As we’ve begun to build our business practices, we’ve covered how to keep track of the income and expenses in order to comply with all those city, state, and federal taxes and other regulations. However, there are a few other odds-and-ends of details that deal with the business side of writing but don’t have anything to do with money. It’s also important to protect your business information through security methods and continue to gain wisdom about best business practices.
Tool #1: Have at least one method to back up the data on your computer. After investing countless hours in your latest literary masterpiece, a spilled cup of coffee on a laptop can wipe it all out in an instant. I have a friend who not only lost parts of her current work-in-progress when her laptop crashed but also the cover art and interior formatting files on several previous books she was about to re-release.
Losing the words is devastating. Losing your business records and receipts in a house fire or natural disaster would also require hours to recreate. However, if you had a detailed spreadsheet already saved on your computer and backed-up along with your other files, it would be easier to pick up the pieces, especially if you had kept those emailed receipts and rejection letters in a virtual folder of their own.
Most email providers (especially if that email address is connected to your website host) have your message inbox stored on their server. Just make sure that you’ve got the settings adjusted on your home computer email reader so you don’t erase the original message when it is downloaded to your local computer. With the many folders and filters available, you should have an easy way to store important business records for years without cluttering your inbox.
With email storage taken care of, the next issue is the files on your hard drive. Some authors have a second physical hard-drive where they regularly copy files and programs in order to have a back-up copy while others use smaller flash drives to carry copies of their novels. The problem with physical back-up methods is needing to remember to save the files regularly…and a theft or fire or natural disaster is just as likely to wipe out both the main computer and the physical copy at the same time.
Many authors email copies of their manuscript to themselves and let the email server act as an emergency back-up. There is an element of truth here. My friend who lost multiple books and production files was actually able to reconstruct most of her files thanks to email attachments sent to critique partners and beta readers. Perhaps consider your email as a back-up to your back-up.
The most reliable back-up tools are those that regularly send files to the “cloud” or some nebulous place in the Internet. Dropbox is one such location where you can manually store a large amount of files for free and then increase your storage limits by referring friends or paying a little more. Apple’s iCloud is another place to back-up all of your pictures and other files and it’s pretty cheap to add extra capacity to your storage.
Of the automatic tools out there, I personally use Mozy to regularly back-up selected files from my laptop. Since most of my photos are already in the iCloud thanks to my iPad mini and/or in the archives of my social media accounts plus my music is already in the iTunes “purchased” column, I reserve my storage space within Mozy for actual documents including all the manuscripts and blog post drafts I’ve written over the years. I used to silently chuckle at those who obsessively backed-up their files…until the day my old laptop decided it couldn’t limp along anymore and just quit. I never got the chance to manually attempt to move files from my old computer to the new one, but that task would have consumed days. With Mozy, I simply logged into my account using the new computer and with a click of a button, my files began to download into a recognizable directory of folders.
Mozy has several levels of membership, but I personally use the Home version for free since it handles all that I need as an individual. During the set-up process, you will select which folders and files you want Mozy to back-up. The initial transfer naturally takes time, but then at least once a day when your computer is on but idle, Mozy will scan your files for changes and send the updated versions.
Tool #2: Create a system to record your account information and passwords. At this point, you have a website hosting account, admin sign-in credentials, email access, social media accounts, post scheduler accounts, bank accounts, and data back-up accounts. If you were strategic or intentional, most of those business-related accounts should be under one email address but not every site uses your email address as your user name. Not to mention some sites will change their security to require a user name to include a capital letter and a number…before you even start picking passwords and security questions.
Some people try to use the same password for all of their accounts to make it easier to remember. This also makes it easier for hackers to access and wreak havoc in a wider circle. So it’s recommended that you change your passwords frequently. Plus, Internet security has “improved” to the point that passwords have evolved into complicated-symbolic-cryptic-changed-frequently strings of characters.
Such improvements are hard for my brain to remember, especially when I’m juggling new characters and already forgetting which have blue eyes and which have brown. That’s one reason why it’s important to have a place to record your account log-in information.
Here’s another reason. If you use Google Chrome as a browser, it helpfully asks if you want it to remember your passwords for various accounts. Which is great…until you have to use a different browser or a different computer.
If it’s important to write (or type) your passwords somewhere, where should that be? There is no easy answer except what works best for you. Some add a list under “P” in their address book or with their other business record keeping while others create a virtual note inside Evernote and access it from their computer, tablet, or phone as needed. There are also official phone apps that lock all your assorted passwords inside an account that you access with a single password that you have to remember on your own. Just like it was important to back-up your manuscript files somewhere, it wouldn’t be good to lose your list of passwords either.
Whatever system you decide to use, develop the habit of recording the details every time you open a new account of any type. This means the URL, log-in name, associated email account, password, and maybe even the answer to that oddball security question. Get the habit going now, because when we get to the career and other marketing section, you’ll be adding even more accounts to the collection.
Tool #3: Keep learning best business practices. Just like it is important to continue growing in your writing craft through books, classes, and conferences, running a business also involves a learning curve.
If you’re lucky enough to already know a successful author personally, spring for a cup of coffee and ask about their business routines and structures. How do they organize their time to get both the writing and the business upkeep done? What books have they read lately? What do they struggle with or what frustrates them? These might be areas you haven’t thought to address or it might be an area where you could repay them with a little practical advice of your own.
If you’re a writer, you likely started as a reader so picking up a book should come easily. However, when reading non-fiction it helps to know that the author is a respected expert in their field. It’s even better if they have experience in running a small business, especially a home-based or online business since you’re more likely to need advice about hiring your first assistant than running a board meeting. One recent favorite of mine is Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey which details how he built his own business from a card table in his living room. I’m also working my way through Business Boutique by Christy Wright which specifically helps women build businesses doing what they love.
Podcasts are also an easy (and free) way to learn about a wide variety of topics and quickly discover who is the leading voice in small business, social media marketing, building an online business, or any number of other topics. Many podcast hosts also interview other experts in order to bring that wisdom to their audiences, making the podcast a well-rounded education. By searching inside a podcast app on your phone or tablet, it’s easy to download certain episodes over specific topics or even to subscribe to your favorite show.
Last but not least are a few classes, blogs, or online communities. The Business Boutique book I mentioned earlier started as an online community forum with a few live events. The Barefoot Executive is another source of small business building advice along with Pat Flynn’s (Smart Passive Income) wealth of wisdom about starting an online business. Not everything will necessarily apply to writing and marketing a book, but if you ever decided to diversify and branch out into related speaking, coaching, or affiliate programs, you’d have plenty of ideas about where to start.