February 6, 2021 | Grow Your Business | No Comments
Dear CEO Buddy,
My boss asked me to help the team figure out how to do a SWOT analysis for our first-ever strategic analysis and planning session.
I know it’s all about evaluating our Strengths and Weaknesses, but I’m new to SWOT. I’m not quite sure how to do a SWOT analysis or where to begin.
What questions should we ask to do a SWOT exercise? Can you provide a FREE SWOT analysis template to help?
SWOT First-Timer in Milwaukee
One of the best strategic analysis tools is a SWOT analysis. I get it: taking on a first-time strategic analysis and planning process can be intimidating!
It’s hard to start with a blank sheet of paper and stimulate meaningful outcomes. It isn’t challenging to learn how to do a SWOT analysis, but this simple guide is a powerful tool for visioning and strategic planning.
So, let’s start SWOTting!
What is a SWOT Analysis?
First off, the definition of SWOT. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
In a SWOT analysis, you’re examining your business from four quadrants, comparing internal factors and external factors. In other words, a SWOT analysis gives you a 360-degree picture of your business.
How Do You Get Started with SWOT?
Bring your whole team into the strategic planning process. Engaging multi-functional teams in defining the various elements of a SWOT analysis eliminates the risk of focusing on the perspective of a single person (the boss). Enlisting the help of your full team provides a comprehensive view of your business, including the issues faced in the day-to-day operations of the company.
Get your FREE SWOT Analysis template here!
How to Do a SWOT Analysis from Scratch
Many SWOT templates and forms can guide you, but it’s as simple as dividing your business into four quadrants and examining each. …and you don’t NEED to start your SWOT analysis from scratch! Use these SWOT questions to guide your approach and stimulate in-depth thought.
There are several approaches to get your team started with your SWOT analysis. Often, a company will begin by performing a SWOT analysis on a competitor. This approach gives you a frame of reference and gets thoughts flowing. It’s usually easier to identify the Weaknesses and challenges of your competitors, and often they will be congruent with your own company’s problems.
Similarly, as you work through the areas of the SWOT analysis for your own company, consider:
- Internally framing your perspective for Strengths (S) and Weaknesses (W), and
- Externally framing your perspective for Opportunities (O) and Threats (T).
Remember that the SWOT analysis paints the picture of where you are today. Using the strategic analysis and plan, you will then decide how to better move toward your goals and company targets. Directly address Opportunities and Threats within the plan as you develop it. Then plan for the future by strategically pursuing Opportunities that fit your goals and troubleshoot relevant Threats.
Let your company culture guide your approach to recording the SWOT analysis. The layout of your SWOT matrix doesn’t matter—whether you use four quadrants on a whiteboard, mind mapping, specific software, or flip charts. The SWOT development method isn’t as important as the content that comes from the activity.
If you want to take action now, download my FREE SWOT Analysis Template here…
I recommend that, no matter what method you take when conducting a SWOT analysis, you approach it as a group activity. The outcome will be more comprehensive and you’ll create a more accurate assessment with the full perspective of your team—document the SWOT analysis both for reference and for comparison as you move forward with strategic planning.
How To Do a SWOT Analysis: 150 Questions to Get Started!
As you do a SWOT analysis, it’s helpful to use questions to guide you through each quadrant. You’ll find a set of SWOT template questions below to help as you go through the SWOT analysis exercise. (These questions are also in the free SWOT Analysis Template here.)
Notice that in posing the questions, they are often the mirror image of another element of the SWOT analysis…
DON’T MISS THIS SWOT ANALYSIS TIP! Don’t be too concerned if a question is in the “wrong” SWOT category for your company—you can also evaluate an Opportunity as a Strength or Threat, and a Threat may expose a Weakness or convert to an Opportunity!
By working through each set of SWOT questions, you will likely start revealing answers that belong in other quadrants. This is a GREAT way to see even more of the full picture of your business! Don’t feel like you need to stick to one SWOT quadrant at a time!
The four SWOT quadrants are related and intertwined.
While the SWOT quadrant questions I’ve provided are relatively thorough, as you might guess, these SWOT template questions aren’t comprehensive, simply because you will need to tailor them to align with your business.
As you decide on which SWOT questions and answers apply to your business, think in terms of your products and services, your employees, your customers, your competitors, and the economy—and more specific questions will come to mind.
Download your free SWOT Analysis template here—all the SWOT questions below are included!
SWOT Template Questions: 39+ Strengths (S) Questions
The first set of questions has to do with your company’s Strengths. In some ways, this may seem like a tough area of the SWOT to tackle as you dig in. It’s often hard to identify all the things your company is doing right and well. For most of us, even if we’re doing well, we know we can always do better. Still, it’s crucial to identify your SWOT Strengths so you can build from them.
To help you explore the Strengths area of the SWOT, examine your company both internally and externally. Consider your company against your benchmarks and market competition. What is your competitive position and how are you leveraging it well?
- Does your company’s value proposition compete favorably in the market?
- What about your vision do your prospects and customers love?
- What have you heard from your clients that made you feel confident in your products and services?
- What distinguishes your products and services from that of the competition?
- List each unique offering your business provides.
- Write down exactly what each product or service is unique and exactly how you bring more to the table than your competitors.
- Are your systems up-to-date with timely and accurate information for decision-making?
- In what ways do you serve your customers well?
- What internal infrastructure (systems/processes/people) is working great and why?
- Are your distribution channels loyal and functioning well?
- List each of your distribution channels and describe each one honestly.
- What do your distributors love about how you work together?
- Do your products and services reflect experiences for all generational (Boomer / Gen Z / Millennial / etc.) buyers?
- What generation(s) are you seeking to attract with your products and services?
- Explain how you’ve successfully approached and reached a particular generational market.
- Do you have a clear pipeline of new products or services?
- What are your best upsells?
- Do you feel your company is always looking to the horizon for what’s coming next?
- Are you the market leader in any emerging markets?
- For example, you may be serving the cannabis market—what other emerging markets do you serve?
- How has your company moved to the forefront of the latest market trends?
- Do you provide a highly specialized product or service?
- What unique markets have you successfully reached with your unique offering?
- In what ways have your specialized products and/or services allowed you to take hold of your markets?
- Do you hold patents over other intellectual property?
- List all of your patents.
- Describe how each patent gives you the competitive edge.
- Can you get the job done faster or cheaper than a competitor?
- Faster and cheaper don’t have to be part of your business values—so what are yours and why?
- If you’re not faster and/or cheaper, what else allows you to excel above the competition?
- Is your customer experience better because frontline employees love their jobs?
- Here’s where team input really shines—what do your people love about their jobs?
- Share testimonials that target individual employees and customer experiences—how did that team member go above and beyond? How does your team go above and beyond every day?
- Are you good at team member onboarding and employee retention?
- Evaluate the average team member turnover over the last year. What stands out?
- How long do customer service team members stay? How about management?
- Can your business grow with your existing infrastructure?
- What systems do your employees love to use because they make everyday business easier?
- What policies and procedures provide ongoing benefits to how well your team gets the job done?
SWOT Template Questions: 39+ Weaknesses (W) Questions
Like the identifying Strengths section of the SWOT analysis exercise, identifying Weaknesses can also pose a challenge. Don’t be myopic when analyzing Weaknesses. Take a clear step back and examine your competitors’ Strengths. Look at others within your industry to expose your challenges.
Identifying your Weaknesses in a SWOT analysis requires listening to the input of your team. Remember that sometimes “boots on the ground” may have a clearer picture of customer interactions because they’re interfacing with your clientele daily!
It’s also important to listen to Weaknesses with an open mind. SWOT analysis isn’t a time to get defensive. You’re identifying your Weaknesses so you can shore up gaps and mitigate your risk.
- Do you know why your company loses sales?
- Where are the biggest money leaks across your business?
- What are your most common customer objections and how to you handle them?
- How strong is your brand within the market?
- Are you unique, memorable, and instantly recognizable? Why or why not?
- Are your competitors aware of your presence? To what degree?
- How are your lead times compared to the lead times of your competitors?
- Do you frequently receive complaints about turnaround times?
- Do your sales techniques result in too much over-promising and under-delivering?
- Are your employees provided market pay, benefits, and other perks they value?
- List all of your company benefits—and don’t forget the small stuff. (However, be honest about the small stuff. Free vending machines aren’t equivalent to adequate healthcare coverage.)
- Where are the gaps in your benefits packages? Have you had problems with employee retention because of them?
- What complaints do you hear from customers, distributors, or employees?
- How well do you listen and address their concerns?
- What are your customers, distributors, and employees complaints truly telling you about what’s working and what’s not?
- Do your products represent substantial enough compensation for your distributors, or are you too small a fish in too big a pond?
- Be honest about your relationships with your distributors and distribution channels. Write down problem areas and concerns.
- How important are you to your distributors? Do they truly value your business?
- Do you have a high employee turnover?
- What have former employees told you about why they left and what would’ve made them stay?
- Are your employees leaving in good spirits or burning bridges?
- Do you have adequate policies and procedures to ensure tribal knowledge stays within the company?
- How many of your everyday, week-end, and month-end processes are documented, step-by-step?
- What policies and/or procedures don’t exist? Why not?
- Do you have a clear method for facilitating the training and evaluation of employees?
- Do you have adequate cross-training as well as bench strength across your team members? How well are you covered if someone falls ill?
- What onboarding procedures and employee evaluation procedures are in place? Which ones are missing?
- Do you know your product development and lifecycle, especially compared to your competitors?
- What areas need improvement (testing, longevity, processes, consistency, etc.)?
- What do your competitors do better than you and why?
- Does your company culture support changes if they are needed?
- Where are the “sticks in the mud”?
- Is your culture resistant to change or do you make a point of embracing it?
- Do you have an adequate balance sheet or cash reserves to support growth?
- How comfortable are you with your current accountant and their support staff?
- How confident are you in your numbers—in your systems and in the bank?
- Are there high barriers to entry in your business?
- Where do prospects get stuck in your sales funnel?
- What are the most common objections from prospects that result in losing the business opportunity?
SWOT Template Questions: 27+ Opportunities (O) Questions
When you think of Opportunities, you probably think of looking toward your company’s future. In many ways, you’re identifying areas of future growth, but you’re ALSO identifying areas of Opportunity that you may be overlooking or missing RIGHT NOW.
The Opportunities section of a SWOT analysis requires you to dig deep and ask what you don’t see on the surface.
As with Strengths and Weaknesses, you should consider Opportunities exposed in the context of the strategic plan (long-term and short-term). What Opportunities should you explore right now, and what Opportunities do you hope to seek out in the future?
Opportunities are another area of the SWOT analysis where listening to the input from your team is absolutely critical.
- Are new markets opening that your products or services can address (solar energy, hydroponics, virtual reality, etc.)?
- When’s the last time you evaluated new markets? How confident are you that you’re truly tapping those opportunities?
- List all market opportunities—think of what you’re capitalizing on now and what you could be capitalizing on more in the future.
- Have you created technology that positions your products or services ahead of the competition?
- List the new technologies you’ve onboarded in the last year. Now list potential technology adoptions and improvements you could make moving forward?
- What unique technologies do you offer? What more could you be offering, in the way of tech?
- Can you accelerate your development cycle?
- Outline your development process. What areas are clunky?
- Are there new technologies, new methods, or new agile procedures that could improve your development cycle?
- Are there current events that align with your products and services or have changed your customers’ needs?
- How has the world changed over the last year? Over the last five years?
- What specific effects have those changes had on your business? Where can you do better? Where can you grow into those changes?
- Can you capitalize on alternate marketing channels (social media, strategic alliances, etc.)?
- Be sure your marketing team is on board for this question. If you don’t have an internal marketing team, consider hiring a marketing strategist. (That said, these questions need not be limited to your marketing team—oftentimes new ideas come from unexpected avenues! Have your team list all of your current marketing channels.
- With an eye toward what’s current working and what’s not working, strategize on new channels that may be a better fit? (Sometimes this results in completely shutting down a channel or three—that’s completely ok! If it’s not working, then it’s not working.)
- Can you tweak your products and services to meet an alternate demographic need?
- What current demographics do you serve? Do you serve them well?
- What other demographics could your products and services appeal to? How might you reach them in new ways?
- Have you scoured your intellectual property to find new applications?
- Consider creating an inventory of all company intellectual property—are there any underutilized avenues?
- How can you pivot particular assets to address new or emerging applications?
- Can you fill a hole in your product line, distribution channel, or geographic reach with an acquisition or a targeted growth effort?
- What types of products and services do you offer? Create a list and evaluate current offerings and possible improvements in products, services, distribution, and/or reach.
- Are there any obvious (or not-so-obvious) gaps that could be filled with related products and services to create more full-circle offerings to your prospects and existing customers?
- How will your customer base change over the next 3 to 5 years, and how will you evolve and adapt?
- What disruptive technologies have exploded into your industry over the last few years?
- What trends are starting to emerge and where can you best capitalize on them?
SWOT Template Questions: 45+ Threats (T) Questions
Like Opportunities, Threats are an area of your SWOT analysis that requires you to look externally at the market, your environment, and the political landscape.
While you can’t predict the future, you can examine the way outside influences are affecting your business and where you should tighten up holes in your approach.
Don’t forget that unaddressed Weakness can turn into Threats, too. Sometimes your Threats can come from within—Weaknesses in your structure that don’t protect you from sudden external events.
Think broadly—competitors, general economy, regulations, tariffs, global reach, and product evolution.
- Is someone eating away at your market share?
- Which competitors are the most threatening? Why?
- Are any new competitors with a distinct advantage appearing your radar?
- Are you the high cost/high service producer in a market that is moving toward price competition?
- Have your products and services become more commoditized over the years?
- Can your business compete on price alone if you had to?
- Are substitute products entering the market (such as the craft brewing industry)?
- Are these competing products distinctly different? Cheaper? Higher quality?
- Are these products offered by your direct competitors or is there a new source of competition?
- Has a competitor improved its position via an acquisition?
- Does your competitor now offer a key benefit that you do not?
- Is your competitor outperforming you yet? Will they gain a larger market share? How soon?
- Are you limited to servicing specific geography (such as in the case of a franchise)?
- Are there ways your geographic competitors are offering similar products and services to a wider audience (perhaps digitally)?
- If you are truly limited by geography, are you truly aware of all of your potential competition and what advantages they may have on your business?
- Do you lead or lag in a changing economy, and how does that bode for you today?
- If the economy were to go under, could you stay afloat?
- If the economy booms, are you able to capitalize on that change?
- Did/do you anticipate or resist growth?
- In previous growth efforts, have you spent yourself into financial difficulty?
- In what ways might your growth resistance help your competitors get a leg up on you?
- Have you addressed the eroding market share?
- What percentage of market share have you lost over the last year? Over the last 5 years?
- Which competitors have gained a bigger share of your market over the last year? Over the last five years?
- Is your industry changing (such as production moving overseas, alternative products or services, consolidating for economies of scale, etc.)?
- What changes have you noticed your competitors making to give them an advantage due to industry changes?
- Where have you failed to compensate for prior or current industry changes?
- Have you evaluated your competition in all your markets?
- List markets and competitors—where are your blind spots?
- Use the internet to your advantage to identify close competitors that may be coming out of the woodwork.
- Are competitors capitalizing on new marketing and distribution channels?
- Where have your marketing efforts fallen short, yet your competitor has thrived in the same space?
- Have your competitors affected your confidence in your distribution relationships?
- Are there regulations or tariffs on the horizon that could negatively affect your business or that of your customer base?
- Have you moved into new geographic areas (or do you plan to)? Have you and your accountant evaluated how trade has changed in those areas and how it might affect your bottom line?
- Do you have your finger on the pulse of new trade legislation that may affect your industry, especially if any portion of your business is international?
- Are you dependent on a customer-facing or market-facing disruption?
- Do any of your customers represent over 50% of your book of business? Do you have a contingency plan if you lost that business (overseas, for example)?
- Do you have an emergency plan and/or succession plan in case of life-altering market disruption (like COVID)?
- Are regulations increasing overhead and threatening profitability?
- Are there any new or existing compliance issues that your business may not be able to access or afford?
- Have you explored reasonable compliance solutions, like joining a PEO, hiring a trusted accountant, and/or pooling your buying power with others in your industry?
- Are competitors entering new geographies, consolidating vertical markets, or making other changes?
- Dig deep into each competitor—start with a list and note major (or minor, but noticeable) organizational or operational changes.
- Were you prepared for the most striking moves your competitors made within the last year? Within the last 5 years?
OK, We’ve Answered the SWOT Template Questions—Now What??
Once you’ve completed this SWOT analysis exercise, it’s time to narrow down your focus to the top factors.
For each section of your SWOT analysis, rank the top five Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats you’ve identified during your brainstorming session. The criteria for ranking should be the highest value RIGHT NOW (rather than anticipated Threats in the future or past Weaknesses now being addressed).
Once you’ve ranked each quadrant of your SWOT analysis, determine how to capitalize on Strengths and Opportunities. How will you move forward productively to make gains?
Then, address Weaknesses and Threats as you build the strategic plan. Go slow and deliberately address each Weakness and Threat. There is no need to aim for the completion of every item in your SWOT plan this year.
You may wish to view your plan as 1, 3, and 5-year benchmarks. The company should proceed with the elements of the SWOT analysis within the context of the vision, mission, and strategic plan.
The SWOT analysis is a great business exercise to highlight areas of importance and keep them on the radar for planning. It’s a simple tool, but one that will paint the full picture for you and your company.
Best of luck with your SWOT analysis! I’m sure it will give you a 360-degree view of where your business is headed.
Get Your free SWOT Analysis (Microsoft Word) Template here!
How will you use the SWOT analysis to guide your company’s future?