Before I start to dig in on today’s topic, (and by that I mean climb up on my soap box) here’s some personal confessions:
- I have a backup for my backup (and sometimes I back that up too).
- I save too much, and yes,
- I make too many copies
For a lot of you this article will come off as me suggesting too much. I’ve reread this and I’ve purposefully kept a lot of that “too much” intact. Why? Because if I suggest you do three things, and you only do one, your information is still safer than it was before and that’s a good thing! Hopefully if you start to think of the actual security of your information and not just take it for granted, you’ll be able to save yourself the headache of having to learn this lesson the hard way!
A Backup for Your Backup
As insurance agents, we collect a lot of information. One of the things we often take for granted is how safe our information really is. For most of us, we spend a lot of our time blissfully unaware of how one issue or data breach can lead to major problems. Sadly, when it comes to technology sometimes it takes a technological disaster for us to learn the hard lesson of the importance of having our information backed up.
Many people take the mindset of “it won’t happen to me”. The truth of the matter is that it probably will happen to you. Broken laptops, and fried computers aside, cyber criminals are trying to get to your information as we speak. In 2016, 61% of all online breaches were targeting small businesses. This figure is up from 53% from the year before. Of those small businesses that were attacked, 60% of them would go out of business with 6 months of the attack (source).
Here’s a Quick and Simple fix
There are a lot of really simple steps you can take into how you handle your digital information that make it extremely easy to back up. One of the easiest is to start using a cloud based file storage app. Those are just fancy tech words for apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple’s iCloud, or Microsoft’s OneDrive (Check out this article for more details). Anything that stores your files “in the cloud” immediately puts an extra layer of protection for your documents. If your files are “in the cloud” your laptop can burst into flames right now, and you’d still have access to all your files from another device.
Platforms like Dropbox also have another great safety feature that typically goes unnoticed. For example, a little while ago one of our vital company spreadsheets was accidently erased. . The file was there, but it was nothing more than a blank sheet when you opened the spreadsheet. Of course, mass panic spread throughout the office. But luckily since we had the file stored in Dropbox, I was able to log in, view previous versions of that file, and restore the spreadsheet to its original state – crisis averted. Had we not been using an app like Dropbox that file could have been gone for good.
Save Too Much
This is usually a hard lesson that most students learn in college: Save, save, save! I was reminded of that lesson one day here in the office. A bad storm rolled through our area and knocked the power out. The image on my computer screen vanished and along with it, the hours of work I had put into a mailing list! When the power came back on I quickly changed how frequently my computer “Auto Saves” and now I always save a brand new file as soon as I start working on it, then manually save it after each “big change” (or if we hear thunder in the distance).
There’s also a frequently overlooked save feature – Save As. I have a lot of original files on my computer system. And I purposefully keep them as originals. When I go to make changes I’ll “Save As” instead of just saving over top of the document I’m making changes to. This allows me to change the name of the file I’m saving (keeping the original intact), allowing me to save the new file in a new location on my computer. I typically use this technique if an agent has ever asked me for a revised Medicare Supplement quote. Chances are I not only made the changes to bring that quote up to date, but I also have the original copy saved as well. This may also help you in case something goes terribly wrong with the file you’re working on. You at least have a backup you can use for a template if nothing else.
There’s Never Too Many Copies!
When you’re working with your clients’ important documents, you make a copy and let them keep the original.
Because you don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of losing or ruining the original! So why not do the same thing with your digital files?
Copying the files on your computer over to a different device regularly helps protect them. You can purchase an external hard drive or USB thumb drive with a high storage capacity for a lot cheaper than you might think. Keep this device in a safe and secure spot (FYI: having it plugged into a laptop is neither safe nor secure) and regularly plug it into your computer to copy over all of your important files. Think of it as a way to digitally make a copy of everything on your computer. The down side of this trick, you have to do it! I suggest putting a reoccurring appointment in your calendar to help remind you, and to make sure you follow through.
The good news is that since you’re backing up your computer’s information yourself there’s less HIPPA red tape to navigate through about what you can and cannot store. Speaking of HIPPA, it’s important to either put a password or lock your device up when you’re not using it (inside a fireproof safe is a great option).
Side Note: Some external hard drive manufactures know why you’re buying their devices and even include software preloaded on the drive that allows you to set up a regularly scheduled back up of your files. Using this tool allows your external hard drive to regularly back up your files without you having to remember to do it yourself.
It’s important to plan ahead
Planning ahead might be “preaching to the choir” for people who sell insurance, but it’s really the most important part of all of this. Don’t wait for the technological disaster to realize what you have to lose. Hopefully this article causes you to take a few minutes to identify some of short comings in your own plan for backing up your data (or shines a really bright light on the fact that you have no plan). If you have someone internally that handles your IT equipment, schedule a meeting to review your “Back Up Plan.” If you work with an outside IT vendor, contact them and ask them out right what they are currently helping you do to keep you data safe, and what else you could be doing.
No matter the size of your business as you are working on documents, or accessing files try and think through what plans you have in place to back up that data. If you were to lose what you had on your computer system right now, how much would it cost to replace it? Not just monetarily, but the time you would sacrifice to get business back up and running. Put a plan in place now and at least do something! There are solutions out there for every situation and every budget. Keep in mind, anything you do, is better than doing nothing.