Sage Launches Online Portal, Free Billing Tool

Software giant Sage North America, best known in small business circles for its ACT customer relationship management suite and Peachtree Accounting and Simply Accounting software offerings, has launched a new online portal aimed at small business owners.

Called Sage Spark, the site is intended as a destination to help would-be entrepreneurs learn how to start a business, give current business owners tools and resources to better run their operations, and to connect business owners with one another to help members grow their companies.

Sage Spark went live in March with a “soft” launch, and Sage has been ramping up membership and content in the site’s main areas—Tools and Services, Find, Learning, Community—in anticipation of this month’s official debut.

“Sage has been doing desktop software for small businesses for more than 30 years, but Sage Spark is for an audience that might not commit to a desktop package,” said Chuck LeDuc, director of development at Sage. “It’s designed to help them find online services, as well as to provide a supportive community that delivers small-business help and advice.”

For example, under the Find tab Sage gives members the opportunity to find an employee or an employer, accounting and bookkeeping services, or a particular type of business. The Learning area has articles on starting a business and growing a business, while the Community area houses forums and pertinent blogs. LeDuc reported that these areas should grow as Sage Spark attracts new members. “The forums and blogs will be where small business entrepreneurs can share their stories and experiences,” he noted.

Currently, the most robust area is Tools and Services. Here you’ll find links to some of Sage’s for-pay merchant services (direct deposit, credit-card processing), its Virtual Helpdesk IT services offering, its Known Locally marketing offering and its accounting software. But the real draw could be the site’s free tools.

Most notably, Sage has launched Billing Boss, a free online invoicing tool designed for small businesses and independent contractors. You can create and send invoices, as well as track their paid/unpaid status, quickly and easily. LeDuc claims that members can create their first invoice in less than five minutes.

The main interface for Billing Boss contains an easy-to-read list showing active invoices—those that are past due, those that are outstanding and draft invoices for work you’ve started but not yet billed for—as well as the history of paid invoices. The service lets you send invoices as PDFs (in one of seven languages) and, for a small fee, accept electronic payments via PayPal, e-check and credit card. Sage even offers mobile versions of the Billing Boss Web user interface optimized for viewing on an iPhone, Google G1 smartphone and BlackBerry Bold.

In addition to Billing Boss, other free tools on SageSpark include a Business Directory where you can list your services for other members to see; an Accountant/Bookkeeper Directory; and Simply Accounting First Step 2009, Sage’s entry-level accounting package. LeDuc expects the company to add more free tools as the portal evolves.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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