In the planning stages of starting an occupational therapy private practice or any business really, a SWOT Analysis can help you develop a good awareness of yourself as an entrepreneur, your market, and your client’s needs.
What is SWOT?
SWOT is an analytical framework that is used to evaluate your business’s competitive position for strategic planning. A thorough SWOT analysis includes the evaluation of internal and external factors, current and future potential, and more.
Why Use SWOT?
We all the importance of planning ahead when it comes to being an occupational therapy practitioner. Before you even step foot inside a patient’s room or see a client, you likely would have conducted a chart review, researched an unfamiliar condition, consulted with a colleague or even a healthcare professional. Unconsciously, you likely evaluated your strengths and weaknesses before seeing a client.
For example, if the client requires 2 person physical assistance, you will start thinking about the logistics of timing to potentially co-treat with a physical therapist. If you had the opportunity to plan ahead and you knew this information ahead of time, it would not be prudent to continue and see a client, only to encounter the barrier of being unable to physically assist the patient.
As your business will involve significant time, resources, and emotional commitment on your part – especially in the beginning when your team is small (like only you), taking the time to fully conduct a SWOT analysis can help to reduce potential future problems, e.g., poor client base for your intended business.
Characteristics of a SWOT
Just as how you try to be unbiased, client-centered, and research-based in your practice, the SWOT analysis should be factual, realistic (like the R in SMART goals), data-driven, and unbiased. For example, if you are relocating your successful business to another state to expand, you cannot assume that the client culture, expectations, or awareness of what you will do will be the same in another state.
Even something like relocating to another state can open up a whole list of issues you have to be aware of and address such as employment laws and licensure requirements for your business. Or if you are an LLC in one state for your occupational therapy practice, you may not be able to practice in another state as occupational therapy healthcare professional under the same business structure as the new state may require that you incorporate. Consider consulting with a professional such as an attorney if you have questions or anticipate that some changes may need to be made regarding your business entity.
Things to avoid when conducting a SWOT:
- Pre-conceived beliefs.
- Advice based on word of mouth or given online not backed by data.
- Gray areas
- Not reading the latest practice guidelines and laws.
- Assumptions: e.g., there is a market because you think there is.
- Not conducing a deep-analysis or thorough research of each component of SWOT.
- Weighing each part of the SWOT equally (placing equal importance on S-W-O-T), when some parts may be more significant than others.
- Not being creative or innovative and putting yourself in a box when it comes to opportunities.
- Not revisiting the SWOT and using it as an evolving document as new information or insights are developed.
Components of SWOT
Notice how components can each fit into the circle (or squares). The components of SWOT do not exist in isolation and are all interrelated. For example, you can leverage your strengths to reduce your weaknesses.
An important consideration is to use both internal and external data. Examples of internal data may be your number of employees such as how many OTs and PTs you have. An example of external data is how many OTs and PTs are in your area (which you can hire) or are willing to travel and work for you (also external). As data has become easier to collect (e.g., surveys, discussion groups), organize and manage (with software), visualize (with graphs and other analytics), it should not be overlooked as this can be a powerful tool. Often, many of these tools are free such as the Google Suite (Sheets, Forms) and the widespread use of social media. Websites and other platforms can also help you in this phase, especially to collect external data. The more accurate and up-to-date your internal and external data are, the better your SWOT will be in planning for your business.
Let’s use an example of starting a new pediatric private practice of occupational therapy practitioners as an example. You and your OT colleague are looking to go 50:50 in the venture and are both experienced clinicians, but it will be the first time the both of you are starting a private practice.
Strength questions to ask or think about:
- What sets you or your organization from the competition?
- What is unique to you or your organization?
- How much of your strength is it to a competitor’s strength, e.g. You worked for 5 years, but a competitor has 10.
- Are some strengths not changeable? Which ones are?
Weakness questions to ask or think about:
- What prevents you or your organization from performing optimally? Can this be improved on (skill, money, research, or something else)?
- What weaknesses are not so important and which could seriously harm your business?
Opportunity questions to ask or think about:
- What can give your business a competitive advantage?
- How easy is it to obtain?
- What other areas of opportunities are there? in 1 year? 5? 10?
Threat questions to ask or think about:
- What factors can potentially or will harm your business?
- How signficant are they?
- How long will they last?
- Is this threat unique to your business or is it common to the industry?
- What will it cost? Examples: time, money, workforce, research, development?
Example SWOT for Entrepreneur #1
Notice that some of the internal factors are unique to one person. Your colleague would include their internal factors in the SWOT as well. When combined, this can provide additional insight into the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. For example, your tech-savvy trait as a strength can balance out the not-so-tech-savvy trait of your colleague. As all individual factors can influence or affect each other, things can get complicated really quickly.
Tip: Although a SWOT is usually depicted on a page or screen in 4 tiny boxes, do not be afraid to break out of this model and use concept mapping, different models, more pages, or expand on this to address every factor that is significant. Some factors are naturally more significant than others, although it is a good idea to brainstorm and include as much as you can think of from your internal and external data.
-5 years of clinical expertise (internal)
-Special certifications (internal)
-Good reputation among the community (internal)
-Unfamiliar with location (internal)
-Self-marketing ability (internal)
-Low budget (internal)
-Time commitment due to family obligations (internal)
– Poor credit score for business loan (internal)
-Small office size to accommodate more than 1 client at a time (internal)
-Only 1 OT clinic in the entire town (external)
-High demand for services via an online survey (external)
-Underserved population (external)
-Cheap office space for rent (external)
-Contracted with insurance for reimbursement (internal)
-Friend is selling OT business and liquidating equipment for low cost to you (internal)
-Referral by word of mouth (external)
-COVID-19 and laws requiring social isolation (external)
-Economic Recession (external)
-Another business with a good reputation opening in town. (external)
-You read online that a big competitor just opened some new clinics in another town 50 miles away (external)
-A new law getting passed that excludes certain OT services from being billable (external>internal)
-Insurance contract changes (internal)
-Long turnaround time for service reimbursement from Medicaid (external)
-Not staying on top of accounting: profit-loss, loans, liabilities, taxes (internal)
-A delay in the supply chain for equipment, e.g., assessment materials (external)
– A theory or intervention (which is your specialty) lacking evidence in research or falling out of practice, e.g., poor evidence in weighted vests and you ending up with a useless inventory of supplies (external>internal)
Some Factors to consider
- How you will find and market to your clients.
- Costs of services, hiring, software, licensing, renting, equipment, consulting, etc.
- Insurance and payroll
- Labor market
- Competition and potential growth or loss in market share
- Trends and culture shifts, e.g, telehealth, A.I.
- Regulations, policies, and law
- Technology to improve productivity, reduce other costs
- New markets or segments to explore
- Additional products and services
- Branding and marketing
- Poor ratings and reviews
- Hiring (and employees quitting or becoming your rival)
- Work-life balance
- Research and development (equipment, software, interventions, marketing, automation, etc.)
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of factors to address in a SWOT analysis, but it should give you and your organization a good idea of where to start. A SWOT should be an evolving process. For example, once your business has opened its doors, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate how you are doing and what new or irrelevant factors should or should not be addressed in the SWOT. You may want to re-evaluate your SWOT quarterly, semi-annually, annually – depending on your needs. As your needs or your business grows, consider using additional analysis tools or consulting with a professional. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/swot.asp
- SWOT Template: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_05.htm?download=1
- OT Workforce Trends: https://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/EducationCareers/Prospective/Workforce-trends-in-OT.PDF