Getting the Most From a SWOT Analysis

By Sarah McVicar, AUNE MBA in Sustainabillity Candidate & HGC Volunteer

As an MBA student here at SWOT Antioch University New England, I’ve had the chance to gain some hands-on experience with the tool of SWOT analysis. Conducting a SWOT analysis for your business is a great opportunity to take a systematic look at where you are and where you want to go.

How can you best take advantage of the opportunity? Take these things to heart: be honest, creative and objective.

Let’s start with the Basics: What is the SWOT Analysis?

The SWOT analysis is a strategic planning method that takes a look at four categories – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – of a business venture or project, product, etc. Most importantly, you should clearly identify the subject of the analysis before you move forward. After you complete your analysis, you will be ready to set objectives.

A SWOT analysis identifies the internal and external factors, both favorable and unfavorable, that directly affect your business or project. Strengths are the characteristics that give your business an advantage over others, whereas Weaknesses are characteristics that place you at a relative disadvantage. Keep in mind that Strengths and Weaknesses are internal to your organization, while Opportunities and Threats are factors in the external environment.

Matching and Converting:

One way of using a SWOT analysis is what is known as Matching and Converting. Matching is a method of identifying competitive advantages by matching Strengths to Opportunities, while converting strategies look at the possibility of converting Weaknesses or Threats into Strengths or Opportunities, or, if not possible, to minimize or avoid Threats and Weaknesses.

It may be most useful to think of the SWOT categories in relationship. When thinking of Opportunities, for example, ask how your Opportunities can draw on your Strengths. Or, do you need to address certain Weaknesses in order to take advantage of potential Opportunities?

When thinking about Weaknesses and Threats, think objectively and honestly about what makes your work difficult or challenging. What potential Threats do you see if you were to take advantage of some of the Opportunities you have listed?


Keep in mind the natural tendencies to overstate Opportunities and Strengths, or put too much focus on Weaknesses and not see Opportunities.  Try to keep balance and focus on all four catergories.  Don’t just stop at the obvious, but brainstorm to generate helpful input. Don’t discount ideas just because they seem at first out of the ordinary; they may prove to be just the ideas you need.


Once you’re done, don’t forget about your SWOT analysis. Instead, refer to it continually as a means of creating strategy and actively monitoring your progress. Consider it a living document that can be updated and modified over time.

Culture Building:

While this may (understandably!) seem like a lot of work, try to look at a SWOT analysis as a fun opportunity. Encourage yourself and your team members to be creative, imaginative and honest. Speak the truth as you see it – this will give the SWOT analysis real value.

Work to foster an atmosphere that encourages open, imaginative thinking; consider combining SWOT brainstorming sessions with sharing food or other relaxed activities so the work seems satisfying rather than a necessary chore. The process can seem painful, but it doesn’t need to be.

For best results, encourage thoughtfulness and fun. Good luck!

If you would like to learn more about SWOT analysis, below are a few helpful links: