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Backup Plan

Watch your backup, calling all start-ups.

After months of hard work getting her public relations firm, Furman Communications, up and running, Sue Furman had to start all over. "I lost all my computer files within six months of being in business," recalls the Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, entrepreneur, who admits, "With so many [things to think about]--cash flow, building a client base--I just didn't think about backing up my computer."

When her computer began running out of memory, Furman decided to delete unnecessary files--but accidentally deleted files needed to run the computer. A phone call to Compaq confirmed her worst fears: She had to install her software again, and all her previous work was lost.

The problem was particularly painful because Furman tries to run a "paperless office," storing customers' press releases, invoicing information and client proposals on her hard drive. "Everything gets backed up now," she says.

As Furman found out the hard way, it's amazingly easy to accidentally delete files. Hard-drive failure, fire or theft can also destroy important data. Imagine the havoc wreaked by the following scenarios, all due to computer data loss:

  • losing reports, proposals, quotes or work for clients before they are finished and distributed
  • losing important business information--payroll, invoicing, your database of contact information--that may change daily
  • having to reinstall software before you can complete work for clients or send out invoices

If your business would find itself in similarly hot water due to lost or damaged computer files, then you need a backup system.

How to back up your files? Your best bet is a tape-drive backup system, which allows you to just insert a tape and push a button. You can buy either an internal tape drive (prices range from $200 to $450) or an external unit that plugs into the computer's parallel port (prices range from $200 to $550). Another option is a removable disk unit (prices range from $150 to $300), although this has less storage space than a tape unit. Whichever method you choose, make sure your backup system has enough memory for your needs.

Backup systems come with software to help you get set up. Once your system is in place, follow these tips to get the most from your investment:

  • Perform both incremental and full backups. Full backups copy everything on a disk, while incremental backups copy only those files that have changed since the last backup. Incremental backups are much faster than full backups and should be run daily; full backups only need to be run weekly.
  • Don't store all documents in a single directory. Having a directory with individual folders for storing similar or related documents makes it easier to recover single files.
  • Use different tapes or disks for each backup. For instance, use one tape for Monday, a different one for Tuesday and so on. Alternate between two different tapes for your weekly backups. This ensures you don't overwrite information, then discover that you need it.
  • About once a month, try restoring a few files to verify that you can. You don't want to find out your backup system is malfunctioning after your hard drive has crashed.
  • Store your backup tapes off-site, if possible; if you must store them on-site, use a fireproof safe.

Donna Chambers is a freelance business writer and small-business owner. She can be reached at donna94142@aol.com

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