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Contingency planning for your freelance business

Image courtesy of Compufix Online

Céline over at Naked Translations wrote a post yesterday about back-up systems for freelancers, and invited others to share how they guard their businesses against data loss. Céline, if you’re reading, this post is my answer!

I actually have what some might call a fairly paranoid approach to how I back-up my work, and have a few solutions. It took me a long time (too long) to fully realise just how important it is to make sure important documents can be recovered in the event of computer failure/other business disaster. I’ve never experienced the anguish of losing a humongous translation hours before a deadline, but last week I did experience major data loss. I think we can all identify with how it feels at that moment you realise something important has just gone ‘poof!’ and disappeared into thin air.

My first solution, similar to Céline’s Dropbox solution, is to use online syncing. I use Sugarsync. Essentially, as I’m typing, each document is then automatically backed-up on their servers, meaning I can access all my updated files from any computer that is connected to the internet (whether it’s a PC or a Mac). I can do this remotely via my profile on the Sugarsync website or via the downloadable Sugarsync file manager. Sugarsync also offers a number of advanced features, including an intriguingly named ‘magic briefcase’ and a secure ftp location for sending large files. For anyone worried about data security and backing-up in ‘the cloud’, files are encrypted with 128-bit AES – can you say that about email?

I love Sugarsync, but it’s certainly not my only solution. I also use a more traditional back-up and storage tool called ZenVault that stores my important files at a remote location. The data loss I experienced last week illustrated exactly why I use back-up as well as syncing: as soon as I managed to lose the crucial files on one computer, that change was automatically synced across all my computers, so there was no chance of recovery. However, instead I was able to go into my ZenVault terminal and recover the documents from previous back-ups. So, I have a way of taking a static snapshot of all my documents and past documents, as well as a way of making the latest versions of my documents available across all my computers.

Another key back-up for me is having alternative computers to work on in case my main PC fails. I also use the über-traditional method of backing up to an external hard-drive on my desk, which is the preferred option for most freelancers. At this year’s ITI conference, there was a lot of chatter about using ‘the cloud’ to store data, but people seemed to assume that storing it in offline was automatically more secure. What would you do if your home was burgled or burned down and your one and only back-up solution was inside? Is that really any more of a secure solution than using an encrypted online back-up service to store important files at a remote location?

The possibilities really are endless for the paranoid, and my view is that these contingencies are not likely to happen at the same time. However, it’s really does pay to be too careful when you’re freelance (i.e. without IT support on hand).  Essentially, the only (almost) fail-safe solution is to have more than one contingency planning solution.

To learn more about online back-up and syncing, have a read of this article.  Warning – the review is rather long, but if you can scan it and pick up the salient points it’s a good starting place for contingency planning. The key message is not to rely on just one solution.

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13 Responses and Counting...

  1. céline

    August 21, 2009

    Thanks a lot Philippa, that is really useful. Sorry to hear you’ve lost some data, but at least it won’t happen again!

  2. Ya

    August 21, 2009

    All my documents are back-uped every hour if my laptop is connected to my external hard-disk WD (1 Tb). Then, after some time the utility keeps a copy per day, a copy per week, etc.

  3. Kate Lambert

    August 21, 2009

    Which package are you on with Zen? I was about to sign up for ZenVault before I went on holiday but stopped when it said it would take 44 hours to do the first backup, as it wouldn’t have finished before I left. It’s on my list of things to do when I get back, which is now, so thanks for reminding me. At the moment I just backup to a separate hard drive at the end of the day but I do worry about fires, floods or a thunderstorm zapping every electrical device in the house.

  4. philippa

    August 21, 2009

    Hi Kate,

    I’m on the ZenVault Express package at the moment, but may need to upgrade at some point. 44 hours? That’s crazy! I don’t remember it taking that long for my first back-up. It takes about 10 minutes or so for my daily scheduled back-ups.

    FWIW, Zen’s support is very good so it might be worth giving them a call.

  5. Iwan

    August 21, 2009

    This page on the Zen site explains that you can do the first backup offline – they send you a USB hard disk (or you send them one of your own).

    The alternative is to archive your old data (e.g. all work older than 6 months) yourself, to DVDs or another hard disk, and restrict your initial upload to the last 6 months’ data. For me, that would be around 2.5GB of data (which I could probably compress further) which would take around 12 hours to upload, according to Zen’s figures.

  6. Angelica

    August 21, 2009

    I had not heard of Sugarsync until now, but it looks really really good! Thanks for the suggestion. I only do daily backups to an external drive every night, but after having my main HD fried twice by power outages I’m always worrying about what would happen with “today’s works before the next backup”, so this method really hits the nail. I’m just wondering about one thing though: I read in Sugarsync’s website that they store 5 previous versions of one’s sync’ed files, so it’s not clear to me why you were not able to retrieve them. Maybe I’m missing the small print?

  7. philippa

    August 21, 2009

    Hi Angelica,

    You’re absolutely right – This must be a new feature of Sugarsync, and I’m really pleased you pointed it out!

  8. Kate Lambert

    August 21, 2009

    Thanks Philippa and Iwan. My current business folder is 6 GB, that’s 2 years’ worth, so I was looking at their 10GB option. It is only the first back-up that’s long and I don’t mind leaving it to do it over a weekend, I just didn’t want to start it off and then go on holiday for a month.

    I also have another folder containing all work since I started translating in 1996 up to July 2007 but that’s another 10 GB and I might put that on a separate hard drive and store it offsite instead as it’s not so critical.

  9. Angelica

    August 21, 2009

    Hi Philippa,
    I’ve been trying Sugarsync all this week and I have to say that I’m loving it! I’ve been digging a little and found out that apparently the version feature is available only to paid accounts. But at 4.99/month for 30GB, I think it is worth it! :)

  10. Andrei

    August 21, 2009

    Philippa, thank you for the great post.
    As Internet is sill pretty slow and expensive in my country, I have to rely on off-line back-up solutions. I just copy my working files and mail folders on a separate USB hard disk.

  11. Terry

    August 21, 2009

    I find this thread very interesting, but think it is rather dangerous to confine contingency planning to data backup. There are a number of other things for which one needs a “Plan B” – for example failure of Internet connection, or accident, illness, death of close relatives (or even one’s own death – how does your colleague get at the 250-page report you had nearly finished so that he/she can do the last ten pages and prevent a disaster for the client). We all tend to stick our heads in the sand about things like this, but every freelancer needs to consider them.

  12. philippa

    August 21, 2009

    @Terry, you’re absolutely right. Contingency planning needs to provide for a variety of possible scenarios, such as those you describe, in order to be effective. I think there are some scenarios that are *almost* impossible to plan for, but others such as internet downtime that have cost-effective, straightforward solutions and it wouldn’t be good business planning if we ignored them. There wasn’t space to look at further scenarios in this blog post; backing up is the one that always springs to mind first, but I’m sure there’ll be more posts on this subject later!

  13. Translation Services

    August 21, 2009

    I love Dropbox, but have not heard of Sugarsync. Thanks for the new bits of information.

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