SWOT analysis is a simple planning tool that compare strengths and weaknesses with opportunities and threats to create an action plan. Strengths and weaknesses are internal to the business or individual being analyzed while opportunities and threats are external factors.
While SWOT analysis can be used for personal development, it's most commonly used as a business planning tool. I call SWOT analysis the Swiss army knife of business planning tools because it can be used for so many different planning purposes. For small businesses, for instance, SWOT analysis can be used for:
How to Do a SWOT Analysis
1) Prepare a table with four quadrants.
2) Fill in the quadrants, according to the specific purpose of your SWOT analysis.
3) Once you have the table complete, use it to create a strategy or strategies that will make your business more competitive.
I like to use these questions as a thinking/discussion guide:
Don't forget to write the answers to these questions down!
As you'll see in my SWOT Example, I also like to write down the purpose of my SWOT analysis to help me stay focused and add a short results section at the end which tells what the next step or steps are.
Other SWOT Examples
This page from Marketing Teacher lists quite a few example SWOT analyses for well-known real companies such as Amazon, Tata Motors, Nike, and Apple (scroll down to the yellow section).
(Note that these SWOT analyses are overviews of these particular companies, not SWOT analyses that focus on a particular aspect of a business’s operations, as mine does.)
SWOT Analysis Tips
Always choose a specific purpose for your SWOT analysis. Otherwise, you'll just end up with a bunch of generalizations that won’t provide any direction for an action plan.
Realize that SWOT analysis is a subjective process; different groups of people may come up with different SWOT analyses for the same stated purpose or a single person may come up with different SWOT analyses for the same stated topic at a different time.
For this reason, SWOT analysis is not the be-all and end-all of business planning; it's best, in my opinion, as a planning starting point for small businesses and/or used in conjunction with other business planning tools, such as PEST analysis which "can help to ensure that you don't overlook external factors, such as new government regulations, or technological changes in your industry" when looking at opportunities and threats.
Other business planning tools you may wish to use in conjunction with SWOT analysis include Core Competency analysis, (definition) and USP Analysis (definition).
From an article by Susan ward for About Money