My computer has just died.
It seems to be some sort of hardware failure, and I am currently staring at a small black rectangle on my desk, knowing that it is the only thing keeping me in business. Without it, I would have none of my client designs, none of my proposals or pitches and none of my financial history for the past year. The small black rectangle is my backup drive, and even though I take regular backups exactly for moments like this, it’s still very odd knowing that my business only exists on this tiny fragile piece of technology.
I know I should be working hard to restore all my backups onto my spare PC and carry on working, but since I had this article to write today anyway I thought I would share my reflections and thoughts on how you keep a small business going when the worst happens, and also share with you what the things are that I didn’t backup – and which I’m kicking myself about now.
An Online Business is a Fragile Business
I’ve always been big on backing up. I work with a lot of clients with ecommerce stores and I’m always telling them the importance of making sure their business can continue if the worst happens. The odd thing about ecommerce is that whereas with a real physical store the sorts of things that can put you out of business are a fire or a flood, with an online store all it takes is a hosting company upgrading a server incorrectly, or a hard-drive on your PC failing, and suddenly your business is shut for the foreseeable future.
So what are the things you can do to protect yourself?
Lots of hosting companies provide a service called ‘mirroring’ where every night a copy of the entire web server is made onto a separate machine. It’s well worth finding whether your hosting company does this – some of the cheaper ones don’t. Mirroring means that if the server containing your online business goes pop – it will be possible to get you up and running again in a matter of hours.
Many broadband providers now offer a service whereby certain files on your PC get automatically uploaded to an online backup system. You can just schedule an upload for the end of each day, and the files you choose will be transferred and kept safe. There is usually an extra charge for large amounts of storage (anything over 5GB) but it is a good way of backing up key things like emails and financial data.
The software I am currently planning to rebuild my business with is a free bit of kit called ‘EaseUS To-Do Backup‘. It’s really quick (takes about 1.5 hours to backup 70GB of data onto an external drive) and seems to be very reliable – in that every file I’ve looked for in the backup has been present, correct and easy to restore. Phew!
What to Back Up?
Some things go without saying – financial data, inventory information, product photos, graphic designs – but some things are less obvious. For example, do you know how to back up your emails? If you don’t, take some time this afternoon researching on Google and find out how your email package saves emails. Usually it’ll be in a single file which is simple to back up. For example, Microsoft Outlook backs things up in a single file called ‘Outlook.pst’, but it’s located within the hidden ‘AppData’ folder within Windows and takes some hunting when you first look for it.
Here are the top three things I haven’t backed up, which I’m kicking myself about now. Feel free to learn from my mistakes:
- Installation files and licence keys – I’ve downloaded so much software over the years, all of which I will need to reinstall on my new computer. Trouble is, I no longer have the original installation files so I’m going to have to find them online, make sure I get the correct version and license it all again. That’s if I have the licence keys (which should be in my emails – which are backed up.)
- Passwords – We all have so many online servers and systems that we log into whether it be web control panels or online shopping sites. We get so used to saving our passwords in the web browser, it’s a shock to think I won’t have those any more. I can reset these passwords and click all the ‘Forgot Password’ links I need to, but having them in a secure password-protected Word document would be so much easier about now.
- Bookmarks – It’s such a stupid thing but I have a huge collection of bookmarks I look at regularly, and consequently I’m not entirely sure what the actual web addresses of my favourite sites are. Most web browsers give you the ability to back up bookmarks. Kinda wish I had done that now.
So if you’ll excuse me, I have to spend the rest of the day looking at progress bars slowly moving across my screen. Fortunately it’s not a catastrophe, but do yourself a favour and take a bit of time today to make sure that your business will be able to continue if the worst happens.