Backup Basics #3: Know the real cost of your critical work documents and personal memories.

Most folks don't realize the actual value of their critical work documents and personal memories. I can prove this for two reasons:

  1. Data recovery is still a viable business. People still lose data all the time regardless of all the Cloud backups, iCloud, and Time Machines in the world.
  2. Tech still use the words "data" and "information".

I rarely use those words. I call information what it actually is:

  • Your ability to communicate with your customers (contacts, calendar, email)
  • Your ability to get and keep customers (critical work documents including proposals, presentations
  • Your ability to enter and pay bills, including payroll (accounting books)
  • Your precious personal memories (personal photos, video and audio recordings)
  • Your time with your family, friends or doing more of what matters to you 

When I use those words, how serious do you feel about protecting those things?   Now compare that feeling to the emotion you feel when we use these words: Information and data.

The main picture illustrating "information" on

The main picture illustrating "information" on

Those words don't hit home as hard.  They don't convey the same level of urgency and importance.   Commander Data on Star Trek has more emotional energy than those two words.  Wikipedia defines information as a sequence of symbols, zeroes and ones. Data's defined as: Values of qualitative or quantitative variables... in computing [data] are represented in a structure, often tabular (represented by rows and columns), a tree (a set of nodes with parent-children relationship) or a graph structure (a set of interconnected nodes).  To most human beings, that sentence makes zero sense.

To a tech, the technical definition is really important, because recreating someone's life after a data recovery requires understanding what a data structure is. But a business owner doesn't care about that. A mom or dad doesn't care about anything other than never losing their babies' photos.  To me, precious memories (data) looks something like the picture below.

This is the "information" that matters to me. My father at age 3.  He has since passed, but precious photos like this help keep him alive in a way.

This is the "information" that matters to me. My father at age 3.  He has since passed, but precious photos like this help keep him alive in a way.

Language is powerful.  The words people use tell you nearly everything about how they think.  Their actions always validate what you hear when you really listen. Test this out the next time you talk with a technician: Ask them to tell you what data or information is from a customer's perspective. All that matters to a customer is that they'll never miss a sale, their employees are always productive, and they never wish they could see those wonderful memories of their parents passed away, their babies now grown up (and not as cute as they once were), and all the wonderful times they had that they can look back on during their halcyon days.  But people still lose data all the time.  How seriously should a tech take this?

During my backup management training, my instructor emphasized the importance of protecting data with one very clear and powerful statement:

You will probably lose your job if you cause the customer any loss on a project because you didn't protect the data well enough to be able to restore it.

I've seen data loss.  Unfortunately, I've hired and fired techs who didn't take me seriously about data. In my role as a manager or CIO, I found there was only one thing I could do to prevent data loss for my customers, at my level. If the work to protect data well enough to be able to restore it is not as important to my employee or someone else I'm managing, I'm need to make it important to them. Here's how I do it:

How to prevent data loss as a business owner or manager

At TechRoom, I require a data backup/restoration inspection and certification form be completed at the beginning of every scheduled service visit. It's a one-page guide to making sure all the important information for the customer is identified, backed up, and that restorability is verified. This gets submitted, reviewed by me, and any issues worked out before there's a problem. At the bottom of the certification form there's a place for the tech to sign, print and date certifying the results and their actions.  Not completing this or ignoring any part of it will result in immediate dismissal of employment. No soft stuff here, I'm talking termination of their job. No exceptions. 

Some of the most ineffective techs I've met are charming and endear themselves to their customers, but their actions don't align to their promises. They tend to be endeared by customers for being heroes, fixing all the issues and problems around the office. That activity - fixing problems - is so much easier to be immersed in, rather than the boring, disciplined problem prevention work of protecting critical information.

Do you have a bigger problem looming?

Do you see your tech every other day, fixing things around the office?  If you're a small business less than 50 people and you see your tech that often, you may have a bigger problem on your hands then you think.  Contact me for a confidential conversation and complimentary CIO consultation if you're wondering if you may have a problem, or what the problem is.  I'll be happy to set up a call at no charge to you.

Backup Basics #1: Do it now.

Think of the most valuable data in your life:  Photos of your baby, your kids, your family.  Company financials. Your work documents, email, contacts.  

Now imagine losing it all at 5PM today.

You have until 5PM today to take the most important first step to preventing data loss, and it takes less time than your lunch hour.

You have until 5PM today to take the most important first step to preventing data loss, and it takes less time than your lunch hour.

I want you to take that feeling and act on it.  You don't need to be technical. My dad proved that to me.  He once dug a hole in the ground out at Joshua Tree in the middle of the night, but the brand new Ironman Triathlon watch I had given him into the hole, covered it with dirt, marked it with a stone "duck" so he could find it in the morning, and went back to bed.  He did this because he couldn't figure out how to turn off the alarm.  Dad was so non-technical I sometimes called him "Mr. Analog". He had two hard drive failures, but he never lost data because he practiced Backup Basics #1: Do it now.  And I'll even make it easier for you (see the bottom of this post).

Later I'll share how to make your backing up bulletproof.  Today you just need to do something.  Here are a few things you can do, right now, that will give you greater peace of mind tonight and through the weekend:

Everyone: Go get an external hard drive.  

Whether you're a stay-at-home parent or a Fortune 500 CEO, you can go get an external hard drive today, plug it in to your computer, and copy most if not all of important files, getting them in two places.  Think risk management here: If your hard drive were going to die at 5PM today, would you rather have a mostly complete backup or none at all because you put it off because you didn't know how to do it according to what a technology guy would call "correct".   I'm suggesting this for anyone, including the most non-techie people in the world.  

On a Mac, you can either use Apple's Time Machine function built right into your system preferences, or if you want to keep it really simple, just drag and drop folders containing your important stuff into an external hard drive.  Want a tool that's really easy to use?  Try Bombich's Carbon Copy Cloner.  It's the most powerful, lease expensive application for backing up I've ever used.  If you can find your hard drive in one pull-down menu, and find an external hard drive in another pull down menu, then that's all you need to back up.   For Windows users, right-click and copy-paste folders to an external hard drive (copy, don't cut!) or if you feel a little adventurous, try Roxio's Back on Track application.  It's the closest equivalent to Carbon Copy Cloner I've found for the PC running Windows.

Remember, your hard drive could die at 5PM today.  In reality, it could go anytime- age doesn't matter that much with hard drives.  Go get an external disk now. Not sure what to get?  Send me a message via the contact form on this page and I'll be happy to provide suggestions.

Business owners and CEOs

If you read my blog post about your budget, then you already know that your go-to technology person or resource is probably busy fixing something today. There's nothing wrong with that, but if if that technical person's single highest priority is not data preservation, then your entire business is in danger.  I'm talking business interruption danger that could lead to going out of business.   I have a very simple step you can take to make sure you're safe, without having to get technical and without having to take your time away from other areas of your business:

Take everything else off your technology guy's agenda today except backing up.  Tell your tech you want a current backup of the company's data on your desk for you to take home before 5PM today, together with a list of the sources of data that got backed up.  Remember the saying "work expands to fill the time allotted"? There's no shortage of things to be fixed, and fixing things feels good.  Backing up is boring.  It tends to get on the back of the IT person's list, and most business owners feel that they probably wouldn't understand the list (or it makes their head hurt trying).  

It's that simple.  No other work is to be done. Backup on my desk by 5PM please.  Thanks.

So while your IT person's getting that done, go get a hard drive for yourself over lunch and get your own files copied over.

Do it now.

Notice I didn't say please.  Remember in my recent post I shared that after working with thousands of customers, I've learned that you can lose data for only two reasons:

  1. You put it off and never got to it.
  2. You think you're backed up, but you're not.

I want you to make progress right now, today, by taking an action. In my repair business at TechRoom, I cringe every time a mom or dad comes in for recovery of photos of their baby's first few years of life. A liquid spill on a notebook or a hard drive upgrade I can deal with.  Broken computers are repairable.  We're great at recovering data, but not every recovery is successful.  Lost data is permanent.

I want you to act on this, right now, today.  I don't care where you go, so long as you take the first step. To help, if you call TechRoom and mention this blog post I'll give you 20% off any TechRoom service between now and Wednesday November 21, including carry-in and remote access service to set up and verify your backup. 

Backup Basics

I'm going to tell  you how to never lose the data you care about. Whether it's your baby photos, your company financials, or anything else, I have a process that works when you use it. I call it my Backup Basics process.  And you don't need to be technical to understand and use it.

The one time I didn't use my backup basics process, I  had a terrifyingly big scare: I  lost several months of videos and photos of my family, including my little boy, and the last couple months of life for my cat, Tigger.  For the first time in nearly two decades, I personally trusted a backup system without verifying it.  I use a Mac and an iPhone, so I happen to use iCloud- and I decided to use iCloud to backup my iPhone. The Apple Store did something awesome for me and replaced an iPhone 4s with a battery problem.  I confirmed all 19.7GB of data was backed up (I pay for 50GB of iCloud space), and I even made one more backup via iCloud in the Apple Store, minutes before the swap.  It said I was backed up.  I got home with my new phone, and it didn't restore.  

For most people a great backup is a lot like a UFO: You've heard about them but never seen one.
For most people a great backup is a lot like a UFO: You've heard about them but never seen one.

AppleCare told me I had a corrupt backup.  My heart sank. It wasn't the dozens of hours of productivity I was going to lose over the next few days trying to remember which apps I had and where muscle memory told me I could find them.  It was the photos and videos. In case you're wondering "isn't iCloud automatically backing all your stuff up?", the answer is no.  I'll write about why iCloud is not a backup next week.

I took this more seriously than most people.  My company recovers data for people and business who have lost it, and I'm in the business of helping business owners never lose data. I have a certification in backup management from the master of backup management.  I even have a master's degree related to this stuff.  The one time I broke my own rules and trusted one of my favorite technology companies, I wasted three weeks of my life stressed out and very nearly lost thousands of priceless memories.

So over the next several weeks I'm going to share with you how to never lose your data.

After two decades working with several thousand customers, and tens of thousands of service orders, I can tell you that most backups fail for only one of two reasons:

  1. You put it off and never got to it.
  2. You think you're backed up, but you're not.

When backups fail, you lose things that are really important to you.  Photos of your baby, photos of your family, your business financial records like your QuickBooks data, and documents you can't even identify right now because you won't know they're lost until you're looking for them.

Stay posted over the next several weeks and I'll give you the best holiday gift I can think of: Peace of mind from knowing how to really backup your important information, and confidence that your backup is good.