How to Do a SWOT Analysis (With Examples & Free Template!)

Dan Shewan
Last Updated: February 25, 2022 | Marketing Ideas
HomeBlogHow to Do a SWOT Analysis (With Examples & Free Template!)

If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office environment, you may have come across the term “SWOT analysis.” This has nothing to do with evaluating militarized law enforcement response units, and everything to do with taking a long, hard look at your company.

SWOT analysis

Conducting a SWOT analysis is a powerful way to evaluate your company or project, whether you’re two people or 500 people. In this article, you’ll learn: what a SWOT analysis is, see some SWOT analysis examples, and learn tips and strategies for conducting a comprehensive SWOT analysis of your own. You’ll also see how you can use the data a SWOT exercise yields to improve your internal processes and workflows, and get a free, editable SWOT analysis template.

The Complete Guide to SWOT Analysis:

Table of contents

What is a SWOT analysis?

A SWOT analysis is a technique used to determine and define your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – SWOT.

Timestamps:
0:20: The importance of informed planning
0:30: Why conduct a SWOT analysis?
0:50: What is a SWOT analysis?
1:07: SWOT analysis: strengths
1:57: SWOT analysis: weaknesses
3:01: SWOT analysis: opportunities
3:24: SWOT analysis: threats
3:50: How to do a SWOT analysis

 

SWOT analyses can be applied to an entire company or organization, or individual projects within a single department. Most commonly, SWOT analyses are used at the organizational level to determine how closely a business is aligned with its growth trajectories and success benchmarks, but they can also be used to ascertain how well a particular project – such as an online advertising campaign – is performing according to initial projections.

Whatever you choose to call them, SWOT analyses are often presented as a grid-like matrix with four distinct quadrants – one representing each individual element. This presentation offers several benefits, such as identifying which elements are internal versus external, and displaying a wide range of data in an easy-to-read, predominantly visual format.

Breaking down the SWOT analysis definition

We know that SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats – but what does each of these elements mean? Let’s take a look at each element individually.

Strengths

The first element of a SWOT analysis is Strengths.

  • Things your company does well
  • Qualities that separate you from your competitors
  • Internal resources such as skilled, knowledgeable staff
  • Tangible assets such as intellectual property, capital, proprietary technologies, etc.

SWOT analysis strengths examples

As you’ve probably guessed, this element addresses things that your company or project does especially well. This could be something intangible, such as your company’s brand attributes, or something more easily defined such as the unique selling proposition of a particular product line. It could also be your people, your literal human resources: strong leadership, or a great engineering team.

Weaknesses

Once you’ve figured out your strengths, it’s time to turn that critical self-awareness on your weaknesses.

  • Things your company lacks
  • Things your competitors do better than you
  • Resource limitations
  • Unclear unique selling proposition

SWOT analysis weaknesses examples

What’s holding your business or project back? This element can include organizational challenges like a shortage of skilled people and financial or budgetary limitations.

This element of a SWOT analysis may also include weaknesses in relation to other companies in your industry, such as the lack of a clearly defined USP in a crowded market.

Opportunities

Next up is Opportunities.

  • Underserved markets for specific products
  • Few competitors in your area
  • Emerging needs for your products or services
  • Press/media coverage of your company

SWOT analysis opportunities examples

Can’t keep up with the volume of leads being generated by your marketing team? That’s an opportunity. Is your company developing an innovative new idea that will open up new markets or demographics? That’s another opportunity.

In short, this element of a SWOT analysis covers everything you could do to improve sales, grow as a company, or advance your organization’s mission.

Threats

The final element of a SWOT analysis is Threats – everything that poses a risk to either your company itself or its likelihood of success or growth.

  • Emerging competitors
  • Changing regulatory environment
  • Negative press/media coverage
  • Changing customer attitudes toward your company

SWOT analysis threats examples

This could include things like emerging competitors, changes in regulatory law, financial risks, and virtually everything else that could potentially jeopardize the future of your company or project.

SWOT analysis internal and external factors

The four elements above are common to all SWOT analyses. However, many companies further compartmentalize these elements into two distinct subgroups: Internal and External.

Internal factors

Typically, Strengths and Weaknesses are considered internal factors, in that they are the result of organizational decisions under the control of your company or team. A high churn rate, for example, would be categorized as a weakness, but improving a high churn rate is still within your control, making it an internal factor.

External factors

Similarly, emerging competitors would be categorized as a threat in a SWOT analysis, but since there’s very little you can do about this, this makes it an external factor. This is why you may have seen SWOT analyses referred to as Internal-External Analyses or IE matrices.

SWOT analysis internal external examples

Image via Bplans

Subcategorizing your four primary elements into Internal and External factors isn’t necessarily critical to the success of your SWOT analysis, but it can be helpful in determining your next move or evaluating the degree of control you have over a given problem or opportunity.

Now that we know what each of the elements of a SWOT analysis means, let’s take a look at how to go about creating and conducting a SWOT analysis.

How to do a SWOT analysis

You can get the full experience in our video below, and this entire post is dedicated to answering that question, but for simplicity’s sake, here’s how to do a SWOT analysis:

  1. Gather your team together—ideally bring candy.
  2. Set up your quadrants—on a whiteboard or projector (perhaps using our template).
  3. Start with strengths—ask the below list of questions.
  4. Follow suit with weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  5. Organize the information collected into a neat and tidy document.
  6. Send out to the team with notes.
  7. Organize a second meeting to come up with action items and owners.
Video timestamps:
0:11: What is a SWOT analysis?
0:42: How to do a SWOT analysis: meeting setup tips
1:30: The four quadrants of a SWOT analysis
2:53: SWOT analysis strengths
3:50: SWOT analysis weaknesses
4:19: SWOT analysis opportunities
5:25: SWOT analysis threats
5:55: What to do with the results

SWOT analysis questions

Like feature-benefit matrices, there are several ways to conduct a SWOT analysis. However, regardless of how you choose to structure your analysis, we need to start by asking a series of questions. Here is a breakdown of the questions you should seek to answer when performing your SWOT analysis.

Strengths questions

Let’s take our first element, Strengths, for example. To determine what your strengths are as an organization, you could begin by asking some of the following questions:

  1. What do your customers love about your company or product(s)?
  2. What does your company do better than other companies in your industry?
  3. What are your most positive brand attributes?
  4. What’s your unique selling proposition?
  5. What resources do you have at your disposal that your competitors do not?

By answering these questions, you’ll be in great shape to start identifying and listing your organization’s strengths.

SWOT analysis WordStream brand attributes examples

Positive brand attributes associated with WordStream, as identified by our customers

Weakness questions

We can use the same principle to determine your company’s weaknesses:

  • What do your customers dislike about your company or product(s)?
  • What problems or complaints are often mentioned in your negative reviews?
  • Why do your customers cancel or churn?
  • What could your company do better?
  • What are your most negative brand attributes?
  • What are the biggest obstacles/challenges in your current sales funnel?
  • What resources do your competitors have that you do not?

You may find that determining the strengths and weaknesses of your organization or project is considerably easier or takes less time than figuring out the opportunities and threats facing your company. This is because, as we said earlier, these are internal factors. External factors, on the other hand, may require more effort and rely upon more data, as these are often beyond your immediate sphere of influence.

SWOT analysis internal external factor relationship diagram

Opportunities questions

Identifying opportunities and threats may require you to conduct in-depth competitive intelligence research about what your competitors are up to, or the examination of wider economic or business trends that could have an impact on your company. That’s not to say that opportunities and threats cannot be internal, however; you may discover opportunities and threats based solely on the strengths and weaknesses of your company. Some possible questions you could ask to identify potential opportunities might include:

  • How can we improve our sales/customer onboarding/customer support processes?
  • What kind of messaging resonates with our customers?
  • How can we further engage our most vocal brand advocates?
  • Are we allocating departmental resources effectively?
  • Is there budget, tools, or other resources that we’re not leveraging to full capacity?
  • Which advertising channels exceeded our expectations – and why?

Threat questions

When it comes to threats, you could certainly begin by asking a series of questions like those above. However, it’s often quite easy to come up with a list of potential threats facing your business or project without posing questions beforehand. This could include “branded” threats such as emerging or established competitors, broader threats such as changing regulatory environments and market volatility, or even internal threats such as high staff turnover that could threaten or derail current growth.

What is PEST analysis?

While we’re on the topic of internal versus external factors, I wanted to mention a tangential but entirely separate type of analysis closely relevant to SWOT analyses, known as a PEST analysis.

Earlier, I mentioned that external factors such as changing regulatory policies and market volatility could be considered threats in a standard SWOT analysis. However, despite their importance, challenges like this are often highly nuanced and driven by dozens or hundreds of individual factors. This can place them beyond the scope or intent of a typical SWOT analysis. This is why many companies also conduct PEST analyses.

SWOT analysis PEST analysis examples

This type of analysis is not what an exterminator does upon arriving at a roach-infested tenement. Rather, a PEST analysis functions very similarly to a SWOT analysis, only they’re concerned with four external factors:

  1. Political
  2. Economic
  3. Sociocultural
  4. Technological

Pros of PEST analysis

One of the main reasons it’s worth looking at PEST analyses is because many of the factors that could end up in a PEST matrix could also be relevant to the Opportunities and Threats in our SWOT analysis. The kind of political and economic turmoil we’ve seen in the United States during the past year, for example, could very well pose legitimate and serious threats to many businesses (as well as some opportunities), but these kinds of obstacles tend to be much more complicated than the opportunities and threats you’d see in most SWOT analyses, given their broader scale and often-complex underlying factors.

SWOT analysis stages of economic bubbles

Image via Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue/Hofstra University

Cons of PEST analysis

Obstacles identified in a typical PEST analysis also tend to be on much longer timeframes – it’s a lot easier and quicker to try and overcome internal challenges like high staff turnover than it is to wait and see if the economy picks up (or if the bubble will burst again). That’s why many larger companies conduct both SWOT and PEST analyses simultaneously – the SWOT analysis provides them with more immediate, potentially actionable roadmaps, whereas PEST analyses can be highly valuable when it comes to formulating longer-term plans and business strategies.

Benefits of SWOT analysis for small businesses

If you’re a marketer or small-business owner, you might be wondering if SWOT analyses are practical or even feasible for smaller companies and organizations. Although there is definitely a resource overhead involved in the creation of a SWOT analysis, there are many benefits in doing so, even for the smallest of companies.

  • Get a bird’s eye view: For one, conducting a comprehensive SWOT analysis provides a unique opportunity to gain greater insight into how your business operates. It’s all too easy to get lost in the weeds of the day-to-day workings of your company, and conducting a SWOT analysis allows you to take a broader, bird’s eye view of your business and the position it occupies in your industry.
  • Improve specific campaigns and projects. Another benefit of SWOT analyses is that this technique can be applied to a wide range of scenarios, not just as an overview of your business. You could use SWOT analyses to evaluate the potential strengths and weaknesses of a forthcoming advertising campaign, a planned content project, or even whether your company should be represented at a trade show or industry event.

Here’s an example of a project SWOT analysis:

project SWOT analysis example

Image source

  • Develop tangible roadmaps. Obviously, it almost goes without saying that conducting a SWOT analysis allows you to identify what your company does well, where it could improve, and the opportunities and threats facing your business. However, conducting a SWOT analysis provides you with the opportunity to not only identify these factors, but also develop and implement tangible roadmaps and timelines for potential solutions. This can be beneficial in the creation of budgetary plans, identifying hiring needs and other mid- to long-term strategic planning.

A full SWOT analysis example

So, now we know what each element of a SWOT analysis is concerned with and the kinds of exploratory questions we can ask to get the ball rolling, it’s time to actually get to work and create your SWOT analysis.

To illustrate how it works, we’ll create our own SWOT analysis example: a family-owned restaurant, with a single location, operating in an urban area.

Here’s the SWOT analysis example based on our fictional restaurant:

SWOT analysis example matrix

As you can see, this matrix format allows you to quickly and easily identify the various elements you’ve included in your analysis.

Strengths examples

  • Excellent, well-trafficked location
  • Good reputation in local community
  • Seasonal menu, locally sourced.

Weakness examples

  • Higher costs than comparable chain restaurants
  • Single location means limited reach
  • Modest advertising budget
  • Not currently using food delivery apps/technology

Opportunity examples

  • Growing interest in/support for locally sourced ingredients
  • Seasonal menu keeps things fresh and interesting
  • Potential growth via food delivery apps/technology

Threat examples

  • Intensifying competition from established chain restaurants
  • Uncertain economic environment
  • Rising cost of ingredients

SWOT analysis example: Acting on your results

So, you’ve finally got your hands on a completed SWOT matrix. You’ve identified internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. You’ve begun to see your company in a whole new light.

Now what?

Ideally, there are two stages of action you should take upon completing a SWOT analysis. First, you should attempt to match your strengths with your opportunities. Next, you should try to convert weaknesses into strengths. Let’s take a look how this works.

1. Harness your strengths

One of the best things about the strengths you identified in your SWOT analysis is that you’re already doing them.

SWOT analysis example strengths

In our example above, the restaurant’s location, reputation, and seasonal menu are all strengths. This tells the fictitious company that it should continue to experiment with its popular seasonal menu. It also tells the company it should continue to develop and nurture the strong relationships with its regular customers that have strengthened the restaurant’s reputation in the community.

Essentially, acting upon your business’ strengths consists of “do more of what you’re already good at.”

2. Shore up your weaknesses

Acting on the weaknesses you identified in your SWOT analysis is a little trickier, not least because you have to be honest enough with yourself about your weaknesses in the first place.

SWOT analysis diagram weaknesses

Going back to our example, some of these weaknesses are very challenging to act upon. Going up against the considerable purchasing power of rival chain restaurants can be very difficult for smaller, family owned businesses. The restaurant is also struggling with its limited reach, the restrictions of a modest advertising budget, and is also failing to leverage the potential to increase sales by allowing customers to order food online through delivery apps like Foodler or GrubHub.

However, that’s not to say all hope is lost. It might be harder for our example business to compete with a chain, but there are plenty of other ways small companies can be more competitive – such as by developing strong, meaningful relationships with customers, which was not only one of the company’s strengths, but also something chain restaurants simply cannot offer.

3. Seize opportunities

The Opportunities section of your SWOT analysis is by far the most actionable, and that’s by design. By identifying opportunities by evaluating your organization’s strengths, you should have a ready-made list of targets to aim for.

SWOT analysis diagram opportunities

In the example above, increasing consumer appetites for ethically produced, locally grown ingredients is a major opportunity. However, our restaurateurs cannot rest on their laurels – there’s still work to be done. In this example, this may involve investing in technical expertise to take advantage of the opportunities presented by food delivery apps, or sourcing locally grown produce more aggressively in an attempt to reduce costs.

It’s also important to avoid hubris or complacency in your opportunities. Even if you have an iron-clad advantage over every other business in your industry, failing to devote sufficient time, money, or personnel resources in maintaining that advantage may result in you missing out on these opportunities over time.

Every business’ opportunities will differ, but it’s vital that you create a clearly defined roadmap for capitalizing upon the opportunities you’ve identified, whether they be internal or external.

4. Mitigate threats

Anticipating and mitigating the threats identified in your SWOT analysis may be the most difficult challenge you’ll face in this scenario, primarily because threats are typically external factors; there’s only so much you can do to mitigate the potential damage of factors beyond your control.

SWOT analysis diagram threats

Every threat, and the appropriate reaction to that threat, is different. Regardless of the specific threats you’ve identified in your SWOT analysis, responding to and monitoring those threats should be among your very top priorities, irrespective of the degree of control you have over those threats.

In the example above, all three threats are particularly challenging. To compete with the prices of its chain competitors, our restaurateurs may be forced to either compromise on their values to secure cheaper ingredients, or willingly cut into their profit margins to remain competitive. Similarly, economic uncertainty is virtually impossible to fully mitigate, making it a persistent threat to the stability of our example restaurant business.

In some SWOT analyses, there may be some overlap between your opportunities and threats. For example, in the analysis above, the popularity of locally sourced ingredients was identified as an opportunity, and heightened competition was identified as a threat. In this example, highlighting the restaurant’s relationships with local farmers – further reinforcing the restaurant’s commitment to the local community and regional economy – may be an effective way for our restaurateurs to overcome the threat posed by the increasingly desperate chain restaurants vying for their customers.

When compiling the results of your SWOT analysis, be sure to look for areas of crossover like this and see if it’s possible to seize an opportunity and reduce a threat at the same time.

Free SWOT Analysis template

Ready to put it all into practice for your own business? Here’s our free, editable, SWOT analysis template.

It’s a Google Sheet so you can add and remove rows, edit and answer the questions, paste into a slide deck, and more.

free swot analysis template

View full-size image | Open Google Sheet

We’ve also thrown a blank one in there too:

swot analysis template blank

View full-size image | Open Google Sheet

Meet The Author

Dan Shewan

Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.

See other posts by Dan Shewan

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