Dear Ed

Dear EdDear Ed,

I have run a SWOT analysis on my business and discovered that I am all of them: the Strength, the Weakness, the Opportunity and the Threat. What can I do?

Harry McNiche-Market

Dear Harry,

Welcome to my world. And just to set the record straight, we are not talking about SWAT teams that use special weapons and tactics (although weapons and tactics are involved, they are quite nuanced; besides, it gets a bit uncomfortable sitting at your desk all day in Kevlar body armour and, as they say, fully weaponised). Nor are we talking about the last-minute brain-befuddling known as swotting for an exam.

A SWOT analysis looks at the Strengths and Weaknesses of your business, as well as the Opportunities and Threats. You can find some serious advice about SWOT analysis online, or you can keep reading and I'll fill your head with so much chaff that you won't have to worry about any of it. The choice is yours.

Okay, chaff it is. [Warning: Anecdote ahead.] In my first three years as a lance for hire, I had two major clients. They gave me more work than I could handle and I gained 90 per cent of my income from them. An experienced colleague with a part-time job as a cleverdick told me I needed more clients because I was relying on too few sources of income, but I couldn't see why. I couldn't do any more work unless I grew another head (I tried potting mix and Seasol, but the cutting didn't take) and I was earning good money for the amount of time I was putting in at the computer.

So you can see my Strengths: two solid clients, reliable income. However, my Strengths were also my Weaknesses: I was over-reliant on two clients. If one of them fell off their perch, I'd lose my reliable source of income. (I'm convinced 'My strength is my weakness' is a quote from somewhere. Lao Tzu? Son House? Whatever, I've been unable to find the source and am thus unable to impress you with my profundity. You'll just have to read on.) I'd also been ignoring Opportunities by not seeking out other clients and building relationships. The biggest Threat, which should have overshadowed every waking moment, was this: If one client had no work, then 50 per cent of my income stream would become a series of billabongs.

The billabong scenario didn't happen, mainly because the projects I'd been working on for both clients ended at about the same time and I had a full-on drought. I scrambled around trying to find new clients, contacting some of the people who should have been sought out as Opportunities three years earlier. Also, because I hadn't built relationships with any new clients, I had to start from scratch, which meant that even when I did find work, I'd get booked up for jobs that would be starting in three months' time.

So that's one case where a SWOT analysis would have been handy. And if you're thinking this case study is all frou-frou, some years afterwards one of my two original major clients bought out the other, absorbed their business and shut them down. But at least by that stage I'd taken the Threats on board and used whatever Opportunities I discovered to establish some new clients.

Yours with a serious face and complete lack of frou-frou,

Ed