How to Write a Compelling Executive Summary
The process of starting your own business is made up of several steps, such as creating a website, promoting your products or services, and obtaining funding. Before you dive into any of these pieces though, the initial thing you’ll need to do is draw out an organized overview of your business plan, otherwise known as an executive summary.
In this article, we’ll explain what this concept means, and then walk you through the most important steps on how to write an executive summary to set your business off on the right foot.
What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is a high level overview of your business. It contains many components in brevity, such as your business model, market and competitors, financial projections, and a final request at the end.
It’s the first and strongest component of a business plan, but it also serves as a highly functional standalone document. Not only does it need to persuade readers to go through the rest of your business plan, but it should also be used as a means for raising money, creating partnerships, launching a new product/service, and for other specific requests and recommendations.
If you’re planning on writing a complete business plan at this stage or business proposal, it’s wise to do that first, and then come back to your executive summary after. Doing so will allow you to get the full picture of your needs and where your business stands amongst competitors. Then, you’ll be able to just pull out the most significant highlights and address them briefly in your executive summary.
How to write an executive summary:
When you craft your executive summary, keep the following two things in mind: conciseness and professional language. That’s your key to leaving a lasting impression when it comes to presenting your work, as long as you’re addressing the right audience with the right solution.
Here’s how to write an executive summary:
Begin with your table of contents
State your objective
Provide a brief company overview
Research your market and competitors
Write out your key financial data
Address your request
Polish your work
01. Begin with your table of contents
Although the executive summary is meant to be brief, it’s still important that you distinguish between each of the categories below. The formal way to do this is through a simple and straightforward table of contents. With this, address each section and the associated page(s). Make sure that your table of contents is a complete page of its own, separate from the pages below, which should be 1-2 pages maximum.
This is also a great time to start thinking about the layout of your information. You’ll want to list out your topics in the order of importance relevant to the addressed problem, as we’ll discuss in the following section.
02. State your objective
The purpose behind writing your plan is as straightforward as this statement: there is a problem, and you have the solution to it. So, the first thing you should do after your table of contents is to introduce the problem, and then explain your strategy for solving it. Walk through your desired outcome and the final day you plan to reach that. Also write out the milestones you aim to reach in your journey to get there too.
While doing so, have a particular audience in mind that will read this executive summary. Just like how you would modify your resume to impress a particular company you really want to work at, you’ll want to tailor this document to that audience. The problem you choose to present, as well as the writing style you’ll use, should all cater to the readers. This is because you want them to gain the most value from reading it. For example, an investment firm would be more interested in the numbers, while a potential partner would be more interested in learning about your vision statement and mission statement. If you have not written yours, here are some powerful mission statement examples that stand out.
03. Provide a brief company overview
As mentioned before, what you choose to include should be relevant to your audience, so take all of these recommendations with a grain of salt. You will definitely want to address your key company information in this section, while the rest is subject to your goals.
Give a background of who you are and what you do. Include information such as your mission statement, core values, and an overview of your company culture.
Provide a brief summary of your business structure. Explain who the founders are and other top management. List your investors, partners, and other stakeholders. Talk about the size of your business, location, and whether you plan on growing or relocating anytime in the near future. Summarize your top products or services, including an overview of your production and sales processes.
Lastly, make sure to address how the reader can get in touch with you by providing your contact information.
04. Research your market and competitors
In this section, detail your target market, industry, and competitors. While performing market research is a core topic to your business plan and a SWOT analysis is a strategic process for making a major decision, this is just a summary of your key findings from those processes.
You’ll mainly want to address your competitive advantage, strengths, and other positive highlights that make your products, services or business model stand out.
Additionally, mention your plan for growing your customer base, ROI, or other goals and opportunities you plan to take advantage of in relation to your marketing efforts. Consider explaining a problem in your industry and the solution that you can or will be able to offer.
05. Write out your key financial data
Since most executive summaries are focused around securing funding for business owners, detailing your key financial data is a must. Include the parts that are most relevant to your targeted readers, as there is no need to provide the entirety of your financial statements here. For example, you can show your income over the past few years if it showcases growth. You can also forecast your future earnings based on new developments you’re working on.
06. Address your request
The reason you wrote this document was to get the attention of someone specific. Whether that is to seek partnership or for raising capital, you’re going to want to end on a strong note.
First, recap your findings in a few short sentences to build support. Then, ease in on your request in a direct manner. If you’re asking for a certain amount of dollars in funding, you will need to explain what you will use that funding for specifically.
In the case of investing, also give your investors a reason to want to back your business. What benefits are you offering them? Do you have a planned exit strategy? How successful do you hope to be? If the previous sections did a good job of persuading your requestees, then this part should be easy to sum up.
07. Polish your work
Go back through your work to reread it. This is the time where you’ll want to look at your executive summary from the readers’ point of view more deeply. Think of your reader as someone who is very busy. They don’t necessarily have a long time to read a document like this that is meant to be short in the first place. As soon as possible they want you to get to the point behind why you’re asking them for funding. So leave out the fluff, make sure you didn’t state any points twice, and see where you can condense some of your sentences. Furthermore, make sure that you didn’t use any jargon or acronyms that can cause confusion.
When you think the final draft is ready to go, have a colleague or acquaintance also give it a go-through to make sure that everything looks professional, legit, and impressive to your potential readers. Only then are you ready to present your executive summary to the world.
By Jennifer Kaplan
Small Business Expert & Writer