send a fileLet’s say you need to get a copy of your QuickBooks file to your bookkeeper…or business partner…or CPA. Easy, you say. Just attach it to an email.

Stop!

You should consider a couple of things first.

1. Security. Sending and receiving email is not the most secure thing to do on the internet. If your email account gets hacked, of if your email receipient’s email gets hacked, you don’t want your QuickBooks file sitting out there for the taking. And you don’t want your file to sit out there in someone’s inbox forever either.

It’s more secure to use a file sharing or file sending service. Services like sharefile.com, yousendit.com, sendthisfile.com, and others have secure means of sending files. Most of these services allow you put an ‘expiration date’ on the file you send, so it will automatically go offline after a week or two. That’s a good thing.

Or, if you have a cloud-based drive you can share, like IDrive, you can securely upload a backup of your file and give access to someone else.

2. Efficiency. Attaching large files to emails is not very efficient; email wasn’t designed to carry heavy data loads. If the file you attach to your email is bigger than, say, 10MB, it may fail to send at all, or may not be receivable on the other side.

Even if you create a portable copy of your data — which would be perhaps only 20% the size of your regular QBW file — most company’s files are still going to be too big to reliably send by email.

Keep it secure, and keep it efficient when you transfer someone your QuickBooks data.

How about you? What’s the best method you’ve found to send someone a QuickBooks file?

Memory aid
Do you remember to make QuickBooks backups?
The classic problem with backups (Quickbooks or otherwise) is that they don’t get made consistently.

So people are always calling with QuickBooks data corruption and…you guessed it…no good current backups.

So what’s the answer? The solution is to always have backups available that are technically sound, current, and deep.

Deep? Well, sometimes your file gets corrupted, and your last good backup is corrupted too. You can’t just restore your backup, if you’re only “one backup deep”. So you need a number of backups going back in time. If your last backup is bad, perhaps the one created the day before that is OK.

There’s gotta be an easy way to do this, right? A way that you don’t have to think about too much?

These days, backing up your QB data can be easy and automatic. Let’s look at some options.

1. Intuit Data Protect. This plan seems to be replacing QuickBooks Online Backup, although it is only available for QuickBooks 2011 and higher (QuickBooks Online Backup works with earlier versions too.) This fee-based service will automatically backup your QuickBooks files, and other files too, to Intuit’s cloud. It will keep your data around for 45 days. So that’s pretty good “depth”. This plan is included for no extra charge if you have certain Intuit support plans.

2. 3rd Party Online Backup Services. There are a lot of these out there. Global DataVault, iDrive, Carbonite, Mozy, and others compete in the online storage marketplace.

Most of these will automatically sync your hard drive to your online storage account, and backup your files whenever then change. This includes your QuickBooks company data files.

The potential vulnerability here is with one-generational backups. Example: Your company file is getting synced continuously with your online backup account. But then your data gets corrupted. And backed up to your online account. Hmm, where’s a good backup? It’s not online!

The workaround for this is to still make manual backups within QuickBooks. You can configure your preferences in QuickBooks to prompt you every time you exit to make a backup. I would recommend that you do this. Making a backup doesn’t take much time. Then, theoretically, you have an almost limitless number of backup generations if you get in trouble.

These are really the only easy and automatic methods I know of. If you have in-house IT, perhaps you have a way of getting automatically produced server backups off-site and off your server. I’ve talked to too many IT consultants over the years who end up with a crashed RAID and NO good server backups. No good. It might seem scary, but you really want to backup your most important data to the cloud. The scarier alternative is finding yourself with no good current backups at all.

rock climberWhen we repair QuickBooks damaged files, or supercondense them, we usually ask that people transmit them to us in the form of a portable copy.

Why? Because it’s by far the smallest kind of backup of your data that you can make. QuickBooks might take a 1GB Enterprise QBW file (native format company data file) and create a portable copy that is perhaps 150MB. Much faster to send electronically!

Some people worry about that, though. More than one person has asked me “Are you getting all our information if we send that kind of file?”

The answer is yes. The portable copy contains all your raw accounting information.

How can it be so small, then? It’s because the portable copy doesn’t have any internal indexing in it. The indexes are recreated when you restore a portable copy, and the file size of the QBW returns to ‘normal’. That is why restoring a portable copy takes a long time relative to a regular QBB backup; QuickBooks has to reindex the file.

Portable copies are a great format to send files electronically, or to back up to a USB drive or online drive that has limited space.

Sometimes QuickBooks files will get corrupted in such a way that a portable copy cannot be created — you’ll get an error when trying to create one. Otherwise, it’s a reliable method of backing up your QuickBooks file.

There are some things in life you just don’t want to go without: Seatbelts in a car. A batting helmet when you’re playing baseball. Sunscreen when you’re outside all day (well, at least for a fair-skinned chap like me!)

Same with your business computer. There are just some things you’d better have:

1. Battery backup. This is such a no-brainer. During thunderstorm season, the power in your office can go off for an hour, or a millisecond. Either way, it’s bad for your computer.

It could affect QuickBooks, or an Excel spreadsheet, or any program you’re running. If the flow of power changes, the data on your computer is likely to change too. You don’t want your data changing in random ways. (This is one common cause of QuickBooks data damage).

Good news: Battery backups, also known as uninterruptible power supplies, are widely available and inexpensive. I like APC battery backups these days, mostly because they come with software that will automatically turn off your computer after a specified number of minutes in the event of power failure. That way, it won’t use up all your backup’s battery reserve in just one incident, if you’ve gone to lunch when the power goes down.

2. Internet security software. If your computer is connected to the internet, you’ve simply got to have current security software in place. This is true even if you rarely browse the internet. The number of online threats “out there” has been rising for years, with no end in sight.

Getting online without having current security software in place is like sending your grandmother out for a walk by herself in a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night. No.

You should at least have basic (free) protection like AVG. Better yet is a more comprehensive protection package, like Norton 360.

3. Online backup service. Your computer’s hard drive is a machine, and all machines fail sooner or later. So it is wise to have something in place now for when that failure will happen. It’s not a matter of if it will fail; it’s simply a matter of when it will fail.

I talk to people all the time with nonexistent of inadequate backup systems. Sad, and unnecessary.

It used to be that a good backup system required either a very conscientious user or some sophisticated in-house IT. This is no longer true.

These days, services like IDriveGlobal DataVault, SOS Online Backup and others make it quite easy for regular, non-technical users to be well protected in case of IT disasters.

Backups “in the cloud” have a couple of advantages over local hardware backups (meaning tape backups, external hard drives, flash drives, etc.) One advantage is that you don’t have to manually maintain or rotate those drives. Online backup services do the maintenance for you and are always available (if you pick a quality service.)

Also, backups in the cloud are unaffected by problems at your location — theft, flood, fire, power surges, etc.

What do you think about my IT short list? Have any of these been a lifesaver at your office?

Posted in IT.

It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, but it still gets to me: a QuickBooks user with catastrophic data loss and a safety net with a big hole in it.

The story? A lady in Texas called this afternoon. Her Windows 7 machine had crashed and she had had to reinstall her operating system. Of course, that made all the files on her hard drive go away, including her QuickBooks files.

Fortunately, she had an online backup service in place. I won’t say which one, but it is one you’ve probably heard of.

Unfortunately, her QuickBooks files hadn’t been getting backed up. I think the reason was that her QuickBooks data files were located under her QuickBooks program folder, rather than under her user folder or My Documents or otherwise a folder that it would be obvious to backup. She hadn’t thought to backup up data from a program folder. (Lesson: You might want to double check to make sure your backup software is looking in the right place for your QuickBooks company files.)

It was just plain sad! Her only recourse now was to take her hard drive to a company that specializes in media recovery and see if any of her original files could be salvaged from her original hard drive.

Sometimes that works, but many times not. Files recovered under those kinds of circumstances may look OK in Windows, but QuickBooks can’t open them because they are not 100% original data. Now we can jump into the loop at that point, because if the file is, say, 98% original QuickBooks data and 2% garbage, we can repair the file with no or minimal data loss. There’s really no way to know in advance. So I told the lady to call me back if she got some files back that weren’t openable.

I hope it works out OK for her.

NOTE: This problem wasn’t a problem with the online backup service per se. Online backup services are great, and add a layer of protection to your data because the backups are automated and off site. One of the backup services we’ve heard good things about is Global Data Vault.

People restore QuickBooks backups for several reasons: to get rid of data errors or corruption in their current file, to bring a different computer up to date with the most current version of the data, or to recover from a computer crash.

A common question at restore time is “What should I name the restored file?”

You can restore it to its original name, or to something different.

If you restore to your original name, then if a copy of that file is already resident in your restore location, QuickBooks will ask you if you want to overwrite the existing file. It will make you confirm that decision, because it is an important one.

You see, once you overwrite an existing file with your backup, then the contents of the original file are gone for good. Even data recovery service companies, or so-called file recovery software cannot bring back the original contents once they have been overwritten.

That might sound a little scary, and I have talked to dozens of people over the years who have made a mistake in this process and accidentally overwritten their current data with old data. It’s a tough place to end up.

To avoid that, you can restore your company file and give it a new name. That name might include, for example, today’s date as part of the file name. That way, you are not overwriting what was there before, and it is clear what your restored file is.

But without a standardized name it is possible that you or some other QuickBooks user on your network might get confused later and open a different (and older) version of the company by mistake.

I’ve talked to a lot of people in that situation too; there was more than one copy of their data on their server, and somehow people started opening and using the wrong one and several weeks went by before they realized their mistake. That’s tough too…there’s no straightforward way to merge the two semi-current files together. (You can use third party software to do it, but it costs both time and money.)

You can avoid these potential problems by sticking with one file name and doing a bit of quick work in Windows before you restore your backup.

Your standardized file name can simply be your company name. You’ll always open and work in the file that has that name.

Create a folder under the main folder where you keep your data, and call it Old Copies. Before restoring a backup, make sure that everyone is out of QuickBooks. Then open up My Computer (or your network drive where your QuickBooks data resides) and click and drag your company data file to the Old Copies folder. (Your company data file will have a QBW file extension or file type.)

Then open the Old Copies folder and confirm that the file is there. Then rename your company file to include today’s date (e.g. MyCompany_march_21_2011.QBW)

At that point, your work is unambiguous — you’ve made clear by moving and renaming the file that this file is outdated and not to be used anymore. But it’s still available in case you ever need it.

Then you’re ready to restore. Open QuickBooks and restore your backup. Choose the normal drive and folder where you keep your data. Restore the file to the original, standard file name. It should NOT ask you if you want to overwrite an existing file, because you had already moved the previously used file elsewhere.

If it does prompt you about overwriting, something is wrong — cancel the restore and figure out what is going on before continuing.

With this method, you should be able to avoid potential points of confusion either during the restore process, or afterwards when people are using the file.

I recently spoke with a gentleman who lost eight months of data in his QuickBooks file.

It’s not perfectly clear what happened to cause this, but we think the key moment was when he got some kind of message about the file name, and something about ‘overwriting’.  Sounds like the warning you might get when you’re restoring a QuickBooks backup, doesn’t it?

He told me that he was talking on the phone while he was working in QuickBooks at that moment; he wasn’t paying complete attention to what was going on in QuickBooks.

BAM!

Multitasking is a wonderful skill/aptitude. But there are certain tasks that merit single-task focus. Like driving a car. Or restoring a QuickBooks backup file.

p.s. This story actually had a happy ending, because although the user had overwritten and lost his current QBW file, he had an intact, current TLG file and an older backup file on his hard drive. We were able to recover all the information.

Have you ever deleted something on your computer and then regretted it? (I have.)

Did you get yourself a shiny new computer on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Or maybe you just need to get some year-end bookkeeping done on your laptop over the holidays?

If you need to get QuickBooks from one computer to another, it’s not a big deal. Here’s what you do:

1. Computer #2: Install QuickBooks (you’ll need your original install disk or downloaded install file, plus your installation codes that came with the software.)

2. Computer #2: Update QuickBooks: Run QuickBooks and click on Help / Update QuickBooks. That way, you’ll have the same QuickBooks updates on computer #2 that are on computer #1.

3. Computer #1: Backup your company data. You can back it up to any medium that will be accessible to computer #2. That would normally include CDs, USB/flash drives, external hard drives, or online storage services (like Global DataVault.)

The smallest backup you can make is a Portable file. This kind of backup is only about 20-25% the size of your regular QBW company file, yet it contains all your data. (The backup excludes the internal indexing in the file – that’s why it’s both smaller and takes longer to make and restore.)

4. If you made a backup to a physical backup drive, take it to computer #2 and plug it in or insert it. If your backup is online somewhere, download it to computer #2’s hard drive or desktop.

5. Computer #2: Run QuickBooks, and at the opening dialog box select “Open or restore an existing company”, and then “Restore a portable file” (or “Restore a backup copy” if you are bringing over a regular backup copy from computer #1.)

6. Computer #2: Navigate to the drive and folder where your backup is, and select the backup file.

7. Computer #2: Specify where you want the file to be restored to. You can accept the default that QuickBooks suggests, or point to a particular folder that makes sense to you. My Documents is not a bad choice.

8. Computer #2: Finish the restore.

Once your data is restored, everything should be set up for you to work in QuickBooks on your new computer. If you need to take your company file back to computer #1, simply reverse the process for steps #3-8.

What’s your favorite way to move QuickBooks data between computers?

When my family camped in Yellowstone National Park last month, we were camping in bear country.

Yellowstone grizzly bear
A clover-eating grizzly I photographed on the shore of Lake Yellowstone

Unfortunately, there have been some bad bear incidents in Yellowstone this summer.

A friend of mine let me borrow his bear spray for our trip. Bear spray is like personal-defense pepper spray, except it’s grizzly bear strength. I took the spray and packed it when we were on remote trails.

A warning on the can’s label almost made me laugh: “Don’t intentionally provoke a bear”. I could just visualize some nut feeling confident with his can of bear spray and chasing a bear down in order to confront it, spray it, and earn some kind of moronic bragging rights.

To avoid bear problems, you are supposed to be careful to not leave food out, not to smell like food, not to surprise a bear, not to run away from a bear…the list goes on.

Bear spray is designed to be the last line of defense against bears.

My company provides data repair services for QuickBooks users, and those services could be considered the last line of defense against QuickBooks data problems. But they are not the only defense.

There are lots of things you can do to minimize the chance of having QuickBooks data problems in the first place:

  • Have battery backups on your server, your routers, and all your workstations
  • Have internet security software installed on all your computers
  • Keep Windows up to date on all your computers
  • Keep QuickBooks updated on your system
  • Use the same kind of networking equipment on all your workstations
  • Make regular backups to a location off of your server

If you do these things, you greatly minimize the chance of encountering data problems in QuickBooks in the first place. But we’ll be your bear spray if somehow it ever gets to that point.

Posted in IT.