You’re invited to take the SWOT analysis challenge—see if you can complete all five steps in five days or fewer! Then invite your network to do it too. Share this article on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter and use the #SWOT hashtag.
If you’re looking for the rest of the steps in the series, find them here:
As an entrepreneur or small business owner, you want to know your business inside and out so you can make informed, money-making decisions.
A SWOT analysis is a great tool that makes it easier to think through every aspect of your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. The point isn’t just to make a list—it’s to use that list to help you start thinking through what you can do to amplify your strengths and opportunities, and mitigate the risks associated with your weaknesses and threats to your business.
We recommend that you invite others into your SWOT process—your business mentor, partner, and your team. As a founder or owner, you probably know more about your business than anyone else. But the deeper you get, the more likely it is that you have a few blind spots. Bringing others to share their point of view is a good way to make sure you’re not missing anything important so you can put together a strategic plan that really works.
Here are a few tips to make the process simple and productive.
1. Use the SWOT matrix framework
A SWOT analysis is usually completed using a four-square template—a matrix. There’s one box for each of the four elements: strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats.
In this first step, identifying your strengths, you’re only working in the strengths square of the matrix. We offer a free, downloadable SWOT analysis template to make it easy to get started, and here’s a quick example of what a completed SWOT matrix looks like:
2. Review a few SWOT examples
Before you get started on your own strengths analysis, it’s a good idea to review a few SWOT analysis examples from other businesses, just to get oriented to the kinds of things you might include or questions you might ask yourself.
3. Meet with stakeholders, mentors, and your team
To conduct a thorough analysis, ask other people for their perspective.
People do SWOT analyses for a number of different reasons. Maybe you’re putting together a plan for strategic growth, or to scale your company quickly. Maybe you’d like to include a SWOT in a business plan you’re putting together to seek funding. Or maybe you’ve encountered one too many surprises lately and you need to help your company refocus on your mission. Whatever your reasons, don’t just do a SWOT once.
Think about revisiting your SWOT with your business mentor or strategic advisor a few times a year at least. One approach is doing your whole SWOT analysis in a week, doing one step each day. You can do the whole thing in an hour or two, but you’ll probably learn more from the exercise if you give yourselves some time to really think deeply about each aspect.
4. Write down bullet points
During your brainstorming session, you’ll ask each person to supply one bullet point for the category they are working on. For today, each person will share their perspective on of your company’s strengths.
Be sure to write them down, or use Post-It notes and collect them all at the end. Don’t go overboard. Keep each bullet point to a single sentence, and if people have trouble distilling their ideas down to a single statement, take some time to work through that.
If you find weaknesses, opportunities, or threats emerging too, write them down if you must—but wait to discuss them separately. For now, just focus on your strengths.
5. Think about different types of strengths
Before you start listing your business’s strengths, let’s define the parameters a bit. Strengths are positive, internal (meaning within your business) factors that are within your control.
Think of the experience and resources that are available to your business. We’ll cover the external factors in the step on opportunity.
Here are a few strengths categories to think about:
- Financial resources like revenue streams, investments, diversified income, and grants.
- Physical assets like buildings and equipment.
- Intellectual property including patents, copyrights, and trademarks.
- Human resources such as employees, volunteers, mentors, and so on.
- Key players, or the most vital members of your team.
- Employee programs that help your employees excel.
- Company workflow, or the work practices and processes and how things get done.
- Company culture, or the values and environment that your company has created.
- Company reputation, which might include reviews, repeat business, or churn rate.
- Competitive position—where your business is poised in the marketplace.
6. Ask strengths questions to keep ideas flowing
To help you lock in on your company’s strengths, we’ve created a list of questions to help. The questions are broken up by the categories that we just went over. Keep in mind, some of these questions may not apply to your business. If so, skip it and move on, or modify it so it does apply.
Remember, you’re only looking for strengths here, so if you end up with a negative response, hang on to it until you’re looking at your company’s weaknesses or threats. Also keep in mind that your strengths include the things you have already set in place. In this step in your SWOT analysis, try to avoid leaning over into the opportunity section—or talking about the external things that might be of benefit to your business, like an emerging trend in an area that makes your product or service more relevant.
- What does your business do well?
- What do you do that your competition can’t?
- Why do customers come to you or stay with you?
- What kind of financial resources do you have?
- Is your revenue diversified?
- What kind of investments do you have for the future?
- How’s your cash flow?
- Are you meeting your sales forecasts?
- What kind of assets do you have?
- What are the benefits of your company’s space and building?
- What kind of equipment do you own?
- What kind of intellectual property do you have in your business? List trademarks, patents, and so on.
- Who are the key players on your team?
- What do you have in place to attract and retain top talent?
- How’s your staffing turnover?
- What kind of professional development opportunities do you offer?
- What kind of processes do you have in place that makes your company efficient?
- Have you been able to save time or resources with a new tool or approach?
- How good is your team at delegation?
- What kind of working culture has your company created?
- How are your company values visible to customers and your team?
- How does your clientele or community view your company?
- How did you achieve your reputation?
- How are your churn rates, or what is the average lifetime value of your customers?
- Does your company have an edge in the marketplace that your competitor doesn’t?
- What plans do you have in place to improve your market position?
- What plans do you have for growth?
- Do you have the potential to grow in certain sectors where your competitors don’t?
- What’s the main reason you’re able to grow?
7. Keep your SWOT team on track
Before you sit down with your team or stakeholders, set some ground rules for yourself, as the moderator of the discussion, and for your team, as active, constructive participants.
- Be truthful. It probably goes without saying, but if you’re not truthful during this process, the entire analysis won’t be effective.
- Allow for feedback. As you’re brainstorming strengths, make sure your employees are comfortable offering their feedback. You may not agree on some strengths, but it’s best to talk them through.
- Stay focused. You want to hear many viewpoints, but when you get several people in a room, time can get away from you. Keep the group on task.
Keep your list of strengths handy as you work through the rest of the steps in your analysis. You probably already identified some weaknesses as you thought through the question list. Keep that list close by—especially if the answers to some of them didn’t fall into the strengths category. The next step in your SWOT analysis is to identify your weaknesses.
When you’ve worked through all four areas, the final step is to develop actionable strategies and tactics to take advantage of what you’ve learned. Read more about that here.