A SWOT analysis is something every small business opportunity or franchise owner needs to know about and execute on a regular basis. It’s one of the easiest―and dare we say most fun―strategic planning tools you have at your disposal.
The acronym, SWOT, simply stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. When it comes to business, your strengths and weaknesses are considered internal factors over which you can exercise a great degree of control, while opportunities and threats are the external circumstances that you must manage over, around and through if you want to be successful. Taken as a whole, the answers you provide to the questions posed as part of your SWOT analysis will provide you with a very good platform for creating an optimally effective and strategic business plan.
While you may need or want to conduct a SWOT analysis on your own, it’s oftentimes a good idea to involve others in the process if you can. The benefits you might gain from having different and unbiased perspectives can be tremendous. Depending on the size of your business, trusted employees, consultants and even family members can be invaluable resources when it comes to assembling the ultimate SWOT team.
Once you know who will be involved in the process, make a decision to meet at a specific time and place. Ask everyone to come focused and ready to work. Start by ensuring all participants that their input is valuable and their honest opinions will be appreciated, even if they aren’t always positive. Furthermore, take a moment to emphasize that what at first seems like a negative can oftentimes be turned into a positive with a little bit of effort.
Then let the brainstorming begin…
Start on a positive note by discussing your business’ strengths. You may want to ask yourself and your team these questions:
• What do we do well?
• What makes our products or services unique or special?
• What experience do we have that others don’t?
• How is our brand perceived in the marketplace?
• What technological advantages do we have?
• What are we doing right when it comes to marketing?
• How strong is our customer base in terms of quantity? Loyalty?
• What makes our sales team stand out?
• Are there processes/systems that we use that make us exemplary?
• Where are we making the most money?
• Does our location come with any advantages?
• Where are we superior when it comes to logistics or distribution?
Next, focus on your weaknesses:
• What can we do better than we do now?
• Are we at all limited when it comes to resources or staff? If so, how?
• Are our production costs getting away from us?
• Have we thus far been unable to differentiate ourselves from the competition? If not, why not?
• Where are we most vulnerable to the competition? Why?
• Are we maximizing our online, social and other marketing options?
• What are we doing to ensure our customers come back time and again?
• Are our operations and systems streamlined for maximum productivity and effectiveness?
• Where are we losing money? Why?
Next up are opportunities, or the areas you can focus on when it comes to growth:
• Is the economic or socio-demographic environment changing? How can we capitalize on that?
• What is changing with regard to such issues as taxes, health care legislation or regulations that might be beneficial to us?
• What new distribution channels can we explore?
• Is there new technology available that will help us do things more efficiently?
• Where can we do a better job communicating who we are and what we do?
• Are our customers’ needs and/or preferences changing? If so, how can we change to meet them?
• Are there any partnerships we should think about forming that would be mutually beneficial?
• What emerging lifestyle trends might have a positive impact on us, if any?
• Can we create a seasonal need for our products and services, if we haven’t already?
Lastly, an honest assessment of any potential threats you might face will enable you to mitigate them head-on as opposed to being blindsided. Think carefully through what these minefields might be by asking the following questions for starters:
• What are the financial, regulatory, political and even environmental challenges we face right now? In the near future?
• Is our competition increasing/changing?
• Has there been a decrease in competition for our products and services? If so, why?
• Are there new and better products emerging to take the place of ours? If so, what are they?
• Are changing economic/socio-demographics working against us? If so, how?
• Where are we most vulnerable and why?
• Are our prices competitive?
A SWOT analysis comprising these and other probing questions should be conducted at regularly prescribed intervals over time. Why? Because, much like anything else, the only constant in business is change. And with change comes new answers to the same questions, answers that you need to fuel your ever-evolving business plan and its overall goals and objectives.