Sage Instant Accounts is accounting software aimed at new and small businesses. It aims to help you manage your money, invoicing, VAT and end-of-year accounts, even if you have no prior experience of accountancy or book-keeping.

Sage Instant Accounts: features

For your £132 outlay Sage Instant Accounts offers a customer relations and contacts manager that helps you create quotations and invoices, chase payments and receive card payments. Sage lets you share information electronically with your accountant, prepare and submit VAT returns, and produce a coherent balance sheet. Indeed, with Health and Safety legislation advice, Microsoft Office integration and an electronic diary, Sage sets out to be integral to small businesses. But is it any good?

To fully test Sage Instand Accounts, we recruited around 30 small business users from the 300,000-member PC Advisor forums. We gifted them copies of Sage Instant Accounts, and asked them to keep us appraised of their experiences. You can read the full conversations about Sage in our Beta testing forum.

For more on using Sage Instant Accounts, read 'How to use software to manage business accounts'.

Sage Instant Accounts: getting started

Despite the complexity of the software, the vast majority of our testers had no problem downloading and installing Sage Instant Accounts. One or two found the activation process a little complicated, but with only a little support were soon up and running. There was some dissent: user 'woody' said: "When the program is started for the first time it should open the 'Activation' window. No other choices should be offered till the activation is completed. Allowing other choices,"Logon" for example, only causes unnecessary confusion."

Confusingly, even when you've downloaded the software and purchased an activation key, you are still only set up to use it for 30 days. After this point you have to call a freephone number to get Sage to complete the activation process. This is perfectly legitimate, but seems uneccessarily complicated, and it doesn't exactly encourage you to commit all your company's data to Sage.

After the initial setup, most of our users found getting started with the software relatively straightforward. Despite the odd gripe about setting up his accounts, user 'Proclaimer' was impressed: "Overall my first impression is 'Good' no big hassle setting it up or getting my products listed in the Accounts Package. I could be up and running live with this in just one day if I wanted to."

Another user, 'jjss' said he managed to "set up customer and supplier base with no problems", describing the process as "straight forward enough", but he said that it took him around 40 minutes to input his bank details.

All of our users managed to get their businesses working through Sage Instant Accounts, and the vast majority said it was sufficiently easy to use.

Sage Instant Accounts: anything missing?

Out of the box Sage Instant Accounts packs in a huge amount of features, but we wanted to know if any of our 30 or so small business users felt that any important capabilities were missing. Perhaps reflecting the complexity of the product, some users complained about the absence of features that are, in fact, present - email invoices and the ability to import a company logo, being two such examples. Indeed, plenty of our user group agreed with 'sunnystaines' who said of Sage: "it's so extensive, I have not come across anything yet I could suggest to add."

But there were some dissenting voices. 'jjss' said he would like "to be to able to correct input errors easily without having to reload 'yesterday's' backup data. I prefer to have control rather than the software having the control. Reloading back up data is fine if it's first thing in the morning but I'd hate to make a mistake if it's at the end of a long and tiring day with all the data that would/could have been entered, and then having to re-enter it again because of a typo!" This point was echoed by one or two other testers.

A couple of our user group had some trouble with quotations. 'Pine Man' said: "Unless I've got it wrong you can't have one quote for services and products together; ie Supply and fit an item. The goods appear to have to be on one quote and the labour on another."

A final gripe was with stock control and other, more complex business tasks that may be more suited to some of Sage's more expensive products. 'Newuser38': "I have now searched the Help section and it does seem that Instant Accounts Plus is needed to manage the product stock area. It has also been suggested that Sage 50 may be needed for some who need more detailed and deeper accounting."

NEXT: should you buy Sage Instant Accounts?