Bidsketch – software for proposal creation

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As Hsoi Enterprises expands, authoring proposals is of course a part of the process. While one can certainly author a proposal in any old word processor, there’s a host of solutions out there to facilitate the process.

I looked around and opted to try Bidsketch.

I went with them because they looked to have a simple, focused solution. It wasn’t trying to be all things to all people, and certainly seemed to have a bit more direction towards freelancers, small business, and people working in tech fields. So it seemed a fair fit. I also liked the 14-day free trial, because I had a proposal to work on, so this would be a good trial period. One key feature that really drew me was the electronic signature, plus analytics — you can’t get that from a word processor and printed/PDF proposal. It’s great to be able to do things electronically, and also view simple analytics like when/if they actually looked at the proposal and for how long. I thought that was a key reason that it’d be useful to try this solution instead of just drawing something up in MS Word.

The initial experience started off well. You sign up, get a subdomain, and it has a nice walk-through tutorial on how to actually create everything. The tutorial is nice because you get both a walk-through of the site and features, and also explanation on how to use it. It doesn’t take long, and it demonstrates the software is a fairly simple process. Of course, writing your own proposal content is another matter…. 🙂

One thing Bidsketch does is allow you to create templates, and templates on 2 levels. First, proposals are made up of sections: goals, statements, “why choose us”, terms, etc.. Often times these are boilerplate, or semi-boilerplate things. So it’s nice that you can create templates for these specific sections. There are also a series of “substitution variables” you can enter like “{client_name}”, which will properly substitute the client’s name when the proposal is generated. Second, you can then group these sections into larger “proposal” templates. So maybe this is a template for a project proposal, this is a template for an estimate, this is the template for web design, this is the one for data entry services, or whatever. You assemble these templates from the section templates, deciding which sections to include and in what order. I can see how, over time, this will be a useful feature. Additionally, as you work on a specific proposal, you might determine this new section make for a good template and can save it off as one. Nice shortcut.

However, all of this template stuff was not evident at the start. It was a little confusing to me as to what you were supposed to do. Was I supposed to edit these templates? then generate a proposal? Or was I to start a new proposal, then fill in the blanks? If I created a new proposal, does changing the sections change the template? A lot wasn’t evident. I’m not sure right now how they could make this better, except for their tutorials being a little more explicit. Or maybe I’m just dense. 🙂  It all made sense once I started messing around, and I appreciate the fact I can mess around. I do wish I could delete the “test/sample” proposals so they weren’t littering my account, but that’s a small issue.

Speaking of issues, I did have a few.

First, I entered sales tax. While sales tax was calculated correctly, the generated proposal printed “Tax (8%)” instead of 8.25% (Austin, Texas sales tax). Minor thing, but certainly looks bad on the proposal. I contacted their support – who were very responsive, helpful, and courteous – and they got the problem resolved quickly. Very nice.

Second, in my proposal I wanted to demonstrate a couple concepts. These concepts would be best conveyed by watching something: animated GIF or movie. Alas, I couldn’t get either to work. Trying to embed a GIF didn’t work at all (JPG and PNG showed up OK). I created a QuickTime movie, hosted it somewhere, tried to embed it. That basically worked, but when the proposal was generated into a PDF, the entire section of the document that included the movie was omitted from the PDF! Not good. I contacted support about that, but haven’t heard any resolve yet (may take time, no worries). I worked around it by merely linking to the movies. Not ideal, but admittedly getting that to work for PDF is trickier (I’d think it would render down to a link, maybe a frame from the movie).

Minor points, nothing really show-stopper, and overall their support has been good.

I do like the generation of the reports. They look good, not overdone, but very clear to the eyes with good layout and structure. You can create your own document templates, if you wish. All editing is done on the website in an WYSIWYG HTML editor. Some minor weirdness here and there in the editor, but you can view the raw HTML so that’s quite helpful. I do wish there was a spell-check feature. I worked around that by generating the preview, Select All, Paste into MS Word, then let it run the Spelling and Grammar check. I do think that some of these little “spit and polish” issues could work against Bidsketch. That is, I’m technically savvy enough to cope with problems and work around them. But I give it the “Mom & Pop” test, where I think how your “average Joe” out there, the “Mom & Pop” that may not be technically savvy, how would they fare? In this case, I think some of these rough edges would keep Mom & Pop from having a great experience. I think there’s potential, but the flip side is: what is Bidsketch’s market? Are they trying to even target Mom & Pop in the first place? Do they expect some level of technical savvy? That’s a question for Bidsketch to answer, but I think if the spit and polish was put on the product, it could well serve that market.

Pricing… that’s one hard point. The “Freelancer” program is $29/month, and if I was someone sending and working with proposals on a heavier basis, I could see that being alright. However, I’m not yet at that point. To have a way to have per-proposal pricing might be nice, but I can understand how that’s also harder on them for helping them manage their infrastructure, so I’m not sure how feasible it is for them to offer. But they do have a “free for a year” program if you write a review… which is admittedly why I’m authoring this review. But don’t take my “write a review, get a free year” as a lack of integrity — that’s not how Hsoi Enterprises operates; we just have a limited budget, and this is a reasonable services trade. I do think Bidsketch has a reasonable service, a few glitches but they are responsive (and customer service matters). Will I use them for the long term? That remains to be determined, and frankly the “year free” will help me determine that. I think this is a service that, for someone at my low-volume level, just needs more time to use the service to get the most out of it and really see if it’s right for me.

But so far, so good.

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