How to Write an Executive Summary

Whether you’ve put together a business plan or an investment proposal, you’re going to need an executive summary to preface your report. The summary should include the major details of your report however, don’t get carried away, remember that its a summary! Save the analysis, charts, numbers and glowing reviews for the report itself. The role of the executive summary is to grab your reader’s attention and let them know what it is you do and why they should read the rest of your business plan or proposal.

The executive summary is also an important way for you, as the entrepreneur, to determine which aspects of your company have the clearest selling points, and which aspects may require a bit more explanation or clarification. It will also become clear where you have holes is your plan that need to be addressed.

Why bother?

Investors, lenders, executives, managers and CEOs are busy people, this means that the executive summary is an essential gateway for your business plan to get read. Think about it this way: if you had an endless list of things to do, and someone handed you an 80-page document and said “read this!” you’d probably first want to know why.

When you’re writing your business plan, your goal is to get your foot in the door and face-time with the investor.

Getting Started

There is no set structure for an executive summary, but like any document or report there are guidelines you must follow to ensure your business plan or investment proposal gets the attention it deserves. First, think about your core strengths. Use bullet points to present your ideas, and make sure you always use concise language.

Its important that you match your story to your audience, your business, and your desired outcomes. If you know you have a great team that sets you apart from the competition start with that.

Ask yourself what’s unique and exciting about your company. After you’ve explained what your company does, it’s time to sell why you believe you’re uniquely qualified to succeed.

Thing about the following points:

• Do you already have customers and traction?

• Do you have patents or technology?

• Is your marketing plan special in a certain way?

Depending on your audience, you can also try a more rigid approach to the executive summary. After the first paragraph, a great way of structuring your summary is to title each section and create a mini overview to your full plan.

Points may include:

• A Company Description Summary

• The Problem

• Your Solution

• Why Now

The “Why Now” category is one of the most important questions to answer, because it makes your executive summary timely.

After describing the elements above, the executive summary should also have a brief financial summary of your financials.

The Length

Remember, every executive summary is – and should be – unique. Depending on the size of the business plan or investment proposal you’re sending, the executive summary will vary. However, the general consensus is to have an executive summary between one and four pages.

Think logically. If you can’t tell the essence of your story in a page or two, then you probably haven’t thought things through well enough.

What To Avoid

Clear your vocabularies of any superlatives, clichés, or any over-used expressions that can’t be backed up. Avoid using terms like ‘the best’, ‘groundbreaking,’ ‘cutting-edge’, and ‘world class.’ “Investors see those words day in and day out,” he says, “and eventually they lose meaning.”

Is It Any Good?

The most important element to any executive summary is a clear, concise and relevant explanation of what your company does. Obviously, you should devote a good portion of your time to reading and re-reading the summary. But there are some tricks. Dave Lavinksy shares his litmus test: Have a 5th grader or any non-investor to read your executive summary, or even just the first paragraph. Then, ask them to explain back to you what your company does. If they explain it with ease, you’re good. If you hear crickets, you’ll need to rework it.