Broadly, a SWOT analysis looks at the present (Strengths and Weaknesses) and the future (Opportunities and Threats). This is important, because it allows you to build on what you have while also planning for what is to come. But instead of looking at these in the order S-W-O-T, it can be more useful to go through the process in the order S-T-W-O.
Let's look at this for identifying potential new products and services you can offer to existing customers and clients.
Start with your strengths - in other words, the reasons clients currently choose you, your products and services. This could include things like your price, personal service, unique offerings, trusted relationship with you, and so on.
For example, if you're a workshop presenter, you might know clients choose you because you have proven results working with their people in the past. As another example, if you're a financial adviser, your clients might choose you because of your long-term relationship with them.
A typical SWOT analysis now looks at your weaknesses. But to truly understand your weaknesses, you first have to take a glimpse into the future. That's why the next step should be looking at threats - in other words, things that are potential risks to your current position (despite the strengths of that position).
For example, as a workshop presenter, you might realise that Generation Y is a threat. Why? Because Gen Y employees are starting to move into management positions, and they don't want to learn in a typical workshop environment. They expect more interaction, more online features, more participative learning, and so on.
For the other example: our financial adviser might identify an economic downturn as a threat. Clients might be demanding more from their advisers, not only in terms of their investments but also in the fees they pay for the advice.
When you look at threats, don't stop at the first - most obvious - examples. Dig deeper to identify as many possible threats and risks as possible. If they don't eventuate, that's good news. But if you miss something, it can take you by surprise!
Now that you know the threats, you can identify the corresponding weaknesses. This is simply a matter of asking why each threat is a threat, and that will point to the weakness.
For example, our workshop presenter's weakness is that his presentation style - presenting to a group of people sitting in a room - is out of date. It might have worked - and even been the best in the world - in the past, but it's no longer good enough.
Similarly, our financial adviser might realise she's not demonstrating enough value to her clients, so they resent paying for her advice.
Now that you have identified real weaknesses, they now point the way to potential opportunities.
For example, our workshop presenter can look at ways to change the format and style of his presentations - for example, with webinars before and after the presentation, a Facebook group for participants, a video e-mail course delivered directly to their smartphones, and so on.
Our financial adviser can also identify new products and services, and for her it's a matter of demonstrating more value. For example, she could run regular webinars for clients, publish a private blog, deliver ongoing education in quarterly seminars, bring in other experts to talk to clients, and so on.
What opportunities did YOU find?
Apply this version of a SWOT analysis to your current offerings, and you're sure to identify some opportunities for growth and expansion. More importantly, you'll be creating new products and services that truly serve your clients and customers.