The executive summary is a critical part of any business plan, report or project. A summary of the main points, findings and recommendations of a longer business plan or proposal, the executive summary should be detailed but concise. It is crucial to write an effective, impactful, clear and convincing executive summary for your business plan because often this is the first thing readers will see. In some cases, it may be the only part a potential investor, partner or stakeholder will read.
In this informative guide, we’ll share tips and tricks to help you write a winning executive summary and provide executive summary examples and templates.
How to write an executive summary
An executive summary should be an integral part of your project proposal or business plan. When creating your executive summary, always remember that the person or people who are reading it may have extremely busy schedules and limited time. There is a small window of time to impress, convince and persuade the individual or panel to back your business or get on board with your proposals. This means that the executive summary has to be punchy, detailed, informative, engaging, interesting and accurate.
As time is of the essence, it is best to keep your executive summary to a maximum of two pages. Ideally, it should not constitute more than 10% of the entire business plan. As well as being comprehensive and compelling, it is vital that your executive summary is quick and easy to read. You want to hold the attention of the reader from start to finish.
Here are some steps to follow to write your executive summary:
- Start with your business plan: do not write your executive summary until you have completed your business or project proposal.
- Include an engaging, captivating introduction: try to pique the reader’s interest early and encourage them to want to learn more.
- Highlight critical points: your executive summary should comprise a detailed outline and explanation of the most important elements of your business plan.
- Streamline the format and check your spelling and grammar: the summary should be well-written and it should be simple to read and digest.
What to include in your executive summary
What should you include in your executive summary? To help you ensure that you check all of the boxes, here’s a list of points and elements to include in your executive summary for a project proposal and business plan.
1. For a project
If you are writing a project proposal, make sure you include the following in your executive summary:
- Problem statement: a brief and concise statement, which outlines the problem, challenge or pain points the proposal or document seeks to address or resolve.
- Solution: a punchy, concise description of the proposed solutions and how they will be used to rectify or eliminate the problems outlined previously.
- Market analysis: detailed, up-to-date, reliable information about the market, including the size and growth potential of the specific market and key competitors.
- Financial projections: a comprehensive overview of expected revenues, costs and profits generated by your products or services.
2. For a business plan
If you are writing a business plan, your executive summary should include the following elements:
- Company description: this should include the name and location of the business and contact details
- Products and services: a brief description of the products or services the company offers and how they solve or address customer or client problems
- Market analysis: including the size of the market, the growth potential of the market, the target audience and ideal customer and the opportunities for expansion and development
- Competitor analysis: highlight the key competitors within the market, their strengths and weaknesses, their respective market shares and their pricing strategies
- Marketing and sales strategy: a concise and comprehensive outline of how you plan to market and sell products or services, including information related to pricing, promotion and distribution
- Management team: information about the founders, leadership team and current investors at the business
- Financial projections: detailed information about projected revenues, expenses and profits, including the expected growth trajectory of the company
- Funding request: how much funding are you looking for and how will the funds be used?
Executive Summary Example for a Project
Last year, our company spent $95,000 in contracted recyclable trash hauler fees. Upon further analysis, we discovered that much of our recyclable waste is due to office employees bringing single-use plastic bottles to work with them.
We can save an estimated $25,000 yearly on recycling fees by adding water refill stations and encouraging employees to use refillable water bottles.
- Step 1: Shop for and contract water refill units to be installed in our offices. (See section four of the proposal)
- Step 2: Install water refill units in a phased, floor-by-floor method. (See section five)
- Step 3: Encourage employees to use water refill units. (See section six)
Some employees may not be interested in using community water stations or refillable water bottles. We plan to use water refill units with software that tracks the amount of water used. We will encourage employee use by enacting an office reward system (catering days, food truck visits, etc.). We also plan to implement a “Go Green” initiative to promote phasing out single-use bottles. This will encourage team members to use the refill stations. (See section seven)
The initial cost to buy and install refill units is significant. However, this program will pay for itself within two years. Upkeep costs are minimal, so the units will save the company $25,000 yearly in recycling costs after two years. (See section eight)
We need approval for $45,000 to cover the purchase and installation to implement our new recycling initiative. The yearly upkeep will require a $5,000-a-year adjustment in our facility’s maintenance budget to ensure the continued functionality of the units and keep the program on target. We hope to begin this project by July 1, 2023.
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Executive summary writing tips
To create an executive summary that will help you to achieve your goals, here are some writing tips and some common mistakes to avoid:
- Write your business plan first before you start creating the executive summary
- Prioritize clarity to avoid confusion and maintain reader interest
- Pick out the critical points in your business plan and make sure you include them in your executive summary
- Write concisely using simple, accessible language
- Avoid jargon, sweeping statements, generalizations and clichés
- Make sure your summary is engaging and compelling
- Remember that your audience has limited time to read the summary
- Proofread before sending to check for spelling and grammar mistakes
- Check the format and flow to enhance readability
- Make sure your executive summary can stand on its own: the summary is often the first or only thing an individual or panel will read so it has to sell your business or project effectively
- Make sure the tone of the document is relevant to the business and the target reader
- Include accurate, up-to-date information: your executive summary should be well-researched
- Use your executive summary to give a brief snapshot of what your business is all about
- Use engaging language from the outset: you want to convince the reader to keep going
Always remember that your business plan executive summary should be unique and relevant to your company. You can use samples, templates and examples to get ideas related to format, structure and content, but your executive summary should be tailored to your business plan or project proposal. It is critical to include data and information about your company and the specific objective or proposal. It is also helpful to consider the reader when creating your executive summary. This can help to ensure that you get the tone and the type of language right. If you’re looking for investors for a financial or legal firm, for example, using informal language or a relaxed, casual tone won’t fit with the business plan.
Mistakes to avoid
- Writing too much: the people reading your executive summary are likely to be very busy and they won’t have hours to read through pages and pages of text. Keep the summary to a maximum of 1-2 pages.
- Using complex language and jargon: your executive summary should be easy to read.
- Writing errors: poor grammar, spelling and punctuation can make it difficult to read passages of text and it will also impact the reader’s impression of the business and the individuals behind it. Always check the summary before sending or presenting it.
- Style without substance: your executive summary should contain relevant data, information and facts and figures, rather than claims and statements that are not backed up by evidence.
- Using unrealistic or unreliable data: when adding financial projections and information about the market and competitors, use reliable, accurate data. Avoid including unrealistic or unreliable figures and projections.
Before you send a business plan to an individual, or you meet with a panel to discuss your proposal, take the time to read the summary several times and check the content, format and grammar. Get to grips with the data and statistics you have used and ensure that you’re ready to answer questions or provide additional information. Try to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Is your executive summary interesting and convincing? Do you want to read the whole thing and the rest of the business plan? Do you trust that the information is accurate and reliable? Do you want to find out more about the company or brand? Is there something special that makes this business or the project unique or compelling?
An executive summary is a crucial part of a business plan or project proposal. If you are looking for investors, or you’re hoping to get new partners on board, for example, it’s incredibly beneficial to ensure that you have an effective, impactful executive summary ready to impress them. Your summary should be concise, punchy, compelling and persuasive and it should provide a detailed overview of the essential elements and main points of your business plan. A statement-making executive summary can help you to attract potential investors and stakeholders and increase your chances of achieving key business objectives.