Sage 50cloud Review & Rating

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Sage 50cloud is a massive small business accounting application that’s designed for desktop use. Its early roots predate Intuit QuickBooks Online, this year’s Editors’ Choice for small business accounting software, so it’s had well over two decades to grow. The most significant change since I last reviewed the app is its integration with Microsoft Office 365. This powerful, innovative connection helps make up for the fact that you must have Sage 50cloud installed on a computer to make full use of its features—it allows you to access some of its data on a remote computer.

Sage 50cloud itself is more complex in some ways than even the best of the low-end accounting websites, but this complexity—and the cost of subscribing—may make it less appealing to smaller, simpler businesses. It’s best suited to companies who need that kind of complexity, aren’t averse to desktop software, and/or whose employees work remotely but need access to some of the software’s data. Intuit QuickBooks Online is still the best choice for a large cross-section of US businesses because of its multiple service tiers, usability, mobile apps, and smart feature set.

Deep and Complex Accounting

The Sage 50cloud line consists of three plans: Pro Accounting, which is priced at $503.23 per year for a single user (paid annually), Premium Accounting, which starts at $778.63 per year for a single user (paid annually), and Quantum Accounting, which starts at $1,981.75 per year for three users. Monthly pricing is available but a one-year commitment to Customer Care is required. Paid monthly, the Pro Accounting plan costs $50.58 per month for a single user, the Premium Accounting plan costs $78.21 per month for a single user, and the Quantum Accounting plan starts at $197.55 per month for three users. Integration with Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium adds $150 per year to each plan. These prices are significantly higher than the last time I reviewed these apps, owing to their expanded reach.

Each plan offers full accounts payable and receivable functionality, as well as inventory management, integrated payroll, and reports. Premium Accounting adds numerous features, such as an audit trail and advanced budgeting and job costing. Quantum Accounting is the most sophisticated, with additional functions like multicompany access, role-based security, and industry-specific support.

In a nutshell, the Sage 50cloud family does just about everything a small business would need from an accounting program. If you need more than it offers, you should probably look into solutions that fall into the midrange accounting space, which are more expensive. Sage itself offers some of these more sophisticated apps.

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Setup Help

Such a robust accounting program requires robust setup help. Sage 50cloud starts you off with the Create a New Company wizard. This multi-page tool walks you through the process of selecting a method to create a Chart of Accounts (most companies opt for a sample Chart of Accounts that closely matches their business type), choosing between cash and accrual, and deciding between real time and batch posting of transactions. You’ll also select an accounting period structure and indicate when your fiscal year begins.

Once your company has been created, Sage 50cloud displays its Setup Guide. The steps in this tool relate mostly to creating records, like customer and vendor, inventory and service items, and jobs. If multiple employees will be using the software, you’ll have to enter user names and passwords for them. There are three levels: Administrator (Full Access plus the ability to create new users); Full Access; and Selected Access. The latter allows you to set up very detailed user permissions—down to the screen level in some cases, and more well-defined than any other accounting app reviewed here. Once that’s completed, you can move on to other early setup tasks, like customizing your invoices and other forms, and beginning to enter transactions.

Sage 50cloud comes with two default invoice forms, one for products and one for services. You can modify these by checking and unchecking boxes to indicate which fields should appear on both the data entry screen and the printed form. You’re also allowed to indicate which columns should appear on each. And you can drag and drop individual elements onscreen to change the forms’ layout, in addition to changing fonts and colors.

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An Aging User Interface

Sage 50cloud is not terribly difficult to learn (if you have some understanding of accounting) because it uses standard Windows software conventions. Its user interface, though, has gotten quite crowded over the years, partly because it’s capable of doing so much. It doesn’t look crisp and polished compared with the cloud-based accounting apps, such as Intuit QuickBooks Online or Zoho Books.

The software used to open to the Business Status section, a kind of dashboard displaying charts and tables, action items, and links to related screens. Now when you launch it, you see the Customer & Sales page, the top entry in Sage 50cloud’s left vertical navigation menu. Other entries in this list include Vendors & Purchases, Inventory & Services, and Employees & Payroll. To simplify navigation, you can customize the shortcuts below this module list to include your most frequently accessed screens.

These modules work similarly. For example, if you click Customers & Sales, you see buttons on the left side of the screen that are labeled with tasks. These are arranged like a flow chart, illustrating a typical work pattern. Most have small down-arrows in the lower right; click on one, and a list of subtasks appears. When you click the Customer & Sales Tasks arrow, the activity options there include New Customer and Set Up Customer Defaults.

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Clicking the arrow next to the Jobs icon opens a more complex set of chores. Among other things, you can create Jobs and Cost Codes, and build Change Orders. This is an area where desktop accounting is superior to cloud-based apps, which have very sketchy Jobs support, if any (though many have Project features that work with less complexity). The remainder of the buttons in this graphical/navigation chart point mostly to related types of transactions, such as Sales Invoices, Receive Money, and Customer Statements.

The remainder of the Customers & Sales screen displays your customer list, a link to recently viewed customer reports, an aged receivables chart, and the Sage Advisor (tips and usage tutorials). Each has a link that takes you to expended information and opens a new window—as happens throughout the program. This works, but it feels like old technology and requires constant closing of windows. If you click to view a detailed customer list, for example, a window opens containing both the list itself and links to related tasks, such as View Quotes and Create Sales Order. If your company is large enough that you have a dedicated Accounts Receivable specialist, he or she might never have to leave the Customers & Sales module

Sage 50cloud also includes a standard Windows menu running vertically across the top, for businesspeople who are more comfortable using that kind of navigation. The menu items take you to screens that can also be reached by using the program’s more graphic navigation tools. There’s more than one way to get to most tasks and data screens in Sage 50cloud, which is fine if you understand that and choose your own preferred path. It can be confusing, though, if you think every single link is unique.

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Thorough Records, Standard Transactions

Sage 50cloud offers great depth in its customer, vendor, and inventory item record forms. Only Intuit QuickBooks Online and Zoho Books are superior in this area. Take customer records, for example. The first screen in each contains standard contact information, with the exception of the five custom fields that you can define and use. Click on the second tab in the record window, Contacts, and you can add information about multiple additional contacts at that company. The History tab opens a page that displays total sales and receipts by month, as well as Average Days to Pay Invoices and other information. Click on the Sales Info tab, and you can designate customer preferences, such as sales rep, preferred shipping method, and price levels (Sage 50cloud lets you define multiple price levels per item). Finally, the Payment & Credit screen contains fields for personalized information about credit cards, terms, discounts, and more.

Inventory item records, too, can be defined and tracked in far greater detail than on most accounting websites. On the first screen alone, you can enter details like UPC/SKU, item type, location, and weight, in addition to the number of units that are currently on hand and committed on sales orders and purchase orders. You can track serial numbers, view item histories, build assemblies, and define item attributes, among other things.

Cloud-based accounting solutions do a good job of providing detailed templates for transactions, such as quotes, invoices, bills, and purchase orders. Sage 50cloud’s templates are slightly more complex because of its expansive capabilities. So, an invoice, for example, could contain a field that assigns that transaction to a job and another indicating that the order should be drop-shipped. You’re able to enter freight charges and view each customer’s balance and credit limit on the invoice screen itself.

And just as Sage 50cloud’s record forms let you perform related tasks directly from the data-entry screen, transaction forms help you save time by branching off into other tasks without leaving the current page. On an invoice, for example, you can receive payments, bring in existing time and expense tickets, and customize your layout.

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Working With Office 365

The integration between Sage 50cloud with Microsoft Office 365 involves primarily three apps. You can view Sage contacts from Outlook, view some Sage reports in Excel, and back up files using OneDrive. (I did have to upgrade my Office subscription to Business Premium for the integration to work, which cost me a few dollars more every month). Once you’ve made this connection and your Sage data is stored in the cloud, you can invite remote users to access that data through their Office 365 accounts without having Sage 50cloud installed on their PCs.

Sage 50cloud’s integration doesn’t change the look of the software itself. Except for a few extra entries in the Windows File menu, you wouldn’t know it was there. Clicking the Office 365 Integration entry in the File menu opens a screen that provides access to your Office 365 integration tasks. Making the initial connection just involves clicking a link. Once your integration has been established, you’ll click another icon to sync your data. This process can take some time. Even when it’s finished, you’ll need to give it some more time for your Office apps to be populated (the company says up to 24 hours; I didn’t find it took nearly that long).

My integration process didn’t go smoothly; it required some phone calls and emails to Sage tech support. Once the connection was made, though, I was able to open a Sage customer from an email in Outlook and access their contact information, sales information and history, and their payment and credit information.

Reports and Mobile

If you’re conscientiously keeping your records and transactions current and accurate, the payoff comes when you go to run the reports that can tell you where you are and where you’ve been. These can help you make better business decisions. Intuit QuickBooks Online offers greater customizability than other accounting websites, but Sage 50cloud offers more in number and allows you to set up multiple filters. Reports are interactive; that is, you can click on entries to drill down to underlying details. Sage 50 Intelligence Reporting adds even more depth and custom reports.

It would be hard to imagine a mobile app that encapsulated absolutely every one of Sage 50cloud’s features. And in fact, there isn’t one. The company does offer Sage Capture, which lets you take photos of receipts and enter data on expense forms to accompany them. The app doesn’t use OCR to read receipt data and automatically place it on fields in the expense forms, like Intuit QuickBooks Online does. The receipt photo appears as an attachment when the expense form is accessed in Sage 50cloud.

There’s also a mobile app for Sage Business Cloud Accounting (also known as Sage Accounting Start and Sage One Accounting over the last few years). You’ll have to use this if you want to create invoices and record payments on your mobile device. Those transactions move from your smartphone to Sage Business Cloud Accounting on the web, where they’re then synchronized with Sage 50cloud. Kind of a roundabout way to share data remotely, but it works. You’ll set up this Mobile Invoicing feature from an entry in the Windows File menu.

Excellent Desktop Accounting

Sage 50cloud is a comprehensive accounting program, capable of doing more than many small businesses need. In addition to sales, purchases, and inventory management, Sage 50 has its own payroll module and payment services. This is becoming a bit of an outdated approach, as cloud-based accounting solutions provide core bookkeeping tools that are not as complex as Sage 50cloud’s. They’re not meant to be. Rather than try to be all things to all people, the trend these days is to provide a good, solid, generic base that may be all that some companies need. But then they also offer integrated third-party add-ons that extend their usefulness in every area, such as inventory, payroll, time tracking, expenses, and billing.

If you’re looking for a complete, desktop-based small business accounting solution with a strong feature set and exceptional customizability, especially in terms of inventory management, then Sage 50cloud is a good option. It has some of the most thorough documentation that I’ve ever seen, and it provides online and phone-based support, as well as real-live professional advisors. When it’s time to move up, you can stay within the Sage family and invest in one of its midrange offerings—something its competitors lack.

But the completely cloud-centric Intuit QuickBooks Online is our Editors’ Choice for small business accounting. You don’t have to deal with the complexities and extra time required to access some of its data on a remote computer, it’s just always there. Intuit QuickBooks Online was built for the web and has continued to add features over the years. The result is a state-of-the-art accounting app whose features are generic and usable enough to appeal to millions of small business owners, yet customizable enough to make it fit each well.

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