A SWOT analysis session is a way to analyze your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (hence “SWOT”) in one fell swoop. These sessions are a great way to get an overview of your business’s current state and identify actionable next steps to grow your business.

This introductory article will provide an overview of how to run a SWOT analysis session, but it won’t go into all the minutiae of each analysis.

Prepare for the meeting

As the business owner, analyst, or facilitator, you need to mentally prepare yourself for the meeting. I always take a few minutes beforehand to meditate, breathe, and get my physical environment in order.

Aside from this, you should also have a writing utensil, your SWOT worksheet, and scratch paper (a whiteboard is a good idea) ready with your list of questions and notes. There’s a list of starter questions at the bottom of this article that you can use as a guide. Be sure to read over your notes and questions before the meeting.

Opening the discussion

To start a SWOT analysis session, you’ll need to open the floor. You might say something like, “I’d like to open the discussion about our business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Who wants to go first?” This will allow everyone to jump into the discussion without being nervous about speaking up. There’s no need to overcomplicate this.

The fastest way to “mess up” (not really) a session is to open the floor with a general statement or question that doesn’t allow everyone to participate. The question above is a great way to just put the cards on the table and get everyone on the same page from the get-go.

Maintain an environment of safety

If your people don’t feel that they can freely speak their minds, the whole session is that much less effective. In order to maintain an environment of safety and openness, I’ve found that it’s best to have an HR, external business, or external marketing consultant present. I won’t lead a SWOT session without someone else in the room.

It’s important to allow everyone to speak their mind, but it’s also important to not let things go off track. A suggestion is to have a facilitator (usually the consultant, manager, director, board member, or investor) who can step in and take over if necessary. Not allowing cross-talk and staying focused on the topic at hand will make this more pleasant.

Remember, you’re discussing ways your business is falling short, so keep it light!

Making the report transparent

Before the session, print or display your SWOT analysis chart. Make sure everyone has a copy to follow along with, but keep all the information on one chart.

Write everything down, even if it seems redundant. Chances are, if you let it sit for a bit and revisit the topic, there’ll be more insight or a deeper understanding.

After the meeting has finished, make sure to have a copy of your SWOT analysis easily accessible. Transparency and making the analysis available for anyone at the company who wants to review it will help build trust and confidence in your team.

Wrap up the session with love and a damn break

The whole session should take around six to eight minutes per person, but if you have more to say, you should – this is just a guide.

I can’t stress how important this next step is. Thank EVERYONE for coming, being honest, and sharing their thoughts and feelings. It’s the most important part of these sessions, to make everyone feel valued, heard, and important to the company.

After the session, people may be bored, tired, and feeling a bit vulnerable. The intensity will vary from person to person, but nonetheless, it’s important to take time to recharge afterward.

The aftercare

All of the data and information from the session can now be used to help us understand what to do going forward. These insights can be translated into a plan of action to mitigate weaknesses and threats. In the same way, it can paint a picture for capitalizing on opportunities and making the most of your strengths.

Starter questions for your SWOT analysis session

You can steal any of these to get started. I encourage you to adapt these and come up with your own sets of questions.

“Strength” starter questions

  • What does our company do well?
  • Which services are the most impactful to our customers?
  • What do we do that is unique? (What’s our USP?)
  • What do we do better than our competitors? (Note: Don’t assume everyone knows who your competitors are, it’s best to go one by one, i.e., What does {{Competitor}} do better than us? In what way?)
  • What resources do we have? (This can be physical, monetary, human, or intangible)

“Weaknesses” starter questions

  • What does our company do that isn’t working as well as it could?
  • What do our customers dislike about our products and services?
  • What can we do better?
  • What are the areas where the competition is ahead of us?
  • What resources do we lack? (Again, physical, monetary, human, and intangible)
  • Which area(s) do we need to work on the most right now?

“Opportunities” starter questions

  • Are there industry trends we can hop on or improve our presence in?
  • Is there something our customers need that we could provide to them?
  • Is there a customer type that we haven’t yet engaged that we should?
  • Are there market gaps that we can take advantage of?
  • How can we grow our market share in comparison to our competitors?
  • Is there another way we could be pricing or packaging our services?

“Threats” starter questions

  • What trends are visible in our audience data? (Are they shrinking?)
  • If a competitor was to attack a hole in our strategy, what would that be and how would they do it?
  • What legal problems could we potentially face?
  • What environmental risks are we exposed to?
  • Do we have any privacy concerns?
  • Do we have any support system concerns?

While these questions are a good starting point, make sure you ask them in the context of your business and your target audience.

Wrap up

Your SWOT analysis session can be the best way for you to move forward, and remember, it shouldn’t be a one-time thing. For every new product, service, and company milestone, SWOT should be reviewed and updated. This is an ongoing process – growth isn’t a one-time event!

For more on SWOT analysis, check out these 5 business analysis templates and when to use them.

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