What you need to know: Back Up Computer Files Today

back up computer files

Why do I need to Back Up?

If you have been lucky enough to not have computer problems, you may ask “Why do I need to back up?”  But unfortunately, it only takes one big problem to answer that question.  I have a job where I work on the computer “all” the time, so I have had my share of big problems – either personally or with my clients.

Here’s some computer problems I’ve experienced:

  • Worked at a corporation that went through a period of electricity spikes that would cause the computers to shut down.  I was early in my career and remember running up the stairs to my office to make sure the files on my computer didn’t get corrupted because of this wrong shut-down.
  • Had a laptop refuse to boot up. At first, I refused to believe it was a hard drive fail.
  • Had an external hard drive stop working.  Again, at first I was hopeful it was not a hard drive fail.
  • Had a client’s computer freeze.
  • Worked with clients who were hit with horrible viruses – including ransomware.
  • Had a situation where the computer was fine but an important file was messed up by a colleague or even a client.

If one of these (or other) big problems happens to you, you will probably find yourself saying (or yelling):

I backed it up … right?  Yes, I backed it up!  Did I, Did I??

What to Back Up

Some will tell you to back up your data files, operating system, and programs.  But, I’m not going to go through all that today. My personal preference: I don’t back up my operating system and programs.  Instead, I keep a list of programs and if I have to get a new hard drive, I do a clean install of each program.  I focus on backing up files.

Your data files: there’s no debate … you need to back up your files!

Personal Files.

Let’s start with the personal side; some things to looks at:

    1. important documents like wills and tax information
    2. home videos
    3. pictures  (if you have pictures on your computer, making a backup should be one of your first thoughts today)
    4. music

Business Files

Where to start?  Each business is different. It is everything from QuickBooks to Word documents.  From Excel documents to pdf files. Then there are pictures and videos.


So, now is a good time to get your documents organized in specific areas on your hard drive, so they you can easily back up.  If you don’t know how to organize files on your computer, ask your accountant or even go to a computer company.

Where to Back Up

The great thing today is that we can back up to a Local Drive or Online.  And, being the conservative accountant, I would recommend:  USE BOTH PLACES.

Local Drive

A local drive backup is one you keep physically. A main example is an external hard drive.  The great thing about an external hard drive is that you control it.  You can keep it attached to your computer. Later you can take it home or even put it in a safe deposit box.  And you can buy more than one if you want many backups.


An Online backup is when you use a product via an internet connection.  The great thing about online is that the backup is somewhere else.  If you house gets flooded, is hit by a tornado, or if your computer is stolen … the backup is at a completely different location. Here’s some products where you backup your files to a server and then they are not only backed up but will also be synced between your computers. And the great thing is that some of these products have low cost or even free options.

  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive.
  • OneDrive
  • iCloud


P.S. If you are concerned about security, there are other options — ask your Accountant about the secured portal they use.   

Just One Backup?  No!

So, should we use one backup location? Is that enough?   I heard this recommendation many years ago: have at least (3) copies and I think it’s still good advice.  And, with backup alternatives much more available today, we can easily have (3) or more copies.

What are the minimum (3) copies?

  1. The Original File
  2. The Backup
  3. The Backup of the Backup.

Example Plan – (1) original + 2 backups

Have backups in more than one place.

  • Backup 1.  Business location – external hard drive
    • On-site. This means to have the backup at the same location as your computer – you can easily and frequently back up.
  • Backup 2.  Online
    • Off-site. This means the backup is at a different location.


Want to be extra safe?  Here’s a Bonus idea Backup 3
Off-site. Backup to a second external hard drive and take that one home.

How to Back up

There are many methods available and if you google, you’ll find many products to help you.  Here are two ideas:

  1. Windows Backup and Restore.  A quick choice and a good place to start — but not my ongoing choice because you can’t fine-tune settings like other programs.
  2. EaseUs ToDo Backup.  This one is worth checking out.
    • You have more choices like making “Incremental” or “Differential” backups.  I won’t go in to the techy detail today of what each means, but just know that it helps with only backing up files that change so it doesn’t eat up as much backup space.

One more tip:  if you work on the computer a lot, at least back up daily!

Disclaimer: The information on this post and on the Barb Brady CPA website are for general information purposes only; it is not intended to be accounting, financial, tax, or legal advice. For further information, see Terms of Service.