May The SWOT Be With You
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
A ‘SWOT Analysis’ is a two-dollar word thrown around by business consultants in almost every strategy discussion. While the name may sound foreign to some, the concept behind a SWOT is as fundamental as it gets.
A SWOT analysis is simply a tool that explores the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats that exist within a business. It’s an effective planning exercise no matter the type or size of business. When done correctly, it identifies ways to operate more efficiently, more profitably, and more competitively. The results of a SWOT analysis can help an organization focus on the activities most critical to its long-term success. A SWOT analysis is the fundamental starting point for creating or updating a business strategy.
A good SWOT analysis requires time and effort to get it right. You may know a guy that can do a $200 SWOT analysis, but buyer beware. That’s like buying a rock-climbing harness at a yard sale rather than REI. There’s a lot riding on both the SWOT analysis and climbing harness. Some things you just don’t bargain shop for. Climbing harnesses and strategic planning top of that list for me…right beneath cannoli shells.
The simplicity of the SWOT is its brilliance. No other document asks so few questions yet delivers such detailed insight. While it may be simple, a SWOT is by no means easy. First, a SWOT may uncover certain realities that a company and its leaders find uncomfortable to accept. Secondly, a SWOT requires time and dedication. The value of the output is directly determined by the quality (and honesty) of the input.
As mentioned previously, the S-W-O-T analysis included four unique sections. Here’s a bit more detail on each one:
What is your business known for? What gets repeated in customer testimonials? Why has that one customer been loyal for 10 years? Some examples might be quality control, product development, worker experience, marketing, customer service. The combination of such strengths gives a business its competitive marketplace advantage.
Why does the competition get business rather than you? What complaints are repeated in customer feedback? Why is customer turnover so high? Weaknesses are things that a business does not do well or something that a business completely lacks. These contribute to competitive deficiencies. Some examples might be lack of expertise, weak brand image, high operating costs, lacking product differentiation, or poor location. Many times weaknesses are known by the management and staff but lack clear definition and a plan for resolution.
Growth, profitability, and long-term survival are based on a company's ability to identify and capitalize on new opportunities. Some opportunities are better aligned with a company’s capabilities than others. As such, opportunities present different levels of risk for the business. The best new opportunity is the one that utilizes existing resources and strengths to act upon an immediate opportunity. Are customers using your products in a nontraditional way? Would a new pricing model attract business? Is there a strategic partnership that could introduce your products to a new customer base? These are some examples of SWOT opportunities.
Threats will always exist for any business. Threats can hinder a business’ growth and disrupt daily operations. Threats come in all different sizes and impact levels. Some may last only a quarter, and some may be ever-present. While every major threat can’t necessarily be eliminated, it can be mitigated. But, without thorough identification and planning, threats will never be successfully managed. Typical external threats to a business might be new competition, improved competitor products, supply chain issues, increased operating costs, new technology etc.
The Creation Process
SWOT instruction in less than 100 words.
Part I: Place each title – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – in a separate section of a quadrant chart. Begin brainstorming and list each idea under the appropriate heading. Provide some detailed background on each idea.
Part II: Decide which topics are the most important and how they will be managed, developed, or mitigated. I.e. How will you maximize that key opportunity or mitigate that weakness? Look for ways to integrate each group. For example, how can you leverage a strength to lessen a threat?
Part III: Put an action plan together based on the SWOT results.
A SWOT analysis is never really done as new threats can arise and opportunities can disappear. Revisit your SWOT results at least annually. When done correctly, a SWOT analysis will become the indispensable foundation for a rock-solid strategic plan.
Interested in learning more or getting some help with your own SWOT analysis? We can help! Tell us about your project here.