A few years ago I was carrying out an extensive piece of business planning and development work for a hotel owner and good friend of mine in Peninsular Malaysia.

Having just stepped out from the hotel grounds in the morning, we crossed the road and sat in a local coffee shop when I said to him, “What do you know about that new ABC Hotel around the corner?”
To my complete surprise he replied, “I don’t know much about it buddy to be fair.” Okay, so I asked him a few more questions such as who owns it, how many rooms, what’s the food like and I had that same blank expression back.

To be honest I was a bit surprised. Here was a new hotel that had been open 3 months ago. A hotel that was of the same star rating as my friend’s hotel, attracting the same clients as his hotel and he knew nothing about it. How could this be?

“Knowledge is power my friend,” I said. “How can you expect to compete with these guys and come out on top if you know nothing about them?
My friend’s biggest enemy was time. Running a number of businesses of a different nature in the city he just didn’t have the time to look at what was happening around him. As we say back home, “he couldn’t see the wood from the trees.”

I agreed to help, and developed his first SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis).

The Evolution of SWOT – and the dawn of the digital age

As business owners you should all know your own business very well.
Inside out and back to front, many of you have built your business from the ground up. You know your product, your market and your team like the back of your hand and you could talk about it for hours.

This is a great start, but what good is this if you don’t know what’s around the corner from you, what’s being planned by your competition and which businesses should be in your crosshairs?

I think back to my undergraduate days when we first started dabbling with business planning. Back then the internet was still in it’s absolute infancy and social media therefore was restricted pretty much to what you heard on the radio and read in the paper. Carrying out an effective SWOT back then meant multiple teams doing an incredible amount of groundwork only, with sharing of information being tenuous at best. In summary it was fairly hit and miss sometimes.

These days we are totally immersed in a completely mobile digital age where social media, sharing and information gathering is literally right at our fingertips.
Love it or loathe it, the digital age is here to stay and continues to develop at an alarming rate, and in our business it is just one useful tool from our huge toolbox of tricks that allow us to offer the very best to our clients.

So let’s dissect the SWOT …

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Strengths

As a business owner, to begin with we help you look at your own strengths. It is effectively looking in at your business from what you know.
What works well? Your satisfied customers and repeat business, your glowing reputation and position (whether it be geographical or otherwise), your success stories. This is just the tip of the iceberg that we begin to delve up.

Then we will look at your top 5 competition and do the same for them. If they are a brand new business then their strengths may be weaker than yours at the beginning, BUT it is human nature that people like to try new places and new things so beware here.

Remember that you only get one chance to make a first good, strong, lasting impression. Your competition knows that too.

Looking at your own strengths can be a big ego boost, whilst looking at the strengths of your competition sometimes can be demoralizing. Don’t get disheartened if this happens. Being honest about yourself and your competitors will give you a far clearer picture and line of attack for the future.

Weaknesses

Role reversal from the first topic, again it’s time to be brutally honest with ourselves once more.

Maybe you’ve had a string of complaints of negative Trip Advisor comments about your food. Maybe despite all of your best efforts your staff just don’t get the concept of offering good customer service.

It’s quite hard to do this section, but our secret is to get you to look at these weaknesses as not true weaknesses that demand you to immediately put a bullet in your brain!

More to the point, we look at weaknesses like this as opportunities in the making and treating it as constructive feedback.

Here’s a great example for you.
One of the first pieces of SWOT work that I did for a client was back in the late 1990’s for a small but growing hotel chain situated in the West Midlands of the UK.
Their flagship hotel had been doing well and creating solid revenue until one night during a wedding party, disaster struck and the entire reception went down with food poisoning. I will spare you from the details but it wasn’t pretty and had potential to destroy the business.

At around the same time that the Environmental Health Team were going in to tear the kitchen’s apart, the General Manager called me and begged me to help him out of the mess that he had ended up in.

One of the first things we did was damage control and morale support for him and his team. Obviously we had to get to the root of the problem (which was in essence poor kitchen hygiene management) but we also had to make sure that this sort of thing couldn’t happen again.

Following some hasty compliance issues being applied, we additionally got all food service and delivery personnel trained in Basic Food Hygiene with line managers being additionally qualified to intermediate and advanced level.

Coupling this with a menu redesign, some subtle changes of ambience, solid teambuilding and motivation workshops we then went about doing what we do best – telling the world about it.

We got it in the paper, on the radio, in the media. We invited local food critics to the hotel, organized a prize draw for charity and spared no expense of in essence, spreading the word.
It worked, and we turned a potentially destructive weakness into a great opportunity, which then ultimately became a glowing strength.

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Opportunities

Sometimes competition in your area of operation is strong, saturated and appears overwhelming. How can you possibly succeed with your restaurant/hotel/guest house if you are in an area that is swamped with other businesses of the same ilk?

The secret here is thinking outside of the box. It is offering something, any little thing that is possibly quirky or something that nobody else is doing or has thought of. Combine this with offering an unparalleled level of service with a personal touch and you have a strong recipe for success.

We were recently working with a company to design such a concept in their beach resort to offer that personal touch. A simple General Managers “Bon Voyage” free cocktail gathering for all guests brought some incredibly awe-inspiring Trip Advisor comments their way and on one occasion even grabbed them fresh business and free exposure.

On that particular occasion, unbeknown to the resort, one of their guests was a European freelance journalist who went back home and wrote an incredible piece about the resort for a large international travel magazine.

See how the cost of just a couple of local cocktails can create such an opportunity like this?

Other opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Stay on top of your game as to what is changing in your local area and regionally. Look at the market demographics, contact your local tourist board (they are usually very helpful) and get the trends forecast and then adapt in advance. Br ready for them and they will embrace you.

Threats

If you are a small to medium sized hotel operator you may feel as if you are never going to keep up with the big boys like Hilton or Shangri-la. Don’t worry about these guys and stay focused.

Slow and steady wins the race. Yes you watch them closely but pay attention on those that are playing in the same sandpit as you, operators that are your size, attracting your type of customer, spending dollars with them instead of you.

You look at what they are doing and better it. What have they got coming up or what are they developing that could potentially whip business from under your feet?

How? ….

The Tools in the Toolbox

At lukejcox.com we have a wealth of experience under our belts in this field having developed multi-level SWOT’s for a wide array of businesses. From hotels and resorts, to logistic companies and government entities we have helped countless entities deal with their strategic planning and focus.

The team uses a diverse range of tools in the SWOT including, but not limited to:

• In depth digital and social media analysis
• Customer survey programs
• Field testing
• Market research
• Quantifiable intelligence gathering
• Regional statistical data analysis

Remember, we offer a fully FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION to get the ball rolling for you in your search for true excellence. For an affordable in depth look through the crystal ball for your business, make contact with us today.

In our next blog item, we will be taking a close look at getting the very best out of your team in, “There is no I in Team!”