Conduct a SWOT Analysis

The next step in the strategic-planning process is to assess your company's fit with its environment. A common approach to environmental analysis is matching the strengths of your business with the opportunities available to it. It's called SWOT analysis because it calls for analyzing an organization's Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It begins with an examination of external factors that could influence the company in either a positive or a negative way. These could include economic conditions, competition, emerging technologies, laws and regulations, and customers' expectations.

One purpose of assessing the external environment is to identify both opportunities that could benefit the company and threats to its success. For example, a company that manufactures children's bicycle helmets would view a change in federal law requiring all children to wear helmets as an opportunity. The news that two large sports-equipment companies were coming out with bicycle helmets would be a threat.

The next step is to evaluate the company's strengths and weaknesses. Strengths might include a motivated workforce, state-of-the-art technology, impressive managerial talent, or a desirable location. The opposite of any of these strengths (poor workforce, obsolete technology, incompetent management, or poor location) could signal a potential weakness. Armed with a good idea of external opportunities and threats, as well as internal strengths and weaknesses, managers want to capitalize on opportunities by taking advantage of organizational strengths. Likewise, they want to protect the organization from both external threats and internal weaknesses.

Let's start with our strengths. Now that we know what they are, how do we match them with our available opportunities (while also protecting ourselves from our threats and overcoming our weaknesses)? Here's a possibility: By providing excellent service and price while we're still small (with few customers and low costs), we can solidify our position on campus. When the market grows (as it will, because of the increase in the number of classes – especially those at 8:00 a.m. – and increases in student enrollment), we'll have built a strong reputation and will put ourselves in a position to grow. So even if a competitor comes to campus (a threat), we'll be the preferred supplier of class notes. This strategy will work only if we make sure that our notetakers are dependable and that we don't alienate the faculty or administration.