If you have read our previous business articles, you already know that the key to a successful business lies not only in preparation but also in the ability to spot opportunity and seize it. How do you do that?
Start by asking the right questions – you need to know where to look for hidden gold mines.
Asking good questions gives you a great opportunity to look at your business from various perspectives and open your eyes to the ‘hidden’ opportunities. Running a business isn’t easy; the day-to-day operation is time-consuming enough and it leaves little time for spotting hidden treasures. Moreover, good questions give you a chance to prepare for any monsters that are lurking around the corner – the threats to your business.
We will give you three tools that will aid you in understanding your business better and developing a solid plan.
Here is what you need:
- A business or at least a business idea.
- A group of friends or coworkers to discuss questions with.
Remember the red and the blue pill in the Matrix movie? The blue one offers you a comforting illusion and the red one shows you reality. Are you ready for a Red pill?
1. The SWOT Analysis
It’s time for a SWOT analysis, assessing your business from 4 points of view and asking the right questions to gather as much useful information as possible.
Assess your Strengths
The first step in the SWOT analysis is assessing your business’s strengths or what gives you an advantage over others in the same industry. Here are a few questions to answer to assess your strengths:
- What does your business do well?
- What do your customers say you do well?
- What skills does your workforce possess?
- What makes your business different/better than others?
- What’s the situation with your business finances?
- How good is your marketing?
- How fast do you adapt to change?
- What do you do to reduce costs?
From then on, you need to…
Watch Out For Opportunities
After taking a look at the inside of your business, look at the bigger picture and the opportunities it offers for your business. Unlike strengths, opportunities are out of your control, however, what you control is your reaction to them. Here are the questions to help you uncover them:
- How are the needs of your prospects and current clients changing?
- What can you do to adapt to this change?
- What are the needs of your non-clients that you could meet?
- What do you need to bring to the table to stay in the game?
- What are the trending products, tools and services in your niche or the ones that are expected to be on trend after a year?
- Are there any untapped markets for your products/services that you can target next?
Face Your Weaknesses
Weaknesses are another internal aspect of your business. The area where you need to be the most honest with yourself. Here are the essential questions:
- What is it that you could do better?
- What do your competitors do better than you?
- Is your marketing good enough?
- What skills is your workforce lacking?
- How good are you at following your business plan?
- What experience do you need to take your business further?
Look Out for Lurking Threats
Threats, along with opportunities are out of your control but they can have a negative impact on your business. The best approach is to anticipate threats so when you inevitably encounter them you are prepared. Here are the questions you need to answer:
- How are your customers’ expectations changing?
- Which of your products/services are possible to go off-trend in the near future?
- What can you replace them with if that happens?
- Are there any direct competitors on the horizon that could steal a portion of your market?
- What is the current situation in your niche that could have a damaging effect on your business or profit?
Of course if you’re really looking to have a proper analysis of your business, you need to ask your own questions too. The above-mentioned ones are only examples and not the definitive set. Use these questions as a starting point.
2. Put Your Thinking Hat On
One of the most powerful mind tools you can use along with your SWOT analysis is called Six Thinking Caps. Created by Edward de Bono, it’s a method which really helps you look at your business from a new perspective and works especially well in group or workshop environments (by putting on an imaginary thinking hat in six different colours).
- The White Hat: Look at the facts of your business – the absolute raw data, the numbers and figures, without any analysis added. What do you discover?
- The Red Hat: This one represents your emotions. How do you feel about your discoveries from the white hat review? What is your gut telling you?
- The Black Hat: The hat of the cold, hard logic. Ask yourself what your most rational reaction to your discoveries is. Look at your entire business wearing the black hat on. What do you see?
- The Yellow Hat: The positive, optimistic hat. Think what the best possible outcome is based on what you’ve found before. What is the most optimistic way to look at your business?
- The Green Hat: The hat that makes you question all things. What are the questions you need to ask? What information do you need before making a final decision?
- The Blue Hat: The hat you put on when you are ready to make conclusions about your business. Pull together all information you’ve learned and have an overall picture of how your business is doing.
All of these different angles give you a realistic picture of your business and an idea of the issues you need to address. They can also feed back into your business goals (link to article).
3. The Disney Method
This is a creative thinking method that is modelled on Walt Disney’s technique (hence the name or no s**t sherlock!). It’s a thinking technique which synthesizes three strategies: dreamer, realist and critic. The three are interconnected, however, they need to be approached separately and in sequence: for the dreamer nothing is too absurd or impossible, while the realist is concerned with the way ideas work and the critic plays the devil’s advocate and picks holes in the master plan. When incorporating these strategies into your business planning and brainstorming you need to ask new questions:
- Dreamer: If I could do anything, what would I do? How would it look like? How would I feel about it? In this stage anything goes, nothing is off the table – what is the craziest, most absurd idea you can come up with?
- Realist: How can I make this idea happen? What are its features? What is its essence? How can I use this essence to turn this idea into a tangible reality?
- Critic: Is this the best I can do? What can I improve? What is the point of it? How does it look to my prospects?
What’s great about this creative thinking method is that you can use it with your staff too, coordinating their thinking on a particular project. The team can move from one room to the other, brainstorming. Each room will have a different label: The Dreamer Room, The Realist Room and the Critic Room. It will help take a concept from a raw idea to an action.
What is your approach when it comes to assessing your business’ strengths and weaknesses? Use the comment box below to tell us about your experience.