SWOT Analysis – What It Is & Why It Works

Summer 2016 Dublin, Ohio

Summer 2016
Dublin, Ohio

Sometimes knowing what you don’t do is even more important than knowing what you do. Articulating what we don’t do can save endless hours of metaphorical torture. Engaging in a bit of reflective SWOT analysis can help a creative individual decide when an opportunity is worth pursuing… And when it definitely is not.

 

 

SWOT analysis is a market research acronym meant to help companies identify their place within an industry and protect against external industry threats (a new competitor, a new technology, natural disaster, etc.). But it works for individuals as well.

 

Let’s start with the fun part: Strengths (S). What are your strengths? What do you do really well? What distinguishes you from your peers?

 

We’ll come back to the answer to this question frequently. Your strengths (or your competencies, or your unique value proposition) informs your pricing structure, the way you describe your work, and – above all else – the opportunities you choose to pursue as part of your creative career.

 

In articulating your own strengths, don’t be afraid to put them in writing and live with them for a bit. (We favor post-it notes listing core competencies, but really any system will work.) Asking a trusted peer or mentor for input can help as well. Borrowing someone else’s adjectives to describe what we do and how we do it can yield insights we might miss on our own.

 

After listing your strengths, think about what you omitted from the list: Weaknesses (W). What are your weaknesses? These can be weaknesses you hope to improve upon or those you simply embrace. Weaknesses aren’t bad. They are a realistic assessment of where you are – and are note—willing and able to deliver the most value to the world. What is the part about a project you always dread? What is the last professional project that made you cringe? What is your least favorite part of your process or your work? What do you secretly fear someone will ask you to do?

 

Articulating weaknesses is an important part of honing your creative career. As you examine each one, identify the weaknesses you want to improve upon, and include them as part of your goal-setting process. (Don’t forget to quantify the process of improving each one!)

 

Then, identify the ones you want to embrace, and articulate how you will incorporate each one within your creative career. There’s a good chance the first thing you articulate will be fairly negative. (And that’s okay.) If it is, work on reframing it as a positive part of your strategy, rather than a negative one.

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By focusing on your strengths and incorporating a plan to address or embrace your weaknesses into your overall creative career, it will become easier to decide whether or not to accept an opportunity.

 

And by the way, that’s the next part of the SWOT analysis: Opportunity (O). Unlike strengths and weaknesses, opportunities are external. That is, they exist outside of us. We can choose whether or not to pursue opportunities that may arise based on how those opportunities complement our strengths and weaknesses.

 

Sometimes we are tempted to say yes to every opportunity that arises, simply because saying yes is considerably less scary than saying no. And early on in a creative career, you should always say yes more often than you say no. Without a bit of experience under your proverbial belt, it is next to impossible to really articulate strengths and weaknesses.

 

But at some point that changes, and a bit of opportunity editing becomes crucial to growing a creative career in the most advantageous way. (I wish there were a perfect way to identify that point within a creative career. There isn’t. I’m sorry.) But once you’re at that point, you’ll know. In fact, you’ll probably figure it out one opportunity too late. That is, you’ll find yourself completing a project that all of a sudden doesn’t make sense for you any more. And you’ll use that knowledge to edit the next opportunity a bit better. And the one after that. And the one after that.

 

The last part of a SWOT analysis is the least fun of all: Threats (T). Threats are risks to our businesses and creativity that are often outside of our control. For some creative individuals, these are industry-level threats. (Think about wedding photographers who compete with all guests who have smart phones, fine artists whose customers compare their work to the output of “Wine and Canvas” events at bars and restaurants, and writers who compete with, well, anyone with a blog.)

 

As with any negative externalities, the strategy for dealing with threats is two-fold. First we acknowledge the threat (and we honestly assess its potential impact on our creativity). Then we deal with it, either by highlighting the ways our strengths distinguish us from threats, or by enhancing our weaknesses to better combat the threat.

 

But in all cases, by focusing on what we can control instead of what is beyond our control, we’ll be better able to respond to the changing world. That’s why we start by articulating Strengths and Weaknesses. As long as we’re clear about who we are and what we do well, we’ll be just fine.

 

Now What?

Want to learn more about aligning your strengths with opportunities? Check out Goal Setting for Portfolio Careers, a 3-hour self-study course to put these theories into creative action.

 

SS_GoalSettingGoal Setting for Portfolio Careers

You probably have a goal: To keep doing exactly what you want to be doing without going broke. But what if you could do more? In this course, you’ll learn why the traits that enhance your creativity are also fantastic for building tools to make your creative career work for you.

This course is completely self-paced, meaning you can read the materials and do the activities on your own time. But don’t worry. You won’t be alone.

At Minerva Financial Arts, we care about artists and the community… A lot. All our courses are distinguished from others by Elaine’s hands-on, supportive approach to coaching you through the material. Enjoy!

 

The Lazy Way of Setting Goals

Summer 2016 Dublin, Ohio

Summer 2016
Dublin, Ohio

Goal Setting is always one of the first activities I introduce, whether I’m working with undergraduate students or seasoned creative professionals. Rarely do those I work with think about goals for the first time with me. We’re taught to think about goals almost reflexively throughout our lives. In fact, most creative individuals have at least a passing familiarity with the SMART criteria for setting goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound). They might not be able to recite the acronym or its founder’s name, but they certainly know the essence of its goal: To concretize big goals into attainable chunks.

 

What is different about what we do is the process of quantifying goals. After all, without figuring out what a goal will cost, both in money and in time, it is incredibly difficult to weigh its importance, or what it will “cost” us (literally and figuratively) to accomplish. And without understanding the true cost of our goals, it is impossible to decide honestly if we really want to pursue them. (Sometimes we just think we want the goal’s outcome, without actually wanting the process of accomplishing the goal.)

 

The process of quantifying a goal isn’t pretty. It starts with the question, “What do you need to accomplish this goal?” This is where the temptation to give a lazy, smug answer is almost unbearable. I know we all need more time. And I know we all need more money. But claiming you cannot accomplish your goal without artificially manufacturing more of either is a lazy approach to goal setting. It deprives you of the empowerment of laying out – and executing – a plan.

 

So yes. You need time and money to accomplish your goal. I’ll stipulate that. But if your goal-setting process stops there, you’ll never get closer to where you want to be.

 

So let’s go deeper, shall we? What do you really need to accomplish your goal?

 

Do you need uninterrupted time off of work? Do you need space to work creatively? Do you need to silence your phone? Do you need to have a dog-walker or child-care to limit your interruptions? Do you need supplies? Do you need special software? Does your process involve both physical and digital output? List all thing things you need –beyond simply time and money – to accomplish your goal.

 

Next ask, “What do you need to do to accomplish your goal?” What processes do you need to have in place? How will the project unfold? How much time – realistically – will each step take? What prep work did you forget? What follow-up work is missing?

 

The last question is perhaps the most important: “What will it cost?” You’ve listed a number of tangible things, each of which likely has a cost associated with it. You’ve also listed a number of tasks. Calculate the cost of each, whether it is in unbillable time (the opportunity cost of your time) or in actual dollars. (And don’t forget to include all the costs even if you won’t have to pay them in cash. Costs you’ve already incurred are still costs of the goal.)

 

Answering these questions brings us to the tactical level of any goal, and the input items and tasks become insanely detailed. But those details are crucial for really understanding what we’ll need (and what we’ll need to do!) to accomplish our goals. Those details provide the tactical plan (road map) to move us towards our goals, and a clear way of quantifying the process. They won’t always be exactly right (goodness knows plans change), but at least we’ll know where to start and what to do first. Then we supplement the plan with our gut instincts, reflexes, and problem-solving skills along the way.

 

But the plan is impossible to follow if we blame our lack of time and our lack of money for our own shortcomings.

 

Yes. With unlimited time and unlimited money, our goals might seem easier to accomplish. But deep down we all know that isn’t true. Unlimited time and unlimited resources might make a goal seem more attainable, but by blaming the lack of time and lack of resources for our own personal failures to accomplish our goals, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to accomplish them. We deprive ourselves of our own empowerment.

 

And a lack of empowerment probably isn’t the overall goal.

 

Now What?

Want to learn more about quantifying goals? Check out Goal Setting for Portfolio Careers, a 3-hour self-study course to put these theories into creative action.

 

SS_GoalSettingGoal Setting for Portfolio Careers

You probably have a goal: To keep doing exactly what you want to be doing without going broke. But what if you could do more? In this course, you’ll learn why the traits that enhance your creativity are also fantastic for building tools to make your creative career work for you.

This course is completely self-paced, meaning you can read the materials and do the activities on your own time. But don’t worry. You won’t be alone.

At Minerva Financial Arts, we care about artists and the community… A lot. All our courses are distinguished from others by Elaine’s hands-on, supportive approach to coaching you through the material. Enjoy!