Why Freelancers Should Secure Their Data

Why Freelancers Should Secure Their DataImagine this:

You’re working in your favorite coffee shop, typing away at your laptop (just one of the many perks of being a freelancer). You take your grande Caffe Americano and bring it to your lips. It is much hotter than you expected, you jerk it away from your face… and promptly spill the whole thing over your shiny computer. You drop your shoulders in defeat as the brown liquid quickly slithers from the keys into the electronics of the laptop.

“I’m dead.”

Yes, you are as far as your work goes. You’ve just lost everything that you’ve been working on. And that’s why you need to think seriously about securing your data.

Your Data Is Important, Right?

Anybody who works primarily with a computer needs to think seriously about how secure and safe their computer data is. Even if you worked in an office, you’d want to be able to retrieve your files if anything happened to the computer.

Fortunately, for those who are employed, your company most likely has an IT department who takes care of all that stuff.

If you’re a freelancer, you’re on your own.

You need to be able to recover from any possible disaster that could befall your computer:

  • Computer virus, worm and other “virtual bugs”
  • Spilled food or drink
  • Rain
  • Flood
  • Fire
  • A child dropping a bowling ball on it
  • You dropping it
  • Absentminded episodes of deleting files
  • Theft

These are what I call “the unthinkables.” That is, I can’t even begin to think about what a disaster my life would be if any of them happened to my computer.

It’s Worse for Freelancers

Data security is more important to freelancers than to other computer users. For one thing, your entire livelihood is in that computer–all the work, contact information, expensive software, and other essentials for your business. Lost data = lost income.

You also have data in your computer that doesn’t belong only to you, but to your clients as well. Therefore, you’re responsible for keeping that information away from unauthorized eyes and safe from damage and disaster, whether man-made or natural.

Keeping your data secure is also a matter of productivity. The time it takes to recover lost files, reconstruct damaged ones, or redo something you’ve completed before will eat into the time you could be using to earn money instead.

Now that you’re convinced about the need to keep your data secure, keep these three types of data security listed in this post in mind.

1.  Data Backup

Data backup is what most people think of when they hear the term “data security.” A backup is a copy of your data.

Nowadays, you’ll find plenty of automated and secure solutions to backup your computer files, either in a hard drive or in the cloud (online).

A backup is NOT enough to ensure your computer data’s security, however. Because a backup copies what’s in your computer, any time you delete a file, then that file won’t be copied in the backup, either.

Different solutions have different options for how long they keep versions of your backups. For example, one solution might keep backups up to the last 30 days. If you deleted a file 31 days ago and only realized it today, then that file will no longer be in your backup.

This is why, for files you want to keep forever (such as family photos or your work samples), you have to think about…

2.  Data Archiving

An archive is a long-term storage of your files. Like a backup, your archive can be either a physical one or a virtual one.

After a couple of years of freelancing, you’re going to need an archive as you start using up the memory of your work computer. You’ll want to free up the space and move files you no longer use frequently, but you still want to keep available.

Some clients expect freelancers to keep copies of their files even after, say, two years. Being able to do so can make you more reliable and desirable in your clients’ eyes. (Make sure you and your clients agree on how long you’re going to keep their files in archive, because it’s an added cost for you.)

Archives are also vulnerable to physical and virtual damage and loss, so remember to back up your archives as well.

3.  Data Synchronization

This type of data security keeps an updated copy of a file at all times. Synchronization solutions may also keep older versions of a file, so you can retrieve earlier ones.

Synchronization is useful for freelancers who work on the same file with different people. For example, maybe your client drafts a document first and then you go and polish-edit it. Or, maybe you subcontract the work to other freelancers and then go in and finalize everything.

Having your shared files synchronized means you no longer have to email files back and forth, and have to keep track of which revision was the latest one.

So You Want to Secure Your Files

When looking for a data security solution for your freelancing, consider what types of data security you need (as discussed above). You also have a choice of using either physical or cloud data security.

For optimum security, I recommend both. Back up your files to an external hard drive, for example, as well as your cloud storage. It’s going to be a little more costly, but that’s the price for peace of mind.

Redundancy is absolutely necessary so you can sleep soundly at night. Your external hard drive could get stolen. Sometimes equipment just suddenly fails for no apparent reason. In my case, my daughter dropped my time machine drive when I wasn’t looking. It was no big deal, though, because my computer is also backed up regularly in my Amazon S3 cloud.

However, don’t rely on a cloud solution only. You’ll never know if your cloud storage would be damaged by a hacker or virus, or if your solution provider suddenly folds up.

In short, no storage security solution is 100% safe and reliable. Therefore, doubling up your efforts is the best way to go.

How Safe Are YOUR Files?

Have you ever lost computer data? How did you recover them? Share your story in the comments below.

Image by Plutor


  1. says

    A great solution I use is Dropbox, it is a cloud based file backup and shareable service. It is free for 2Gb account with possibility to up that, if you invite friends. There is also a paid service for huge backups. I have my development sites on dropbox, I work on them locally and as soon as I save the file it is uploaded. I can also sync it with another computer or even a mobile device such as an iPhone. I also share files with my clients which is very handy.

    I highly recommend it to anyone, especially freelancers..

  2. says

    great post about an oft-neglected topic. The most important takeaway is Lexi’s point about redundancy…don’t rely on your existing solution working forever because it won’t. Also, a tip for freelancers in the web development industry with dynamic sites…your clients are expecting you to have a copy of their website’s database, something not easily archived. Create a way for you to dump your databases regularly and store them somewhere.

  3. says

    I’m with you on that one Paul, I also use Dropbox. I have 50GB which costs a few pounds a month and gives me complete peace of mind. You can also get extra space free by recommending it to other users who sign up. It’s perfect.

  4. says

    I make backup every 3-4 weeks. It’s a must! I don’t believe in online services, I use a WD Passport 2,5″ drive (160 Gigs, currently 80 percent full, with increase like 1-3 percent monthly so I should probably exchange it in half a year’s time or something : ). Removable drives rule, I’ll probably buy some decent 500-gig USB 3.0 3,5″ external drive for the sake of backups, but no sooner than in the middle of 2011.

  5. says

    I also use DropBox as an online basic backup solution. Usually only for small document files like .doc , xls, .ppt and others. For now the 2 GB that Dropbox has to offer are plenty.

  6. says

    This is a great topic! This is so overlooked by everyone: business people, freelancers, regular home users…everyone. If people just backed up their data and secured it, a lot more people would have better computer experiences. I have luckily never lost any data over the years, but I have a lot of safeguards too.

    1. A simple flash drive where I can quickly backup things and take it with me. I have a U3 device that has RoboForm on it which is great for passwords.
    2. Backup hard drive within my computer. If the first one dies, I just get a new one and restore it.
    3. External hard drive. This backs up everything from system files to project files, and everything in between.
    4. Mozy Online Backup. I have this running 5 times per day. Whenever my computer is idle for a small amount of time it runs the sync backup to the cloud where it is archived by the time/date that it was backed up. Local backups are great, but offsite backups are a must and really give you piece of mind.


  7. says

    Awesome tips and recommendations everyone!

    I use the Mac’s Time Machine (with an external drive), Dropbox and Jungle Disk (for backups AND archives). Talk about redundancy, huh! Adds up to a pretty penny, but I’d rather be secure than lose years of family photos and client projects.

    Keep the suggestions coming :-)

  8. says

    Yes, I am with the author, I have everything backuped/synched to the cloud. If my laptop died I wouldn’t lose a thing. It is a great feeling.

    I currently use JungleDisk but am looking to move to Dropbox. I synch my data back down to a local home server so I have complete backups.

    Sponsi, why do you not believe in online backups? 3-4 week backups give you a lot to lose also do you store your backups off site in case of fire/water or other ?

  9. says

    My tid bit of advice, don’t have a kitten. I can’t tell you how many times mine has deleted, shut off or done some amazingly horrendous damage to my computer all with hotkeys I somehow don’t know about.

  10. says

    Two weekends ago, I turned my computer on and nothing happened.

    My first thought was, “My writing!” My second thought was, “Client files!” (I’ve only been freelancing for a couple months, so it still hasn’t totally settled in.)

    Then came a sense of calm because I’m paranoid about losing files. I back things up using external storage and Dropbox. And there’s also e-mail back and forth with the clients I work with.

    I’ve had computer bad problems 2 or 3 times in my life. My wife’s had similar problems, as have most friends. Taking time to back things up regularly may seem like yet another thing on an already big to-do list, but it’s one of the most important tasks you can do. It’s so easy to think, “It won’t happen,” but it does.

    Two weekend’s ago, I had to wipe my hard drive and reinstall things from scratch. Since I backed everything up, it was an inconvenience–not a tragedy.

  11. says

    Joel well.. first of all I have like 140 gigs of backup, including both my works and private files, photos, etc. so it would be a lot of traffic and time to upload it. Another thing is that I want it to be “here and now”, so that I don’t have to trust in someone else’s services. Speed of transfer plus access is another one. When it comes to fire at home… well… if there is a major earthquake in the Dropbox DC or something then your data won’t survive either… I guess from all those scary options my choice is to have an external hard disk drive : )

  12. says

    I’ve got to put in a vote for SugarSync, which has saved my bacon on several occasions. I’ve never been organized enough to back up manually, not faithfully at any rate – and the busier things get at work, the sloppier my backup routine gets! – but SugarSync does it all quietly in the background. Used it for a number of years, couldn’t be more pleased.

  13. says

    I use
    1. backup: time machine – obvious backup system, extremely reliable. It allows me to save pretty much every file I’ve used in the past year, using a GTech external drive.
    2. archives: DVDs, cloud, own servers etc.
    3. sync: versions on own mac and external drive.

    Simple and effective.

  14. says

    My PC blew up a couple of years back and I lost all my music and my family photos. I managed to get some back from old backups I’d done on an external hard drive, but I lost enough that it hurt.

    So I explored options and signed up with Dropbox for their largest capacity storage. Then I fandangled my folders so the My Documents folder goes to My Dropbox… so I don’t even have to THINK about putting files in certain folders or anything. Anytime I hit save…

    I’m covered.

  15. says

    Great post Lexi! So far I haven’t experienced anything of the worst with losing my files since I have a WD 320GB for external storage and my Dropbox for file synchronization. The sad thing though is that I always forget to backup my files, so I rely on my Dropbox folder to keep my files safe in case something wrong happens to my laptop.

  16. says

    A couple of years ago I did a photo shoot for the website of a client. I arrived home late, saved the pictures in the right folder and formated the memory card. I turned off my computer and was going to post-process the photos early next morning (a Sunday). As I turned on the computer the next day, there was a Windows file missing (which neither me or my wife had deleted) and it just wouldn’t load. I tried finding the file on the Internet using the old computer, rebooting the new one over and over and rebooting it with the manufacturer’s DVDs. The last option (that I ended up doing) would allow me only to format everything and start from scratch. I spent the Sunday and the Monday trying to recover the computer, reformating it when all hope was lost and trying to recover what I could with a software I bought.
    I recovered some of the photos, but talked to the client (which understood the situation) and arranged to go next Saturday and redo everything. After I had my computer recovered, I never transfered photos from the camera to the computer to post-process them later and right after doing it, I put them immediately in the external hard drives (two at the moment) and on DVD-R (even though since it’s been two months I don’t do this third – and long – part).

  17. Nigel Maneely says

    Don’t forget about data encryption on your laptop as well. While you have covered off loss of data through technical failure, how would your clients react to find out you have lost your laptop with their potentially sensitive data on it? Without strong encryption, your average techie could probably bypass any hardware bios password and basic OS security.

    More and more clients I work with insist on hard disc encryption on any portable machine I store or process their data.

  18. Major7 says

    i’m doing freelancing for 5 years and had different setups, the one i have at the moment is the one i want to describe:

    at home i have a cheap server (110€) that is connected so several usb sticks and is completely silent. this server acts as my network shares and could be used as development environmet.

    i even could connect to this box from outside via secure vpn tunnel and access all my data secure from everywhere. when i am in projects with co-freelancers i could open some shared directories and they can connect them via webdav and mount them as normal windows network shares and work with them like it would their local filesystem.

    every morning at 4am all the data on this box are automatically synced with my root-server that stands in a datacenter and on that server are all my customers websites hosted.

    additionally each night the whole server is doing an incremental backup to an external backup-space and keep changes for 3 month,

    so all my data are stored in 3 different locations. if the server should crash i can restore the data from backup, if my home office or computers should get defects or are completely stolen i can restore all data from the datacenter.

    one open thing is to encrypt the server at home so in case of theft no one can read the data.

    for client communication/project management/wiki/documentation/source code repository we use the free tool RedMine

    once the the whole thing is setted up i never have to care about backups because the system is completely automaticated.

  19. says

    My first computer crashed three or four years ago, luckily before I started working seriously as a photographer. Although there were some nice memories in there which disappeared into to the big nothing, I learned the value of backuping when there wasn’t much precious work to lose.

    Having two external HD’s (at least) in different locations is something to consider. One which you update/backup frequently and the other which you maintain when you get the chance to do so. A friend of mine, who worked as a web programmer, lost a lot of work when his house burnt down some years ago… it CAN happen!

    The advantage of using external HD’s instead of an online backup system is the pay-once-factor; online backup systems can simply get more expensive in the long term, at least for freelancers who need lots of space.

  20. Nike says

    My hard drive crashed twice and this almost made me faint because i had now lost my important documents twice.I knew nothing about having an alternative place for storing my documents but a friend came to my rescuse and introduced me to online backup systems.I loved it the first time i tried it out.So since then till to-date,i use an online backup system called Safecopy backup.It is cost effective, so effecient and has saved me from spending tons of money.With this,all my files are so secure and i can access them anywhere i go around the globe.If my hard drive crashes,am on a very safe side.

  21. says

    This article is awesome with lots of tips and recommendations.

    I lost all my files once and yes i said “I’m dead”, i tried very hard to get files back but it was really hard to get them in good conditions and as they were sorted in folders and stuff..

    After that i started using Dropbox and sometimes i archive files in my external drive and DVD’s…

  22. says

    I’m grateful I haven’t lost my data yet as I don’t only do a backup on hard disk, but also store them all on the clouds. Sometimes, you may feel that a file from 3 or more months ago is not important… but don’t hit that delete button yet. Any dispute may arise and when it happens, you need to have some backup to prove your claim ( which helps when you’re faced with an arbitration or something ). Just a thought.

  23. says

    securing data is must. for me i use
    > dropbox
    > external hard 500 GB
    > R/W DVDs
    if some of the files/ebooks/documents are important then i use gmail or mail id on my domain name for quick look.

  24. says

    I use the following strategy which has been working very well for me:

    1. I have a Working Directory on my machine on which I keep all my client data organized into folders.
    2. This is backed up everyweek automatically on a local server using a tool called Sync Backup. The tool works flawlessly in incremental backup… in other words, whatever file I edit/update/create on my machine in the past week will automatically backup every monday on the server. This protects from virus attacks, hard disk crash etc in which a max of 1 week work will be lost.
    3. Every month, I take an external backup to a 1TB external drive. This protects from hazards like fire, theft, full virus attack etc. In this case, only 1 month data would be lost.

    I use the same tool for both backups and I only do incremental backup.

    Also, when the project is complete, I just use Winrar to archive the complete client folder on my machine as clientname.rar and delete the client folder completely… the same is replicated on the local server and external drive next week and next month there by reducing the number of files in expanded form.

    I hope this helps… any suggestion for improvement are most welcome… :-)

  25. says

    I see everyone has his/her own ‘I’m dead’ experience. Backing-up files is part of the routine but sometimes the ‘lazy’ or the ‘I forgot’ hormones just came-up…We never learn til we’ve been through it.

  26. says

    I’ve had a hard drive fail in the past but for the most part I’m lucky I did not lose anything super critical. When I started working on my own, the first thing I did was set up Carbonite for my cloud based backup. I also have an external HD and use Dropbox by syncing some files between my computers.


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