Sage Business Cloud Accounting is a decent piece of software that does the job, yet doesn't really stand out from the crowd. While we can certainly see people being very happy with it, we have a suspicion that competitors would hit the sweet spot better.
A software company that began in the UK and moved to the U.S. in 1998, Sage has built a decent, but not outstanding, cloud-based accounting software platform for small to mid-size businesses.
Sage Business Cloud Accounting — in the interest of saving trees, we’ll call it Sage — is one of many business products the company offers. We consider its scattered focus to be a downside to using Sage, as its products often lack the capabilities to encourage users to pay for another of its services.
Much of what the company pushes users to pay extra for is included for free in competitors’ software packages. For information on its rivals, read our list of the best accounting software on the market.
- Clean, easy-to-navigate interface
- Time tracking & projects
- Unlimited invoices & expenses
- Unlimited access to data in the cloud
- Single-entry accounting
- Poor bank reconciliation functions
- Includes limited reports
- Wide variety of decision-making tools
- Customers can easily pay online
- Payroll & inventory management
- Time-tracking function feeds into invoicing
- Steep learning curve
- Payroll & credit card processing fees add up quickly
- Advanced features only available at highest price tier
- Most expensive cloud-based accounting software
- One of the best for inventory tracking
- Quotes that convert into invoices
- Can bill for hourly services
- Project management capabilities
- No integrated payroll processing
- Can’t set invoices to recur
- Can’t customize reports
- No payroll or credit card processing built-in
Sage covers the basics of bookkeeping, with quotes, invoicing, and expense payments. You can send unlimited quotes and invoices at any pricing tier. That is unlike another cloud-based accounting software program, Xero, which limits users of its lowest pricing plan to five invoices a month (read our Xero review for more).
The monthly task of reconciling your bank account can be time-consuming. Sage addresses that by automatically matching transactions on your statements. It also includes a project management function, which can be accessed through its app. It doesn’t come close to the best project management software, though.
Sage isn’t missing any of the basics and it has nice extras that some businesses will find quite useful.
With only two choices, Sage makes it easy to pick a plan. The first, Accounting Start, only costs $10 per month. It includes the ability to send invoices and pay bills, but only supports one user. Its price is in line with QuickBooks Online and FreshBooks, but they offer more features on their lowest-tier plans.You can read more about QuickBooks Online vs. FreshBooks in our head-to-head.
The next level, Accounting, is a big jump to $25 per month. It adds quotes and estimates, vendor bills and offers you the choice between cash or accrual accounting. While the company claims the plan has unlimited users, Sage’s website contradicts it by putting only five users in parentheses on its price chart.
There is no built-in payment processing, so you will have to pick one of the providers that integrate with Sage. Customers won’t be able to pay an invoice through the invoice like they can with QuickBooks Online, which means you’ll be at the mercy of the payment processor’s fees (read our QuickBooks Online review).
Sage doesn’t have built-in payroll processing, either. While QuickBooks Online and FreeAgent charge additional fees for payroll processing, they at least have it integrated into their software (read our FreeAgent review).
The company has a separate payroll service that you can use on its own or in conjunction with the accounting software. It doesn’t give information about pricing for the service, though, so it’s impossible to tell if it’s priced competitively. Read our Wave review to learn about a more transparent service.
While the provider has transparent pricing and fees within the normal range, it was difficult or impossible to discover what it charges for its other service and add-ons. If you think you might need to use one of them, we advise contacting the company directly.
It’s easy to set up an account with Sage. All it asks for is your business’s name and address and whether you charge sales tax. If you do, it pulls in your local rate, then takes you to the summary screen.
For new users, that screen is text-heavy and overwhelming. The words are in a small font and having to click between the “getting started,” “sales,” “expenses,” “cashflow statement” and “cashflow forecast” for summary information is not intuitive.
That said, the main screen has strong drop-down menus. If you click on any of the main menu options, Sage sends you to a screen with an overview of that topic’s data. If you click on “sales,” for example, you’ll see all your sales.
It didn’t take long to figure out how to perform core business functions, such as invoicing and paying bills, because the choices are clearly labeled and the website easy to navigate. While some of Sage’s screens look crowded, the software is user-friendly overall.
If you want to send an invoice in Sage, click “sales” from the main menu and you’ll see a blue “new invoice” button at the top right of the screen.
The invoice form has the standard fields. Select a customer from the drop-down options or, if you haven’t set any up yet, add a new one. You can pick a due date and pick the reference or purchase order number yourself.
Sage syncs with your inventory on-hand in the “product/service” box, keeping it updated in real time. The service is nowhere near as comprehensive as OneUp, though (read our OneUp review if inventory is a priority for you). It also lets you pick the general ledger account to bill the sale to, which doesn’t benefit your customer and is an odd thing to show on an invoice.
You can then select the quantity sold or the number of hours worked, input a discount and select a tax rate. There’s no way to track time, which seems like an oversight given its built-in projects management capabilities and that “hours” appear on the invoice. FreshBooks does a much better job (read our FreshBooks review).
If you want to leave comments for your customers, Sage has a text box at the bottom of the invoice. You can’t choose terms from a drop-down menu of common options, though. You have to input them manually.
Once you’re done, you can “save and email,” “save and print” or “save and new.” While you can also save an invoice as “pro forma,” Sage doesn’t let you send recurring ones. All you can do is copy an old invoice to use as a template for a new one.
If your business regularly bills for the same monthly services, you’ll want accounting software that will do so automatically. We suggest reading our Wave vs. FreshBooks comparison to learn about two services that have recurring billing if you need it.
Once you’ve saved an invoice, you can generate a packing slip to pass on to warehouse workers. Sage has a high level of detail for tracking inventory. When you’re adding a new item, you first pick if it’s “stock,” “non-stock” or a “service.”
If you’re setting up a service, instead of inventory tracking options, you choose a rate.
If it’s physical inventory, you can input the number of items on hand, their cost and location. Sage manages inventory by letting you select minimum reorder levels and reorder quantities, too. One neat feature we’ve only seen in Sage is that you can assign multiple selling prices to the same item.
Quotes and estimates look similar to invoices, but have one key difference. Instead of setting a due date, you select a “good thru date” for when they expire.
Sage’s estimate form calculates the profit on a quote, so you’ll know how much you’ll make if the customer accepts it. This is another great feature we haven’t seen elsewhere.
While Sage’s invoice form is easy to follow and its integrated inventory functions are a plus, the lack of a recurring invoicing feature could be an issue for some businesses. It doesn’t send past due reminders or add late fees, either. Those might be deal breakers for a more complex business that’s looking for accounting software.
If you need to pay a bill, go to “expenses” on the main menu and select “vendor bills” from the drop-down. There, you’ll see an overview of your outstanding bills and their statuses. Click the blue “new bill” button to the screen’s left to go to the “new vendor bill” form.
There are fewer options for vendor bills than invoices. At the top, you can add the vendor’s name, bill and due date. The order line includes the product, an optional description and the ledger account.
There is no way to break out taxes paid on a vendor bill. Sage’s form has a box for notes and a place to add an attachment, but you can’t pay a bill directly from the service.
Once you’ve saved a new vendor bill, you get more options. They include copying it, disputing it or adding a credit note. You can also record a payment if, say, you sent your assistant to the store with cash to pick up office supplies.
Sage lacks two important options, though. It won’t send automatic reminders of when bills are due. It’s up to you to keep an eye on the dashboard, and, while you can copy a bill, you can’t set it to recur.
QuickBooks Online and Xero offer recurring billing, so if that is something you need, they may be worth considering.
The lack of recurring billing is a drawback to using Sage, since you’d have to go in and create the bills for regularly occurring expenses each time they’re due.
Once you’ve entered a few bills, they’ll appear on the vendor dashboard. Sage lets you customize the display, but it doesn’t save the configuration if you click away and come back. That feature would be more useful if it kept your settings or you could download the dashboard when it displayed the fields you needed to see.
You can pay bills in Sage, but the functions don’t go beyond that to automate workflows or save you time. Expensing won’t be the deciding factor for businesses that choose the accounting software.
Sage organizes its business reports by “essentials” and “detailed reports” first, and then bookkeeping function. Most of the basic reports businesses need to track their accounting are available.
Staying on top of past due receivables is essential for small businesses. The “A/R aging report” is under “essentials” and lists receivables by customer name. It sorts past due receivables into common buckets of 30, 60 and 90 days past due, but it doesn’t allow you to filter the report.
For example, you can’t set it to show only customers who have invoices 90 days past due.
If you extend credit terms to your customers, the “credit limit” column on the report will be useful. Unfortunately, Sage doesn’t calculate the amount of credit a customer is currently accessing or provide reports on how often a customer draws on it. You can export all reports in Sage to a .csv file and do some analysis yourself, though.
The “A/P aging report” looks the same. The only difference being that it shows the money you owe rather than what’s owed to you.
You’ll find more sales and profits reports under “detailed reports.” The “sales daybook” and “purchase daybook” reports give you all sales or purchase transactions within a chosen date range. Without the ability to search or sort them, though, you can’t glean much information.
We like the “profit analysis” report, which doesn’t appear in any other competitor’s report selection. It displays the cost, profit amount and profit percentage of transactions with customers. Again, you’d have to export it to sort and search by specific customers, limiting its usefulness in the software.
If you want to know which are the most profitable items in your inventory, the “sales revenue – products & services” report lists them in order with their cost, profit and profit percentage. “Detailed reports” also includes the general ledger, audit trail and chart of accounts. Those will be useful to your accountant, but you’re unlikely to refer to them often.
Sage has five standard reports under the “cash reports” section. A cashflow forecast shows you upcoming payments and expenses to help you predict when money will flow in and out of your business. You can select a date range and view a detailed breakdown and prior transactions, though the report won’t update until you click the “calculate” button.
We question the usefulness of the “receipts and payments daybook” report, as it is less a report and more a transaction listing. After you enter a date range, it’ll show you the receipts and payments that went through one of your bank accounts during that time. It would be more logical to include a search function in the bank account display, but there isn’t one.
While “unreconciled bank transactions” do affect your cashflow, we’d expect to find them on the “banking” tab. The same goes for the “unallocated receipts and payments” report. The “cashbook report” is another running bank account ledger.
Sage tracks sales taxes on your invoices and presents details about what you’ve collected on the “sales tax report.” If you pay contractors, the “tax reports” section also has a “1099 report.” All in all, the “tax reports” and tax functions in Sage are bare-bones and don’t include options for foreign businesses.
Given Sage’s strong integrated inventory function, it’s disappointing that it doesn’t give you more under “inventory reports.” It seems like a wasted opportunity to help businesses make ordering decisions. The one report, “stock movement summary,” shows an item’s in and out quantities, but doesn’t calculate a turnover rate. Nor does it inform you of the most or least ordered items.
The remaining two reports tell you who paid their invoices using Paya, a virtual payment terminal that Sage links with, and personal data that can be deleted based on retention limits that you select in settings.
None of Sage’s reports can be customized. That’s because the company offers an add-on service, Sage Business Intelligence, for an additional fee. Rather than including the ability to customize reports in Sage, it’s attempting to sell you another product. We’re not fans of that approach.
Sage provides many reports, but not many will help you make decisions to improve your business. If you want to analyze or sort, you’ll have to export the reports’ data.
Sage’s financial reports provide basic information and offer no customization. While it includes a profit and loss and balance sheet, the report that it calls a cashflow statement is misnamed.
The profit and loss report calculates net income for a period. It tells you if you’re making a profit or operating at a loss. It doesn’t calculate or display percentage or year-over-year changes and only presents one period.
The balance sheet displays the general ledger accounts associated with each line item and there’s no way to hide or remove them. That wouldn’t be a problem internally, but if you needed to show your balance sheet to investors, it could be an annoyance.
The balance sheet only displays one period, rather than two side-by-side which is often requested for external use. If you needed a comparison period, you’d have to download each separately and copy and paste them together.
In the balance sheet, Sage show you the underlying detail when you click on a line. While the organization of groupings of accounts follows standard bookkeeping principles, they can’t be rearranged or summed in a presentation that makes sense for your business.
While Sage calls a report a “cashflow statement,” it’s not the traditional one you’d see in a set of financial statements. Rather, it’s a chart with cash inflows and outflows. It wouldn’t be acceptable as a statement for a lender, so you’d have to create an actual cashflow statement from scratch.
At the bottom of each financial statement, Sage has an option to “create your report like this” using the Sage Business Intelligence tool. The fact that Sage offers no customization on the financial statements is likely to drive sales of the company’s add-on products.
We consider that a drawback to using the accounting software.
Like much of Sage, user support is so-so. If you’re logged in and need help, the “help” button appears at the top right of every screen. It opens a separate window in your browser where you can sign in to “sage communities.” Because they serve all the company’s products, to use the search function, you have to enter the “product name” plus a “keyword” in the search bar.
Instead of help articles with screenshots or videos, Sage presents support information in community discussions.
We couldn’t find a section with articles if you’re just getting started and need to be walked through simple features and navigating the search and help options was a confusing mess of tabs and logins. When we searched, we found articles with step-by-step instructions, but they weren’t on the main page or accessible through menus.
Chat buttons appear on every page in the software, but Sage doesn’t have an email or phone number to call for support.
In general, user support is hampered by the company’s broad software offerings and its insistence on including help for all of them in one place. It appears to have an over-reliance on crowd-sourced support and unwilling to invest the time and money to provide videos and screenshots in help articles.
With Sage Business Cloud Accounting you can perform the bookkeeping functions required to keep a business running, but not much more. Invoicing and expensing work at a low level, but lack advanced functions, such as late fees, automatic reminders, and recurring billing or payment.
At first glance, Sage appears to have a variety of reports, but none of them can be customized and many are just transaction lists. It’s misleading to call them reports when they’re similar to ledgers or bank account lists that competitors would include with their banking features.
The inventory functions delve deeper than other options, so if your business is inventory-heavy, we advise you to take a look at Sage. It manages inventory on-hand, non-stock that isn’t counted and services. It also tracks the cost and margin on each of them. It’ll do the same for items that your business orders for its own needs.
Despite its standout inventory functions, we don’t find any compelling reasons to select Sage’s accounting software over a competitor.
Have you used Sage? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.