Refine Your Strategic Plan with SWOT

With the year underway, your business probably has a strategic plan in place for the months ahead. Or maybe you’ve created a general outline but haven’t quite put the finishing touches on it yet. In either case, there’s a time-tested approach to refining your strategic plan that you should consider: a SWOT analysis. Let’s take a closer look at what each of the letters in that abbreviation stands for:

Strengths. A SWOT analysis starts by identifying your company’s core competencies and competitive advantages. These are how you can boost revenues and build value. Examples may include an easily identifiable brand, a loyal customer base or exceptional customer service.

Unearth the source of each strength. A loyal customer base, for instance, may be tied to a star employee or executive — say a CEO with a high regional profile and multitude of community contacts. In such a case, it’s important to consider what you’d do if that person suddenly left the business.

Weaknesses. Next the analysis looks at the opposite of strengths: potential risks to profitability and long-term viability. These might include high employee turnover, weak internal controls, unreliable quality, or a location that’s no longer advantageous.

You can evaluate weaknesses relative to your competitors as well. Let’s say metrics indicate customer recognition of your brand is increasing, but you’re still up against a name-brand competitor. Is that a battle you can win? Every business has its Achilles’ heel — some have several. Identify yours so you can correct them.

Opportunities. From here, a SWOT analysis looks externally at what’s happening in your industry, local economy or regulatory environment. Opportunities are favorable external conditions that could allow you to build your bottom line if your company acts on them before competitors do.

For example, imagine a transportation service that notices a growing demand for food deliveries in its operational area. The company could allocate vehicles and hire drivers to deliver food, thereby gaining an entirely new revenue stream.

Threats. The last step in the analysis is spotting unfavorable conditions that might prevent your business from achieving its goals. Threats might come from a decline in the economy, adverse technological changes, increased competition or tougher regulation.

Going back to our previous example, that transportation service would have to consider whether its technological infrastructure could support the rigorous demands of the app-based food-delivery industry. It would also need to assess the risk of regulatory challenges of engaging independent contractors to serve as drivers.

SWOT matrix
A SWOT matrix

Typically presented as a matrix, a SWOT analysis provides a logical framework for better understanding how your business runs and for improving (or formulating) a strategic plan for the year ahead. Our firm can help you gather and assess the financial data associated with the analysis.

Following the ABCs of Customer Assessment

When a business is launched, its owners typically welcome every customer through the door with a sigh of relief. But after the company has established itself, those same owners might start looking at their buying constituency a little more critically.

If your business has reached this point, regularly assessing your customer base is indeed an important strategic planning activity. One way to approach it is to simply follow the ABCs.

Assign profitability levels

First, pick a time period — perhaps one, three, or five years — and calculate the profitability level of each customer or group of customers based on sales numbers and both direct and indirect costs. (We can help you choose the ideal calculations and run the numbers.)

Once you’ve determined the profitability of each customer or group of customers, divide them into three groups:

  1. The A group consists of highly profitable customers whose business you’d like to expand.
  2. The B group comprises customers who aren’t extremely profitable, but still positively contribute to your bottom line.
  3. The C group includes those customers who are dragging down your profitability. These are the customers you can’t afford to keep.

Act accordingly

With the A customers, your objective should be to grow your business relationship with them. Identify what motivates them to buy, so you can continue to meet their needs. Is it something specific about your products or services? Is it your customer service? Developing a good understanding of this group will help you not only build your relationship with these critical customers, but also target marketing efforts to attract other, similar ones.

Category B customers have value but, just by virtue of sitting in the middle, they can slide either way. There’s a good chance that, with the right mix of product and marketing resources, some of them can be turned into A customers. Determine which ones have the most in common with your best customers; then focus your marketing efforts on them and track the results.

When it comes to the C group, spend a nominal amount of time to see whether any of them might move up the ladder. It’s likely, though, that most of your C customers simply aren’t a good fit for your company. Fortunately, firing your least desirable customers won’t require much effort. Simply curtail your marketing and sales efforts, or stop them entirely, and most will wander off on their own.

Cut costs; bring in more

The thought of purposefully losing customers may seem like a sure recipe for disaster. But doing so can help you cut fruitless costs and bring in more revenue from engaged buyers. Our firm can help you review the pertinent financial data and develop a customer strategy that builds your bottom line.

Dig Out Your Business Plan to Prepare for the Year Ahead

Like many business owners, you probably created a business plan when you launched your company.  But, as is also often the case, you may not have looked at it much since then.  Now that fall has arrived and year end is coming soon, why not dig it out? Reviewing and revising a business plan can be a great way to plan for the year ahead.

Six sections to scrutinize

Comprehensive business plans traditionally are composed of six sections. When revisiting yours, look for insights in each one:

  1. Executive summary. This should read like an “elevator pitch” regarding your company’s purpose, its financial position and requirements, its state of competitiveness, and its strategic goals. If your business plan is out of date, the executive summary won’t quite jibe with what you do today. Don’t worry: You can rewrite it after you revise the other five sections.
  2. Business description. A company’s key features are described here. These include its name, entity type, number of employees, key assets, core competencies, and product or service menu. Look at whether anything has changed and, if so, what. Maybe your workforce has grown or you’ve added products or services.
  3. Industry and marketing analysis. This section analyzes the state of a company’s industry and explicates how the business will market itself. Your industry may have changed since your business plan’s original writing. What are the current challenges? Where do opportunities lie? How will you market your company’s strengths to take advantage of these opportunities?
  4. Management team description. The business plan needs to recognize the company’s current leadership. Verify the accuracy of who’s identified as an owner and, if necessary, revise the list of management-level employees, providing brief bios of each. As you look over your management team, ask yourself: Are there gaps or weak links? Is one person handling too much?
  5. Operational plan. This section explains how a business functions on a day-to-day basis. Scrutinize your operating cycle — that is, the process by which a product or service is delivered to customers and, in turn, how revenue is brought in and expenses are paid. Is it still accurate? The process of revising this description may reveal inefficiencies or redundancies of which you weren’t even aware.
  6. Financials. The last section serves as a reasonable estimate of how your company intends to manage its finances in the near future. So, you should review and revise it annually. Key projections to generate are forecasts of your profits and losses, as well as your cash flow, in the coming year. Many business plans also include a balance sheet summarizing current assets, liabilities, and equity.

Keep it fresh

The precise structure of business plans can vary but, when regularly revisited, they all have one thing in common: a wealth of up-to-date information about the company described. Don’t leave this valuable document somewhere to gather dust — keep it fresh. Our firm can help you review your business plan and generate accurate financials that allow you to take on the coming year with confidence.

Keeping a King in the Castle with a Well-maintained Cash Reserve

You’ve no doubt heard the old business cliché “cash is king.” And it’s true:  A company in a strong cash position stands a much better chance of obtaining the financing it needs, attracting outside investors or simply executing its own strategic plans.

One way to ensure that there’s always a king in the castle, so to speak, is to maintain a cash reserve. Granted, setting aside a substantial amount of dollars isn’t the easiest thing to do — particularly for start-ups and smaller companies. But once your reserve is in place, life can get a lot easier.

Common metric

Now you may wonder:  What’s the optimal amount of cash to keep in reserve? The right answer is different for every business and may change over time, given fluctuations in the economy or degree of competitiveness in your industry.

If you’ve already obtained financing, your bank’s liquidity covenants can give you a good idea of how much of a cash reserve is reasonable and expected of your company. To take it a step further, you can calculate various liquidity metrics and compare them to industry benchmarks. These might include:

  • Working capital = current assets − current liabilities;
  • Current ratio = current assets / current liabilities; and
  • Accounts payable turnover = cost of goods sold / accounts payable.

Other, more complex metrics might better apply to the nature and size of your business.

Financial forecasts

Believe it or not, many companies don’t suffer from a lack of cash reserves but rather a surplus. This often occurs because a business owner decides to start hoarding cash following a dip in the local or national economy.

What’s the problem? Substantial increases in liquidity — or metrics well above industry norms — can signal an inefficient deployment of capital.

To keep your cash reserve from getting too high, create financial forecasts for the next 12 to 18 months. For example, a monthly projected balance sheet might estimate seasonal ebbs and flows in the cash cycle. Or a projection of the worst-case scenario might be used to establish your optimal cash balance. Projections should consider future cash flows, capital expenditures, debt maturities and working capital requirements.

Formal financial forecasts provide a coherent method to building up cash reserves, which is infinitely better than relying on rough estimates or gut instinct. Be sure to compare actual performance to your projections regularly and adjust as necessary.

More isn’t always better

Just as individuals should set aside some money for a rainy day, so should businesses. But when it comes to your company’s cash reserves, the notion that “more is better” isn’t necessarily correct. You’ve got to find the right balance. Contact us to discuss your reserve and identify your ideal liquidity metrics.