Secure Online Document Sharing 
Friday, March 21, 2008, 06:54 PM - Computers, E-mail, Links, Small Business, Technology, Work Habits
One of the nice things about the Internet is being able to share information quickly - but it's not always secure, especially when a document is sent by e-mail.

In response to the needs of some of our clients, my company, Midwest New Media, has created a secure alternative to e-mailing sensitive information. This new service, SendItWisely (senditwisely.com), facilitates secure online document sharing in a simple, easy-to-use manner.

So now, instead of e-mailing that sensitive document, you can share it quickly and securely via an SSL connection. Best of all, it's free to try.

SendItWisely is currently in beta testing, so please feel free to send us comments about your experience.
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Back up your computer every day 
Friday, January 19, 2007, 03:58 PM - Computers, E-mail, Links, Software, Technology
I've learned from experience that almost every computer, at some point, will crash, whether the hard drive fails or something goes wrong with the operating system. Unless you're highly familiar with computer hardware and software, and you can diagnose problems before they manifest themselves, it is in your best interest to back up your data every day.

For personal computers, I recommend SyncBack, a free program from 2BrightSparks. (There's also a full version, SyncBack SE, which is not free.) After installing it, you can create a profile that will specify what files to back up and where to copy them - preferably an external hard drive, although you can send the files off-site via FTP, which is a viable option if you have the connection speed and the necessary disk space. You can automate each backup using the Scheduled Tasks tool in Windows; I've got mine scheduled for every evening, right after I finish work.

To make backups easier, I've separated my hard drive into two partitions; the C drive is home to my programs and computer settings, and the D drive is where I keep all my files, include:

- Business and personal documents
- Digital photos and music
- Work (local copies of the web sites I've developed)
- E-mail (Outlook PST files)
- Synchronized files from my PDA
- Downloaded files

If you run a server, a tape backup is nice, but you're probably better off with a remote backup, in case of fire or some other disaster. A server can connect with an FTP site a lot faster than a personal computer can, so you can usually run a backup script overnight without too many problems. There are plenty of online services that offer backup space, but you can usually get a better deal with a web hosting company.

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For example, my company currently offers web hosting plans starting at $9.95/month for 5GB of space.
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Even if your computer doesn't die any time soon, it's likely that you'll be replacing your computer within the next three to five years. When that happens, you'll be happy that you have all of your files backed up automatically, which will make it much easier to transition to your new computer.

I've also found it helpful to have immediate access to files that I accidentally overwrite or delete, realizing shortly thereafter that I made a mistake and need to undo my work.

If all of this sounds like a lot of work, just remember, it's nothing compared to the work and expense involved in recovering data from a computer that won't boot, or attempting rebuilding all of your important files.
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Outlook Tip - Defer E-mails to Prevent Mistakes and Omissions 
Friday, June 2, 2006, 02:23 PM - E-mail
Have you sent an e-mail and then immediately realized that you forgot to proofread, left something out, or otherwise goofed up?

A great suggestion from FriedBeef.com: Defer your outgoing e-mail messages by 2 minutes. You can accomplish this in Outlook with the Rules and Alerts tool.

In Outlook 2003, you can set up this rule by clicking Tools > Rules and Alerts > New Rule . First, select "Start from a blank rule" and then choose the option for "Check messages after sending". You don't need to select any conditions, so click the Next button, which will take you to a list of actions. Select "defer delivery by a number of minutes", and click "a number of" to set the number of minutes to 2. After that, click Next a couple more times, give your rule a name, and then click Finish.

I have a tendency to accidentally press Ctrl + Enter when I type messages, which is a shortcut that immediately sends the message. Usually this is no more than a nuisance for the recipient, but sometimes my image is on the line; for instance, when I'm responding to a prospective client, or when I'm addressing an important issue with several people. This rule will help me avoid potential embarrassment from an incomplete or incomprehensible e-mail.
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How to Take a Real Vacation 
Thursday, June 1, 2006, 03:20 PM - E-mail, Life/Work Balance, Phone, Small Business
Now that summer is knocking on the door, vacation planning goes into high gear for many of us, including myself. Here are some tips on how business owners and freelancers can get the most out of their vacations, including a few things I learned the hard way.

1. Don't be directly accessible to clients. You are not really on vacation if you're taking calls from clients or co-workers. If you must remain accessible, ask a trusted colleague to act as a go-between. Your colleague will be able to handle certain requests without contacting you, and can filter out issues that aren't so urgent. This will help convey to clients that your vacation is to be respected, while still giving them some peace of mind while you're away.

2. Tell people in advance. Make sure that everyone you work with on a regular basis knows that you'll be leaving. Notify them far enough in advance that they have the opportunity to tie up any urgent loose ends, and provide them with information on who to contact in your absence.

3. Make sure you can be reached in case of emergency. There will always be times when you're out of reach - on a plane or cruise, driving through the wilderness, or if your cell phone battery runs out. In most cases, however, there's a way that you can be reached, so make it a point to leave your contact information with the people who need you. If you're out of the country, leave the telephone number of your hotel, or the name of the ship that you're cruising with.

4. Avoid e-mail. Before you leave, set up an automated response so that anyone who e-mails you will be notified of your absence. Make sure to include your date of return, an e-mail address for general service requests (if applicable), and a phone number of someone who can be reached in the event of an emergency. While you're away, do everything in your power to avoid checking your e-mail. If you can't resist the computer, use a personal e-mail account to keep in touch with folks back home. If you do check your business e-mail, you probably won't be able to stop thinking about all the little things that could wait until you get home. Even worse, if you respond to someone, you're essentially telling them that you are not on vacation after all. It's just not worth it. Remember, your clients and co-workers will know that their requests will have to wait, and they will have other ways of getting assistance anyway.

(A note for those who do not manage their own e-mail accounts: Make sure that your IT/hosting administrator is aware of your vacation several days in advance of your departure. If you request an autoresponder the night before you leave, it probably won't be set up until some time after your inbox starts filling up.)

5. Avoid the phone. You should also record a new outgoing voice message before you leave, with all the details that are included in your automated e-mail response. It's important to keep a cell phone with you, so that you can be reached by those who have your number, but don't give out your cell phone number in your voice mail greeting!

6. Get some good help. If you really want to leave your worries behind, it's vital that you have a support system in place. Train a co-worker, friend or contractor to handle the important, day-to-day functions of your job. Consider writing it down in the form a guidebook; for example, I provide each of my staff members with an Administrative Manual that includes access information for each web site and server that we manage, along with instructions on what to do in case of certain crises.

7. Fear not! Even if you have all your ducks in a row, it can be difficult to relax and let go of things back home. But let's face it: If your work was that important, you probably wouldn't be able to take a vacation in the first place. Odds are, nothing serious will go wrong while you're away, and your clients and co-workers will be respectful of your right to have some time off - if you set the right boundaries.

I learned most of these lessons during a Baltic Sea cruise that I took with my family two years ago. I had minimal access to e-mail, no way to be reached by phone, and my colleagues weren't fully prepared to handle any problems that might come up. I was a nervous wreck for several days.

By contrast, I recently took a ten-day vacation through parts of Nevada and California, and even though a few small issues popped up, I didn't check my business e-mail or voice mail a single time, and felt no need to do so. It was a wonderful trip.

Remember, the purpose of a vacation is to relax and recharge. But vacations take work - you can spend a little time preparing, or you can take your work with you. We all deserve the chance to occasionally be free from our to-do list, and more importantly, from our work-related thoughts and concerns.
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