How to Write an Executive Summary in 2021

How to Write an Executive Summary

Written by Dave Lavinsky

pen pencil and checklist

Executive Summary of a Business Plan

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What is a Business Plan Executive Summary?

An executive summary of a business plan gives the reader an overview of the business opportunity and your entire business plan.  It explains the type of business the company operates and summarizes the key facts and strategies supporting the businesses growth. If presented for funding, the executive summary provides the lender or investor a quick snapshot which helps them determine their interest level and if they should continue reading the rest of the business plan.

An effective executive summary is a quick version of your complete business plan. You need to keep it simple and succinct in order to grab the reader’s attention and convince them it’s in their best interest to keep reading.

Why Do I Need an Executive Summary?

As mentioned above, your business plan is a detailed document that requires time to read. Capturing the reader’s attention with a concise, interesting overview of your plan saves them time and indicates which parts of the business plan may be most important to read in detail. This increases the odds that your business plan will be read and your business idea understood. This is why you need a well written executive summary.

Executive Summary Length

When structuring your executive summary, the first thing to keep in mind is that it should be short and comprehensive. The length of your business plan executive summary should never exceed 3 pages; the ideal length is 1-2 pages.

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Key Elements of an Executive Summary

The following are the key elements to include in your business plan executive summary:

  • The problem statement or business opportunity — Generally there is a gap or a problem in the market which your business aims to solve. This is your problem statement and it must be included in the summary, as investors want to understand if the world truly needs your company’s products and/or services.
  • Your business idea – The next thing a reader would want to know is how you plan to approach the problem and solve it. This is your business model and it should briefly describe how your product or service can help solve the problem.
  • Company history – The best indicator of future success is past success. Your company’s history helps the reader understand how your business has evolved and grown over the years and what you’ve been able to accomplish. Even startups have generally accomplished milestones like choosing a company name, conceiving products, finding a location, etc.
  • Industry – Here you will detail the industry in which you are operating, it’s size and if any trends are positively or negatively influencing it. This gives readers a sense of the size of the opportunity you are pursuing.
  • The target market or customer – Every business has a target customer base or a target market on which they focus. Here you will detail the types of customers you target and their demographic and psychographic profiles.
  • Competition – When you venture into a market or an industry, there are generally other players with which you compete. Knowing your competition is important and market research is crucial to success. Readers of your plan want to know who your competitors are, their strengths and in what areas you will have competitive advantage. Discussing the competitive landscape is a crucial component of a strong executive summary.
  • Milestones – In addition to showing relevant milestones your company has achieved, you need to explain your timeline for key milestones or key points in the future. Include dates you hope to launch products, achieve sales milestones, hire key employees, etc.
  • Financial plan – If you are requesting funding from investors or banks, they will want to know how you are going to their funds. A brief financial summary covering key points of how and where you plan to allocate the funds should be included in the summary. For existing businesses, you should also provide a history/summary of past financial performance. Finally, for all businesses, you need to provide future financial projections so investors can determine whether they might get an adequate return from investing in you and lenders can ascertain whether or not you will be able to repay your debts.
  • Management Team – In this section, you will introduce the key members of your team. The success or failure of your company depends largely on the people involved. So, any reader surely wants to know how well equipped your team is. Mention key staff members and the experience and skills they bring, in the executive summary.

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How Do I Write an Executive Summary for a Business Plan?

Your executive summary is the most important part of your business plan since it’s the first thing investors, lenders and/or other readers see. And if they aren’t impressed, they’ll stop reading and you’ll lose them forever. To give yourself the best chances of success, follow these steps to write your executive summary.

1) Complete the rest of your business plan. Your executive summary provides highlights of each section of your business plan. As such, you need to first write those sections. Then, read each section and figure out what information from each must be included in the executive summary. For instance, if your industry analysis section mentioned that your industry’s current size is $100 billion and is projected to grow by 90% per year over the next 5 years, this is an exciting statistic and opportunity that should be mentioned in your executive summary.

2) Start with a one to two line description of your company. Your executive summary must start with a simple description of your company. Readers must be able to quickly and easily understand what your company does so they can decide whether they’re interested in the opportunity. If readers can’t quickly understand what you do, many will stop reading and you’ll lose the ability to get them involved in your company.

3) Create your executive summary structure. Start by creating headers for each section of your business plan. For example, you should have a marketing plan header, a customer analysis header, etc. Then, within each header, summarize the most important point you mentioned in that section.  For example, under your marketing plan, you would write your three most important promotional tactics. Under customer analysis, you’d write a detailed one to two line description of your target customers. Then figure out the best way to organize your executive summary. You can either keep the headers, or create new headers like “business overview” and “unique success factors” in which you cut and paste the old sections as appropriate.

4) Make it shorter. Mark Twain once wrote “If I had more time, i would have written a shorter letter.” The more concise your executive summary is, the more successful it will. Read through your executive summary and aggressively edit it so you convey your key messages in the least amount of words possible.

5) Bring in outside readers. Find at least five people to read your executive summary. Ask them to spend no more than five minutes doing so. Then ask them questions about it. Did they understand what your company does? Are they able to recite back to you your company’s value proposition? If the readers are unable to understand and get excited by your executive summary, then you need to keep working on it.

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The Dos and Don’ts of Creating a Great Executive Summary

There are certain mistakes often made in writing an executive summary. If these little glitches can be avoided, writing a flawless executive summary for your business plan is not difficult. So here are a few important tips and tricks for you to remember.

  • Write the summary last – You executive summary should follow nearly the same order as your detailed business plan. Which is why it is important that you write the summary only after you are done with all your research and have finished writing your detailed business plan. This ensures that you include only the most salient parts of your business plan and can write a clear and concise summary.
  • Use a positive and confident tone – The language and tone that you use in writing any document makes a huge impact on how it is received by the reader. Since the executive summary must convince the reader your plan will work, your language should be strong and assertive. For instance, instead of using words like “might” or “could” use words like “will”. Don’t let the readers doubt your capability by using weak language or tone of writing.
  • Don’t give away everything in the summary – Many a times we make this mistake of giving too much background or too many details in the summary. Details are meant for the full business plan. Your executive summary is meant to direct people towards the detailed plan, so avoid sharing everything in the summary itself.
  • Cover the bases – The executive summary must cover the important questions asked and answered by your business plan. The three most important questions are “What is the definition of the business you are in?”, “What is the market size and need?” and “How is the company uniquely qualified to succeed in that market?”
  • Simplify – define your business in a way that it can be understood within the short executive summary. To do this, you must be able to use plain language and only one or two sentences for this definition. If there are additional elements to the business which will go beyond its core or become future potential directions you will take, the executive summary is not the place to go into those. Make sure the business definition can be summed up so that anyone with only a very basic understanding of the industry can understand.
  • Make sure the logic flows – This is true within the plan as a whole, and within the executive summary. The logic of why your specific team and resources are suited for the specific market opportunity you identified and why you’ve chosen the marketing methods you have should be apparent and raise no red flags. If there is a jump in the logic – for example, it is not clear how the management team has any expertise suited for the business in question – then readers will move on to another plan rather than read on to answer that question in the body of the plan. This logic should be clear, although in concise and simplified format, even within the executive summary.
  • Ensure the content of your summary matches your business plan – The information that you share in your executive summary should match what you have in your full business plan. Make sure that there are no discrepancies between the two.
  • Avoid repeating content in the executive summary – You already have very little space to include everything you should in your executive summary. Repeating content wastes precious space.

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Summary of Writing a Great Executive Summary

Whether you’re a large or small business, your executive summary is the first thing someone reads that forms an opinion of your business. Whether they decide to read your detailed business plan or push it aside depends on how good your executive summary is. We hope your executive summary guide helps you craft an effective and impactful executive summary. That way, readers will be more likely to read your full plan, request an in-person meeting, and give you funding to pursue your business plans.

Looking to get started on your business plan’s executive summary? Take a look at the business plan executive summary example below!
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Business Plan Executive Summary Example

Shoutmouth.com Executive Summary

Business Overview

Launched late last year, Shoutmouth.com is the most comprehensive music news website on the Internet.

Music is one of the most searched and accessed interests on the Internet. Top music artists like Taylor Swift receive over 5 million searches each month. In addition, over 500 music artists each receive over 25,000 searches a month.

However, music fans are largely unsatisfied when it comes to the news and information they seek on the artists they love. This is because most music websites (e.g., RollingStone.com, MTV.com, Billboard.com, etc.) cover only the top eight to ten music stories each day – the stories with mass appeal. This type of generic coverage does not satisfy the needs of serious music fans. Music fans generally listen to many different artists and genres of music. By publishing over 100 music stories each day, Shoutmouth enables these fans to read news on all their favorite artists.

In addition to publishing comprehensive music news on over 1200 music artists, Shoutmouth is a social network that allows fans to meet and communicate with other fans about music, and allows them to:

  • Create personal profiles
  • Interact with other members
  • Provide comments on news stories and music videos
  • Submit news stories and videos
  • Recommend new music artists to add to the community
  • Receive customized news and email alerts on their favorite artists

Success Factors

Shoutmouth is uniquely qualified to succeed due to the following reasons:

  • Entrepreneurial track record: Shoutmouth’s CEO and team have helped launch numerous successful ventures.
  • Monetization track record: Over the past two years, Shoutmouth’s founders have run one of the most successful online affiliate marketing programs, having sold products to over 500,000 music customers online.
  • Key milestones completed: Shoutmouth’s founders have invested $500,000 to-date to staff the company (we currently have an 11-person full-time team), build the core technology, and launch the site. We have succeeded in gaining initial customer traction with 50,000 unique visitors in March, 100,000 unique visitors in April, and 200,000 unique visitors in May.

Unique Investment Metrics

The Shoutmouth investment opportunity is very exciting due to the metrics of the business.

To begin, over the past five years, over twenty social networks have been acquired. The value in these networks is their relationships with large numbers of customers, which allow acquirers to effectively sell to this audience.

The sales price of these social networks has ranged from $25 to $137 per member. Shoutmouth has the ability to enroll members at less than $1 each, thus providing an extraordinary return on marketing expenditures. In fact, during a recent test, we were able to sign-up 2,000 members to artist-specific Shoutmouth newsletters at a cost of only 43 cents per member.

While we are building Shoutmouth to last, potential acquirers include many types of companies that seek relationships with music fans such as music media/publishing (e.g., MTV, Rolling Stone), ticketing (e.g., Ticketmaster, LiveNation) and digital music sales firms (e.g., iTunes).

Financial Strategy, Needs and Exit Strategy

While Shoutmouth’s technological, marketing and operational infrastructure has been developed, we currently require $3 million to execute on our marketing and technology plan over the next 24 months until we hit profitability.

Shoutmouth will primarily generate revenues from selling advertising space. As technologies evolve that allow us to seamlessly integrate music sampling and purchasing on our site, sales of downloadable music are also expected to become a significant revenue source. To a lesser extent, we may sell other music-related items such as ringtones, concert tickets, and apparel.

Topline projections over the next three years are as follows:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3
Shoutmouth Members 626,876 4,289,580 9,577,020
Unique Visitors 2,348,050 8,390,187 18,633,659
Total Page Views (Millions) 20.7 273.5 781.0
Revenues $165,431 $2,461,127 $7,810,354
Expenses $1,407,958 $2,591,978 $2,838,423
EBITDA ($1,242,527) ($130,851) $4,971,931

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Executive Summary Frequently Asked Questions

An executive summary provides a quick overview of your business plan. It succinctly describes your business. It gives a summary of each of the other sections of your plan (e.g., marketing plan, financial plan, customer analysis, etc.). And it answers the key question that investors and lenders need to know: why is your business uniquely qualified to succeed?

Your executive summary should include an overview of your business concept, a summary of each of the key sections of your plan (company overview, industry analysis, customer analysis, competitive analysis, marketing plan, operations plan, management team, financial plan) and answer why your business is uniquely qualified to succeed.

Your executive summary should be one to two pages. Remember that the goal of the summary is simply to excite the reader into continuing through your full plan. Give them a summary of the key highlights of your business and invite them to learn more by reading the full business plan.

If the first paragraph of your executive summary isn’t compelling enough, you’ll immediately lose readers. So, start your executive summary by clearly stating what your business does and why your company is unique. Then give a summary of each of the other sections of your plan (e.g., competitive analysis, industry analysis, etc.).

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