What is an Executive Summary?
An executive summary is a document that efficiently summarizes a larger business plan while communicating key findings and takeaways from research, as well as proposed courses of action.
For example, if a company performs a competitor analysis prior to deciding whether or not to move in different strategic direction, a business plan would be put together to articulate findings and suggest next steps. This business plan would open with an executive summary.
As such, an executive summary quickly becomes the most important element of any business plan.
Executive summaries should include the following components:
- An explanation of why the research was performed
- The results that the research yielded
- Proposed suggestions for how management or leadership should best alter strategies based on the findings of research
Writing an executive summary can be a daunting task. It can be difficult to know where to start, what to write about, or how it should be structured.
In this article, we’ll walk you through how to write an effective executive summary.
How to Write an A+ Executive Summary
Write it last.
Research is only truly valuable when it’s able to inform business decisions and strategies.
Once research is performed, there is work to be done in terms of packaging findings in a way that easily communicates the need for an altered strategy to leadership. The most straightforward way to do this is to create a business plan that includes all of your research, findings, and suggestions. This business plan naturally requires an executive summary.
Crafting the executive summary of your business plan after every other part of the report is best practice. This ensures that you can build out a summary that represents the remainder of the plan as accurately as possible.
Capture the reader’s attention.
While an executive summary should be informative in nature, it should also capture the audience's attention immediately so that they are motivated to read the remainder of the document.
The objective presentation of your research findings, and the proposed direction that your business should move in should inspire excitement in your audience!
At the end of your executive summary, your audience -- whether they be an investor, banker, advisor, or executive -- should be eager to read on.
Your executive summary should be thorough, but it should not reveal everything. Your audience should be encouraged by the summary to read the remainder of your report if they want the full story.
Make sure your executive summary can stand on its own.
With a clearly defined structure, an executive summary can be a standalone piece. Without one, however, it would need the support of the entire report to make an impact. Strive for the former, not the latter.
If your executive summary can’t stand on its own, consider revising it until it can.
A tightly informative introduction, body, and conclusion should allow someone with no prior knowledge of your business or industry to read your executive summary and understand the key findings from your research, and the primary elements of your business plan.
Think of an executive summary as a more condensed version of your business plan.
Your executive summary should be directly aligned with the rest of your larger business plan.
While writing your executive summary, read through your business plan and take the most vital information from each section. Numbers, facts, and goals in your business plan should be congruent with your executive summary.
Your executive summary should highlight the best features of your business plan. For example, if you’ve identified a primary advantage that your plan proposes you should be leveraging, your executive summary should include this advantage.
Include supporting research.
Support the claims you make in your executive summary with research, and cite this research via footnotes in your business plan.
Boil it down as much as possible.
One of the most essential aspects of an executive summary is succinctness. You should condense your summary as much as possible, with the goal of getting all of your vital information onto one page.
The more succinct you are, the clearer your message will be, and the more confidence your readers will have in your plan.
Start with a BANG.
Including a thought-provoking statistic, or an inspiring and relevant quote at the beginning of your summary will capture the reader's attention and get them thinking on the track that you want them to.
Keep things positive.
Your executive summary should focus only on the positive elements of your research and business plan. Leave the discussion of risks, obstacles, and challenges for the body section of your plan.
Try to use a positive tone and language in your summary.
The 5 Paragraph Formula for an Effective Executive Summary
An effective executive summary can be broken down into five paragraphs.
Paragraph 1: Provide an overview of your business.
As mentioned, you can get your readers thinking along the track you’d like them to by including a quote or statistic in the first paragraph of your executive summary.
This first paragraph is also where you should provide the name and nature of your business, and relevant insights about your industry.
Paragraph 2: Discuss target market, competition, and marketing strategy.
Your second paragraph should include a clear and concise definition of your target market, and the need or pain point that your business will aim to solve.
Next, outline the competitive landscape of your industry, and the advantage that your particular business possesses.
Your marketing strategy should hinge on the three primary ways that you plan on reaching your target market. Focusing on just the three strongest points of your marketing strategy will maintain precision, and get your readers excited to explore the rest of your plan.
Paragraph 3: Provide an overview of operational highlights.
The third paragraph of your executive summary should provide operational highlights such as where your company offices will be located, whether or not you will incorporate or remain a sole proprietor, or whether you will serve as a brick and mortar or online business.
Paragraph 4: Show forecasting.
Here you should make sales forecasting projections for one and two years after your business plan has been implemented. Calculate your break even point, and inform your audience of when you project to turn a profit.
Paragraph 5: Detail your investment needs.
If your business requires financing, this is where you should go into detail about the investment needs of your business. The number you include here should be clear, and should align with your projections from the previous paragraph.
You should now have the tools and knowledge to draft an effective executive summary. Hopefully this article has alleviated some of the overwhelming feelings that come with getting the ball rolling.
Do you have tips or advice for creating an effective executive summary? If so, we’d love to hear them! Drop us a line in the comments below.