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Accounting Software

A large proportion of my clients use sage instant and line 50 for their record keeping. Most use staff or family who never had any formal bookkeeping tuition. Virtually all have been given the task of keeping the business books with only the demo package as a guide and the help menu.

This has inevitably led to considerable failings in keeping proper records such as:
1. No bank reconciliation or keeping the print outs at period ends.
2. Posting of journals through the sales and purchase ledgers leading to TB balance not agreeing to balances list.
3. Miss understanding of the difference between the nominal ledger accounts e.g. Motor vehicle Fixed Asset and Running Costs
4. Incorrectly printing Creditor and Debtor reports with the wrong settings e.g. exclude later payments.
5. Developing large suspense accounts .
6. Incorrectly posting the wages.

The result of the above is that client pays more fees to correct these errors rather than the accountant spending time and offer higher value of service on tax planning etc. Which in the longer run will increase the fee income and the client feels he is getting better value for money.

I wondered if there are other accountants have similar experiences and that more client
Software usage instruction and training should be encouraged.

Gary Gould


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Reply for Donna
Donna - it's going to get ugly if we vendors all try to sell to you here. But as you were responding to my post, I still say use an online system - no software to install, support and upgrades are included, it's really cheap but has all of the functions you need, and YES (!) you can easily alter the invoice layout. You are welcome to call me - 08456-800-471, full contact details on

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Donna, Please spare me a couple of minutes

I'll probably get told off by some users on here but I'm only trying to help.

I'm not a salesman but a technical support consultant and I'm merely trying to get more people to use our products so I've got some more work to do.

Drop me an email to roger(@) (remove the brackets) or phone me on 07791 983 567.

I'll send you a link to download a 90 day trial of our software.

Hopefully you'll be pleasently surprised but, and I'm taking a risk here, if, having tried it, you don't like it, you can let everyone on here know and that's a big audience.


Roger Neale
Business Systems Consultant
Diamond Discovery Software Ltd

Contact me directly on 07791 983 567 or contact one of my colleagues on 0845 223 2170

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Absolutely, Andy
Companies spend too much money on software that they don't need. These days there are better options that are not only cheaper but also allow you, the accountant/bookkeeper, to ensure that the client is only exposed to the parts of the system that they need/understand. So stop using outdated software and join the thousands of others who are using something better. (I've posted links to our solution elsewhere on this thread.)

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I think you are too kind, Emily
How many clients investing in Sage are happy to use it just for posting invoices and payments?
They get stuck on the bank rec and generally don't have a clue about journals.
And yet . . . and yet, they see that magic P&L button and think that by pressing on it (despite the chart of accounts being awry) they will through osmosis or psychic powers be presented with a realistic profit figure.
Unless there is a trained bookkeeper on site it is usually futile, and certainly not cost effective in terms of accountancy fees, trying to get such people to use Sage effectively.

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How to safely let the client do what they can?
You don't have to relegate small business clients to using just a cash book - that still leaves you to bring in what they've done - when they could have been doing it in a system directly. If you put your clients onto a system that allows them to think in business terms while the system takes care of all the double entry stuff and manages the control accounts, there is no data to import, no re-keying and no errors to sort out at period end, because you've ensured that no erroneous entries can get onto the books.

All the client should need to do is think in their own terms. e.g. What products/services do I want to put on this invoice? Which invoice to I want to register this payment against?

But if the accountant is to play their part, what's the best way to provide that service efficiently and economically? This is where online systems have a significant advantage over traditional software, because the accountant can log on from where they are and see exactly what has been going on. They can do what they need to do directly within the accounts. Which means they can provide service to the client without having to wait for data files to arrive. And they only need to travel to meet the client when it makes sense to do so.

That's the thinking behind what we've been doing ( and it's working well with over 1,000 accounting practices. What's more, we don't charge you for it!

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Fair play to Matthew
Thanks Matthew - I take your fair point and I think we're saying broadly the same thing, that while clients can do the straightforward stuff on Sage, they struggle with the more complex postings.

In that situation, I would say accountants have 3 strategies they could follow:

1) Do nothing and unjumble a muddle at year end
2) Give the client full training
3) Switch the client to a smaller, simpler package like ours (MORE)

Personally, as I've mentioned, I've found it very hard to teach clients how to do accounting stuff like journals when they don't know double entry, which is why, during my time in practice, I tended to opt for 3) when possible.


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I Agree
Emily. I agree with your comments about journals, etc, but my point was directed at the original comment, which seemed to indicate that it was more the very small business (ie those that would employ family or just one member of staff) that were causing the problem. Where that is the case, the need for journals is usually very limited and can be resolved by phone or e-mail. For most of these, their only need is to record simple receipts and payments, which Sage does admirably. It also seems to me that most businesses would seek the advice of their accountant before embarking on using accounting or wages packages. So it comes back to my point that it is they (the accountants) who should be advising on the level of training/support necessary and the ease of use of any package, not complaining/commenting when their clients fail to use the product successfully. Which I believe is Gary's original final point.

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Not so easy as that
Matthew, may I ask please, have you ever tried to unjumble a muddle that a client's made on Sage?

I have, and easy it ain't!

The basic entries that Sue talks about getting her client to do - sales invoices, purchase invoices etc - yes, those can be done without knowing double entry. But to exploit anything like the package's full potential, you need to know double entry because otherwise you can't post journals without getting in a muddle.

I'm speaking not from a lack of common sense but from experience. I've tried to teach clients who don't know double entry, how to post a journal on Sage. That client had to use a large package because her business had forex transactions, but believe me she'd have been much happier with a smaller, simpler system.

It is horses for courses. Some clients will need the functionality of Sage. But trying to use it to the full is very difficult if you don't know double entry.

And also, what happens if the staff member in your practice who knows Sage, ups and leaves? Then you're up a gum tree because clients will phone with queries and there'll be nobody there to help them.

That's my experience anyway.


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Eternally Grateful
THANK YOU Helen! At last someone with some sense. Sage takes a seamless single transaction and does all the work behind the scenes. For the the uninitiated (and from an accountants point of view, ignorant?), this is single entry bookkeeping, it seems to me to be more important to know which nominal ledger the transaction should be posted to. This, I firmly believe, is where accountants come into the picture, not by training everyone, but by making sure that there is at least one person within their clients' organisation who does know. From there on, despite some mistakes, the book should be easily auditable.

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Sage works!
I have only just qualified with the AAT and work in business rather than accountancy practice, but have used Sage - from Instant to Line 50 - for 15 years. I certainly didn't know about double entry when I started - and probably made entry mistakes over the years - but have managed perfectly well with learning from the help tool when necessary.

From experience accountancy practices do not know the client well enough to always recommend the right solution for their clients - we were recommended Sage to use for self billing purposes (it doesn't work) several years ago.

I would expect my accountant to assist with advice but generally as a client I want to use a system that I feel comfortable with.

Incidently, I now train our bookeepers myself and have never had any major problems with entries. Our accountant only does year end shut down as I feel a second opinion is always a good thing.

Don't underestimate your client's abilities!

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We can solve this...
There IS an answer to this requirement - which I see as the desire to provide a "safe playground" for clients (with little or no accounting knowledge) to work, without having to spend hours training them, while also enabling you to work with them more efficiently.

You can provide a working environment for your clients which you control and which 100% guarantees that they can't post errors to their accounts. By applying your expertise to their accounts setup, they can invoice their customers in complete safety and create journals that are easy for you to review (from your own desk before they are committed to the accounts.

Mark Davies

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90% of accountants are in the same boat
We speak with accountants every day and I can tell you that 90% are in the same boat.

The good news is that you've identified the problem and after working with over 200 firms for three years we now know how to get clients to change their behaviour. The bad news is that probably only 2% of accountants will actually DO anything about it because they are stuck on time based billing, not committed to high profits and/or have weak marketing. You may need new clients as you kick out clients that can't make the change.

The first thing I'd encouarge you to work out the cost because you will need to commit resource to turn this around. When you know the cost you can then work out what resource is reasonable. There is a calculator on our Website that will give you a ball park figure. If you want I can send you our whitepaper "Connetcting for Profit" which sets out an action plan for sorting this out.

Bob Harper

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There is no substitute for adequate training
My experience is that very few organisations are prepared to take the full amount of training that is recommended to them, presumably because they don't want to spend the money.

It is not un-common for me to come accross users who don't know that simple features exist in their software and therefore don't use it to it's best advantage.
This is also quite often caused by trained users moving on and only passing basic skills to new users.
There is no substitute for proper in-depth user training.

Having said that, I believe that simple to use software is a good idea too. There's no point in buying software with lots of "whizzy" features that you're not going to use.
"Fit for purpose" is a term I've come across a lot lately and I've certainly come across software installations that aren't !!

Roger Neale
Business Systems Consultant

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Use Excel database
We use Excel database facilities for most small clients. It is OK to use if VAT is on cash basis, and there is not a large complicated sales ledger to keep. It is far quicker than SAGE, far easier for the client to agree to the bank statements, produce the VAT reports, and for us to review and quickly make multiple changes to transactions for accounts codes. By sorting by account and subtotalling, a bank summary for entry into a TB is easy. Some clients even download transactions from their bank into the spreadsheet. You will find it the easiest way for many clients.

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Clients don't want to do double entry
Sue, it sounds like the client is doing the basic inputting and you're doing the top level accounts stuff, rather than teach your client to do double entry. In your shoes I'd do the same.

My experience is that clients don't want to learn to do double entry bookkeeping. They're gardeners / IT contractors / shop owners / whatever - not bookkeepers and definitely NOT accountants.

Don't slam your clients because they can't use Sage - Sage is for people who can do double entry.

Instead put them on a system that they can not only handle but enjoy working with, which collects their basic information, leaving your staff to do the top-level work.

Emily Coltman

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Clients CAN Cope!
I have a client who is not an accountant. We have trained her to use her Sage system. Her entries are fairly simple, and by setting up default accounts on supplier records, she has most of the work done for her. I visit her office periodically (used to be bi-monthly, but we're now doing it quarterly) to do her bank reconciliations, and double check the debtors and creditors ledgers to clear up any odd mistakes. This gives her the confidence that the system is up to date. She puts virtual "post-it" notes on her PC to remind her of any queries that crop up between visits. She also leaves any balance sheet entries (fixed asset purchases/sales, VAT postings, corporation tax, NIC etc) for me to do - there's no reason why they can't wait until my visit.

This has worked really well - in fact, I've told her that she is more than capable (after about 4 years of working like this) to do her own bank reconciliations on her own, but I think she like the reassurance of my visits and checks. As I mentioned earlier, I used to visit every two months, and would spend between 1.5 and 2 hours each time. I'm now down to 1 hour every 3 months.

So, give them some training, keep an eye on them, and let them get on with it. Better than a shoebox.

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Blameless Accountants - in defence of bookkeepers everywhere
As a non formally-qualified book-keeper and administrator (but with a DMS), I have to disagree with many of the comments posted by many of those here. I was a self taught manual bookkeeper to P&L and Balance Sheet level (as part of my DMS course), then a self employed bookkeeper using Sage for 5 or six years. I now work for a small company using Sage Line 50. My own experience is that many of the accountants who make comments such as those below do not try to explain to their clients the Chart of Accounts element of Sage (or any other software), indeed I have met many (admittedly more junior accountants) who did not even know what that was. Half an hour explaining how the nominal ledger is set up would stop most of this apparent aggravation. With one company I worked for, I was able to prepare separate P&L accounts from two distinct parts of the same company using a single user versionof Line 50, without using the backup/restore option. I wonder how many accountants would be able to do this - and no, I am not saying it was right or wrong, only that it is possible). So please show a little respect for most of us who take guidance from their accountants, but by no means should be portrayed as ingorant of good bookkeeping procedures

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Different view
Maybe this goes against what everybody else (with perhaps John being the exception) is saying, but here goes.
I think the posts generally sum up most accountants attitude to clients, basically that they can't be trusted to get things right and would rather do it themselves. I am a partner in a small firm (there are only two of us) and carried on from the same principle I had in my previous partner role in an eight partner firm.
My view is that we spend as much time as possible with the client to train them to use their accounting software. We do management accounts for over 50% of our clients and will check vat returns before submission for maybe another 20%. This would be impossible if the client was not trained to a decent level. Our view is that if the client has a modicum of sense, wants to learn (at the end of the day they are probably using the system for invoicing and debtor and creditor control so it needs to be accurate for their own benefit) and as an accountant you have the desire and ability (lets be honest most accountants don't have the time or the patience) then training them is a no brainer.
Me and my partner do the year end accounts ourselves and because of the quality of the records and size / complexity of the client they will take between one to five days from start to complete finish (only needing a meeting with the client to go through any finalisation matters).
I cannot believe that in this day and age accountants are happy for clients to bring in a carrier bag of receipts and bank statements and sort them out from scratch.
Most of our clients use Sage or spreadsheet. Sage may not be the best, but as a regular user we know it better than most people and find it relatively easy to train and support clients. Some is done on site, but in a lot of instances clients email backups and we look at their data at the same time as them and train and advise them accordingly. We do not charge for any training or support (after the first year this is minimal anyway, so we treat the time as an investment in a long term client) and have never failed to see the benefits of this in future years with very good fixed fees for a relatively easy year end process. The year end accounts are produced very quickly and allow us to spend more time giving proactive assistance and advice to clients.
Some clients don't want this service and would rather everything was a mess (we turn these away), but do you really want that sort of person as a client? Generally speaking they bring everything in late, lose a lot of the information and complain about the bills.
In some respects the choice of software is irrelevant ,the accountant needs be prepared to invest some time and effort in educating the client. If you explain what they need to do and why they need to do it you will reap the benefits.
In summary change your attitude to clients and the way you do business and you should have (as we have) a much easier and more profitable life!

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Accounting Software
Déja Vu? I rolled up my sleeves back in 1979, and designed the ABC ACCOUNTS BOOK. It was given free to every client. All they had to do was copy from Cheque Book stubs, paying in books, and cash bills. There is a page a week. The cost to outsiders is currently £8. The time to tick up the bank account, and reconcile it, plus extracting the bank and cash analyses is small. No internal staff is required. The strength of having the clients provide this information has been proven with any In Depth Investigations, as the Practitioner has confidence. Giving an accountant a shoe box is dangerous. What happens if a bill is blown away?

My website: gives further details.

In short, clients are TRADERS not BOOK-KEEPERS. But they CAN write out cheques, etc. Get them on your side, and you can have an efficient practice

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You've obviously touched a nerve!
Interesting thread here, Gary. While it has occasioned a bit of Sage-bashing and some suggestions for alternative systems, my experiences have shown that it's quite easy for novices to mess up books created in Excel, MYOB and numerous other applications.

The advent of online and interactive bookkeeping techniques makes it possible for accountants to intervene more actively in the accounts to unravel problems before period ends, but unless you're planning to run a dedicated bookkeeping service for clients, many practitioners I have talked to do put some effort into training clients on how to prepare their books.

Reducing the workload for both parties and delivering better quality books more quickly should be the focus for accountants who wants to ensure that their clients get true value out of their service.

I think you've uncovered a topic that would merit further discussion and coverage on AccountingWEB - so keep the thoughts coming.

John Stokdyk
Technology editor

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To Andy Partridge:

No, I don't do it myself. Bookkeeping is mind-numbingly boring for a person of my abilities.

To Yorkshire Accountant:

If you would like to post your email, I will send you details

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Clients' Book-keeping
Let's face it, our clients will never be good at book-keeping. That is why they should leave it to us and make more money doing what they're good at.
I don't approve of using manual systems, spreadsheets or noddy cashbook software as there is no control whatsoever.
I also am not a fan of Sage. It is expensive, difficult to use for the untrained book-keeper and the reports are very limited.
I use MYOB and advise my clients to use that as well if they want to do their own monthly accounts and VAT. It's far more user friendly. (email me for more details if interested [email protected]).
If I do the client's book-keeping they get a £400 discount off their Annual Accounts fee.

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My guess is
I think Steve is saying that he doesn't let the client do it, he does it himself.

Edit: Oops, sorry Steve, but why the cloak of mystery?

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Steve...What is it?

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Have a look at More Bookkeeping Software
We have been using More in my sole practitioner practice for a couple of years and now have many proprietors with no bookkeeping experience successfully using More.

It is bookkeeping software, not accounting software, (therefore less scope for cock-ups) and the data (inc reconciled bank!) is sent over the internet to our office.

Typically for our larger clients who are using More, we prepare Quarterly Management Accounts. Works well.

As always it takes time (and is sometimes virtually impossible) to pursuade people to change over. But for new clients and start ups More does the trick nicely.

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foolproof manual system . . . any ideas?
I'm sorry if this makes me sound like a luddite but I've gradually arrived at the opinion that there's a very small number of clients (even those with part or full time book-keepers) who could ever be relied upon to use ANY software product correctly. I've found that, unfortunately, the shoe box approach, or at least something approaching it, is the best option because one at least doesn't waste time wading through reams of garbage (isn't it amazing just how much bumpf some people can generate?). I'd rather get my hands on the hard stuff . . . bank statements, cheque books, invoices, etc. etc.. Notwithstanding my preference for uncorrupted primary records . . . I think that a more interesting question might be whether . . . after hundreds (indeed thousands) of years . . . anybody's ever going to come up with a foolproof manual system that would at least protect the client (by helping them to meet their legal obligations), not take-up much user time and which would be of some use to us when preparing accounts at a later date. Any ideas?

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Don't use Sage
What your clients need is bookkeeping software that keeps a perfect set of books, is foolproof and is one which the client cannot possibly misuse. I have it.

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Spot on Sheelagh
The colleges have a lot to answer for. If only they taught the use of simpler packages the in-house accounting of SMEs would improve immeasurably.

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Even Worse
Even worse than those who recruit friends and family to do the bookkeeping are those who appoint a "qualified" bookkeeper who claims to be an expert in Sage after having completed an evening class or correspondence course which might be as short as 10 weeks.
Often these newly qualified bookkeepers have no experience in the workplace or any idea of the effect their limited knowledge will have on their client's/employer's business.
Sage is a complex package that requires a sound knowledge of double entry and the structure of basic financial statements.
So why do FE colleges and examining boards use Sage as the basis for their courses and qualifications? I'm sure this is all about market share and demand. In my area, if you want the learn bookkeeping at college, you have not choice but to learn Sage.

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sage problems
My experience is of clients buying Sage and finding it toohard to use and then instead of taking up our suggestion of a simpler system they carry on using their old handwritten books which never agree or reconcile properly with the bank.

I have however found that an occasional client will follow training in a different aspect each year so that eventually they can get thinghs right and you can add value by having time to be proactive

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Get off SAGE
The posting reflects my own experience exactly. Inexperienced SAGE users are a pain in the neck. My usual advice is to get off SAGE and go for a realistic option usually EXCEL with me providing the templates. The common response is that they have spent so much money buying the system they really must use it!!
Julian Ansell

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Yes . . . No
Yes, Gary, I have experienced the very same as you.

No, I don't think that more time should be given over to training.

These businesses shouldn't be on Sage in the first place. They have been badly advised and fallen into the Sage trap. Sage's attitude of 'any one can do it' and 'we make it so simple to use' is wrong and immoral. Nobody less than a trained and experienced bookkeeper should be using Sage. There are many simpler packages for use by proprietors of businesses or their untrained family members. eg Cashflow Manager.

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Do the bookkeeping in-house and chuck the annual accounts and tax comp in for free as the work has mostly been done already throughout the year.

Also enables a more effective value adding annual advisory service.

Failing that I would rather clients gave me a shoe box to do the accounts from scratch than they do it themselves on software they neither like nor understand and then having to rework it all. The worst cases are the clients who tell you at the initial meeting that they keep excellent books!

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Yes I have experienced these exact problems, many times.

I think as a practice it is a good move to concentrate on getting your clients to use one package as far as possible and getting them trained to use it.

It can be worth offering heavily discounted training as you can save time on accounts prep.

I personally dont recommend Sage to clients/users with no or limited accounting knowledge.

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