Before you begin working on the executive summary, remember that it serves as the introduction to your document. As a result, people will often read the executive summary to determine whether or not they should read the rest of your document. As such, your main goal is to draw readers in and pique their curiosity enough so that they’ll want to continue reading.
However, this does not mean that an executive summary should be a synopsis of all information included in a document. Rather than repeat content from the original document, produce an informative but brief summary with only the most important information. Some readers may only use the information included in an executive summary to decide how to proceed with a project or task described in the document. Therefore, make sure that your executive summary includes enough background details so that readers can understand what’s being discussed without needing additional context from other documents or sources of information.
An Executive Summary: The Main Goal
The main goal of an executive summary is to give the reader a quick overview of the whole document without reading it. It’s a way for busy executives to get the gist of reports that are normally long and full of details but still important enough to merit reading.
An executive summary has several benefits:
- When you need to explain your point or purpose in writing quickly, an executive summary can help people understand what they’re looking at.
- A good executive summary is essentially an abstract: it briefly explains the key points covered in more detail later on.
What Parts Should an Executive Summary Have?
- Please describe your company and its product in the first sentence. If you’re writing a business plan for a startup, describe the business concept if you’re selling an existing product to a new market, including information about it and its performance within your existing market.
- Explain your business’s problem, solution, and market. Write down the problem or goals of your project—what is your proposed solution? Who are you targeting as customers? What makes your idea unique? Then explain how your project will be successful in addressing these issues.
- Describe your team and their achievements. Write about why this group of people is uniquely qualified to solve this problem and succeed with this project. What relevant experience do they bring? Why are they committed to working on this particular project?
- Explain your financial projections (if applicable). In what ways can you expect to make money from this product or service? How much will it cost to get started? How long until it becomes profitable?
1. A description of your product(service) + a problem it solves
- Describe your product or service.
Begin with an overview of what you’re offering, and be sure to include an explanation of its features and benefits. Let’s say, for example, that you are pitching an app that allows users to order food from restaurants throughout the neighborhood using their smartphone. Explain how it works:
“QuickFood is an innovative new mobile application that enables users to order food online or by phone with a single tap on their smartphone. With over 1,000 participating restaurants in the Cleveland area, QuickFood offers more dining options than any other on-demand food delivery app.”
- Explain the problem your product or service solves.
Your potential investors want to know what need or problem you’re filling with your product/service. Is there a gap in the market? How do current solutions fall short? Continue building off your example above:
“Cleveland residents currently have no easy way to order takeout from multiple restaurants at once. Many restaurants accept only cash payments, which forces customers without physical currency on hand to make a trip to the ATM before they can order anything—a time-consuming process that doesn’t fit well into our busy lives today.”
2. Your team
The second part of your executive summary should be devoted to your team. If you are seeking the favor of investors, they must believe in you and your partners. You want to highlight what makes each team member special and why their combination is a powerful one for success. If you have one technical member, one with sales expertise, and one who’s all about branding and marketing, emphasize how these strengths work together as a whole. Get a little personal here—talk about where each person has come from and what drives them in their career. This will help potential investors feel more connected to the individuals involved in this project.
3. Your competitors
Next, you’ll want to talk about your competitors. Even if you have no direct competitors in the market, you should discuss potential substitutes or workarounds currently being used by your target audience. For instance, if you’re selling a new kind of raincoat designed for cyclists, other companies (like Arc’teryx or North Face) make similar cycling-specific outerwear. And even if they don’t, there could be plenty of other products that fill the same need—just not as well as yours.
It’s important to talk about both direct and indirect competition so you can address how your company is differentiated and better than your competitors in some way. If specific features make your product unique or give it a competitive edge over others in the market, then be sure to highlight those prominently in this section of the executive summary. You can also include a comparison table that specifies exactly how your product is superior to the competition in terms of pricing and key features and benefits.
This executive summary section can also help describe what percentage of the total market share each competitor currently owns and where that number stands compared to previous years (if applicable). This gives investors an idea of whether or not there really is an opportunity for another player to enter this space—or if they would only be fighting against much larger companies with significantly more resources than their startup has at its disposal.
4. Financial report
Your financial section should include a financial report, break-even analysis, profit and loss statement (P&L), cash flow statement, balance sheet, and sales forecast. Your business plan should also include a brief explanation of your assumptions.
5. Describe your target market
Next, you’ll need to describe your target market or audience. This is the group of people who are most likely to purchase from you.
Your target audience could be a niche demographic or a wide one. For example, if you own a vegan beauty supply store, your target audience would be vegans and people interested in veganism. If you own an eBook publishing company, your target audience could be anyone who reads eBooks.
The important thing is that your description makes sense for the type of business you’re running, and it answers these questions:
6. Funding needs
How much money do you need to get started? How much will it cost to keep going? How much will you be contributing from your resources? Your executive summary is the place to address funding needs in a very general way, but don’t go into detail here. If your investors want more information, they’ll ask for it later.
Other Topics you can Cover in your Executive Summary.
Here are some other topics you can cover in your executive summary to create it more informative.
1. Proof of success.
The first step is to solidify why potential investors or clients should trust your company. You do this by showcasing how much you’ve already accomplished and the results you’ve achieved for customers. It’s always best to quantify these successes with numbers, but if that isn’t possible, use examples of any awards your company has won or positive media coverage.
When sharing growth statistics, focus on a figure that will grab attention—you can share more details in the full business plan or proposal. If your business is brand new, you may want to focus instead on explaining who your target market is and what their pain points are—this will help readers understand who it is they would be helping if they choose to invest.
2. Write about future milestones.
This part of the executive summary should highlight the future of your business. Share any milestones you have coming up and explain how you plan to grow your business. At this point, it’s time to show off your business!
Use charts and graphs in the executive summary to illustrate that your company is poised for success. Some examples of future milestones could be:
- Your product launch
- Getting to 1,000 subscribers
- Launching a new product or service
- Hitting $1m in sales
- Your first anniversary
3. Proof of financial stability.
You must show how much money you need, how you intend to use it, and how your company will be financially successful. Tell the lender whether you have considered other sources of financial support, such as friends and family or other investors. Assure them that you have done market research that shows your business is feasible in today’s economic climate.
It helps if you can show a chart or graph demonstrating the financial success of your business over time. If this is not possible because you are just starting, use data from established businesses like yours to prove your point.
Ensure that you know what it takes to make a profit by showing what expenses will be associated with sales and what you will generate income from those sales. Your plan should include a realistic proportion of fixed costs versus variable costs regarding the sales volume and income projections and a break-even analysis for lenders or investors to see that this new venture has a good chance for success.
Tips to Make a Great Executive Summary
There are some interesting tips to make your executive summary more effective. Here are the best ones:
- Keep it brief but informative. It should contain all the main discussion points without going into too much detail.
- Use keywords. They will help you get a better position in the rankings while browsing the Internet or looking through printed publications.
- Go straight to the point, but don’t miss important details on the way.
Keep it short.
It’s always a good idea to keep your executive summary short, as there’s no need to repeat everything you’ve included in the rest of your business plan. The reader will either use your summary to get an overview of the entire business plan and then read the rest, or they’ll use it as a touchstone against which they’ll compare the rest of the information. Thus, it makes sense to keep your executive summary brief and focus on what’s most important.
Be sure not to be too brief with it, though—the executive summary is meant to be an overview of the most crucial points in your business plan and should stand on its own. A concise yet thorough explanation will let readers know what kind of company you are (or hope to become), what products or services you provide, and why you think this is a great idea. It should also include any pertinent information about market research or competitive analysis—basically whatever you can use data for “proving” your concept!
Start with the key points.
- The executive summary is not a cover letter. Avoid writing phrases like “my internship was with” or “I have experience as.”
- Always start with the key points. Use language that draws attention to your achievements.
- Keep the executive summary concise and easy to read. Format your text by using bulleted lists, bolded headings, and short paragraphs about each of your accomplishments. For example:
- Professional Experience: While working at my last company, I began as an intern in 2014 and was hired full-time in 2015 as an associate in the human resources department.
- Education: I graduated from University College London (UCL) in 2017 with a Master’s of Business Administration degree. I received honors for my graduate thesis on new business development strategies for cloud-based services companies.
Cover the essential information.
The executive summary is not an opportunity to show off your vocabulary or flowery writing skills. Instead, it is a chance to distill the main content of your resume into one page, so you want to make sure you include the most salient information. Ask yourself: What do I want the employer to remember about me? What are my most significant selling points? In answering these questions, you’ll get a good idea of what’s essential and what isn’t.
A key concept when writing your summary is “less is more”: you don’t have to include every last detail about yourself for it to be effective. Too much information isn’t just unnecessary—it can also confuse recruiters. The goal here is to quickly get a sense of who you are and then find further details about your qualifications beneath the header section of your CV (like in the experience or education sections).
For example, if you’ve done the research for three different professors at university and received praise from all of them for doing great work with ample initiative—don’t list all three professors in your summary! You don’t have enough room on this page (or any page) for that kind of detail; instead, write something like:
“sought out independent research projects by reaching out directly to professors,”
which gives employers an idea that you took the initiative without using valuable space that you could devote elsewhere.
Organize your summary so that it is easy to read.
- Use headings to break up the text. Headings are often a great way to organize your thoughts and make it easier for your audience members to see the most important information quickly.
- Use bullet points. Bullet points are great for short key phrases and ideas, which you can use to keep your writing concise and help readers remember each point easily.
- Use numbers and lists where appropriate. In addition to bullet points, many people like to see information presented in a numbered or bulleted list because it makes it easy to scan the page and find what they need quickly.
- Ensure that you include one or two sentence paragraphs to convey more information without overwhelming readers with too much data at once; this will also help them retain important details more readily than if they were forced into reading through long blocks of text without breaks.
- Use a font that is easy on the eyes—not too small, but not so big either—and try using bullet points sparingly so as not to clutter up your pages with unnecessary detail (this is especially true if there’s any chance someone might want to take notes while reading).
Edit out unnecessary words.
- Use strong, active verbs: Some words are simply stronger than others. For example, you could either say that a company “adopted,” “created,” or “implemented” a new sales strategy. All three of these options would be heard by the reader, but they each strike a different tone and have a different impact on the reader. The first two examples convey that the company passively took action, while the third shows initiative and strength of will—and it’s only one syllable longer than its predecessors!
- Avoid repetition: This seems like an obvious piece of advice, but it’s easy to get carried away when describing your business plan. It can be tempting to describe your product repeatedly to convince readers of its quality and necessity. However, this causes your writing to stagnate; your audience gets bored, and you lose their attention before you even get started with the good stuff.
- Avoid jargon: Especially when writing about technical subjects or business plans for companies within specific industries, it can be difficult to avoid using industry-specific jargon—after all, most people won’t understand what you’re talking about without it! However, if possible, try to keep jargon out of your executive summary. An executive summary is meant to be understood by anyone who reads it—even people outside of your field!
Write a clear and compelling opening statement.
You should use the opening sentence of your executive summary to get the reader’s attention. You want this sentence to be compelling enough that the reader will be motivated to continue reading.
The executive summary should be short and sweet compared with an overview statement, which might run for several pages. The goal is not to overwhelm the reader with a huge amount of information in one section.
Create it last
- Create it last. You don’t have to read a whole book to understand it. Similarly, you don’t have to write an entire report before working on the executive summary. So save this part for the end.
- Summarize what you’ve already written, not what you plan to write. If your goal is to get approval for a new project, include information about the project itself (such as who will be involved and how much time/money/resources it will require), not how you plan to persuade others of its value.
- Check your summary for consistency with the rest of the document. Scan those main points again and make sure that corresponding sections address each one in your draft report or proposal (and vice versa). This is also a good opportunity to look for spelling and grammatical errors, which are easier to catch when reading aloud than when looking at each word on a computer screen.
- Read through your summary once more with an eye toward clarity, conciseness, coherence—and any other “Cs” you can think of! (In case we forgot one: It should also be compelling!)
Don’t use any cliche phrases.
Don’t use any cliche phrases. By definition, a cliche has been used so much that it no longer holds any meaning. It weakens your credibility and makes it harder to impress readers. While they may not consciously recognize the phrase as cliché, they feel something is off with your summary. Clichés are also out of place in an executive summary because you want your document to stand out amongst all the other summaries and reports.
Watch your tone
Avoid being overly negative or positive. The tone chosen for the summary should be appropriate for the audience, subject matter, and purpose of the summary itself. For example, a summary that includes statistics on preventing disease would need to be more neutral than one written about a new entertainment option. Being too technical may also turn off the reader; while illustrating how something works are essential in some cases, it shouldn’t distract from the main point of your summary.
To Sum it Up
As you are writing your executive summary, keep in mind that the person reading it may not have as much background on the topic you are discussing as you do. They may be looking at this document to get some initial information about what your company is working on, or they may be looking for guidance from an expert. Either way, there is a good chance that the reader of your summary may not know everything that you do about your company and its work. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that your executive summary does not use jargon or assume too much about what the reader already knows. In addition, don’t assume that your readers think all topics in your industry are fascinating and engaging; keep things short and sweet so they’ll read through to the end of the document!
Get Help from our Experts with your Executive Summary Paper
When it comes to the executive summary, you want to ensure that you get this part of your paper right. Sometimes they can be difficult to put together, and it can be hard to know where you need to start. If you are struggling with your paper, our experts are here for you 24/7. They can help at any stage of your writing process and whatever specific help you may need with your paper.