We highly recommend conducting the S.W.O.T analysis around here, as considering your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is a great planning tool. We also like the imaginative combination of pen, paper, drawings and words as we consider the needs of creative business. It’s kind of like art! (Kind of)…
However, some of our advisory clients have been using the S.W.O.T analysis to torture themselves needlessly, and the process is becoming less about planning and more about punishment. Self-flagellation is often part of running a creative business, but that is NOT what the S.W.O.T is for. It’s also not designed to be a dead-end; the action plan that results from the S.W.O.T analysis is the most important part of the process, but you’ll never get there if you find yourself stuck in the cycle of self-hatred that the Weaknesses box can be.
So, to start with the SWOT, always remember the first golden rule. Each box must help you move forward towards your goals, which are destination points that you have decided represent success. Weaknesses and threats are then obstacles or barriers between you and your destination, while strengths and opportunities are tools to help you get there.
So, where to begin? We always recommend starting on the left-hand side, looking at the internal or personal aspects of your creative business. The Weaknesses section is the most obvious place to start, because it does seem to be part about our shared creative experience that we are self-critical, even when we are in business planning mode.
A Weakness, in this case, is not something to hate about yourself. It’s an element of your internal life or personality that might get in the way of you achieving what you would like in your business. A Weakness in S.W.O.T language is a big rock on the path between here and your goals. It’s not a place where you can criticise yourself endlessly and derail the whole S.W.O.T process by feeling terrible and giving up.
The key to handling your Weakness is to treat it exactly like a rock – you can’t necessarily change it, but perhaps you can work out creative and intelligent ways around it. These become your Opportunities.
My favourite example of a business Weakness is ‘shyness’. There is nothing wrong with being shy, obviously, but there are many aspects of running a creative business that will be more difficult for you if you feel nervous. Attending networking events, introducing yourself to strangers, pitching business ideas, even asking for help can be much more difficult if you are introverted.
I am not a shy person (surprise!), and I find it impossible to imagine waking up tomorrow morning and feeling that way. Similarly it’s unlikely that if you are shy that you’ll wake up feeling boldly extroverted. Criticising yourself for being shy is not going to move you forward in any way. You are simply going to have to figure out how to work around this business hurdle, to the best of your ability. Could you do a drama course, and learn how to fake confidence? Could you bring a charming wingman to networking events? These solutions become Opportunities for you, and so the boxes start to work together.
One of my own Weaknesses, for S.W.O.T purposes, is my kids. I have always (unhappily) placed my three children in that box, but I am obviously not suggesting that I am weak for being a mum. It’s just a reality of life – having a pile of kids to raise while also running a business has created obstacles for me between where I am in my business right now, and where I would like to be. I can’t change that, and I have never once considered putting them up for adoption because they are cramping my style. I simply have to be innovative and creative to think of ways around the rock.
Second golden rule? Use each box to inform the other boxes. For every Weakness there should be a complementary Strength, so start that box next. In my experience shy people are often empathetic, excellent listeners, and keen observers of people. My kids might have slowed my journey to business success, but they have also made me strong, adaptable, open-minded and a wizard of time management.
Once you have finished the left-hand internal/personal side, move to the right-hand external/public side of your creative business. Again, start with the negatives, but don’t use the analysis of Threats as a way of sabotaging the process. Competition, cuts to government funding, rapid changes to technology, government regulations – these things are outside of you, and cannot be changed, but they can be creatively overcome just like your Weaknesses.
Just be certain that your Threats are definitely external factors – and not weaknesses in disguise. ‘Time’ is a good example. Many clients place ‘time’ in the Threats box, but sadly time is the truly level playing field and we are all issued the same amount. Time management is a Weakness that can be reformed, but Time itself cannot be altered.
The final box, Opportunities, can similarly be used as the complement to your Threats. What can you learn from your competition? If there are cuts to some areas of government funding, and there increases in other departments? How can technology open more doors for you?
The Action Plan is the last step, and the step that turns this process of self-discovery into a practical tool for your business. Look at every box, and work out how to:
- Capitalise on your strengths;
- Make the most of those opportunities;
- Correct or mitigate the effect of your weaknesses;
- Protect your business from threats.
Brainstorm five ideas for each point, and figure out your next practical action for each. Write it in the diary, and start heading on your way to Destination Success, nimbly sidestepping every rock as you go.