Assessing the health of your business

Manage, Monitor & Mentor
In today’s business climate, it may be more important than ever for companies to operate at maximum efficiency and with a keen awareness of the potential impact of changes in their industry and the economy. Using a SWOT analysis to take a closer look at your company’s internal operations, as well as its position in the marketplace, may help you avoid costly mistakes, improve your management practices, and refine your long-term strategic goals.

The acronym SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses,Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning tool designed to assist an organization in identifying the internal and external factors likely to affect its ability to achieve its objectives. It can also be used to help management formulate ways to enhance processes and prepare for potential challenges. While some businesses regularly conduct these assessments, a SWOT analysis can be especially helpful priorto making a major strategic decision. To conduct a SWOT analysis, start by evaluating where your company currently stands in each of the four categories. Under the heading “strengths,” list the areas where your business currently performs exceptionally well or possesses certain competitive advantages. Your company may, for example, have
experienced and committed employees, a long history
in the community, or products and services that have
been shown to be effective. Under the heading
“weaknesses,” make a
list of areas where your
company could show improvement. These
weaknesses may include, for example, cash flow
problems, high levels of debt, a key employee who is
about to retire, or inefficient and aging IT systems.
If you have trouble developing an obj
ective
assessment of your strengths and weaknesses,
imagine that you are viewing your business from a
variety of perspectives, such as that of a client, a
vendor, a staff member, or an investor. The comments
you have received from others about your busines
can help you to determine more accurately the areas in
which your group excels, as well as those in which
improvement is needed.
Next, take stock of the external environment by
evaluating potential opportunities and threats. When
compiling a list of “op
portunities,” think about the
possibilities, both large and small, for expanding your
offerings or creating new funding streams. These may
include, for example, partnering with another business,
adding new products, or intensifying marketing efforts
in a n
ew target demographic. Under the heading
“threats,” list all of the outside influences that could
prove detrimental, such as downturns in the economy,
shifts in client demand, changes in the legal or political
landscape, or natural disasters.
After compili
ng your own SWOT list, convene a
meeting of members of your management team,
professional advisors, and a representative group of
employees. When discussing strengths and
weaknesses, focus especially on where your company
stands in each of these areas rela
tive to competitors,
the company’s capacity to grow and to take on new
challenges, and how your company’s strengths and
weaknesses make it more vulnerable
or more
resilient
in the face of outside threats.
Once you and your team have compiled a thorough
SW
OT list, this information can be used by the
company to streamline practices and formulate new
strategies. A SWOT analysis can help your company
build upon its current strengths, make plans to improve
areas of weakness, and prepare to avert or cope with
po
tential problems.
Besides helping you hone your strategy and
strengthen your position in the marketplace, a SWOT
analysis can be useful when approaching investors
and in improving your relations with board members,
employees, and other stakeholders. A thou
ghtfully
prepared inventory of your assets and liabilities,
coupled with a strategic plan to act on those findings,
can serve as tangible evidence of your management
skills and willingness to take the action necessary to
ensure that your business continues
to meet or exceed
its goals.
Online Reviews: Protecting Your Company’s
Reputation
The number of consumers that purchase services and
merchandise online is escalating annually, and so is the
activity of responding to local and Internet shopping
experien
ces by posting immediate feedback in the form
of online customer reviews. Company review websites,
such as Yelp and Google, have quickly become the go
to source of information about businesses with a widely
read platform of “insider” opinions on products a
nd
services that consumers trust. With the importance of
online customer ratings and reviews to make or break
your company’s reputation, there are steps you can take
to effectively monitor when your business is referenced
and counter any negative reviews i
n time to preserve
your reputation and increase customer loyalty.
How It Works
Typically, a prospective customer or client may conduct
a search on the Internet for a service or product he or
she wants. A list of businesses pop up, and depending
on seve
ral factors, the attraction and elimination
process begins. One of the first sections consumers
focus in on when checking out a business is the
company’s ratings and reviews, where customers cast
their votes by clicking on one to five stars. In addition,
c
ustomers can leave a short or long detailed review of the product or service.
Online customer reviews have altered the marketing
landscape for businesses that promote their products
and services on the Internet. Today, if your company
receives an unfavorab
le or positive rating, it carries
considerable weight when existing and prospective
customers are shopping around to make important
buying decisions. A negative review holds the potential
to drive business that could be yours over to
competitors
.
Taking Co
ntrol
If you have developed an online marketing plan to
successfully promote your company, your business may
very well be popping up on one of the many online
review websites. Here are some steps that can help you
to manage your company’s online reputatio
n, and in so
doing, both protect and increase your customer base:
Stay informed
.
Sign up to receive email alerts
whenever the name of your company is mentioned
online, or perform your own searches regularly (at least
once a week) to check on reviews of yo
ur business. If a
negative review should appear, chances are you’ll be in
a position to address the issue right away.
Keep cool
.
Remember to focus on giving exceptional
customer service, even when responding online to a
negative review. Resist the initial
impulse to go on the
defensive. Instead, offer to resolve the situation with the
customer immediately. The longer a bad review is left to
percolate online, the more apt you are to lose
customers.
Create avenues for customer feedback
.
If you don’t
already h
ave a presence on social media sites, such as
Facebook and Instagram, you may want to reconsider.
Customers will find a public outlet to express their
opinions. So, to nip any negative commentary in the
bud, at the very least, make sure to list an email
ad
dress for customers on your company’s website.
Go the extra mile
with an unsatisfied customer when
resolving a problem. After tackling the customer’s initial
complaint, offer an additional free gift or a discounted
item for his or her trouble. The solution
that you provide
and the way you handle the issue will also be posted
Ask your satisfied customers to write a positive
online review
.
The more favorable reviews you garner
online, the broader reach you’ll have with your
marketing campaign.
As a sm
all business owner, you know how crucial it is to
please your existing customers and attract new
prospects all the time. By tracking your company’s
reviews online, responding quickly to negative feedback,
and providing exceptional customer service when
cor
recting any problems as they arise, you’ll be well on
your way to creating a climate for customer loyalty while
continuing to grow your business.
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