By Cliff Ennico
"I am a lawyer who works in a small town in the Midwest. A tornado struck last week, for the first time in over 30 years, and my office was destroyed.
I have insurance which will replace most of my office furniture and equipment, but the worst part was that my computer hard drive was destroyed, containing all of my client's information and contracts and at least five years' worth of e-mails. There is no way I will be able to replace that information without spending thousands of dollars on a 'data recovery service.'
Going forward, what are some of the things I should be doing to prevent this from happening again?"
In a word, "ouch."
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 40 percent of all businesses that experience a "disaster" go out of business within the next five years. In this data-driven age, you need to take steps to protect your critical, irreplaceable information.
Much has been written about the need for businesses to have a "disaster recovery plan," but many small businesses don't have the time or the money to put a full protection program into place.
If that's your situation, here is what you need to do.
Be Redundant. We know our computer data is intangible - you cannot see it, touch it or smell it. But your data DOES have a very specific location. It lives on a computer server somewhere - either the hard drive on your desktop PC or laptop, or someone else's computer server somewhere in "the cloud." Either way, if something happens to that server, your data could be destroyed.
The key to protecting your data is to make sure it exists on two or more servers at the same time - what computer specialists call "redundancy." That way, if disaster strikes one server, the "copy" on the other server still exists and can be accessed.
There are online services such as Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) that will automatically back up your computer hard drive once each hour, day or week and create a duplicate copy of your data on a remote server.
The same goes for your Website content. Whenever my computer pro updates the content on any of my Websites, I always ask for a backup CD or DVD of the entire site. It costs an extra $20 to $30, but this way if my Internet service provider's server is knocked out, I can contact another ISP and get the entire Website back up in less than 24 hours.
There are also services such as FinalHost.com, and software products such as Wget (www.gnu.org/software/wget), that will help you create duplicate websites (called "mirror sites") and update them regularly.
Backup, Backup, Backup. Most of us know enough to back up our "My Documents" folder at least once a week, or once a month. But that's not nearly enough. If you use Microsoft Office, you should be backing up all your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files at least once a day.
If you are 100% dependent upon e-mails (and who isn't these days?), these should be backed up daily as well. If you use Microsoft Outlook, it's fairly easy to "send" all of your e-mails to a backup CD - the process takes about five minutes. I would recommend you do a "cumulative" backup (all of your e-mails) instead of an "incremental" backup (just the e-mails that have accumulated since the last backup) - that way if your computer crashes you won't have to download multiple backup files.
Even if you use a "cloud" e-mail service such as Gmail, Hotmail or Microsoft Network, you should back up your e-mails at least once each week using a backup utility designed specifically for that "cloud" service: for example, Gmail-Backup (www.gmail-backup.com) for Gmail users, or Thunderbird (www.mozillamessaging.com/en-US/Thunderbird) for Hotmail users.
Don't forget your smartphone: search "[the name of your phone] backup utility" for a list of backup solutions for your mobile data.
Separate Your Backups. The dumbest backup mistake is to leave the backup CD or DVD next to your computer. If your backup CD or DVD is in the same place as your computer hard drive, they will likely both be destroyed if a disaster strikes.
Keep your backup CDs or DVDs at home, in a safe deposit box, or in some other remote location. If you have time, make two backup CDs or DVDs and keep each of them in separate locations, as the likelihood of a disaster striking all three locations at the same time is extremely low.
Find the Time. Yes, all of this takes time, a few minutes a day. But it may possibly save your business. Pick a time each day, such as 12 noon, stop whatever you're doing, and back up your hard drive. Don't wait until the end of the business day to back up. You will be tired, or rushing to get out the door, and the temptation to put this vital chore off until the next day will be tough to resist.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of "Small Business Survival Guide," "The eBay Seller's Tax and Legal Answer Book" and 15 other books. COPYRIGHT 2012 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com