I want to share with you a powerful exercise to help grow your benefits firm or practice.

As 2014 ends, have you begun yet to think about business planning for the coming year? Q1 is when most agencies set the goals and strategies that will improve the firm’s performance and lead to top- and bottom-line growth.

But how do you know what specific goals to set, what specific problems and opportunities to address in the coming year that will strengthen your business and maximize growth?

To help our benefits agency clients develop an intentional and effective growth plan, we conduct our trademarked Agency Growth SWOT Analysis, which provides you with a high-resolution snapshot of your firm’s key assets and liabilities. It reveals your readiness for growth and identifies the most high-impact strategies to drive growth. While a dispassionate and experienced facilitator will enhance your results, you can undertake and direct a SWOT analysis yourself.

What is SWOT?

A SWOT analysis uncovers your firm’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal, while opportunities and threats are external to your agency.

In our Agency Growth SWOT Analysis, we evaluate a benefits firm on each of the four keys to agency growth: portfolio, marketing, selling and management, as covered in my book, DO or DIE: Reinventing Your Benefits Agency for Post-Reform Success. You can use these four categories for a more in-depth analysis or you can choose to conduct just a basic SWOT analysis of your firm or practice.

Regardless, the SWOT analysis process breaks down into two steps:

1)      Gather information and insights as part of a SWOT inventory.

2)      Analyze the SWOT findings to determine key objectives and growth strategies.

The first step is taking an honest inventory of your firm’s SWOT profile. While the inventory discussion can be conversational, when we facilitate the process for a client it is always very intentional and deliberate. At its core, this is a gathering of critical information and insights, driven by the facilitator’s questions and your and your team’s honest and complete answers.

We recommend that your whole team — sales, marketing and back office — participate in the entire SWOT inventory. This brings your team together in the process and encourages buy-in to your eventual strategy.

Maintain an open mind throughout the process. Some of what is uncovered may be painful, but identifying those issues is the beginning of a solution. And don’t censor when going through the inventory; even issues or comments that seem irrelevant could be vital to discovering a growth impediment or opportunity.

Once the SWOT inventory is complete, analyze the information you’ve gathered to identify the specific goals, objectives and strategies that will grow your firm. We always look first for small changes that will drive big results quickly. Then adopt some longer-term goals and strategies to work on.

Your SWOT analysis will give you clarity and certainty about your path to growth. Committing fully to a course of action is much easier when you have full confidence in the direction and approach of your plan.

In these challenging times, don’t leave your business planning to a haphazard process. Leverage the power of a SWOT analysis to help you identify next steps for growth and develop a powerful plan to achieve your goals.

Reach Griswold, an agency growth consultant and EBA columnist, at (615) 656-5974, nelson@InsuranceBottomLine.com, or through 21stCenturyAgency.com

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