How to Write an Executive Summary
An executive summary is a brief introduction and summary of your business plan. It introduces your business, the problem you solve, and what you’re asking from your readers. Anyone should be able to understand your business by simply reading this section of your plan.
While structurally it is the first chapter of your plan—you should write it last. Once you know the details of your business inside and out, you will be better prepared to write this section.
What to include in your executive summary
1. Business overview or mission statement
Start with a one-sentence description that explains what you do, why you do it, and how you do it. You can also include your mission statement here.
Summarize the problem you’re solving in the market and reference any data that solidifies that there is a need.
Describe your product or service and how it addresses the problem you identified.
4. Target market
Who is your ideal customer? Describe who they are, how they’ll benefit, and why they’re an attainable customer base.
Who are your competitors? List out any primary competition as well as alternatives that your customers may consider. Include key details about their current offerings, promotions, and business strategy.
6. Your team
Outline your organizational structure and current team. List out brief explanations of who you and your team are, your qualifications, and what your function will be within the business. It may be valuable to also highlight any gaps in your team and how you intend to fill them. If you have potential partners or candidates in mind, briefly mention them and expand on their qualifications within your full business plan.
7. Financial summary
Highlight key aspects of your financial plan that address sales, expenses, and profitability. Try to keep these in chart or graph form to ensure the information is easy to consume and resonates visually. You can always reference that additional information is available in your full financial plan.
8. Funding requirements
This section is only necessary if you’re seeking out funding or pitching to investors. Be sure to throw out your financing number and reasoning upfront, rather than hiding it later on in your plan. It helps investors understand your position, what you’re asking for, and how you’ll use it.
9. Milestones and traction
Add initial sales, pre-sales, newsletter sign-ups, or anything else that showcases customer interest. Outline what steps you’ve already taken to launch your business, the milestones you’ve hit, and your goals and milestones for the next month, six months, year, etc.
Why write an executive summary?
The executive summary provides quick access to critical information from your more detailed business plan.
It is essential for informing anyone outside of your business. Many people—including investors and bankers—will only read your summary. Others will use it to decide if they should read the rest. For you, it is a snapshot of your business to reference when planning or revising your strategy.
Now if you’re writing a business plan solely for internal use you may not need an executive summary. However, some internal plans—such as an annual operations plan or a strategic plan—benefit from having a summary.
It takes some effort to do a good summary, so if you don’t have a business use in mind, don’t do it.
How long should it be?
Executive summaries should be as short as possible. Your audience has limited time and attention and they want to quickly get the details of your business plan.
Try to keep your executive summary under two pages if possible, although it can be longer if absolutely necessary. If you have a one-page business plan, you can even use that as your executive summary.
Tips for writing an effective executive summary
Here are a few best practices to make writing your executive summary easier, and ultimately more effective.
1. Think of an executive summary as your pitch
The executive summary is like an elevator pitch. You’re selling someone on reading your full plan while quickly summarizing the key points. Readers will expect it to cover certain areas of your business—such as the product, market, and financial highlights, at the very least.
While you need to include what’s necessary, you should also highlight areas that you believe will spark the reader’s interest. Remember, you’re telling the brief but convincing story of your business with this summary. Just be sure that you’re able to back it up with the right details with the rest of your business plan.
2. Write it last
Even though the executive summary is at the beginning of a finished business plan, many experienced entrepreneurs choose to write it after everything else. In theory, this makes it easier to write since all of the information is already written out and just needs to be condensed into a shorter format.
Now, if you’ve started with a one-page plan, this process is even easier. Just use your one-page plan as a starting point and add additional details to any sections that need it. You may even find that no changes are necessary.
3. Keep it short
Ideally, the executive summary is short—usually just a page or two, five at the outside—and highlights the points you’ve made elsewhere in your business plan. Whatever length you land on, just focus on being brief and concise. Keep it as short as you can without missing the essentials.
4. Keep it simple
Form follows function, so don’t overcomplicate or over-explain things. The best executive summaries are a mixture of short text, broken up with bullets and subheadings, and illustrations, such as a bar chart showing financial highlights.
Run through a legibility test after writing your summary. Is it easy to skim through? Are the right pieces of information jumping out? If the answer to either of those questions is no, then work back through and try breaking up information or adjusting the formatting.
5. Prioritize sections based on importance and strengths
Organize your executive summary so that the most important information appears first. While there are specific components to include, there is no set order of appearance. So, use the order to show emphasis.
Lead with what you want to get the most attention, and add the rest by order of importance. For example, you may start with the problem because that can add drama and urgency that tees up the solution you provide.
Additional resources to write a great executive summary
Need more information and guidance to craft a convincing executive summary? Check out these in-depth resources and templates.
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