Sometimes, small businesses forget that a computer failure, or a malware attack, can occur at any given moment, and it could destroy all the information stored in their hard drive, or at least leave it inaccessible. So it's very important to keep up-to-date backups of the information that's important, and sometimes vital, to a business.
The process to backup your data can be as basic or as complex as your business requires it. This guide is meant for small local businesses, and we'll try and keep it simple and not too costly.
First you need to figure out "what" it is that you should backup. The important files might differ from place to place, but you probably know which ones they are, like an important Excel spreadsheet, or an Access database; maybe your accounting program cam create a backup file for you every week.
Maybe it's not just a document or two, maybe your whole computer has been setup for a very specific tasks, like a cash register, or for running some other machines, and you need to be able to rebuild it exactly as it is configured right now.
So now you know what needs to be backed up. The next question for you is, do you want to make a copy to something physical like a USB Flash drive, or an external hard drive? Or are you comfortable with copying your information to a cloud service? This of course will depend not only on your taste, how much storage you need (the cloud option gets expensive fast), and if any regulations apply to you (you might need an option with encryption, but that is beyond the scope of this article).
The lowest cost option, and most familiar, is to get a couple of USB flash drives and copy your documents regularly to them. You should keep one in a secure place on premises, and the other one at an alternate location (in case of fire or theft). Please buy a brand name one, like Kingston, Sandisk, Verbatim, Patriot, as other cheaper options might not be as reliable. In any case, please note neither brand will last forever, and you should get a fresh USB flash drive every year.
If you have a large amount of files, or you need to backup your whole computer system, look for a good external hard drive, preferably one that already comes with backup software that you can install and have it take care of this task for you (other than you being required to plug the external hard drive in regularly to let it copy the data). An example of this type of device is the Western Digital "My Passport", or the Seagate "Backup" line. You should get a new one every 3 years to be on the safe side. If your disk did not come with a program to backup your computer, there are good free options, like EaseUS Todo Backup Free, Macrium Reflect Free, or for $40 USD, Paragon Backup.
Now if you want to backup to the cloud, there are lots of options out there, and levels of price and complexity. The most basic one you can use is OneDrive from Microsoft (the first 5GB are free), and it's already on your computer if you have Windows 10.
Another similar option is Google Drive (first 15GB of storage are free, and you can also backup unlimited pictures with a small trade-off in quality). If you go this route, this tool will help you: Google Backup and Sync.
If you want to backup your whole computer to the cloud, then the most popular option is Carbonite, which starts at $60 USD for one computer. Keep in mind that aside from the cost of this service, if your internet provider is enforcing a monthly data cap, your internet bill might go up considerably.
This post will discuss what I believe to be the absolute basics so that small businesses have (or increase) their online presence. Note that these online services are either completely free, or we'll be exploring the free alternative only.
1. Nowadays, one of the first steps (or only step) people take to find services is to run a search on Google, so you definitely want to add an entry in "Google My Business"; that way you'll show up on search results, on "nearby places" (Google Maps), and will inform potential customers about your business hours, and your web page if you have it.
Basically you add your business, or take ownership if you find a listing, then you request verification (like a postcard, or via a phone call that gives you a code), and then you can finish adding or modifying any applicable information about your business.
2. A Facebook (business) page is a great alternative to a web page, as it's free, easy to create and maintain, so no need to pay a web designer/company. This type of page will allow you to promote your business, inform your customers, and receive feedback. You need to already have a personal Facebook account to then create your business page. Here's an easy video tutorial from Melissa Fietsam to get you started:
If you rather have a more traditional page, still for free, easy to create and maintain, I would recommend you try Weebly, which is the service hosting this web page.
3. If you are still using an e-mail from Telus, MCSnet, or Eastlink, switch now! These e-mail accounts depend on you staying with your current internet service provider, and offer little else than just e-mail. Instead, an e-mail account from Gmail, Outlook.com or similar online services will offer you more storage, better spam handling, an attractive interface, and they will remain at your service regardless of what company you get your internet from.
Tips for Local Businesses
From increasing your online presence, to managing your computers at work, here are some free or low-cost tools and bits of information for our local business owners.