For years successful companies have used the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to evaluate themselves and develop strategies for moving ahead. But this exercise is not just useful for corporations and businesses. You can use it to develop your own strategic growth plan for the year ahead. Here’s how:
The secret is to look at yourself as if you were a company. It’s called “You, Inc.” and a new year is a great time to take an in depth look at yourself, your market, and your competitive environment. The analysis comes in four parts:
- Strengths (internal)—what do you do better than anyone else?
- Weaknesses (internal)—where do you need to improve your skills or performance?
- Opportunities (external)—what positive factors are present in your business environment?
- Threats (external)—what obstacles might be getting in your way?
What follows here is a comprehensive set of questions designed to help you think through this process. So get out a notebook, or open a new document on your computer and let’s get started.
1. Strengths. What do you do better than anyone else around you? Are you creative, quick thinking, well organized, outgoing? Are you a good negotiator? Do you have a great business network? What did you accomplish last year that you were most proud of? What awards have you won? What do you get compliments for?
How you see yourself is important. But also consider how others see you. Ask your boss what he/she thinks. Get the opinion of colleagues, close friends, or family members. Past or present clients may have useful insights too.
Then look at your strengths as compared with the people around you. If you’re good at making new client presentations, that’s wonderful. But if everyone else in your office is equally good, you’re not setting yourself apart. Look for positive differences between yourself and others.
2. Weaknesses. What do you procrastinate about? What have you been criticized for? What skills do you lack or need to improve? Are you keeping up with technology? Are there licenses you need to get or continuing education courses you should complete? What personal qualities are you missing? For example, do you hate confrontation or avoid making phone calls? Do co-workers bring in deals that you’ve missed? How can you improve your performance in these areas?
Again, look not just at yourself, but consider how others see you as well. Ask for input and be prepared to accept what you hear as constructive rather than critical.
3. Opportunities. Look first at your market area. Are sales projected to increase this year? Are property values going up (or down)? There are opportunities, even in down markets. You just have to adjust your strategy to compensate for the changes. Fortunes have been made in foreclosures and short sales during recessions, for example.
Then look at your own firm and marketing efforts. Is there a colleague who’s looking for a partner? Are there vacancies you could step into? How about networking groups you could join or referrals you could trade with compatible businesses, such as title companies, appraisers or property managers? Could you beef up your web presence to get more out of town referrals?
4. Threats. Are there local legal or political issues that may affect your business, such as new laws or regulations you have to comply with? Are work colleagues competing with you for key positions? Has a new firm opened that’s cutting into your client base? Have you lost listings or sales to other competitors recently?
As you look at strengths and opportunities, write down specific actions you will take to use those to your advantage. Add a timeline for accomplishing each action item. For example, “I will join the new east side networking group by the end of February.”
When you’ve listed weaknesses and threats, be prepared to develop coping strategies to reduce or eliminate their impact. For example, “I will enroll in a public speaking class during the spring quarter.”
Doing a personal SWOT analysis is a great opportunity for self-reflection, and we all need to do that, especially at the beginning of a new year or season. But as an added bonus, SWOT can help you uncover ideas and opportunities that you might otherwise have missed. Use this exercise to make this your best year ever!