Although computer backup is frequently cited in the news and on the web as a business imperative, many small businesses still don’t have a backup strategy in place. If your business’ hard drive crashed today, could you recover those files quickly and easily?

If the answer is no, you need to start backing up your files on a regular basis. The good news is, with proper backup, you can recover valuable files in minutes. Getting together your backup plan is as simple as the three steps below:

1. Decide Which Data to Back Up

Like most businesses you probably have the following company and customer data, which should be backed up on a regular basis:

  • Financial and accounting data
  • Customer contact data and email
  • Office productivity software and word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents
  • Databases, web pages, graphics and similar data
  • Other data specific to your business, such as marketing collateral, computer-aided design (CAD), drawings, music and video files and so on

In addition, you should do a full back up of your PC’s hard drive to guarantee your operating system and all your important files are protected.

To streamline your backup and recovery, configure your applications to save data files to your documents folders on your hard disk or to a network drive, creating subfolders to organize files appropriately. I do this by year and then by topic. That makes it easy for me to sort when I have to look for older documents.

Many businesses don’t back up installed applications regularly. Instead, they keep the original installation material in a safe place and reinstall applications when necessary. However, capturing an image of a hard disk with all applications installed is a time-saving method for quick recovery.

2. Decide How Often to Back Up

Your backup schedule depends on a number of things, but mainly on how much time and effort it would take to re-create your data. Review your business data and determine which data must be backed up daily, bi-weekly, weekly and monthly.

(Note: Companies that are subject to federal and state data privacy requirements, such as financial institutions and healthcare providers, must adhere to strict data protection rules and procedures.)

Generally, you should back up mission-critical data daily (or multiple times each day) and less-valuable data once or twice each week. Plan to create a full backup of all data and settings once each week and once each month.

3. Choose the right backup method

Using the right solution you can back up to your hard disk, a secondary hard disk installed in your computer or a USB-attached external hard disk, a flash or thumb drive, a network drive and even CDs/DVDs. I use a HP SimpleSave drive and it automatically backs up anything new on my PC every 5 minutes, as long as I have it connected. I prefer this to online methods because I don’t need Internet access to back up my PC.

It is a good rule of thumb to keep one or more copies of your backup offsite. In addition, ensure that your backup media sets are secure—they contain the same sensitive information as the computer you’re backing up. Backup options range from simple plug-and-backup to convenient wireless options and other backup solutions to fit your specific needs.