SWOT an honest conversation

I recall my first SWOT analysis being a real eye opener. I had worked hard researching the market, gathering industry statistics, and exploring the trends. I studied all my competitors gathering the details about their size, revenues, products, and services. I was impressed with my thoroughness and attention to detail. I made fancy charts and graphs to display my findings. I was determined to impress my partners and investors with this informative Market Analysis.

I edited and reviewed my data, then began the development of a SWOT. The SWOT being a process used to recognize internal and external business influences and elements. You take these facts and have an honest look at your business, after which you can articulate your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT’s).

I started with our Strengths, it was easy to brag and think highly of our new venture. I then moved on to the Weaknesses. I struggled with this exercise, hating to admit the vulnerable aspects of the business. I found that I was finding more weaknesses than I cared to admit to. I wanted the flood of possible weak aspects to stop!

So I moved onto the Opportunities section to try and alleviate my discomfort. I had fun dreaming about all the possible things we could accomplish. Eventually, I had to move on to the Threats section and realized I had the same uneasy feeling with this exercise. I just didn’t want threats to be dominant in our business.

Then it dawned on me that without seriously looking at the Weaknesses or Threats there was no way I could turn them into Strengths and Opportunities. I had turned a corner and started to have a frank and honest conversation with myself!

That’s the real beauty of having Weaknesses and Threats is that you can take action to make them into Strengths and Opportunities. If you lie to yourself, ignoring them then you deprive yourself of the possibility of making them work for you instead of against you.

Doing a SWOT is a humbling experience if done right. It requires truthfulness about what your business lacks and is ill prepared for, as well as what is unique and special about your offerings. What do we excel at and what do we suck at? Admitting the W’s and T’s of SWOT can become your biggest assets if turned into S’s and O’s, because it is likely your competitors have not acknowledged their own based on the same anxieties that made you hesitant to face them.

One other note about doing a SWOT analysis, don’t be surprised if the same subject is in all four quadrants. I was initially shocked when I found this to be the case!

The last company I created was a Microsoft Business Solutions partner and Microsoft relationship ended up in every quadrant. They added great value to our company giving us strength (S) by offering large R&D spend towards the product we sold, a software giant that empowered us in the sales process and they had a large support staff for us to lean on. Flip side was Microsoft was also our Weakness (W). Some people didn’t like Microsoft, sometimes we had to maneuver the almighty beast to get simple things accomplished, and they required me to jump through hoops to stay certified and eligible for their partner programs, which was monetarily and time consuming.

Microsoft was also in our O & T quadrants. They brought us large opportunities that we would never have had without them by giving us leads in our target market, they offered us campaign funding to get us further market penetration, and they added products to the product suite that helped increase customer satisfaction and revenue opportunity. Again, the flip side of these O’s was the Threats! Microsoft had their own business plans and investors to answer to. Therefore, when they changed the product architecture and made us rework our add-on functionality it was costly and inconvenient to our company and our customers. My favorite was when they reworked the entire pricing structure forcing us to revisit our add-on pricing structure and renegotiate our long-term industry based pricing structure. That was a real doozy! They also could have discontinued or sold off the product that would have been a showstopper! Thankfully, we never encountered that Threat, but I had it written in the Threat quadrant as a possibility.

SWOT’s are an eye-opening exercise that should be done annually to make sure you are aware of internal and external influences. Honesty creates awareness and this awareness allows you to address potential issues and be prepared for difficulties as they occur. Plan to be Prepared!

Laura Guillaume

Laura Guillaume is a serial entrepreneur, author, and business mentor. She is focused on enabling budding entrepreneurs to succeed in new business ventures. She has created a toolset of materials to help them plan, execute, operate, and eventually exit a business endeavor.
Laura started and operated numerous businesses from restaurants to software /consulting organizations. Some of the businesses were more successful than others each having significant learning experiences that she wishes to share. The last business venture was the most successful, sold in 2010 it landed 215th of Inc. magazines 500 fastest growing companies, and had a significant impact in its industry.
Laura is hoping that this new venture “Think it Thru” will assist her in accomplishing her last business goal of giving back to other entrepreneurs. Thinkitthru.org will be a non-profit company built to teach, encourage, and assist business startup ventures to be successful.

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