INTERVIEW: SJ Software

We chat to the official Sage distributor about its in-house solutions and services
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SJ Software has long been one of the UK’s premier suppliers of Sage software. Matt Grainger caught up with the Lancashire distributor to find out how things are coming along.

Founded in 1985, SJ Software has blossomed into one of the UK’s leading specialist value-added distributors, dealing exclusively with Sage accountancy software.

Initially started as a cost-management accountancy firm working with small to medium enterprises, the company increasingly found itself working with Sage and introducing it to clients, until in 2005, SJ Software was invited to become an official Sage distributor.

Since then, the company has become the UK’s largest dedicated Sage distributor with over 24,000 customers, offering a wide range of in-house solutions and services that run complementary to supplying Sage software. This wide range of offerings has ensured that the company has been recognised as the Sage Software Distributor and Business Partner of the Year every year since 2006.

The core offering of SJ Software is that while it is not the only approved distributor of Sage software, it is the only company to dedicate itself to the product and offers a range of training and consultancy solutions to support its partners – all on a white label basis.

“On the consultancy side, we have a thriving white label Sage consultancy offering for the trade community,” says Jennings. “Essentially, what we do is speak to their customers for them, offering consultancy and advice on a white label basis.”

However, as well as this, SJ Software has also been working to ensure it is offering everything it can to its clients.

“Things are very good really, we’ve played on in the same vein – expanding the business and pushing the Sage brand,” states SJ Software’s founder Sean Jennings.

“We’ve developed some online products that work with Sage, things like Multi-Location and we have a business intelligence product now that works with Sage data. It improves the reporting vastly. We’ve spent the last few years developing software like that so we’ve got a few products of our own on the market.”

One of these in-house projects is SJ Business Intelligence. Whereas Sage 50 offers the user reporting functionality, this product will look at the data and then build it in such a way that it can provide data breakdowns by month, customer or value allowing the data to be displayed in a much more understandable and detailed format.

Another is a multi-location product. If someone has three warehouses, then Sage can only be used in one of those sites, whereas the multi-location software can be carried over across every site that a business uses.

“Sage 50’s a big market, there’s so many upgrades out there but there’s also added functionality and people come to us for that,” notes Jennings.

“People come to use for the software and the expertise we offer, and they come to us for the additional functionality. So we do quite a lot of bigger projects. For example we’ve just done one with a client who’ve gone from being a Sage 50 customer to a Sage 200 customer and we can provide not only the transition but all the support and training that goes with it.”

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This approach has allowed the company to battle through the recession while improving turnover with each passing year. It has been offering white label consultancy services via the SJ Startup brand, and has expanded the number of trade reseller partners that it works with.

The company has also been keeping up with the times, having introduced a cloud platform for its products. It now offers a hosted Sage 50 service to the trade and will offer split margins to those customers who utilise it.

“The cloud’s very reliable, it’s quick and doesn’t usually fall over. It’s very reliable and it basically allows us to offer Sage 50 on a monthly basis,” says Jennings.

“It’s another dimension to your business really. If somebody wants the cloud because it suits them, that’s fine. It’s growing steadily and it works and it’s nice to be able to have a quick and convenient way to assist customers in whatever they want to do.”

Another aspect that SJ Software has embraced is the Sage RTI – real-time information – a process that allows Sage users to update their PAYE information in real time. It means that people will need to upgrade their software by the time that the new service is introduced by HMRC in April next year.

“It’s nice to be able to identify opportunities for our customers and we can do that either directly to customers under their banner or we can keep them up to date with what’s going on in the Sage fraternity,”

To further support this growth, the company has now expanded to operate three websites – SJ Software and SJ Startup and an e-commerce solution that operates behind these two portals.

“Due to the white label of SJ Software’s business, we actually keep the two component companies separate. If we’re directly training somebody’s staff, then it’s SJ Startup and where we’re supporting one of our partners, it’s as SJ Software,” clarifies Jennings.

“This is definitely a strategy that has worked for us in the long term, it means that our white label partners are one hundred per cent white label and it works out better for business as there are pricing differences between the two strategies, depending on what kind of solutions we are offering. It works well for us and our partners.”

“Many of the people I deal with, they might not sell a lot of software but they support the brand and we support them,” continues Jennings. “So if they’re looking to make an upgrade for themselves or a client then we’re there to support them and help them through the process so that they sell the person the right product at the right price and then we can follow it all up and back them up if they need it.”

It’s clear that at the heart of SJ Software is a commitment, not just to Sage but to the clients as well. This is reflected in the way the company takes a long-term view of its relationships.

“It’s a family business, it’s me and my son – as well as eight other staff – so there’s a natural organic development within the business,” concludes Jennings. “My son’s been in the business ten years now, we’re both qualified CIMA qualified cost and management accountants which does help understand how the product should work. It can help us explain what the product does and it means you can give a balanced view on it. That’s what marks us out.”

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