Solopreneurs and small business owners rise and fall on the marketplace perception of their brand, also known as one’s professional reputation. For that reason, the brand merits ongoing monitoring, enhancement and promotion as a component of strategies designed to support new business acquisition and encourage repeat business. The objective is to build and maintain a good client list. A useful way to review and evaluate your brand is with what many experts consider the gold standard of strategic planning, the SWOT Analysis.
SWOT is the acronym of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Every 18 – 24 months, self-employed professionals will benefit from examining the viability of their brand, to better understand what actions enhance the brand and what might weaken it. Conduct a SWOT Analysis and use what you discover as the foundation of a strategic plan for your brand.
Strengths: expertise, competitive advantages, A-list clients, referral sources, strategic partnerships, educational or professional credentials, financial resources, influential relationships. They are internally generated and within your control. Potential actions include:
- Leveraging resources to upgrade the types of clients you work with
- Increasing sales or billable hours by a certain percentage
- Developing a strategy to obtain more repeat business
- Developing a strategy that would persuade clients to hire you for more lucrative projects
Weaknesses: whatever challenges your brand. Competitors, ineffective marketing, poor customer service, weak perceived value of your products and services. These are internal and within your control. Potential actions include:
- Determining which inadequacies have the most negative impact on revenues
- Identifying gaps that can be quickly or inexpensively remedied
- Understanding how to minimise liabilities—which business practices can you modify, professional credentials you can earn, relationships you can cultivate?
Opportunities: conditions that favour the attainment of goals. These are external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to retool and benefit from their presence. Good information about business conditions in your marketplace helps business owners to evaluate and envision the potential of short-term and long-term benefits and learn how to get the pay-off. Consider the following:
- What new developments can you leverage to bring money and prestige to your venture?
- Do you see ROI in offering new products or services?
- Are there good clients you might successfully sign or lapsed clients who, with outreach, could be willing to reactivate?
- Is there a niche market you can successfully enter?
Threats: conditions likely to damage your brand, or your ability to acquire clients and generate sufficient billable hours. These are external and beyond your control, yet you may be able to retool and escape or minimise the damage caused by their presence. This element requires your immediate attention, since it carries the potential to end, or seriously cripple, your brand and business.Has an important contact left his/her organisation, leaving you at the mercy of the new decision-maker, who has his/her own friends to hire? Or has there been a merger that resulted in the downgrading of the influence of your chief contact, who may lose the ability to green-light projects that you manage?
Has a well-connected and aggressive competitor appeared on the scene, ready to eat your market share and client list by way of a better known brand, more influential relationships, a bigger marketing budget, or other game-changing competitive advantages?
If your client contact has moved on, take that person to lunch or coffee and attempt to make the professional relationship portable. If your contact has lost influence in the new organisation chart, take him/her out to coffee and get information about the replacement, who may hire you for the next project if it’s scheduled to start quickly.
If competition has intensified, do everything possible to offer superior customer service, assert your expertise, step up your networking, enhance your thought-leader credentials and nurture your client relationships.
Implementing a strategy of protective action, for example, a brand relaunch or a pivot into more hospitable business turf, might be necessary. Stay abreast of current and potential developments in the industries you serve. Communicate with clients and stay current as to the state of their priorities and concerns. Good relationships will give you the resources of time and information that will allow you to evaluate and regroup.