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How to completely back up your freelance life

As a freelancer, you enjoy the freedom of not working for a boss, not having set work hours (unless you set them yourself) and not having to give credit to anyone when things go right. The downside is that you also have to give credit to yourself when things go wrong. And things will go wrong.

I'm sure every freelancer with a year or more under their belt can tell a horror story about how they've lost files, contacts or other important documents because they weren't careful enough to back things up and make sure there was a security system in place for their business - myself included.

So in today's article I want to discuss the many ways you can back up your freelance life - and why you should. We'll be covering offline back ups, online back ups and back ups that are a mixture of technology and a bit of good old fashioned business sense. One of the main reasons I am writing this article is because of a recent issue I had, and a restless, sleepless night that followed, which caused me to jump into high gear and get things set up for myself and my business.

The peace of mind that comes with it is priceless, I assure you.

First, lets look at some offline backups

The first thing I want to discuss is the one item that caused me so much headache and worry - offline back ups of your files. You know, those important files like Photoshop designs for your clients, contracts, stock images you've spent months (or years) compiling, brushes, fonts and so on.

So, how can you back your files up and ensure that you're safe, regardless of what happens?

External hard drives

back up your freelance life

Yes, I said drives with an S attached to the end of it. I recommend getting two, and here's why. The first one you get can be the one you back up your files on every night. This one will be your main source of back up and will be somewhere close to your desk (I have mine sitting on my desk next to my speakers).

The second hard drive will be the one that you back up to weekly or even monthly if you want to, but you're going to keep this one in a special place - inside of a fire proof safe. This way, if for some horrible reason your house catches on fire, you're files are still safe. They've got water proof & fire proof safes you can purchase at places like Wal-Mart for pretty cheap (under $100) which is what I'd recommend doing.

As for the type of hard drive you need, this is the one I just bought recently (I still have to get my safe and second hard drive) - a WD My Book Essential 500GB - (no affiliate link). It's awesome, easy to set up and use and is small, so it doesn't clutter my work area at all. Of course, you'll want to look around and see which one will be best for you, but I've heard a lot of positive reviews about this one.

Paper documents and filing cabinets

back up your freelance life

I've had a 2 section filing cabinet in my office for around a year now, and it's been a junk drawer for the entire time. Last week, I emptied it out, bought the hanging folders with tabs for naming them and sectioned off 10-15 folders. By doing this, I'm able to save any sketches I create for client website designs, save documents and files that I've had to sign and also keep track of bills and other various items that come in paper format.

I also bought my filing cabinet from Wal-Mart (I'm from the country, what do you expect - we love this place) for about $40.00 and it's been a great investment. You can get your filing cabinet from anywhere - IKEA, Office Max, or any stores in your local area. They're inexpensive, but are great for keeping copies of all of your documents.

More back ups outside of your house

Do you have a friend or family member that you can trust? Why not get more back ups of your files (hard drives, paper documents, ect) and take them over to their house for safe keeping. You never can be too safe these days. If you don't really want to entrust your friends or family with the files, you can always buy a storage container or a safe deposit box at a bank.

So where are all the online backups?

Now that you've (hopefully) taken care of the offline back ups, it's time to look into backing things up online. Why do both? You can never be too safe, that's why. You'll be mad at yourself forever when your computer crashes and you lose 6-12 months worth of work and downloads. Trust me, it is not fun. Backing files up online can actually be pretty easy and there's a couple ways you can do it.

Backup services

back up your freelance life

If you're looking for a company that has an app for your computer that backs up the files for you automatically, this is the solution you'll like the most. There are free solutions out there that can back up up to 2gb of files for you as well as paid options with much higher space. A couple of great companies to check out are found below.

  • iDrive - 2GB for free / 150GB for $4.95 per month
  • Spideroak - 2GB for free / $100+ GB for $10.00 per month

The beauty of these types of back up systems is that they have automatic back ups, so you're able to set it for a time when you're not on the computer (3-4am) and it will back up your files for you.

Your own hosting account

back up your freelance life

If you've got a good host and you've got a lot of extra space, this solution could be great for you. A simple way to back up your files here is to create a folder with a random name (something like 534dfdf56sdfg would work, as you can easily find it in your cpanel or ftp, but don't need to link anyone to it or remember the exact name). Once you've created it, start uploading your folders if important items, just like you would if you were transferring them to an external hard drive or online storage service like we talked about above.

How do YOU back up your freelance life?

Now I turn it over to you, my kick ass readers to see what you do in order to back up your freelance life. I know I can learn some things from you, so drop a comment and let me know what special ways you back up your freelance life.

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  1. Ryan Holota says:

    I use and it’s a lifesaver. It’s about $60 a year for unlimited storage space. It backs up while I’m asleep, and I’m completely protected from theft, fire, crashes, etc.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for letting me know about Ryan. I know a lot of people also love Dropbox as well. There’s a ton of options out there for online storage. I like having multiple backups in different areas though. Treating my files like they were of national security importance is the only way I can be relaxed :)

  2. Tim says:

    I use dropbox all the time now, I have it on about 4 different machines. Its just so damn useful. But I just use it for code projects and websites. The most important thing I back up is my personal photo’s because you can never take the same picture twice. For that I use Galery Viewer ( because it backs up the images online in a secure manner and but you can view your pictures whilst offline too, which is essential for me. Plus you can share your pics with friends and family easily. Its rocking.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for the comment Tim. I haven’t seen Gallery Viewer yet, I’ll have to check that out. I’m also looking into Dropbox. So many people talk about it, it’s got to be good, right? :)

    • Kory Gorsky says:

      I’m an avid DropBox user. Being able to have all of my clients files synced to any computer I want. Beautiful. (I use the free 2GB account.)

  3. Melissa Ek says:

    Hi Mike – great article. I haven’t done the fire proof safe in my house yet, but that’s probably my next step. I have the myBook drive, but for some reason it unmounts regularly and I have to restart and then mess with it to get it to mount. I’m on a mac, so that could be part of it (altho it says it’s compatible with macs).

    For online backups, I use SpiderOak. I think you have a typo in your pricing for it….you have $100 instead of 100GB. I love Spider Oak! i just hit ‘sync’ whenever I want to (usually after I finish a big project) to make sure everything is backed up. BUT, it also auto syncs at intervals set by you.

    And the reason I started all the backups? B/c 3 years ago my computer died (motherboard went out), and I was stuck with my most recent backup being about 3 weeks prior. I didn’t lose much, but during the time the tech guys were recovering my drive, I was totally frazzled thinking I was going to lose 3 weeks of work. I finally recovered all but about 2 small files (I got SO lucky), but I did lose 1/2 of my music files. Lesson learned.

    Before everything went online or there were hard drives large enough to hold everything, I would burn DVDs. So I have a slew of those in a CD case….I guess those should go into the fireproof safe also, huh?

    Great article! Thanks for the info.

    • Mike says:

      Hey Melissa,

      Thanks for the comment. And yes, you did get lucky – very lucky. Before I ever thought about backups, I lost years worth of files. It’s ok now in retrospect as I wasn’t big into the business side of things yet, so it was mostly music, design related files, fonts and personal projects (which I sucked at the time, so I didn’t mind forgetting haha).

      And yes, DVD’s go in the fireproof safe too. And any super-duper important documents as well.

  4. rafael says:

    I’m using 4shared, dvds and an extern hard drive :)

    Nice post!

  5. Hector Lee says:

    It would be good to know that it is probably against the terms and conditions to backup on your web hosting space if you are getting unlimited space. It states that the space is only for your website or related files.

    • Mike says:

      Hey Hector, I wasn’t meaning shared hosts like hostgator, but more along the lines of a dedicated server, or if you have your own box, which a lot of bigger sites do have. Thanks for making this known though so people can see the difference – I can’t believe I forgot to mention that in the article :)

  6. Mickey says:

    Dropbox would be the main one for me, too. Not only does it keep things backed up, but it keeps my files nicely synced between my desktop, laptop and netbook.

    Other software helps in similar ways — Evernote, Gmail, Google Calendar, etc. They’re all accessible from any of my computers (or any of yours, if need be) and are backed up by nature.

  7. I’ve got a couple computers backing up to Mozy, but my main computer backs up to IDrive and uses an IDrive Portable. This way, I have both local and online backups of my data. The best of both worlds!

  8. DesignLovr says:

    I’m using Mozy for my online backups. You’re getting 2GB for free (just enough to backup the real important files) or unlimited space for only $4.95.

    Besides that I totally agree that you should better be safe than sorry and backup online and offline.

  9. James Armes says:

    I like to scan my paper documents and back up the PDFs with the rest of my files. If you’ve never scanned your documents before it can be a daunting task to get started. Once you make a habit though, it takes little time and can be well worth it in case of fire, flood or some other disaster.

  10. Peter says:

    I learned the hard way with USB backup storage.

    I started backing up everything on one of them and after a month it failed. Lost all the data that was on it.

    Make sure you keep a backup of your backups. Solid State USB drives I’m sure are a lot better and less likely to fail.

  11. I use combination of online and external hard drive backup. And it works well so far.

  12. Anne says:

    I’m doing genealogy and my computer failed Thanksgiving night. I just said and cried-my Maxtor had stopped working for some reason but I was able to retrieve some information and my astute and talented daughter retrieved most of the rest. Your article was a real eye opener and much appreciated. I’m looking into Dropbox and others today and getting started. It’s always in the back of my mind that it will happen again. Wasn’t sure to purchase an external or subscribe to a service. Maybe both. I’m wondering how much 2gb would really be and how much I could save that way. Thanks again.

  13. Issa says:

    Definitely helpful! Thanks! I’ve been storing data the ‘hard’ way. I just never thought it safe to go for an online backup and I might give it a try.

  14. Appreciate the post, lots of great information. Looking forward to your next post.

  15. Jane says:

    I saw your article and it really nice reading. Would you mind if i share to others? Thanks

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