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5 Steps for Writing an Executive Summary

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley

Learn what to include in your executive summary and how to go about writing one.

  • An executive summary should highlight all the key points of your business plan in less than two pages.
  • Write your business plan before writing your executive summary.
  • If you use an executive summary template, be sure to tailor it to fit with your business plan.
  • This article is for entrepreneurs and startups that are writing a business plan, such as to attract investors, and need to know how to write the executive summary section.

Every new and existing business should have a business plan that clearly outlines the details and goals of its organization, and perhaps the most important part of that business plan is the executive summary.

An executive summary is more than just a simple introduction to your business plan. It is sometimes the only part of your business plan that your intended audience will read, so it needs to be thoughtful and comprehensive. Business News Daily spoke to business experts to identify how to write an executive summary and what to include in it.

 

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What is an executive summary?

An executive summary is the overview of your entire business plan and should succinctly highlight the most important parts of the plan. Your executive summary is more than just a general outline of your business plan, though; your business plan's audience is often busy executives and investors, so the executive summary might be the only part they read. For this reason, you want it to adequately convey all the document's contents in an engaging and concise way.

"The executive summary of a business plan is designed to capture the reader's attention and briefly explain your business, the problem you are solving, the target audience and key financial information," Ross Kimbarovsky, CEO and founder of Crowdspring, told Business News Daily. "If the executive summary lacks specific information or does not capture the attention of the reader, the rest of the plan might not be read."

Although you want your executive summary to be engaging and comprehensive, it must still be quick and easy to read. These documents average one to four pages – ideally, under two pages – and should be less than 10% of your total business plan.

Key takeaway: A strong executive summary highlights the most important parts of a business plan in less than two pages.

What should be included in an executive summary?

Your executive summary should include important details that are relevant to your reader based on the purpose of your business plan. For example, if the goal of your business plan is to secure an investor, you should emphasize your financial requirements and how you will use the funding. The type of language you should use also depends on whether your audience consists of generalists or industry experts.

Although the specifics of your executive summary will vary, Marius Thauland, business strategist at Leiekontor, said that every executive summary should include a few key elements:

When synthesizing each section, highlight the details that are most relevant to your reader and include the facts and statistics that they will need to know. In your introduction, you should present pertinent company information and clearly state the objective of the business plan. What do you want the reader to take away from the document? What do you want to happen after they read it? These are all key messages for an effective executive summary.

"Put yourself in the business plan reader's shoes and think about what you would like to know in the report," said Thauland. "Get their attention by making it simple and brief yet still professional. It should also attract them to read the entire document to understand even the minute details."

Key takeaway: An executive summary should include your objective, market analysis, products and services, competitive analysis, financials, and implementation details.

How to write an executive summary

Your executive summary will be unique to your organization and business plan, but there are a few general steps every entrepreneur and business owner can take when writing their executive summary for the first time.

  1. Write your business plan first. The executive summary will be a summation of the most important topics covered in your business plan, so it is often helpful to write the entire business plan before the executive summary. Make sure your executive summary only covers facts and details that can be found in the business plan.
  2. Write an engaging introduction. What constitutes "engaging" will depend on your audience. Maybe your introduction includes a surprising industry fact, or maybe it is a brief story; regardless, it should be relevant to your business and capture your audience's attention. It is also important to clearly identify the objective of your business plan and what the reader can expect to find in the upcoming document.
  3. Write the executive summary. Go through your business plan and identify important points to include in your executive summary. Touch on each key point of your business plan in a way that is concise, yet comprehensive enough that the reader wouldn't have to read the remainder of the business plan. Ideally, the summary will be engaging enough that they want to keep reading, but they should be able to understand your plan from just your summary.
  4. Edit and organize your document. Organize your executive summary to flow with the contents of your business plan, placing the most important components at the beginning. A bulleted list is helpful to draw attention to your main points. Double-check the document for accuracy and clarity. Remove buzzwords, repetitive information, qualifying words, jargon, passive language and unsupported claims. Verify that your executive summary can adequately act as a stand-alone document if needed.
  5. Seek outside assistance. Since most entrepreneurs are not writing experts, it can be beneficial to have a professional writer or editor look over your document to ensure it flows smoothly and covers the points you are trying to convey.

You should also avoid a few things when writing an executive summary. For example, Kimbarovsky said to avoid talking about your general qualities that all entrepreneurs share, like "your team's passion for hard work." This information is a given and will just take attention away from the important details of your executive summary. You should also stay away from comparisons to other businesses in your executive summary.

"Don't say you will be the next Facebook, Uber or Amazon," said Kimbarovsky. "Amateurs make this comparison to try and show how valuable their company could be. Instead, focus on providing the actual facts that you believe prove you have a strong company. It's better if the investor gives you this accolade because they see the opportunity."

Key takeaway: Write an engaging and concise executive summary after writing your business plan, and then seek outside assistance to edit, organize and ensure it flows smoothly.

Executive summary templates

If you are writing an executive summary for the first time, there are several online templates that you can use to outline your document. However, your business is unique, and your executive summary should reflect that. An online template probably won't cover every detail that you will need in your specific executive summary. Experts recommend using templates as a general guideline, and then tailoring them to fit your specific business plan and executive summary.

To get you started, here are some popular executive summary templates:

  • HubSpot is a user-friendly platform that offers a variety of business resources, including an executive summary template. With this template, you can add or remove sections, customize details like branding and font, and download it as a PDF or Word file.
  • FormSwift allows you to create and edit documents and access more than 500 templates of various purposes. It offers details on what an effective executive summary includes and provides a form builder to create your executive summary. You simply fill out a step-by-step questionnaire and export your finished document via PDF or Word.
  • Smartsheet is a cloud-based platform that makes planning, managing, and reporting on projects easier for teams and organizations. It offers several free downloadable executive summary templates for more than just business plans; for example, it has executive summary templates for startups, healthcare, proposals, marketing plans, product launches, research reports and individual projects.net provides several free business templates, including eight free executive summary templates that vary by project (e.g., business plan, startup, housing program development, proposal, marketing plan). You simply print out the templates and fill in your relevant details.
  • Template.net provides several free business templates, including eight free executive summary templates that vary by project (e.g., business plan, startup, housing program development, proposal, marketing plan). You simply print out the templates and fill in your relevant details.
  • TemplateLab is a one-stop-shop for new business owners looking for a wide variety of downloadable templates for several aspects of business, including analytics, finance, human relations, marketing, operations, project management and time management. You have over 30 free executive summary templates and examples to choose from.
  • Vertex42 offers Excel templates for executive summaries on topics like budgets, invoices, project management, and timesheets, and Word templates for topics like legal forms, resumes, and letters. It also provides extensive information on what an executive summary is, as well as a free executive summary template that you can download into Word or Google Docs.

Key takeaway: Many free online templates are available to help you create your executive summary, though you'll need to carefully tailor any template you use to fit your unique business.

Image Credit: ArtFamily / Shutterstock
Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley,
Business News Daily Writer
See Skye Schooley's Profile
Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. She received a business communication degree from Arizona State University and spent a few years traveling internationally, before finally settling down in the greater New York City area. She currently writes for business.com and Business News Daily, primarily contributing articles about business technology and the workplace, and reviewing categories such as remote PC access software, collection agencies, background check services, web hosting, reputation management services, cloud storage, and website design software and services.