I often work with small business owners who are so excited to finally have someone helping them move forward in their business that they just want to hit the ground running. They are  rarely pleased when I suggest that before we can do anything, we have to gather some information, an assessment of sorts.

It is almost as if I have said a bad word. “Why do you need to do an assessment? We know what’s wrong and we need more sales / revenue / reliable staff ….” It has been my experience that it is rarely the case that things are simply as we perceive them to be. Even if things are the way they appear, external consultants do not know everything that you know and their ability to develop a successful strategy is limited without all the information.

Truth is, as a business owner you are likely so immersed in the day to day activities and accompanying stress of the business, that you develop a sort of blinding, or tunnel vision that has the potential to blur other opportunities from view or distort the facts about what is really going on.

Unless we know where we are and where we want to be it is certain that we will not get there. This notion is well known on a conscious level but more often than not, we as business owners think that we are an exception to this.

No matter how well an owner knows their business or industry, starting with an assessment is crucial if real change is the goal. A thorough review of the various strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (a S.W.O.T analysis) faced by the business is needed to develop a clear picture from which to work. Before we can build our road map, we need to uncover everything that is working for or against the business. This allows us to play to the strengths and opportunities while developing strategies that mitigate the challenges and threats.

5 Tips to a great assessment

1.Set uninterrupted Time
When you are ready to work on achieving your business goals it is important that you schedule time for it. A S.W.O.T analysis (or any assessment) can vary in depth but it is has been suggested that a 2 hour time frame is suitable for a small to medium sized business. The key is, that the time be uninterrupted by day to day business activity or person issues. Interruptions will break the flow of the momentum of ideas that result from a true brainstorming session.

So, have all participants block off the scheduled time and commit to staying focused on the task at hand.  it is important that everyone involved understands how important this is and how attempting to focus on multiple tasks simultaneously actually diminishes the level of focus on any individual task.

2. Include External People
Generating a comprehensive and accurate picture of your business landscape is most likely achieved when business owner(s) are joined by individuals who do not have a direct interest in the business (preferably individuals with relevant business experience). Involving external individuals will provide a higher level of unbiased input and will likely generate far more robust data from which to work.

This is particularly important if their is only one owner or if the owners are; related or at odds with one another.  Balancing out the group with at least one or two other people that are removed from the personal relationship of the owner(s) and the business itself,will help to remove emotions from the ideas generated while offering broader perspectives.

3. Define what success is to you
Figuring out where a client is (we call it their A) is a primary goal of any assessment. Equally as important is determining where it is they would like to go (their B). Without a clear idea of the desired end result, how would we ever know when we have reached the desired state. Business owners often say that they want their business to be successful but few have ever taken the time to define what success looks like to them. Asking yourself to provide specific details (number of clients, number of employees, level of revenue, amount of vacation time or level of residual income etc.) that will let them know they have succeeded is a powerful exercise.

4. Brainstorm without evaluating
It is highly recommended that you take a couple of hours to brainstorm as many strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as possible without evaluating any of the ideas and without attempting to fill in specific details related to those ideas. Focusing on the “what or how” associated with an idea can quickly break the momentum and may shift you away from thinking about possibilities and towards the perceived challenges instead.

There will be ample time to assess and develop the ideas later on. The key to this stage is to generate as many points as possible without filtering any of them.

5. Schedule a follow-up
Now that you have generated all these great ideas and information about what is going on in your business, you may be tempted to start tackling items on your list right away. However, it is recommended that you take a day or two after the brainstorming session to let the information settle (integrate) before you come back and try to organize it or implement it. Space in between thoughts give us clarity.

Schedule a time shortly after the brainstorming session to review the notes generated. You will see categories and patterns emerge from which you can begin prioritizing and creating action plans to implement.

If you own a business, taking the time to evaluate where your business really is and where you would like it to be is a powerful practice that successful businesses participate in on a regular basis. The information and ideas you generate from this exercise will provide you clarity and help guide your decisions in a more intentional and productive way.