SWOT Analysis for Microbusiness
How to use SWOT Analysis for small business
It’s been one of those weeks. It all started last week when my internet connection almost stopped working right before a conference. That’s the moment when a lot of things need to come together and be done efficiently. Slides have to be tweaked and polished for a specific audience (even if I’ve given a talk many times, I still make adjustments), blog posts need to go up, a newsletter needs to go out, and final communications with printer, hotel, and so forth have to be completed. Because the connection didn’t entirely quit — it just dropped to the speed of dial-up, I was able to keep working, more or less. But it wasn’t smooth, and I didn’t get everything finalized as I normally would.
Of course, I didn’t discover all that didn’t get done as it should have until I got to the conference. The most exciting moment was the workshop in which I opened my slides and discovered that all of the notes and edits I’d made at home had apparently not been saved in Dropbox, and I was working with an old version of slides without any notes at all. That was interesting, for sure. And then I read the handout, and discovered that the printer had printed a draft version, rather than the final. Not wonderful.
As much as I plan ahead and try to stay focused, weeks like this happen. And when they do, it makes me pause and consider exactly what I could have done differently, and what I need to do to in order to more effectively accomplish what I’m called to do. This is when I summon a useful tool — the SWOT Analysis.
SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It is a tool for strategic thinking, and I have found it helpful when I am at some sort of bottleneck. To use the SWOT analysis, list internal factors (Strengths and Weaknesses) and external factors (Opportunities and Threats) that are currently affecting your business. Consider how you can use Strengths and Opportunities to balance Weaknesses and Threats. This is a process that can be done frequently and briefly for small decisions or challenges, and it can also be done in great depth for major decisions or transitions.
Since I am doing a SWOT analysis today, I’ll share a portion of my list for each of these items so you can see the process. To begin, write down exactly what you would like to accomplish. This morning, my objective is simple: I want to determine what weaknesses in my person or processes contributed to the challenges of last week, and figure out what to do in order to effectively address them. For me, a big part of this is prayer — my ultimate desire is to grow in wisdom and virtue, and this begins with listening and being willing to hold loosely all I have, and to turn back or start over as needed. What I am including here will simply be a few of the practical items that come to mind during the SWOT analysis.
In the Strengths category, list positive things about your business or yourself that work to your advantage. If you are working on a challenge of some sort, it can be tempting to skip this category and move directly to Weaknesses and Challenges. I encourage you not to do that, because seeing Strengths in black and white moves you from a problem-centered focus to a more balanced perspective. If you are having trouble identifying Strengths, it sometimes helps to pull back from a hyper-focused close-up view of your business and move out for a birds-eye view. Ask yourself questions such as:
- What are the things you or your business do well?
- Do you have good connections or access to supplies or information that others do not?
- If a client or customer were to explain why they do business with you, what would they say?
- Of all the things you do in your work, what do you love most? What makes time disappear? (If you don’t love anything about your work, you probably need to ask yourself how can you change it to include elements of joy.)
My current list of Strengths includes:
- Decades of reading, experience, and learning to draw upon.
- Reasonable competence in most job-related skills.
- Time to work.
- Ability to outsource some tasks.
In Weaknesses, list personal or business challenges that work to your disadvantage. If you are doing long-range strategic planning, list everything you can think of (a mind map can help you generate ideas). If you are working on a small set of specific challenges, limit your Weaknesses list to only those that apply to this particular challenge. Ask yourself questions such as:
- What frustrates or slows you down?
- What factors lead to technical difficulties?
- What is being neglected because you don’t have time or resources?
My current list of Weaknesses includes:
- Having so many projects going at once that it’s almost impossible to do any as well as I would like.
- Not outsourcing the EvEd website move (for a variety of reasons). Because book deadlines and convention season wait on no one, that means progress is slow, and website visitors have been stuck with the slightly broken website since December. That bothers me.
- Not having the new website up means I am still having to do some simple tasks manually, rather than having them automated, and that is another time drain.
- Limited number of assistants, all with limited time.
For Opportunities, list both things you are currently doing and could do better, and things you may be able to do in the future. Ask:
- Are you seeing a need that is not being met?
- Are you able to meet that need while remaining true to your mission and goals?
- What changes could you make in your business that might streamline operations?
- What personal, social, or business developments might provide the opportunity to grow?
My current list of Opportunities includes:
- I am increasingly being asked for a retrospective view of what really matters (and how to make it happen) during the years of intensive parenting, schooling, and working, and there quite a few things I’d like to share. Whatever I do, I want to offer it in the spirit of encouragement, with practical help and tools that work. That is likely to be the next book.
- So far, I have maintained two blogs with separate topics (entrepreneurship and homeschooling). There seems to be an increasing convergence between the two, so I am considering melding them into one. I prefer the DoingWhatMatters.com domain, but get the most traffic to Janice-Campbell.com, so I would have to think about it. Merging them would simplify my life.
In the Threats category, list negative external factors that make it hard for you to do business. This can be anything from a lack of space to work to unsupportive people, but it does not include the blessings (a.k.a. home and family) that make it hard to find time for work. Ask:
- Are there challenges in your environment that keep you from doing what needs to be done?
- Are there technological issues that make it hard to work effectively?
- Are you using time well, or are you creating difficulties for yourself by not being careful with it?
- Have you said “yes” to a good activity that you really don’t need to be doing now?
- What personal, social, or business developments are creating challenges for you?
- Working without an adequate safety net of backup plans or systems. At minimum, I need to have alternative ways to work and more online backups if my home internet fails.
- The necessity of completing the website move right as the season grows busier. Risks of doing this without experience or adequate backup include accidentally losing data, setting up something incorrectly, muffing the redirects, or simply overlooking something major. I do have access to emergency help if necessary, but I’d rather have it go well. Risks of not doing it mean that we go through another busy season with a creaky website that makes it necessary to do a lot of manual tweaking.
- It is an ongoing challenge to balance the need to communicate online with the ability of social media to suck away time that should be invested elsewhere. I need to continually apply the ephemera rule: If it won’t matter in five months, don’t give it more than five minutes.
What to do with your SWOT Analysis
After you have made notes in each category, ponder your list for a few days as you go about your normal life. Usually, the simple process of thinking through these four areas and writing about them can help you think more clearly about the challenge you’re facing. Evaluate how the Strengths and Opportunities you listed might help you address the Weaknesses and Threats, and list possible actions you might take. Take as much time as you can, without neglecting whatever else you need to be doing. Ask yourself:
- Do I need to add something?
- Do I need to eliminate something?
- Do I need to outsource something?
- In all that I do, am I staying focused on the things that matter most?
Finally, sketch out a plan, and act. Always be willing to examine what you are doing; to consider what you can do better; and to turn around if you are headed the wrong direction. Humility and good humor are your friends.
Have you used SWOT analysis for your microbusiness? What other strategy tools do you use?