#1. Do Your Backups
This is the number 1 tip for a reason. It is extremely important that backups are performed and taken offsite. Computers can and do fail. Just because “it was working yesterday” does not mean it will work today. I apologise for being so blunt however people often disregard the value of their data until it’s gone. Put a lot of thought as to what resides on that low cost hard drive. I often encounter people backing up MYOB files, but leaving the thousands of precious family photos. Windows 7 has a very easy built in backup wizard. Use it.
#2. Verify Your Backups
Just as computers fail, backups will fail. You should always have multiple backup sets by backing up to two or more devices. Burn one backup to DVD and the other onto a USB Stick/Drive. Check to make sure the files are readable and the backup is not corrupt. Modern backup software has built in verification but this is no guarantee of readable files. I have encountered situations where the backup tapes have been corrupted or blank while still being reported as a successful backup.
#3. Seek Professional Advice
Before you do anything, speak to a professional. I know Google has a lot of do-it-yourself resources and “that kid down the road is good with computers” but you know what, he’s not that good. Knowing how to use a search engine or playing games does not make you an IT professional. A qualified IT guy thinks of the big picture and has the experience to deliver. Haphazard amateur solutions can lead to trouble, and trouble leads to big headaches and bigger bills. I am regularly helping people who have either spent too much money, not enough money or money in the wrong place. Seek good advice, its worth it.
#4. Secure Your Systems
I know you have heard this before, many times, here’s once more. Use strong complex passwords for all aspects of your IT life. Don’t use ‘password’ or ‘password1’ or ‘letmein’. Use characters like !%$# (shift + number on your keyboard) in your passwords; include capital letters and numbers; and avoid dictionary words. This makes a brute force attack much harder. It is important to note also that one of America’s most successful hackers (Kevin Mitnick) used social engineering rather than direct hacks. Often people just gave him passwords. Identity theft is real, however low the risk is.
#5. Be Wary of Proprietary Systems
Proprietary solutions can lock you in to a specific brand or service provider and upgrade paths can be limited and expensive. You need to work out up front the pro’s and con’s of using a vendors preferred solution and if it allows you flexibility in the future. Example: A website is built and hosted from the vendors webserver, there is no possible migration to another host (or website manager/designer) as the website utilises proprietary components. In this example your stuck, having to pay whatever price they ask for upgrades or additions and moving means starting from scratch.
#6. Make Contingency Plans
As we have previously established above: computers fail, backups fail, that kid gave you bad advice and your locked in with a sub standard provider. These things will happen. It’s how we manage our way out of it that counts. Always have a plan B. Payroll software only installed on 1 computer? Install it on another. Internet gone down and the account owner is on holidays? Nominate a second contact. If you work out a plan of attack before it happens there is less likely to be an interruption to your business (and sleep).
#7. Check The Warranty Details
This really could have gone to number 1, but I figure people read the first and last of these types of lists. Do not use consumer devices for business purposes. Consumer devices come with consumer warranties, meaning a laptop might have a 1 year warranty, but don’t expect it to be a rapid 1 day turnaround repair. I personally have seen mainstream brand computers go off for warranty repairs for months at a time. This is not a rare occurrence, I can show you countless threads on public chat forums. Next Business Day Onsite warranties are available for most computer devices for a very respectable price ($176 will get you a 3 Y NBD onsite warranty on a HP laptop worth $1300). Almost all the devices you buy from major retailers do not have ‘manufacturer business class warranties’. Be clear, if its for anything business related or you just cant live without it for more than 2 days see tip number 3.