Small business backup is one of those things that can become very complicated, very quickly. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The purpose of this guide is to help you organise your small business backup process so you don’t run the risk of losing crucial data. In producing it, I’ve considered the mistakes I’ve seen many SMEs make while I’ve been providing IT consultancy services. Hopefully, I can help you avoid those same mistakes.
Where small business backup goes wrong
It’s really easy to have an effective small business backup regime in place when you’re a “one man band.” You can check out my Backup Plan Guide for more on this, but in brief, complementing an online backup service like CrashPlan with a regular local backup to a NAS device or external hard drive should see you right.
Where it starts to go awry, in my experience, is when small businesses start to grow. This often happens organically and spontaneously, without enough thought given to how small business data is being managed throughout the expanding organisation. Before you know it, it’s easy to end up with five or more users all doing their own thing in terms of backup, with no central organisation in place.
What often happens next is someone leaves the company, or leaves a laptop on a train, and suddenly the business realises that they should have done more to consider company data as a whole, and introduce a business-wide plan to ensure data is kept safe.
So, with that in mind, here follow my five tips to stop this happening to you:
Step One: Inventory your company data
Once your company brings in staff other than you, it’s time to think about all the places your business data is spread across.
Let’s think about what this means in reality; A typical small business could have important data spread across some or all of the following places:
- Emails (often documenting key business decisions) – these could be on individual staff machines and mobile devices.
- Document files – these often end up stored on the desktops of individual PCs and laptops.
- Contact lists – individuals often have their own way of maintaining these, and it’s rarely seen as a priority to make sure everyone is doing things in the same way.
- Corporate databases – often these are in the cloud nowadays, but if they’re stored locally they need to be considered as part of your small business backup plan.
The purpose of doing a data inventory like this is two-fold:
- It ensures you consider all the places your business data can end up being stored.
- It ensures you build a plan that not only keeps data backed up consistently, but also keeps access to data available to you as the business owner in the event of someone leaving.
Step Two: Choose your backup systems
Once you have a clear idea of all the company data “out there,” you can start to work out what systems you need in place to ensure everything is backed up.
A useful starting point is to implement something like Microsoft’s Office 365 or Google Apps for Work and use it for email and document storage. This ensures all your company documents are already stored in the cloud and remain accessible if people leave. Some small businesses use Dropbox for the same purpose, but this isn’t quite the same, and doesn’t facilitate the same collaborative way of working, nor the same way of storing emails – which for many companies contain some really valuable business data.
Storing data in the cloud using one of these services shouldn’t be viewed as “problem solved.” Best practice dictates that everyone should have more than one backup, so the use of a cloud solution should be complemented by one or both of an online backup solution such as CrashPlan, and backups to local data backup devices.
You’ll notice I’m not providing you with a definitive way to come up with your small business backup plan. This would be impossible, as every company is different, with different staff working in different places doing different work. The key point is that you must establish all the types of data you have out there, and then choose solutions that ensure you all of that data is consistently stored in a minimum of two places.
Step Three: Educate staff
The best small business backup plan can fall flat on its face if details of it are poorly communicated to staff. It’s essential that they understand how important it is, and are aware of any responsibilities that they have to ensure it works correctly.
What can go wrong?
- Staff having access to a collaborative working system such as Office 365, but continuing to store data locally instead of uploading it.
- Staff using personal email accounts for some of their work, bypassing systems where email is properly stored and backed up.
- Individuals using their own methods to share files, and bypassing authorised systems. (The use of personal Dropbox accounts is a really common problem here).
As you can see, it’s not as simple as just putting the systems in place. Staff also need to be clearly told how they should be using them. You may wish to consider formalising staff compliance with these procedures.
Step Four: Keep the plan under review and consider new systems
Just as a lack of staff training can undermine your small business backup procedure, so can failing to evolve it as the company grows.
As such, it’s essential to remember to adapt the plan if your start to use new software and systems.
For example, if you bring in a designer and they use Adobe Creative Cloud, will you start to store files there, or insist that they are uploaded to Office 365, Google Drive, Dropbox, or whatever other system(s) you have standardised on?
This example should illustrate how easily your backup plan can become outdated if it doesn’t continually evolve.
Step Five: Test your restore capabilities
Once or twice a year, it’s worth simulating some kind of disaster and making sure you can still access all the data you need to.
For example, you can “pretend” that a key member of staff has disappeared, complete with their laptop. Can you get to all of their data and restore it, or are you suddenly left without access to crucial files?
Similarly, you could pretend that a key spreadsheet has been inadvertently deleted. How quickly can you get this file back and restore normal working patterns?
If a test like this goes badly, you know you need to put some more work into your small business backup plan!
Backup plans aren’t sexy or exciting, but tidying up the aftermath of an incident of data loss isn’t much fun either, especially if you are forced to “fess up” to your customers. The reputational damage can be significant. The sooner you devise your small business backup plan the better – and it’s best done before the company grows to the point where it’s impossible to unravel where all the data is.
IMAGE CREDITS: Wikipedia