Update: I've also done a review of Trello as a tool to run your business.
For a while now I’ve been looking for the perfect solution to run my web design/development business. I gave Harvest an earnest shot but after that I haven’t found anything that convinced me to stick around for more than a day or two. Today we’re going to look at Daylite 4 as an application to run your business from end to end.
If you’re not up for a many thousand word exploration of Daylite 4 checkout the Overview and tl;dr headings for a basic view of what Daylite does and my general thoughts.
As a disclaimer, after I posted about the release of Daylite 4 I was contacted by a Daylite (Marketcircle) staffer and asked if I’d like to do a review of Daylite 4. MarketCircle has been kind enough to provide me with a trial serial number which will no longer be used after the review is written. There are no affiliate links in this article.
So what is Daylite? Well it’s a Mac and iOS application that tries to help you run your business more effectively. Daylite is designed to track clients from the beginning, taking them from opportunities to actual projects. In short it’s a robust business management application.
Daylite 4 is a great product but the fact that running it with a team or to have all the time over the air sync means you have to run a server is a deal breaker. It could also use way more keyboard commands, along with some basic universal keyboard conventions. Daylite is totally worth checking out, but make sure you have a tech friend and a spare Mac around to get the Daylite database set up for the smoothest all the time experience.
In short I love the features that Daylite 4 provides, but find the day to day use of the application gets in the way of the benefits.
To get started with Daylite you need to download Daylite Server. This page also presents you with the pricing for Daylite (which we’ll come to later). Really you can simply click on the 30-day trial to get it. This is where I think that MarketCircle has made it’s first mistake. The one thing that has kept me from trying Daylite for so long is how they present the server portion of it.
Daylite Server doesn’t actually need to be installed on a dedicated machine if you’re not using it with a team. You can simply install it on your computer and run it. Marketcircle simply isn’t clear about how exactly this works in their sales documentation. I would have downloaded it and tried it long ago had it been clear.
When you try to get the 30-day trial Daylite wants to get a bunch of information from you. For me this was a second barrier. I’m not even sure I want to use the product yet but you want to get me on the mailing list?
For this review I took one for the team and signed up for the mailing list. If you’re going to give Daylite a try the emails they send you are perfect. They really help you learn Daylite well. I would not have been able to use Daylite as efficiently as I did without the emails and tutorials they provided.
Getting set up with the Daylite database is a simple matter of following the provided documentation. I’m confident that any reasonably technical person could set up a single machine that did not need to have the database available to the outside network. I’ll talk later about other setups that make your database and documents available for over the air all the time sync and the issues with that.
One of the things I was never able to resolve was getting the Daylite database to back up to a folder in Dropbox. I don’t see a point in having my database backup sitting on the same hard drive as the main database. If that drive dies (and we all know drives die) both the main copy and the backup are gone. Despite many times trying, Daylite always fed me errors when I tried to put the backup on Dropbox.
The way I ended up interacting with Daylite the most, was through the desktop application. My days would start by addressing the ‘Home’ tab to see what was on my list for the day. This is much like OmniFocus, when I’d start my day in the iPad version Forecast view.
On top of the home view I used the active projects and active opportunities the most. I rarely looked at the tasks outside of the projects. Sure I added companies and contacts, but that’s just fairly basic. I did like that you can easily create many contacts for a company and link them all to the company. Then just visit the company entry and you can see a list of all the people you’ve added.
DayLite Mail Assistant (DMA) is what lets you hook emails that come in to Mail.app in to the Daylite database. Being able to track all your email is very useful. The more you use DMA with your emails and clients the more accurate it becomes with the possible matches.
Unfortunately I also found that even Opportunities and Projects I had marked as completed or lost came up when searching to attach emails. That means there is a lot of clutter to sort through to find the right project. This significantly increases the cognitive load in attaching things.
iOS set up I easy. Download the free applications and with the Daylite server application up, get the iDevice on the same Wifi network as the Daylite server. Follow the easy instructions and your all set up to sync. Sync does not require that the actual Mac Daylite application be on since the server runs in the background all the time.
Learning to use an application is one thing, it takes a whole different level of experience to really be fast at it daily.
I’m a keyboard nerd. I write code in Vim and use Alfred. I love keyboard driven applications. I use the keyboard so much my mouse didn’t have a battery for a week and it didn’t bother me. Just so you know where I’m coming from.
Over all I find the keyboard commands lacking. Yes there are some universal commands, but why doesn’t ⌘ - Enter or ⌘ - S save in every dialogue? The only way to reliably save is to take your hands away from the keyboard and click the save dialogue. For many this will simply be habit from other mouse driven applications, but for any power user it’s going to be a constant source of confusion.
To be fair, in some circumstances ⌘ - S does save, but I was never able to find a solid pattern. It felt like more often it didn’t do what I expected.
I do appreciate that you can easily add all the default information in Mail.app with a single keyboard command. Unfortunately this is offset by the fact that the Daylite Mail Assistant often brought up way to many things as a possible match for a given email. It would typically seem to take 1 or 2 emails linked in to projects or people before the matching became more accurate. Even then, non-active projects and opportunities would show up in searches.
Outside of the lack of consistent pervasive keyboard commands Daylite does provide a video with a series of productivity tips. The video has a few items that will make the process of working in Daylite faster. Yes there are some decent tips here, but they don’t make up for the lack of any real keyboard interface.
While using Daylite I fell in love with a number of features. Specifically I loved starting to track opportunities with clients better. I also loved the ability to link emails with clients, and documents with clients and projects.
When using Daylite, you are able to get a possible client in to the system really early. Daylite is not just for project management, it takes a client as an opportunity and allows you to track them. You can change the status of opportunities and list why a certain opportunity didn’t happen.
Previously I simply had an OmniFocus project that held all follow up for all opportunities for all clients. This worked well for tracking TODO items for follow up, but it did not yield any real data on why projects didn’t happen since all clients are just TODO items in a project. You really can’t even pull information like that out of OmniFocus.
After using Daylite for 3 months I was able to see whether the projects that didn’t happen were because I decided they weren’t worth my time, or there was a bunch of competition, or because I was out of the client budget. Knowing things like this is critical to moving forward with marketing and finding the right type of clients to target.
There are some reporting features built in to Daylite around Opportunities, but I never found the stock reports of any use. You can create your own reports, but having lots of experience with Billings templates, it’s a total pain in the ass. I’ve never recouped my time from playing with Billings templates, and I’ve never built anything that was useful.
The other part I loved about Opportunities was being able to turn them in to Projects easily. Unfortunately the TODO items on the Opportunity don’t transfer by default, but you can fairly easily drag them from the Opportunity to the Project.
Another feature I loved was being able to link all notes, documents and email to the project and client. Before I’d have a project folder and just dump text notes and any documents in to it. With Daylite I could take the notes anywhere, then either copy/paste them in to the notes portion of Daylite, or save the document and then link it to the project or client.
This linking also extends to Daylite through the Daylite Mail Assistant (DMA). When you install it in Mail.app, you can link all messages to the projects, opportunites or clients that they go with.
If you buy fully in to linking everything (which you should if your using Daylite), you end up with a searchable database that goes with the whole project. It was much easier to find things once I had them in Daylite.
As much as any review is about what is awesome in a product, it’s about the areas that need improvement. The overall picture of what Daylite does for your business is great, but many of the little tasks could be refined.
One of the biggest complaints I have with Daylite is that you have to use Mail.app to get any emails in to it. I’ve been a heavy Google Apps/Gmail user for a long time, which means the keyboard shortcuts provided by Google are deeply ingrained in my brain. Mail.app simply doesn’t have many of the same commands accessible from the keyboard out of the box.
It’s not even that the Google Apps/Gmail commands aren’t the same in Mail.app. Mail.app just doesn’t have equivalent commands that are accessible from the keyboard in any fashion.
If you’re up for spending a bit of money Mail Act-On provides much of the same type of keyboard control but still requires more interaction with the keyboard and hand movement than Gmail. Want to simply archive an email, Mail Act-On requires the function key modifier, an F key then a number send the email to the folder in question. From Gmail/Google Apps you can press X to select the message then A to archive it.
If you love the keyboard navigation from Gmail/Google Apps then you’re going to get a big hit to productivity with Mail.app, and right now you’re not going to find a solution that gets it all back.
Another big frustration for me was the lack of complete keyboard commands. I went in to it in a bit more depth earlier, so I’ll just remind you of that section.
Unfortunately the Daylite sync is stuck in the dark ages. For a solo business owner you need to have your iPhone or iPad on the same WIFI network as the main Daylite database. Then open the application and it will automatically sync. Since the Daylite database runs in the background all the time, you do not need to have the desktop Daylite application open.
While the whole ‘same Wifi network’ thing is a large enough pain on it’s own, the real pain in the ass issue with Daylite is that to work in a team or have anytime over the air sync you need to run your own Daylite server somewhere. For me this means running a second machine that held the Daylite database and making sure the Daylite database was open to the outside world somehow.
Yes I work with servers all day, but I have no desire to run a server myself. I don’t do my own hosting or resell it to clients because it’s a problem I don’t want to deal with.
To really buy in to getting documents in Daylite, you’d also need to have a document folder available to everyone. Really this just adds to the complexity of a team set up, at least if you really want to get the full benefit of Daylite and link everything in to the database.
With the cost of Daylite 4, one would think that anyone purchasing it would also be willing to pay a small fee to have easy online sync. I think that Daylite is missing a huge business opportunity by not providing this for their customers.
How Daylite handles contacts is also a bit annoying. I’m bought in to the Apple ecosystem with a Mac, iPad and iPhone. I sync my contacts with iCloud and it’s always worked for me.
To really use the Daylite contact features (which easily let you link businesses to users) you need to buy in to their contact sync. That means that updates to the contacts won’t happen unless your on the same Wifi network, or took the time to set up a server. That also means that if you dump Address Book, you can’t search the contacts anymore from Alfred or Quick Silver or LaunchBar on your Mac. I search my contacts all the time with Alfred, so moving out of Address book was simply not going to happen.
I ended up doing dual entry. When I got a new contact, I’d enter it in Daylite and Address Book. I never synced my actual iPhone Contacts with Daylite. The contacts are still available on your iDevice inside the Daylite application, but again their not searchable from within the main phone interface.
As a solo consultant, I’m fairly price sensitive. I don’t mind spending money, but I better see a return on that investment and it better be a clear return. Daylite costs $279.95 Canadian (since I’m in Canada and that’s the price it shows me). That’s just for a single seat. Adding users if your a larger business increases the cost.
Undoubtedly there are applications that are more expensive and do the same or similar job as Daylite, but at a certain company scale it’s just a cost. For me as a solo business it seems a bit steep. That works out to around $24/month. That about double what much of the online web applications are charging and usually the more users you add, the less it costs per user, with the web solutions.
Update: As pointed out in the comments, the above paragraph implies that it's $24/month all the time. It's a one time fee for Daylite 4. After that year it costs you $0 if you don't need to upgrade then your cost is done. One other thing to think about is that it's a per seat license. Most web applications allow a few users at the entry price point. With Daylite it's $279 per seat se each person you want on the system is $279.
The web solutions also provide all the time sync for any users you’ve added to the system.
The price is just high enough for me that I really need to see a solid benefit in getting more billable work in the business, or accomplished, to justify the expense.
So after all of that, will I be using Daylite 4 and paying for it? Nope.
Really I find that while Daylite 4 brings lots of useful features to a business, it has some major hang ups for me that make it way to frustrating to use. First, I hate Mail.app and if you’re not willing to use it then Daylite looses a bunch (really most) of it’s utility. Second, the lack of a complete set of keyboard commands means it’s always going to be slow to use. Third, WIFI sync??? What is this 4 years ago?
Could Daylite be the right tool for you? Sure it could, if you love mail and aren’t as keyboard focused as I am then you won’t have either of the issues I mentioned. If you are comfortable setting up a dedicated Mac server to have proper over the air sync then you can have all your info everywhere.
I just think that the lock in price for Daylite is way to high, and there simply isn’t enough return to warrant it.