. It’s cheaper compared to their credit card transfers, but it’s still 1.5%, which is actually an even higher commission over Stripe’s fees which are 0.8% with a maximum fee of $5.

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's transaction fees.

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’s transaction fees.

Dubsado also offers credit card payments through Stripe, but they charge zero commission. They connect you directly to Stripe. As mentioned above, the fee is 2.9% + $.30/transaction for credit cards or 0.8% with maximum fee of $5 for ACH. Better yet, you can also choose not to turn this option on per each invoice you send out, so if you have a $5000 invoice that you don’t want to be losing 2.9% on, you can disable the credit card payment for that, but turn it back on for the $100 invoice that you don’t mind paying the extra $3.20 for.

2. Refunds

Related to the fact that Honeybook is the middleman between you and Stripe, if a client pays through Honeybook and needs a refund, neither you nor your client can initiate the refund. You can contact Honeybook to do this for you, but you will actually lose the 3% fee in the process (or 1.5% for ACH transfers). So if your client sent $1000 via credit card and you need Honeybook to refund it, they’ll only be refunded $970 and it would be up to you to cover the rest yourself or figure out what to do with regards to the client losing $30 in the process.

With Dubsado, you’re directly connected to Stripe, so you can issue refunds yourself through the Stripe system without losing fees.

3. Emails

Honeybook brands your emailsHoneybook is designed around a centralized client portal, with the idea that all the messages you send to and from clients show up in the client portal. Therefore, when you message clients in Honeybook, the emails come from a Honeybook address, mailman@honeybook.com. You and clients can respond to Honeybook emails directly from your email by replying to the long Honeybook-generated address such as 58191e14a65ada40c9830b59@inbound.honeybook.com. While in concept the two-way sync is great because it allows messages to show up in your Honeybook workspace, it creates unexpected issues. Sometimes attachments don’t show up properly in people’s emails (they’ll only see it if they log in to Honeybook or notice the little text links on the bottom of the email). Or if I try to set a vacation responder in my gmail, it won’t work on Honeybook messages, because the first email from mailman@honeybook.com will receive the vacation reply, but all subsequent Honeybook messages for the next four days will seem to gmail like they are just the same person even if they’re new inquiries or emails from different people, and none of them will receive vacation responders.

Sample Email from Dubsado via SMTPDubsado 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 you instead of a third party like mailman@honeybook.com. The disadvantage is that SMTP sometimes comes with its own issues. Some users have had difficulty setting up SMTP with gmail since it requires you to lower some security settings in google. My email host at Bluehost seems to get flagged by gmail as being a suspicious sender. These are issues that Jake Berg (one of the cofounders) has been looking into for me. I’ve decided to move forward with it, and clients seem to be receiving my emails fine, but I also have the option to turn off SMTP and just send emails from the Dubsado address instead. I’m hoping the SMTP issues with Bluehost will be resolved in the near future. But I do prefer having emails come from my own email address.

4. Branding

As mentioned above, when you message clients in Honeybook, the emails come from a Honeybook address. In addition, Honeybook brands the emails with a Honeybook logo and a declaration that it was sent from Honeybook. Payment reminders also are signed, “The Honeybook Team.” The obvious way to avoid the Honeybook branding is to not use their messaging at all and instead email clients directly from your own address, but then you have some messages (like if you send out a contract) that go through Honeybook and others that don’t.

Dubsado promises 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.

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. 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. 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. If you enable the client portal, a client will see all of their files (such as an invoice and a contract) in one place. But if you are only sending one invoice and don’t feel the need for the client to log in to 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 the invoice.

6. Workspaces

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Honeybook requires separate workspaces for each different combination of people you’d like to message. Note all the different tabs at the top of the page.

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 provides the ability to select different email recipients and cc yourself or others to an email without having to create a new workspace.

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, but it’s not a robust workflow management tool, as you don’t have enough steps to customize for every single part of an event (my own workflow has almost 100 steps), nor can you set different types of workflows for different types of jobs. Right now there also isn’t very much automation available, other than toggling on/off file and payment reminders.

Dubsado has a 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, 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. I have not yet set up all of my workflow and automation, but this is definitely something I will be exploring more in the near future.

8. Customer Service & Transparency

Both companies tout their customer service and say they are very responsive to customer feedback, but with Honeybook, updates always seemed to be on the horizon, but it was never clear when things would be rolled out. When I first signed up and had a lot of concerns about Honeybook, they even 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 haven’t solved any of the above problems in the several months since, nor do I have confidence that they will in the next several months. As I only just now realized when I went to write this post, they actually removed me from their Honeybook Community Facebook group without telling me, presumably because I’ve posted on other discussion groups about how frustrated I am with the platform!

Dubsado has the most amazing customer service I’ve ever seen. Becca, one of the cofounders of Dubsado, personally responds to every message in the Facebook community group, and 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. Flexibility – Adapt to Your Own Needs

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Honeybook’s invoice is beautiful to look at online but lacks basic invoice items such as contact information for you and the client. You can enter them as line items in the invoice as a workaround, but there’s no header section by default. The Discount line is not itemizable or customizable.

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This is the “print” version of the same invoice to the left. Now we can see a little more client contact information, though there’s still no address in the header. And we lose the pretty layout.

Overall, Honeybook seems to take more of a “we’ll design it for you” approach. They have beautiful files and a lovely website, but if you are intending to use it in a different way, many aspects of the platform lack the flexibility for you to customize it to your own needs. Some small examples: if you want to label or itemize the discounts in your invoice, there’s no way to do so. There’s just one line labeled “Discount.” Events are sorted into five available categories, which you cannot customize: Wedding, Corporate, Social, Family, Other. And as mentioned before, you cannot decide whether to turn on or off the Honeybook payments.

Dubsado is generally more open-ended, which lends the platform to more flexibility overall. Their forms builder is a beautiful drag-and-drop feature that allows you to create everything from contracts to brochures to proofing pages through the system, as opposed to Honeybook’s files which are fairly set in their structures. Dubsado strikes the right balance with giving you templated ideas to start from but then allowing for you to rearrange and customize as you need. Because of this, I’ve heard others say that Dubsado is also better for non-photographers. What I’ve personally seen is that Dubsado invoices look more like traditional invoices, which has lent itself better to my corporate clients, whereas Honeybook’s invoices look pretty and might work well for wedding clients, but they lack basic elements such as the contact information and address of the client (unless you enter it as a line item in the invoice), and they also lack a pdf version that resembles the format you see online.

The Bottom Line

  • Honeybook is very pretty. It has a huge presence in the wedding world, especially amongst photographers. However, the functionality is limited. I had to use unwieldy workarounds to avoid their payments and often heard other people who said they loved Honeybook admit that they actually only use it to send agreements and don’t try to use it for any of the other functions. It is great for agreements, minus the inflexibility with payments. But if you want further customization and control, it can be terribly frustrating to use.
  • Dubsado is already a great product, but the most exciting thing is how well their product aligns with what I actually want and need, and how much they are developing the platform every single day. With the planned updates, it should easily outpace Honeybook in the features department within the next several weeks. (It’s currently December 2016). As it stands, the fact that they don’t charge commission or force you to use their payments is enough to make it more usable to me, but add the stellar customer service and the actually useful improvements, and I’m left with the satisfaction that this is the best decision I’ve made for my business.

Ready to Sign Up for Dubsado?

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 for 20% off when you sign up. Also, if you’re like me and already paid for the Honeybook membership, Dubsado offers a “buyout” of up to $200 for you to switch. Absolutely worth it. The discounts can’t be stacked, but I’ll still receive a referral bonus if you list my code when you register, so if this article helped your decision, the gesture is much appreciated. If you’re still not sure or have more questions, join the facebook community groups for each: Honeybook and Dubsado or comment below, and I’ll do my best to respond.

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.

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