How to use a SWOT analysis to stay competitive
The simple but powerful way to gain in-depth knowledge of your business, the market and your competitors.
Digital technology has led to printers diversifying into new markets. This has bred innovation and opportunity, but has also widened their risk profile. As the pandemic, war and economic turmoil have proved over the last few years, printers – especially those embedded in global supply chains – would be wise to apply business-wide risk analyses to their practice.
Among the most well-known are the SWOT and PESTLE, or PESTEL, tests. Broadly speaking, SWOT helps you analyse your business from the inside, and PESTLE from the outside. Used together, they can act as powerful tools to prevent trouble from striking – or at least mitigating it when it does.
What is a SWOT analysis?
SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You can apply a SWOT analysis to a plan, a strategy, and your business as a whole. Managers should look for a fact-based analysis, so it is a good idea to have a clear-eyed, top-to-bottom view of the organisation. That means allowing managers and shop floor employees to speak freely about their experiences and opinions of working with you. Managers may have blind spots on certain problems that are more visible from the print shop floor.
In what areas does your company excel? Most importantly, how can these strengths be used to achieve greater success? Be specific – your strengths are unlikely to be in every field. Your products might be great, but how is your customer service, your delivery speed or your ability to adapt and scale up production at short notice? Your strengths could include staff skills, customer loyalty, a great reputation, cutting-edge technology. Once you have identified your strengths you can capitalise on them: for example, you can push them to the front of any new marketing strategies.
How can your business improve? And what is stopping it from leading your market? What are customers annoyed about? Do slow delivery times mean automation could improve your time to market? Or do you lack specialised equipment that is preventing you from taking on new business? Your weaknesses may not just be customer-facing: how are your internal communications? Are the right people getting the right information on time? Is the data about your own sales or production workflow accurate and accessible? After listing your weaknesses, you can work on actions to improve them.
Analyse factors that could impact your business positively. Are customers becoming more conscious of the need for sustainability? If so, you could switch to more environmentally friendly substrates or inks. If your machines are sitting idle for large parts of the week, there may be new products that you could create to optimise your productivity and claw back investment on your technology. Attending trade shows or expos such as the FESPA Global Print Expo can help you stay abreast of new trends – but ensure those employees who attend give you detailed feedback of what they have discovered there.
Conversely, what are the factors that could harm your organisation? Businesses may now be prepared for a pandemic lockdown as occurred in 2020-21, but what other threats are on the horizon? Large overheads from machines, inks and substrates are built into printers’ costs. So what will you do if your supply chain is disrupted, cashflow dries up and energy costs rise? What about customers who are late paying already? Or will regulation tie your progress up?
You are sure to keep an eye on your competitors already, but you could consider applying a SWOT analysis to them to drill down into their activity in the market. It’s not enough to glance at their website. Gain a competitive advantage by diving more deeply: set up Google alerts, follow their social media accounts and scan their customer feedback. Perhaps they are already becoming more efficient than you with investments in automation. Looking objectively at future hurdles gives you time to anticipate them and take evasive action.
So now you have the information, gathered from all corners of your organisation. A SWOT analysis should not be an academic exercise: action is essential. First, you must prioritise. Let all staff have their say about what they think are the most pressing weaknesses and threats, and the greatest strengths and opportunities. Management can then judge this input and formulate a concrete action plan to tackle the most important.
Compare your strengths with your opportunities. How can your business use existing strengths to capitalise on opportunities, and what new strengths can you build in the process? At the other end of the spectrum, compare your weaknesses with threats on the horizon. Which weaknesses could cause you to fail, and how can you reduce them quickly? Quick wins may be apparent instantly, but you can set longer-term objectives for new hires, investment in equipment and software or diversification of your product line. Create a discussion document and share your findings. Company-wide buy-in will be crucial if your analysis determines a sharp change of direction.
Assessing your business top to bottom is not a light undertaking, but essential for ensuring that you can efficiently and successfully adapt and compete in an increasingly competitive market.
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