From the March 2000 issue of Startups

Lately, a recurrent nightmare has ruined my sleep. But tonight I'll sleep well because I finally put those fears to rest. The nightmare: losing all my personal finance records, plus invoicing data, accounts receivable, and current work in progress. That would spell disaster. Of course, I've known for years that every home business should come up with an off-site scheme for storing critical information, but I never did anything about it because, really, what was to be done? Cart stuff every other day to a mammoth safe-deposit box at a bank? There just was no easy solution, so I suffered the anxiety accompanying the knowledge that, poof, my business could vaporize in a matter of a few mean minutes.

Picture this: All my financial records are kept in Quicken and, yep, I routinely back up the key files to a Zip drive. I also back up all the other critical files-receivables, work in progress-to a Zip disk. That's good as far as it goes, but what if a burglar breaks in and makes off with my computer? For sure, he'll also snag the Zip drive and disks, and where does that leave me?

And what about a fire? Whoosh, the files I'd need would go up in smoke--and the fire wouldn't thoughtfully spare the Zip back-up.

Start fantasizing about catastrophes and it's easy to pick out a half-dozen scenarios that could wipe out all your key information and, although the odds of any of these disasters coming true are slender, that's still a chewy risk for any home business to take.

True story: A few years ago I was a partner in a PR firm and was spending Thanksgiving Day in the office. I heard a "pop" in another room, went to investigate, and the refrigerator was on fire. It had freakishly exploded. I emptied a giant water jug on it and dragged it outside, so no harm was done. But what if I hadn't been there on such an unlikely day? No wonder I've had nightmares.

What's the solution that's letting me sleep better? i-drive (http://www.idrive.com ), a Web-based file storage depot that gives me 50 megabytes of off-site storage. What good is 50 megs in an era of 10-plus gigabyte drives? Judiciously used, 50 megs are ample for stashing the files you really need-in fact, I'm using only a couple megabytes of that space, but everything important is stowed. The price of this i-drive security blanket? Nothing. Storage is free.

Better still, i-drive throws in "Synch," a utility program that makes it easy to batch upload files from your hard drive to i-drive. But (and this is important!) files on i-drive are publicly accessible unless you stash them in the "private" folder. Put them in other folders and they're easily shared with others--put case studies, client lists, etc. here and tell prospects how to fetch their own copies. The bad news, of course, is you don't want your Quicken files to be public domain-so never forget that they go in the "private" folder. Do that and you've got peace of mind.

Add up your critical files and odds are you won't have more than five or ten megs that you can't live without. Need more than the 50 megs provided by i-drive? The Web offers numerous free storage sites, including FreeDiskSpace (http://www.freediskspace.com ), X:drive (http://www.xdrive.com ), Driveway (http://www.driveway.com ) and Netdrive (http://www.netdrive.com ). Right there, you have more than 100 megs of free online storage and, in a pinch, several of these sites sell extra space (X:drive, for instance, provides 25 megs free and an additional 25MB costs $4.95 per month).

Which is the best? For my money, i-drive's "Synch" tool makes the uploading smooth--but you may prefer another service's interface and tools. Check several out--but find one you like and get busy uploading those files you need to stay in business. It may be free, but it's also one of the smartest investments you'll make in your business's survival.