Add one more item to the list of things you should be doing — backing up your computer data. Experts say that millions of businesses are at risk because they don't make adequate copies of computer data. Those who do are often the ones that have suffered a loss … or a scare.

For Scott Balentine, president of Lifestyles Custom Homes & Remodeling in Overland Park, Kan., a break-in turned him into a devotee of data backups. “Thieves stole several workstations, but fortunately they didn't take the server or we would have been devastated,” he says. The company now uses a service that automatically copies all active data daily, and holds two years worth of project files, to off-site secure storage.

“The last thing you want is to come to the office and discover that you don't have the key ingredients to run your company,” Balentine says.

OUT OF SITE, NOT OUT OF MIND Losing data is a disaster that's easy to prevent, according to Dave Alpert, president of northern Virginia-based Continuum Marketing Group. There are just two critical requirements.

The first is making sure you keep copies off-site to protect from theft, fires, floods, or other physical threats. Here are two types of systems for off-site storage:

  • External drives. These plug into your computer through a cable. Alpert suggests rotating between three drives. That way you can keep one drive at the office, one at a different location such as your home or bank vault, and have one ready to be copied and then switched with the off-site backup.
  • Web-based backup services. These automatically store your data at a remote location. You don't have to worry about carting tapes back and forth, but such Web-based services can be costly if you need to back up hundreds of gigabytes of data.
  • The second requirement is to have a regular backup schedule. “Ask yourself how much work you can afford to lose. An hour, a day, a week?” advises Alpert, who heads the Remodelers Information Technology Group. “That should be your schedule.”

    And, if you need motivation, think about how easy it is to back up files, and how catastrophic it would be to lose them.