One benefit of streamlining everyday work processes such as estimating and order management is that it frees you to think more about what’s next for your business. Instead of constantly “working in the business,” you can spend more time “working on your business.”  For example, when was the last time you updated your print shop SWOT analysis?

If the answer is “never,” now is a good time to perform one. During a print shop SWOT analysis, you and your management team review your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses describe your internal processes — things that you can expand upon or improve. Opportunities and threats are external factors that can either grow or disrupt your business. They are beyond your control.

Conducting a SWOT analysis can help you prioritize certain actions, make smarter decisions, and keep your business running more smoothly. It helps you keep abreast of ongoing changes that affect both the printing business and your customers.  Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Identify opportunities that can have a positive impact on your business. For example, will certain regulations and economic trends help your business? Can new materials enable you to profitably produce new products on existing equipment? Have you discovered new possibilities for partnerships for outsourcing or business development? Can you grow your company by offering products or services that your existing customers are buying elsewhere?

Consider threats that might disrupt the smooth operation of your business. Will price hikes by suppliers force you to raise your own prices? Are you facing new sources of competition locally, regionally, or nationally? Will certain regulations negatively impact your business? Are key customers cutting back their budgets for print services?  Are your competitors becoming more automated and efficient? What changes are your customers experiencing that might affect how much printing they buy each year? To what extent can digital signage replace some of the display graphics and signs you currently print?

Discuss strengths that make your business competitive. Does your shop have staff with special skills in design and technology? Loyal customers? Specialized equipment? A culture of innovation? Unique products? An efficient supply chain? The ability to scale up quickly if necessary? Brand recognition? A reputation for quality and service? Determine what steps you can take to capitalize on your strengths.

Evaluate the weaknesses that need to be addressed. What do customers complain about? Does your shop have a high employee turnover? Outdated equipment? A reputation for substandard work or late deliveries? A weak supply chain? Inefficient workflows? Insufficient data about true production costs? Errors due to miscommunications? Consider actions to alleviate some of these weaknesses.

Get employees involved in brainstorming. Your employees might be aware of some opportunities and threats that you haven’t yet considered. They might have had conversations with peers, colleagues, and customers about trends and ideas that can affect your business. When you send employees to trade shows, seminars, and networking events, ask them to report about potential opportunities and threats.

Set priorities. Write down all ideas in each SWOT category, and clarify certain items as needed. Ask everyone to review the SWOT lists and rank them from highest priority to lowest priority.  Your management team may want to re-rank the priorities, but getting employee input can be valuable.

Use collaboration tools such as Slack or Google Drive to jot down ideas in a central location throughout the year. Then, the brainstorming and discussion phases of the SWOT analysis can be much more productive and efficient. You can also use SWOT analysis technique for business initiatives such as diversifying into a new field, such as wallcoverings, packaging or labels. No matter how dazzling the market-growth forecasts may be, the systematic SWOT approach can help you determine whether it makes sense of your shop to move in that direction.

Attending trade shows, conferences and webinars, and joining associations can help you stay abreast of emerging threats and opportunities.

Print shop management software such as Ordant can help you track what’s happening internally. Which types of products become more popular and/or more profitable? What phase of your workflow is creating the most production bottlenecks? What types of issues are generating customer complaints?

The printing business is constantly evolving. The distinctions between different types of printing businesses are rapidly blurring as digital printing and finishing equipment makes it easier for companies to diversify into new markets.

By automating routine tasks such as estimating and order management, you can gain the time needed to assess how your own business can efficiently adapt and compete. Conducting a SWOT analysis can be a good place to start.