Finding Your World
When you’re ready to start in the work field I believe it’s essential for you to sit down and give yourself a SWOT analysis, so you can know whom you are currently and see where you could possibly improve. Try to turn the weaknesses and threats into the strengths and opportunities. Continue your personal analysis by giving yourself another SWOT analysis two years later to see how far down your expedition you have gone and if you’ve improved (I don’t understand why corporations don’t make this obligatory, instead they just hire industrial psychologist. Go figure).
Now let’s turn to a corporate scale rather than personal. When starting a startup (or even an established firm), it’s in my belief that the most common mistake is the lack of a basic competitive strategy, which is the same thing as a SWOT analysis, just on a corporate scale, which is essential for a solid model. Chief Economics Professor of Harvard University Michael Porter who specializes in competitive strategy introduced the five forces of competitive strategy position model. The five forces analysis is a framework for industry analysis and business strategy development. It draws upon industrial organization (IO) economics to derive five forces that determine the competitive intensity and therefore attractiveness of a market. The Five Forces tool is a simple but powerful tool for understanding where power lies in a business situation. This is useful, because it helps you understand both the strength of your current competitive position, and the strength of a position you're considering moving into. With a clear understanding of where power lies, you can take fair advantage of a situation of strength, improve a situation of weakness, and avoid taking wrong steps. This makes it an important part of your planning toolkit. Conventionally, the tool is used to identify whether new products, services or businesses have the potential to be profitable. However it can be very illuminating when used to understand the balance of power in other situations.
(Attractiveness in this context refers to the overall industry profitability. An "unattractive" industry is one in which the combination of these five forces acts to drive down overall profitability. A very unattractive industry would be one approaching "pure competition", in which available profits for all firms are driven to normal profit)
Understanding the Tool
Supplier Power: Here you assess how easy it is for suppliers to drive up prices. This is driven by the number of suppliers of each key input, the uniqueness of their product or service, their strength and control over you, the cost of switching from one to another, and so on. The fewer the supplier choices you have, and the more you need suppliers' help, the more powerful your suppliers are.
Buyer Power: Here you ask yourself how easy it is for buyers to drive prices down. Again, this is driven by the number of buyers, the importance of each individual buyer to your business, the cost to them of switching from your products and services to those of someone else, and so on. If you deal with few, powerful buyers, then they are often able to dictate terms to you.
Competitive Rivalry: What is important here is the number and capability of your competitors. If you have many competitors, and they offer equally attractive products and services, then you'll most likely have little power in the situation, because suppliers and buyers will go elsewhere if they don't get a good deal from you. On the other hand, if no-one else can do what you do, then you can often have tremendous strength.
Threat of Substitution: This is affected by the ability of your customers to find a different way of doing what you do – for example, if you supply a unique software product that automates an important process, people may substitute by doing the process manually or by outsourcing it. If substitution is easy and substitution is viable, then this weakens your power.
Threat of New Entry: Power is also affected by the ability of people to enter your market. If it costs little in time or money to enter your market and compete effectively, if there are few economies of scale in place, or if you have little protection for your key technologies, then new competitors can quickly enter your market and weaken your position. If you have strong and durable barriers to entry, then you can preserve a favorable position and take fair advantage of it.
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