Back in 2004 I graduated from Bellevue University with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. Being that it’s been so long since I graduated and I don’t work in the marketing field there is not a lot I remember from my college days in regards to marketing. There is one thing that has stuck with me over all these years that I did learn from studying marketing and that was the S.W.O.T analysis they taught us.
S.W.O.T stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The idea of the S.W.O.T analysis in a business setting is a great way to analyze what you are good at, what you need to improve on, what are some opportunities to help grow your business and lastly what kind of threats could harm your business and potentially cause the business to fail. The beauty of the S.W.O.T analysis is that it can be applied to so much more than just your business, you can apply its principles to your personal life and most recently I even used it to analyze what I need to do for my family because of a nasty virus that caused a nation to come to a screeching halt.
Let’s start out with strengths. In a rural or farm setting ask yourself what are some of your strengths. Strengths can be so many things, maybe you own your land outright, maybe you are debt free, and maybe you are very knowledgeable about the product you are producing. Another strength may be that you have access to good reliable labor, or a large family that you can rely on and trust to help you out around the farm especially should a need arise and you cannot be there to oversee the day to day operations.
Weaknesses, what are some things that maybe you are not so good at? Maybe the soil where you live is not the right type of soil to support whatever it is that you want to grow. You might be really good at farming but you are not good at handling the books and paperwork for the business. Another weakness that is common in the rural communities is access to reliable internet connections which can make it harder to use newer technologies.
Opportunities has a pretty wide scope of what it covers, some opportunities might include living close to someone that has manure that you can use for compost, maybe you are close to a distillery and you have easy access to distiller grains that you can use for feed. Do you have access to a good water source, is there a large body of water close by that you can use? Market share, is the market you entering or working in well established, is there room to grow in this market?
Threats, this one is the one I feel that really needs the most attention and maybe is even the most critical of the four. It’s not easy to foresee the future and therefore that makes it hard to plan for things that could become a threat but like anything the better prepared you are then the easier it may be to circumvent a threat that may arise. Look around your farm, do you have hazardous chemicals, are grain bin entrapments a possibility, what about the crazy weather, is there a potential for vandalism from some of the extreme activist groups? How about government regulation, is there a potential that future government regulation or even de-regulation that might force you to change the way you do business? Urban sprawl is an ever growing concern for some parts of the country, having to travel further to reach the land you use costs you money and time and that ultimately cuts into your bottom dollar. Is there a potential for your market share to shrink, is there a threat that the cost of animal feed surpasses the amount of profit you can make?
A few times a year I like to take a rainy day and I spread out 4 pieces of paper, one for each category of the S.W.O.T. analysis. I spend a few minutes writing something down on each piece of paper, sometimes I will leave them sit for a day or two because I will typically discover more ideas as I think about the analysis as I go through my daily routine.
After I am satisfied that I have thought of enough ideas I go over what I have written down and I make a new list of items. I first start with the opportunities and I will analyze each item and develop an action plan of how I can accomplish each opportunity and also think about what is the goal I want to achieve with that opportunity. Next I think about the weaknesses and the threats, and just like I did with the opportunities I think of the challenges and obstacles I will need to overcome in order to mitigate my weaknesses and threats. Lastly I go back to my strengths, can I apply or use to my advantage some of the strengths that I listed in the analysis process?
Many times as a firefighter we would go out and pre-plan a building, we would identify how far it was to get water, what kind of obstacles prevent us from getting equipment to the scene, what kind of hazards are present that could be potentially harmful or deadly, and we would look at what are some things that could work to our advantage. In the event of an emergency we could fall back on our preplans to help us quickly resolve the situation we were facing.
Having a pre plan that you develop from an S.W.O.T. analysis will help you circumvent tough situations down the road and it can help guide you in the direction you want to see yourself or your company grow.