In the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy, state, federal, and city agencies are assisting affected businesses to recover as best they can. Most assistance comes in the form of long-term, low-interest loans. Remember, these are loans, not grants. As with any loans, business owners still have to fill out applications and be able to qualify. But this time, they face another huge problem - access to their records and data.

Most of the large corporations in the affected area are prepared. In fact, the Y2K scare may have turned out to be a blessing. Big companies, afraid of having their systems disrupted by the Y2K bug, installed redundant systems, contingency plans, and off-site backup programs.

But small businesses will be a different story. Jim King, Director of the New York State Small Business Development Center, estimates that 10-30% of small businesses will have lost ALL records. I suspect the number will be even higher, as I' ve rarely seen a small business that keeps copies of their data in an off-site location. At most, they may have a copy of their tax returns on file with their accountant. The first job of SBDC and Small Business Administration counselors will be to help businesses recreate their records.

So it' s time to develop your own disaster prevention plan. I' ve put a copy of the " Contingency Plan" worksheet from my book, The Successful Business Organizer, on my Web site, You can find other crisis prevention information there also -- select " Help Me Rhonda," then " Crisis Center".

For years, I recommended businesses to back up data at least once a week and store copies off-site at a distance of a mile or more (in case of earthquakes, fires, etc.) But that' s not easy to remember.

So now I' m URGING you to set up an online backup system, and you won' t have to remember anything. The good news is this is easy and inexpensive.

In the last few years, a number of companies have started to provide online, automatic data backup. Looking at the various options, I settled on the @backup service from SkyDesk,

The process is quite simple. You merely download the program from the company' s Web site, select which of your files or folders to back up, and choose a time to have the backups performed. The first backup may take a while, but after that, the program only updates files you' ve changed since the last backup, so it may only take a few minutes a day. This can be done at night if you leave your computers on or during the day. It works with either dial-up modems or high-speed connections (services for AOL and MSN members are coming out in the next few weeks). The service automatically connects to you: once you set it up, it happens without you thinking about it.

Your data is encrypted so even SkyDesk personnel don' t have access to it, and they maintain backup and redundant systems, so even if something happened to their corporate headquarters, your data would be safe.

The @backup program was specifically designed for small businesses and home-office users. According to Mike Joseph, SkyDesk' s executive vice president of marketing, 70% of their customers are companies with fewer than 25 employees. Prices vary according to how much data storage space you' ll need. Joseph says their average customer uses 70 MB of storage space.

Here are costs from a few of the online backup services:

  • @backup. 30-day free trial; 50 MB for $49.95 annually; 500 MB for $299 annually
  • 50 MB for $36 annually; 500 MB for $120 annually
  • Data Protection Services. Aimed at bigger companies, they start at 1GB for $49.95 month.

Keep in mind that you don' t need to do online backups of your software programs, only your data. Programs are easily replaced - your own records aren' t! Back up every bit of precious information: customer lists, all your accounts, phone numbers, etc.

Terrorist attacks may not be easy to prevent and natural disasters will inevitably occur. But saving your data is easy and inexpensive. At least, losing your records is one disaster you can avert.

Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2001

Rhonda Abrams writes the nation' s most widely-read small-business column and is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies and The Successful Business Organizer. For free business tips from Rhonda, register at