Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Strategic Planning: Break Out The SWOT Team

Every company, regardless the size (and yes, freelancers, you are a "company"), needs a strategic plan.  The problem is, not everyone knows what a strategic plan is and the difference between a STRATEGIC plan and a BUSINESS plan.  Let's see how knowing the difference and regularly focusing on your strategic plan can help grow your business.

What is a "strategic plan?"

A strategic plan is the direction you're company's going in, setting the stage for making decisions on where your resources (money, time, people) go to follow that direction.  It also covers the processes by which you're going to reach your long-term goals.  Your strategic plan is for you and those with whom you work, a logical progression of where you are now to where you want to be and how you'll get there.

A business plan is mainly written to give others an idea of your business.  It's a written document describing how you're going to reach your goals.  It's written from the standpoint of how you're going to market your company, your financial status and goals and how your company operates.

Companies should have both a strategic plan and a business plan, but strategy needs to come first.

SWOT that plan

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.  It's a company's self-analysis; if you're a solo entrepreneur or a freelancer, it's also a chance for self-examination, which you'll need to grow your business.  Let's look at them one at a time:

Strengths:  This can be harder than you think; harder, sometimes, than outlining your weaknesses.  What are the top five things you're best at?  What are the things you bring to the table no one else does, the reasons why someone would hire you and your company over another company?  In some cases, your strengths may be a background in marketing, strong technical skills or even that you can talk to Eskimos into buying ice.  Come up with five.

Weaknesses:  Where do you need to build your knowledge base or your team?  Maybe accounting and bookkeeping or marketing/sales are not your strong suits; list those here.  Are you understaffed?  That could be a weakness.  How does your business handle follow-through?  Do you have business processes in place for onboarding new clients or making sure contracts are sent and signed by both parties?  What's your sales channel?  List the top five areas you need to improve here.  Keep it to only five, because you'll be looking at this strategic plan on a regular basis; there's plenty of time to add more.

Opportunities:  You wouldn't be in business unless you have an idea of clients or prospects.  Where is your "low-hanging fruit" - clients ready to sign on the dotted line?  Are there opportunities to participate in a trade show or conference?  What about putting up a table at a local festival or show?  All those are opportunities, chances to get new clients, grow your business and get in front of prospects.  Write down five.

Threats:  What are the internal and external threats to your success?  Do you lack confidence?  Is the economy in a rough spot for your industry?  How strong are your competitors?  Don't have a contract yet? List all the internal and external threats to taking advantage of your opportunities.  These are things you need to be on the lookout for, or things you need to change, not reasons for staying stuck.  Some will look at the threats to success and say, "Well, it's impossible to succeed so I'll just not even try."  This, instead, is an opportunity to acknowledge the threat and beat it.

Now what?

You've looked at and analyzed your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  What's next?  Don't keep it to yourself!  Share your SWOT analysis with two or three of your most trusted business advisors - your business coach, your accountant, someone else in your life you admire who has insight into your strengths and weaknesses.  These people can form your personal "board of directors," and can help you come up with ways to build on your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses and overcome your threats.

Doing a SWOT analysis isn't a one-time thing.  Things change and so do you and your business.  A quarterly SWOT review, at a minimum, means you're constantly in touch with the things you're doing well and the things that still need improvement.  New threats and new opportunities always pop up and a regular SWOT review will help you stay on top of it.

Are you ready for a SWOT analysis?  Your business coach is the perfect person to work with you on it.  Don't have a business coach?  That's why I'm here!  Let me know how I can help.