Melissa, Owner of Sunny Side Support
Backups (And Why You NEED One!)
It's really super-duper critical for you to have a backup of your computer. iCloud is great, but it's a service that syncs your stuff and isn't considered a backup. That's a really common misconception, though, and it's different when you're talking iPhones and iPads (check out our article on that here). Ideally, you should have at least one on-site backup (like on an external hard drive connected to your Mac) and one off-site backup in the form of a service like CrashPlan or another backup drive that you store at a friend's house. Clients without backups have led to some of the most gut-wrenching talks we've had to have—it's absolutely no fun to have to tell someone that their entire life's worth of pictures is gone forever.
Luckily, it's actually easy as pie to configure a backup system. The first thing you'll want to do is to purchase a drive (or two, if you're sending one offsite) to store your files. At the time of this writing, our favorites are this drive if you'd prefer something less expensive or this one if you're okay with spending a bit more for faster speeds and reliability. Make sure you choose a size that's right for your Mac, though; check your current storage needs by clicking on the Apple menu at the upper-left corner of your screen, choosing "About This Mac," then clicking "Storage."
We always recommend that folks get about 100 percent more than what they're currently using (and sizing up if necessary; it's always better to buy more storage than less). So in the case of the computer above, we'd suggest a 1TB backup.
Once you receive the drive, you can use the built-in Time Machine software to start a backup, and Apple has a whole support article on how you do that. Do go ahead and choose the encryption option they mention, especially if you're keeping the drive offsite; just be VERY certain that you don't forget the password you set, as all data on the drive will be unrecoverable if that happens. In this case, "unrecoverable" means "it's like you don't have a backup at all, and we will be very sad on your behalf."
Jokes aside, when your computer has finished its first backup, you'll be able to click on Time Machine's icon in your menu bar to revel in your new data security.
Doing this ahead of time can save you not only a ton of heartache but also money and time. If your machine crashes and you have to get a new one, it's SO much easier to just restore a backup than it is to build a machine out from scratch (or pay someone else to do it, ahem). Trust us! We've seen all the worst-case scenarios and would really like you to avoid being one. Difficult conversations just aren't our thing.