by Susan Shelby
What a SWOT Can Tell You, and How to Get Started
The familiar SWOT table is taught in every entry-level business class. It’s so commonplace that you may wonder if it’s even worthwhile to undertake. Or maybe your company did a SWOT a few years ago, and you haven’t thought about it since. I’m here to tell you that an annual SWOT analysis can be a relatively quick means to gain a leg up on your competition and bolster your business plan with targeted, thoughtful strategy.
A Refresher: What is a SWOT Analysis?
The acronym SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Undergoing this examination of your business helps to identify positive and negative internal factors (strengths and weaknesses), which are within your control, and positive and negative external factors (opportunities and threats), which are beyond your control.
What Can a SWOT Analysis Do for My Business?
Whether your business goals are to grow a specific niche segment, expand into a new geographic area, change strategic direction, or stimulate growth overall for the firm, identifying your business’s specific strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats will provide you with a clear and actionable road map for meeting your goals.
How to Conduct a Successful SWOT Analysis
To begin, assemble a key team of people with various roles in your business. This may include management, finance, marketing, and business development. Then identify a facilitator to make sure that everyone stays focused and to guide the conversation, as well as a note taker.
Start with brainstorming. Get everyone’s ideas written down for each of the four categories.
- Strengths: Focus internally on your firm’s specific knowledge, capabilities, organizational skills and other qualifications. The key question is, what do you do well? Is there anything you do better than anyone else?
- Weaknesses: What does your firm need to improve? What do your competitors do better? Focus on the perspective of your customers and the market.
- Opportunities: Explore the external factors where opportunities may exist, including emerging markets, new technology, and industry trends. Where can you find, or create, a competitive advantage?
- Threats: Threats are potential future weaknesses. What threats does your firm face from competitors and/or the market? What challenges do you anticipate in the next few months and years?
It is important that each response meets the following criteria:
- As specific as possible
- Fact-based (not opinions)
- Relevant to your competition
The clearer and more concrete you can be, the more valuable your results will be. For example, “skilled staff” is a good strength, but a bit vague. Let’s make it a bit more specific and useful:
Skilled staff > Skilled staff with niche expertise > Skilled staff with niche expertise in healthcare design > The largest design staff with niche expertise in outpatient skilled nursing center design in the Boston area.
That last statement is powerful. It identifies a niche market for your firm, presents your staff as knowledge leaders in their industry, clarifies one of your firm’s unique differentiators for clients, and presents all of that information in comparison to your competition.
Next it’s time to analyze, prioritize and determine what action to take. An action plan should take advantage of your strengths and the opportunities, and should identify a constructive response to your weaknesses and threats. With a clear plan tied to a well-thought-out SWOT analysis, you are on the right track to reaching your business goals.
Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations.