Sage may be a big name in corporate accounting but the company has had a hard time recruiting start-up businesses to its ranks, never mind the receipts-in-a-shoebox and heads-in-the-sand brigades.
Actually, it’s easy to have sympathy with those in business who ignore their accounts, because bookkeeping is probably the most tedious aspect of running a business; far removed from the exciting elements of planning, operating and expanding a company, or even of simply counting the cash as it (hopefully) rolls in.
Unfortunately there’s no such thing as an accounts fairy to magically complete your bookkeeping for you while you sleep, so Sage has hit upon the idea of making this task less onerous by combining it with some of the more interesting aspects of running a business such as planning, problem solving and decision-making. The result is Sage Start-Up, a £149 package aimed at would-be or fledging entrepreneurs.
At its heart, Start-Up is a simplified accounting package that eschews the jargon of double-entry bookkeeping in favour of a pair of graphical menu screens labelled ‘Money In’ and ‘Money Out’. From these you can see the logical flow of a transaction, from the issuing of a sales quotation and the subsequent sending of an invoice, to receiving payment and banking the proceeds.
To home in on any task that needs to be performed, the user simply clicks on the appropriate icon and is presented with a data entry form superimposed on the flow-chart menu. On completing the form the user can choose another icon from the menu or navigate elsewhere within the program using tabs at the bottom of the screen or a task pane on the left.
The program is suitable for cash or credit operations, and for VAT registered or non-registered traders. At the end of the year a backup file can be sent to a Sage-registered accountant for checking, with revisions and corrections being re-imported to Sage Start-Up prior to running the end-of-year cycle. During this process, two backups representing the state of the business before and after the end-of-year run are made, and three reports in PDF format are generated: Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet and Audit Trail.
The extras that have been grafted onto this easy-to-use system are a business diary, which looks like a stripped down version of Outlook 2003 but is actually far more simplistic, and a set of planning and decision-making tools which can be broadly divided into those you’ll need before you start trading and those you’ll need on an ongoing basis as your business grows.
Planning tools include a multiple-choice quiz to assess your entrepreneurial strengths and an excellent business planner which enables you to design a professional-looking business plan complete with Profit and Loss, Cash Flow and Break Even forecasts.
Once you’re in business, there is Web access via a built-in browser to Sage’s own business library, which incorporates a Trade Secrets section containing advice on running 200 different types of company, and eight general categories including law, finance and property. In addition, there is Web access to the government’s Business Link resources, which are also freely available to all-comers at www.businesslink.gov.uk.
It’s easy to see why Sage has chosen to make its reference material available via the Web, because it can be easily updated without having to provide users with regular program upgrades, but there are problems with the implementation of the Web elements. Sometimes you’re presented with a standard page, sometimes with a PDF file, and in the case of the business planner you have to download a program that installs and runs separately from Sage Start-Up itself. The online menus feature a confusing amount of duplication, and the business library is not properly indexed, with many searches failing to reveal material which actually is available.
At the time of testing Sage Start-Up, which was admittedly very early in its life, we were unable to register the software using the recommended method of the Internet and were forced into a ten-minute support call and registering by telephone. At least this offered a chance to try out the telephone support service, which was well-informed and helpful.
Having negotiated the computerised introduction we were not held in a queue before being able to speak to a human operator, and users have unlimited access to this personal service for the full year of their subscription to Sage Start-Up. After the first year it costs £99 per annum to continue using Sage Start-Up, but this figure also renews the support service for a further 12 months.
In order to install and run Sage Start-Up you need a PC running Windows 2000 or Windows XP, and on which Microsoft’s .NET Framework is installed. Sage Start-Up cannot install the .NET Framework for you; it just passes you to Microsoft’s download site. Sage recommends a 2GHz processor, and of course you won’t get far without a broadband Internet connection.
Contact: 0800 447777