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Call in the SWOT Team: Produce More Opportunities to Expand Your Business

Have you ever done a SWOT analysis? No, it's not some dangerous military maneuver. It's actually a fun and incredibly helpful business development exercise that will give your company focused direction and great marketing ideas -- whether your business is brand new or has been around for years. This SWOT exercise will show you where your business is flourishing and where it needs to grow to gain clients and produce more sales. I recommend getting someone else (such as a friend, family member, or trusted business advisor) to brainstorm with you. You'll be determining your strengths and weaknesses, which are *internal* influences on your company. These factors are under your control. Opportunities and threats are *external* influences, things you cannot control, but you can respond to. After you read a short description of each of the four categories, take time to list as many of yours as possible.

Strengths: Toot your own horn and list all the strengths that make your business soar. They might include experience, business abilities, personality, support system, communication skills, or education just to name just a few. Go crazy! This is not the time to be modest -- each strength can become a money-maker for you.

Weaknesses: What are your weak areas? Think outside the box. Limited hours available for work? Computer literacy not up to par? Current marketing strategies lacking? Perfectionism? Procrastination? Write down as many as you can so you're aware of what might hold you back from reaching your full potential.

Opportunities: Are there untapped client bases out there? Other services that you could provide? What kinds of problems do your clients experience that you could help with? Are there any areas of service that your competition has overlooked? Could you exploit the weakness of a competitor (service offered, location covered, hours available to work, genre served)? Could you develop your brand better? Could you take classes to increase your expertise or credibility? Could you utilize your family and friends for networking opportunities? Write down everything that pops into your brain, even if it's a long shot. And try to be as specific with your ideas as possible.

Threats: It may take you a while to come up with these if you're not currently aware of them. Threats might come from competition, financial risk, a declining economy, or a unique profession. List some of your threats, no matter how big or small they seem.

Now, take some time to really analyze these four categories. Look at what you can *directly* control -- your strengths and weaknesses. Review your list of strengths and try to turn them into "opportunities." In addition to being a great ego booster, it will give you dozens of ideas for new ways to increase sales. For example, if you list "great support system" as a strength, perhaps you could make a goal (an opportunity) to send a mailing to everyone in your wide network of friends and family to solicit new clients or get the word out about what you do. If your presentation skills are top-notch, consider offering workshops or seminars. If you have years of experience, make that a selling point in your marketing materials.

Next, how can you turn your weaknesses around? For example, if you're not a good written communicator or lack computer or mathematical skills, consider taking a class at a local college to boost your skills. Or consider finding someone to outsource your undesirable work. If you don't have enough effective marketing strategies, turn that weakness around by creating a marketing timeline or plan.

Now, on to what you can *respond* to -- your opportunities and threats. Review your list of opportunities. (This list should be long!) Pick your top five or ten to tackle in the upcoming year. Do you want to teach a class or write a book? How about improving your marketing strategies by sending some direct mail? If you want to network more, investigate professional networking groups in your community.

Your threat list, on the other hand, may not be very long, but it's important to be aware of what can hold you back and keep you from reaching your full potential. For example, you cannot control your competition, but you can be aware of what they're doing. You can't control the economy, but you can market your services as a great "value" or find ways to offer deals or incentives.

OK, now it's your turn -- put your SWOT analysis into action, and see what happens. I'd love hear how SWOT worked for you!

? 2005 Time to Organize. All rights reserved.

Sara Pedersen, author of the FREE e-zine "The Marketing Fairy's Guide to Simple Self Promotion," is a professional organizer and marketing specialist. She helps small business owners make their marketing dreams come true. Sign up today at http://www.time2organize.net to receive your FREE monthly subscription.

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