Knowledge is power but a database is only as effective as the last time the information was checked and updated, and good database management is essential. Everyone knows how irritating it is to receive a wrongly addressed letter. This can imply that if your business cannot get an address right, how good can it be at providing a service or selling a product?

Choosing software

Selecting the right database software is important, ideally it will give you a flexible system which allows for growth and expansion, and will produce reports and relevant data on a range of queries. The wrong software will tie you up in database management for far longer than necessary and you could end up inputting only information which your database can handle, defeating the objective of flexible data management.

Information selection

Deciding what you want your database to do will generally dictate the information it should hold. Essential information will include:

Name and address

Use or otherwise of first name

Job title/company name

Contact details (home/work/mobile numbers, fax, e-mail)

Date information was last updated

Industry/commercial sector

Details of last purchase

Other relevant details to your business

Last contact made with customer (and marketing material sent)

Using held information

Whether you are using the database as a marketing tool, mail merging with sales letters and producing labels, or gathering information on the purchasing trends of your customers, you should be able to sort and view the information in an easy format. This will enable you to produce printed reports for your staff and sales force to work from.

Some databases enable the use of pie charts, graphs and other visual representations which can be very useful.

Database security

It is likely that you will want the majority of your staff to view the database and run simple reports. However, it is important to have clear guidelines in place regarding the way information is input.  This will help to maintain the integrity of the information held within the database. It is good practice to set up password access to the database, this way you will prevent unwanted users from looking at your customer information – this is particularly crucial if your staff use laptops.

Backing up your database

Back up the database frequently and keep the backups in a safe place. Recreating an up-to-date database is impossible and lost or damaged data could prove a serious setback to your business.

Data Protection and legal issues

Be aware that it is legally possible under the Data Protection Act (DPA) for customers to obtain information which is held on them by companies. Therefore, your staff should be trained not to record details which would be embarrassing if revealed. Also, the DPA states that you must not keep records which are excessive or for longer than necessary. However, if you only have details regarding active customers or business this shouldn't be a problem.