Trying to run a profitable practice without a database, says Alan Middleton, executive director with the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University in Toronto, is like trying to fly an airplane without proper navigation.

“In modern times, your database is your compass,” Middleton says. “It is your No. 1 aid.”

The information you hold on clients — in your client relationship management system, for example — is goldmine of data that can be organized to help you run your business more profitably.

Today, Middleton says, data and analytics are being used more and more to mine for new business. He offers the following advice to help you capitalize on that trend:

> Make it part of your routine
The profitability of your database depends, almost exclusively, on how active you are in keeping it up to date.

Think of your database as a digital notepad, Middleton says.

It should contain all the relevant information about your clients, such as contact information, as well as notes about what has been discussed during your client meetings.

So, after each client meeting, make sure you or a team member enters the details of what was discussed into your database.

> Store and organize information
Databases have been called the “backbone of modern marketing,” Middleton says, because they help co-ordinate all client communications.

As more and more communications with clients and prospects take place in digital form — by email and through social-media channels — these communications become easier to store and organize in one central location.

Storage of digital communications is helpful for your practice because it gives all team members access to important information. They can find answers to clients’ questions immediately instead of having to call back with the answer, Middleton says, which significantly improves the overall client experience.

> Don’t forget to segment
Your database, when properly cross-tabbed and coded, can also be a helpful client segmentation tool.

For example, if you do a quarterly newsletter for mid-level clients and a special webinar for your high net-worth clients, your database should immediately tell you which clients should be included on each respective list.

All your data should be cross-tabbed and coded, which will save you lots of time if you were trying to do this kind of task manually.

> Master the followup
When was the last time you called Mr. McGee? If you’ve put together a good database, the answer should be at your fingertips.

Based on the prompts you select, you can use your database as a calendar or an electronic reminder (like an email calendar), to prompt you to follow up with a particular client at any time.

This way, you should never forget that you promised to contact Ms. Kelly two months ago about checking in on her insurance needs.

This is the first instalment in an occasional series on how you can use “big data” to help you grow your business.

Next: Delving deeper into your database