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Backup: I'm Afraid, Very Afraid!

"Why should I be afraid?", I hear you ask.

I just got an email from my friend Michelle who said, "My laptop is sick at the hospital. Hard Drive failure. I'm praying data can be retrieved."

Her exact words.

Ohh : tremors of fear running up and down my spine!


Because ... and I have to be honest ... I haven't *backed up* my laptop for ages!

Oh I can hear your derisive laughter, your looks of scorn ... I can feel your disbelief.

Me - of all people - admitting this. My friends call me "Techie Girl"!

Well, the best part of my friend's scary dilemma is that it's forcing me into action!

I'm dusting off the CD burner and plugging into the power, plugging it into the USB slot - now how *hard* was that? I've got a stack of blank CDs gathering dust on my desk ... why not use them?

Hmm ... why not do a *big* backup on the first of each month, and a *mini* backup every Monday [or Tuesday or Friday ... whatever works best for you]?

Plan it!

OK - stick with me here - open your online Diary or Appointments Database or hard-copy Diary and make an appointment *with yourself* - which part of the week could you devote say a half hour to, to do a quick backup? What about when you sit down to open the mail, or read a report, do your return phone calls? If you work from home, why not start the backup as soon as you get out of bed so it'll be done by the time you've had your walk, eaten your breakfast, and showered.

I can hear you saying, "Oh it'll take too long ... I'll do it later ... tomorrow ... next week ... next month ...". And then one day I'll be getting an email or a call from you saying, "If only I'd backed up the computer ..."

Imagine losing all your documents, projects, databases, passwords, software settings, names, addresses, phone numbers, email names, website links - YIKES! I'm scaring myself again!!!!

If I lost even *one* thing in that list above, I'd be in BIG trouble - REAL BIG trouble.

What do I backup?

Good question. The most important thing NOT to backup is your software.

You do have all the original CDs, don't you? And you made copies of those CDs when you bought the software, right, as a backup in case the original CD failed? Didn't you? Yeah, I thought so ... no-one bothers to do that, but it's the one thing which could save your hair from going white overnight after your computer dies.

Here is a list of what you must backup:

  • LOGINS, ALL passwords, FTP access codes, banking details, etc. Where do you currently keep this info? Please don't tell me it's in a little book on your desk ... oh so easy to get lost, to get put in someone else's pocket, to go walk-about. You should have a password-protected spreadsheet or document, or even better - a password-protected database. I have a database which I open as soon as I create a new login, or add myself to a mailing list, or join a new news group etc - paste the info in *as* you create it, to ensure you'll *never* forget it. Sure, you sometimes get confirmation emails with this data ... but if your computer has *died* ... get the picture? You can't access the emails!

  • CLIENT documents / projects / websites (if you're a developer), in fact ANYTHING which could cause grief if you lost it or didn't have a copy of it. If you've printed a lot of this stuff, what would you need if you had a *fire* and lost all your paper files? Think about that. Hard. Now make a list and maybe have a backup CD for each Client or group of clients, depending on your business.

  • EMAIL software folder which should include ALL your emails. You do *keep* all emails don't you? Please tell me you're not one of those people who deletes emails as soon as you read them (business ones I mean). Have you ever considered that emails are a form of *database*? I can search my Eudora software for any word or phrase and in a nanosecond I have a list of emails relating to that item (all neatly filed in their email folders ... but that's *another* article!). I *love* Eudora's features! Getting back to business, emails with historical information on projects are invaluable to see who said what and when they said it. It's a timeline, tracking resource, for a project's life.

  • PHOTOS, personal, professional - unless you're using them all the time, these can be kept on CDs on a regular basis. When you download from the digital camera, save to cd straight away and save space on your hard drive [note to "self" : follow own suggestion]. If you have photos related to a project or client, save them to the Client cd you created earlier, if there's space.

  • FINANCIALS. All your spreadsheets, MYOB or whatever other software you use to track financials. Every document which the tax department might one day want to see ... for the past 7 years. Business plans, budgets, everything relating to your business which you'll need to continue to *be* in business.

  • FAXES - do you use online faxing like I do? Where every incoming fax comes into my inbox as an email? From now on, whenever one arrives, put it into a folder called FAXES or save with your client data. Faxes are also a record of what's transpired - another form of database. Plus if you use this kind of fax service, you're saving trees.

  • INSURANCE. Keep quotes etc on your computer.

  • DATABASES - all of them. A must. Trust me, you'll kick yourself if you need one of these you didn't bother backing up.

  • COMPUTER DESKTOP. OK - what's still sitting on your desktop which hasn't be put away or filed yet? Probably a bunch of stuff - clear this up before you backup, make your job that little bit easier.

  • EXCEPTION to the SOFTWARE RULE above - if you've bought any software online, or downloaded any software or programs of any kind for which you did not receive a CD, then back it up. If you've still got the Installer file, save that - it'll save time.

  • BROWSER Settings - go through your browser Preferences screens, take snapshots (like print screen) of those settings - it'll save you a TON of time if you have to set up your email and ISP settings at a later date.

  • PDFs : have you downloaded any PDFs or purchased any ebook? Are they all in the same download folder, or in a PDF or eBook folder? You'll want to save these.

Oh boy - I just looked at my hard drive - 222 folders of stuff - I need to do some serious sorting and computer *housekeeping* before I do a backup, otherwise it'll take forever to sift through all that stuff! So here's the list of things to do:

  • tip : do it in bite-sized pieces, baby steps, little chunks each day

  • make a list of things you want to backup - think about your client info etc

  • do your computer housekeeping, put things away in folders, then put those folders in main folders to tidy up your own special filing system - do this on one day so it's not too overwhelming

  • on the next day, make sure you have spare CDs - you might need a few, depending on how much filing needs to be done; go buy CDs if you need to. Consider buying Read Write CDs, rather than the regular CDs - if you want to be able to add info to CDs later.

  • if you've got an internal CD burner in your computer, you're a lucky dog - if you've got an external one, plug it in and make sure it works

  • when you're ready, start the software you need to backup (usually Toast or something similar)

  • be prepared for this to take at least an hour, maybe more if you've got a ton of stuff, but *don't * put it off! An hour spent now could save you *weeks* of worry and work in the future!

  • when you've done the first *big* backup, pat yourself on the back, you've accomplished a very important business task!!!

While you're feeling smug and proud of yourself, think about when you should do your next backup. How much work would you be OK about losing? One day's worth? One week's worth? How about a month of work? Whichever is the one you choose, make *that* the amount of time before you do your first *mini* backup. Don't be afraid to set other backup procedures for times which suit you, your projects, your clients.

The main question you need to ask yourself is, "How much work would it be OK to *lose* without it affecting me or my business?"


Label your CDs. How are you going to file them? In a CD box? Will they be in a hard plastic shell or sleeve? Where would it make sense to *see* the client name on the cover, when it's in the box? How easily would you be able to find a CD in that box? You can write on CDs with thick permanent markers, or if you're really keen, you can print onto CD labels (available from many stationery companies).

Keep 2 backup copies.

If you don't work at home, it might be worthwhile keeping a backup copy of the backup - one at work, one at home. Just in case.

Now that I've scared myself silly, I'm off to dust the CD burner and make a latte - don't expect me to reply to your emails over the next few hours, I'm doing a backup!

Don't forget an important last point: to concretize your backup plans you need a good backp software!



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