Screenshot of Bidsketch's preview screen
If you’re the type of small business that submits proposals, contracts, and agreements to clients, then you may have found that the process of getting your document approved, signed, and returned to you can be time-consuming at best and project-killing at worst. I started looking for solutions that would help me streamline this process, with a particular focus on collecting e-signatures for documents.

So I did some research and found an article recommending Bidsketch. I decided to give it a try.

Note: Bidsketch offers a free year of their service for online reviews of their product, good or bad. I am taking advantage of this offer so that I can take more time to determine if this product will work for me. Besides, I figured my review might be helpful for other small business owners and freelancers.

What is Bidsketch?

Bidsketch does more than just e-signed documents. The main thrust is its modular approach to creating documents. Meaning, they figure most elements of the documents you send out have the same or similar elements. We start with the meat of your proposal: the cost of whatever product or service you’re trying to sell. Everything else goes in the “opening” and “closing” sections. So when you create a proposal or contract, you pick out the elements of content you’d like to add, order them the way you like, pick a PDF design, then send it off to the client.

After the client receives the proposal, they can view it on Bidsketch, download the PDF, approve the contract, and sign it right there online. Bidsketch provides analytics to you as well, so you know how long the client viewed the contract, whether or not they downloaded it, and of course, when and if they approved it.

Bidsketch is not free. Plans start at $29/month, with higher priced plans appropriate for teams. If you opt for an annual plan, you can save roughly $5/month.

The Good

I really like the modular approach. I haven’t used the tool enough yet to determine if it truly saves me time, but I suspect it will since you can use placeholder tokens for client- and project-specific data that will be dropped in before sending the proposal. It’s a lot easier to manage these tokens in Bidsketch than Google Docs, I’ve found.

You can also modularize your fees, and make them optional. For example, in my hosting agreements, you can add an SSL certificate to your hosting for an additional monthly fee. I can add this as an optional fee to a proposal and the client can choose whether or not to add it to the proposal at the time of signing. This is one of my favorite features, and I think has great potential (I’ll come back to this).

The selection of PDF designs you have to choose from are scant, and honestly, rather ugly. However, the good news is that you can create and upload your own designs, using basic HTML and CSS. I plan on doing this, just so I can have a proposal design that doesn’t have a cover sheet (overkill for some of the kinds of documents I send).

The Bad

My largest complaint is Bidsketch’s handling of hourly fees. You are required to input the number of hours as well as your hourly rate for this type of fee, which is sometimes just not appropriate for a maintenance-type proposal that I often create. This means I add no fees to a maintenance contract, and instead add a section that describes my hourly rate and what you get for it.

Screenshot showing Bidsketch error message when # of hours is left blank.

But why not!?

The statistics and analytics that Bidsketch collects are pretty minimal, and I’m not sure that they’re terribly accurate. In my testing, I viewed and accepted my own test proposal, and Bidsketch’s analytics immediately showed the approval, but not that I had ever viewed the proposal. It did properly show a view from a real client I sent a proposal to though, so perhaps there is some lag time.

You can essentially white label Bidsketch so that clients and customers will see your domain, your logo, and your brand’s color scheme. While that’s pretty cool, what you can customize is very limited and not very well-labeled, so a lot of trial-and-error is required. I set up a custom domain, but gave up on white labeling it.

Bidsketch does have a nice UI, but it needs some polishing. Certain buttons and links are small, hard to find, and it can be unclear as to what they do.

Finally, I want to talk about price. In my opinion, Bidsketch is too expensive for freelancers and solopreneurs. The service starts at $29/month, but doesn’t offer you a ton of functionality beyond what a tokenized Google Doc would offer you (which is what I was using before). Note that there is also a very stripped down version of Bidsketch available for $19/month, but that doesn’t include e-signatures. Other basic e-signature services seem to start at around $10 or $15 per month. I think this is a service worth investing in though, given its potential.

Opportunities for Improvement

The idea of a client being able to build their own package by adding optional fees to their contract is awesome. I think Bidsketch needs to take this further. A common way proposals pitch services is to provide the client with different packages to choose from. This isn’t optional – the client must choose one. Rather than setting up a base project rate and then adding the extra features of the other packages as optional fees, it’d be more streamlined and easier to understand to present these fees as packages to choose among. And forcing the client to make a conscious choice in what he is purchasing is good user experience design.

Am I going to stick with Bidsketch?

At this point, yes. I’m going to commit to an annual contract, and give it a year of use to grow on me. I suspect it will. If the additional features that Bidsketch pushes don’t sound appealing to you though, or you’re really just looking for e-signatures, then Bidsketch probably isn’t a good fit.

Feel free to chime in with what services, if any, you’re using to speed up the on-boarding process!

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