…now SWOT your clients

Karl Palachuk

In my last blog post I talked about doing a SWOT analysis of your business – identifying your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The new year is always a good time to take a look at your business and plan for the future. But, really, any time is a good time.

Once you’ve gone through a SWOT within your company, you might consider offering this service to your clients. After all, as the outsourced CIO, it’s your job to focus on the business as well as the technology.

Like a Roadmap – Only Different

I have long advocated doing “Client Roadmap” meetings with clients. In fact, I just signed a new client who used to be my client before I sold my last MSP business. Now she’s a new client in my new MSP business. One of the first things she said to me is that they haven’t had a Roadmap meeting in years. She then proceeded to tell me how much she appreciates working on the business strategy without feeling like it’s a sales meeting.

We then proceeded to outline a schedule for replacing seven desktop computers over the next three months and developing an employee onboarding process for their company as they prepare to do some hiring in the Spring.

Clearly, we are not seen as the computer guys. We are the outsourced Chief Information Officer and an important part of their team. Consulting doesn’t have to be 100% technical.

The Roadmap starts with questions that define the client’s company (years in business, annual sales, services and products sold, description of the clients, etc.). Then we ask about mission, vision, and goals. For example:

  • What is the company mission statement?
  • What are your key business goals for the next 12 months?
  • Where would you like to see your business in three-to-five years?
  • What obstacles have to be overcome to achieve those goals?

We ask similar questions about their employees. How many are there? Will this grow or shrink in the year ahead? Do they have the right mix of employees and talent needed to achieve the goals outlined above?

After that, we dig into the actual SWOT questions. Here are some examples.

Strengths:

1. What advantages does your business have compared to competitors?

2. What does your business do well?        

3. Why do customers choose your business over others?     

Weaknesses:

1. What disadvantages does your business have compared to competitors?   

2. In what areas can your business improve?       

3. Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your business?    

Opportunities:

1. How do you find or identify business opportunities?      

2. What are the positive opportunities facing your business?     

3. What are the dominant trends in your industry?      

Threats:

1. What obstacles does your business face?       

2. What does your strongest competitor do differently than your current business model?

3. Are there new industry trends or changes coming for your business, products or services?

Next, you should talk to the key staff members. You might create a questionnaire for them to fill out, or dedicate some time to do a quick interview with each. Some starter questions might include:

  • Do you like what you're doing in your job?
  • Do you ever think you are you being under-utilized?
  • What training do you think you could use?

Then add some questions that dig into the employee’s actual job satisfaction, such as:

  • Are there tasks that seem unimportant or are neglected?
  • Do you get enough quality time with your boss, mentor, etc.?
  • Are there solutions that don't work or are troublesome?

Next, ask about company-related topics:

  • What is the company Mission Statement?
  • Describe the company culture if possible.
  • Describe the management style you see from the top.
  • What do you believe your fellow employees, overall, think of your company and why?
  • What things does this company need long term?

What you’ll get from all this is a lot of information about how people feel about their jobs and the company. You’ll also find out who the best clients are, who the worst clients are, and the biggest pain points within the company.

In very small businesses, you’ll find that the owner and managers tend to have a very good sense of their strengths, opportunities, and threats. But very often their assessment of their weaknesses is not as good. They are focused on the planning side and looking ahead. As a result, they often down-play the day-to-day activities that need more of their attention.

Employees tend to over-analyze the weaknesses, over-state the strengths, and have only a vague understanding of the opportunities and threats. After all, it’s not their job to be strategic.

Simon Sinek has a great book called Start with Why. It addresses the topic of motivations at work. Owners tend to be very motivated, particularly since they are the ones with money on the line. But, more importantly, owners have a very clear sense about their mission and why their business exists. Employees very often do not share that vision – or even know what it is.

One thing that emerges from a good SWOT analysis is whether the employees know why their job exists, why certain procedures exist, and why the company exists. Because everyone (owners, managers, and employees) is working hard every day, they don’t normally stop to look at questions like this. A good SWOT analysis will show them that they have this divergence of viewpoints about where the company is headed and why certain positions exist.

Not As Difficult As It Looks

I know this looks like a lot of work. But it’s really not. You need to come up with some good questionnaires. There are lots of books and websites to help you. But once you gather the information, the organization and reporting of the results is not too difficult.

What you’ll see is that there are some common problems that some people see more clearly than others. There are also some strengths that some see more clearly than others.

For the most part, bosses and owners who agree to engage in a SWOT analysis are very willing to receive an honest report about their business. The funny thing is, the people who engage in a SWOT analysis are also the people who are already pretty well tuned into their business, so they don’t have a lot of surprises. So that makes your job pretty easy.

Your SWOT report to the client should start by re-phrasing the descriptive information as if creating a profile of the company. State their mission and vision, who the officers are, etc. Then dive into a description of their strengths, weaknesses, etc. Include a few quotes from the employee interviews, such as, “ABC Company is a great client and we need more of them. They love us and are fully aware that no one comes close to us for services.” Also, be sure to finish your report on a positive note.

Having said that, don’t shy away from an honest assessment of weaknesses and threats. After all, you client is paying you to help them with their business. You need to hold up the mirror and let them see everything from an honest outsider’s position.

As you can imagine, it will take 5-10 hours of labor to provide a good SWOT analysis. So, as you can imagine, it can be a very profitable adventure. And when you’re done, the client will be better off. With luck, you’ll have a better client relationship, you’ll have solidified your position as a member of their team, and you’ll have some additional influence on how they make decisions for the next year.

You could do a SWOT analysis that’s very technology-focused, but I encourage you to get involved as much as you feel comfortable with on the business side. If nothing else, you should be on the “inside” of helping your client develop their technology strategy and budget for the year ahead.