Little bully boy with black eye in boxing gloves fighting stanceWhen I was in 1st grade my Dad took me on a Father and Son campout sponsored by our church.  It was late spring at Lake Tahoe – cold, gray and drizzly.  I spent a lot of time warming by the fire.  We did take a spin on a speed boat but no one would let me drive.  So when one of the dads broke out some boxing gloves and drew a ring in the sand, I was thinking this whole thing might not be a bust after all.

I watched while the older boys – 10 and 11 year olds – had their matches.  I was pretty confident that I could do better than they were; after all I watched Wild, Wild West every week and had all the moves down.  I begged Dad to let me get in the ring.  He finally relented and I was matched up with a 5th grader who weighed twice as much as me.  Frankly, I was quite surprised at how easily he knocked me on my can – repeatedly.  When it was over, his dad said to mine, “I guess my son is too well-built for your boy.”  I remember thinking, “Too well-built!  He’s 10 and I’m 6!”

My point: whether we’re winning or losing in business, we need to take a critical and realistic look at ourselves as a competitor visa vie our competition.    Confident and fearless as I was as a boxer, I was totally out gunned and had no skill or strategy.  My opponent, relying on being “well-built”, could be in real trouble against a better trained contender.

A common assessment method is the SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.  You can find a lot of great information on how to conduct a SWOT analysis for your business – I just want to give an overview and motivate you to take action.  Keeping your head down while swinging away isn’t good enough in a day where the business environment changes as quickly as it does.

Strengths When you look at the competitors in your service area, access their strengths relative to yours.  For example, you may be proud that your technicians are highly skilled and capable of pulling off any job.  But if your competitors are equally skilled, this strength doesn’t really give you a competitive advantage.  Keep looking until you can identify unique strengths that you can leverage to your advantage.  Think facilities, customer base, personality, capital, vendor relations, marketing ability, etc.

Weaknesses This can be painful, but if you’re not honest, you’ll underrate the number and extent of the ways your competitors can use to beat you.  Just as important, don’t exaggerate your competitor’s weakness – when you underestimate them you can be dismissive of their successes while they’re running right over you.

Opportunities  I think most small business owners and managers miss the boat on this one.  They are so busy running their business and doing the daily tasks that must be done they don’t take time to observe trends, gather market intelligence and think about how they can take advantage of change.  Aging national vehicle fleet, used vehicle availability, and shifting demographics of your best customers all present opportunities for success.  Ignored, change tends to work against you.  Information and analysis has never been so accessible.  What they haven’t made more of is time – you have to set some aside to recognize opportunities that can change your life.

Threats  You can’t live in fear and succeed; neither can you ignore threats and prosper.  Being able to identify threats in advance allows you time to mount a good defense.  If you get really good at discerning threats, you can turn them into opportunities that others miss.

I challenge you to take some time here at the beginning of the year to do a SWOT analysis or something similar.  Review what you’ve written each month to see if your strategies and tactics are working and adjust as necessary.  Back up the courage and hope that you’ve already demonstrated by being in business with some new strategic skills – at worst you‘ll keep your butt off the canvas; and you might just take home the title.

Lance Boldt is Vice President and Co-Founder of AutoNetTV.  AutoNetTV’s digital signage products deliver entertaining and educational TV programming to the lobbies of automotive service