As 2018 winds down, we are continuing to work through our year-end checklist. While many businesses will use this time to simply eat, drink and be merry (which we do encourage), why not also use the last few business days of 2018 to make plans that will allow you to hit the ground running in 2019? To that end, this time of the year presents a great opportunity to evaluate the state of your business and the industry to create a strategic plan to set you off in the right direction in 2019. There is a popular saying that states, “you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been”.
A great tool that businesses can use to aid in evaluating the state of the business is a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool that can provide owners with an accurate and realistic assessment of the situation facing the small business. Looking at internal (strengths and weaknesses) as well as external (opportunities and threats) factors in an open and honest manner can help the organization understand their position and make plans to strengthen or improve their standing. While this can seem like a daunting and time-consuming task, this exercise is very much needed for the growth and future health of the business. As you focus on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your business, use the following questions as a guide for the analysis. Consider these questions from several perspectives: as a business owner, an employee, a customer, a supplier and a competitor.
Strengths: these are the positive attributes, both tangible and intangible, that set your organization apart. To determine if something is a strength, as yourself, “Is this something that helps my business reach its goals? Can I use this or build on it?”
- What expert or specialized knowledge do you have?
- What experience do you have?
- What do you do better than your competitors?
- Where are you most profitable in your business?
- What resources do you have at your disposal?
- What do you do better than anyone else?
- What unique or lowest-cost resources can you draw upon that others can't?
- What do people in your market see as your strengths?
- What factors mean that you "get the sale"?
Weaknesses: these are factors that detract from the value of your business or reputation, create issues or weaken your market position.
- What could you improve?
- What should you avoid?
- What would your competitors likely see as weaknesses?
- What does your business lack (for example, expertise or access to skills or technology)?
- Does your business have limited resources?
- What parts of your business are not very profitable?
- Where do you need further education and/or experience?
- What costs you time and/or money?
An important thing to note about going through the exercise of identifying your strengths and weaknesses: this should not be a solo project. While we think we know our business best and want to hold it tightly within our grasps, your analysis will be more productive and well-rounded if you enlist the help of key members in management as well as employees who have a vested interest and can provide different perspectives. Customer surveys can also be used to help you understand their needs and how well you do or do not meet those needs. Whether your weaknesses outnumber your strengths, or you are surprised by the identified weaknesses, remember that all of these attributes are within YOUR control. However, you cannot change these attributes if you do not honestly identify them first.