Computer Related Habits From Small Business Owner - Be Prepared, Avoid Despair

Aside from the fear of losing a spreadsheet or research project prepared for a client, what prompted me to write this article was the realization that it takes nothing short of persistent follow up to stay ahead of computer threats which could ruin my business. I also accepted the fact that keeping my computer free of viruses and spam is paramount to ensuring my computer is not going to harm others.

If you don't have a technical assistance person or call desk to support you and users of the computers that are part of your business, it is time to establish a routine that prepares you for potential losses or lapses.

If you are convinced protecting your computer is important, but still haven't done anything about it, then I urge you to hire or barter with someone who is technically competent to teach you, or set up a technical support program.

I don't offer these services, but I can help you evaluate your needs and the type of provider that would work best for you. Also, look in the phone book under the heading "Computer-Services & Repair" for providers in your area. If worse comes to worst, there's a heading for "Computer-Data Recovery" services.

Also, I hate to tell you, but don't expect much sympathy these days from people about losing all your emails, files and pictures. Almost everyone has their own "been there, done that" tale tell. It might even be worse than yours.

If you are not already doing so, my advice as a business owner is to do the following on a weekly or at least monthly basis. Please note I am keeping terminology very broad in order to reach a wide range of users. Whether you use a Mac or PC here's what you should do:

- Monitor updates of the programs you rely upon. The periodic release of downloadable updates to operating programs and software applications is an advisable layer of protection. Enable the automatic notification feature so you are prompted when downloads are available.

- Run virus scans regularly. Say it again and commit to setting a weekly schedule. Always review the results before proceeding. Never ignore the warning of a known threat.

- Back up regularly. The price of blank, recordable media is no longer prohibitive. If you have lots of data, get a "zip drive" device that stores data on cartridges that hold more than a CD or disk. The initial set up can be complicated, and it's no disgrace to ask for help from a technically inclined friend or contractor.

- In a somewhat logical manner, file emails for future reference. Set up folders by the names of people you work with or by active projects. Set a routine of emptying your inbox on a regular basis.

- Fine tune file management settings so the auto-archive and auto-delete functions behave as you wish. Otherwise, you might not know where all your emails go after a feature kicks in. The Outlook rules feature lets you customize even further.

Another good habit is keeping the boxes and media for software applications both together and accessible to your computer. Resist the temptation to tuck those oversized boxes away. Try to keep at least the operating system applications at close hand.

As long as you are using the application, do not get rid of either the box or media needed to install it. Over time, you (or the person who works on your computer) will need these. Product registration, rebates, upgrades and product support require the key numbers and/or inserting the media.

Indeed, all of these somewhat tedious tasks take away from my time delivering billable work or promoting my business. But the thing is, when the routines are complete and back ups stowed, I am less anxious about computer infiltration or the possibility of a system failure. That kind of peace of mind is worth the investment.

Elisa Shostak is the founder of Compass Rose Strategic Consulting LLC, an advisory service and secondary research firm based in Seattle, Washington.

Elisa can be contacted through her website: http://www.compassrosellc.com or blog http://www.compassrosestrategic.com

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