If you plan to launch your own small business, then you'll need to write an executive summary as part of your full business plan. In this article, we'll answer all your pressing questions, including: What the heck is an executive summary, anyway? What’s the purpose of an executive summary? And how do I actually create a well-written executive summary?
Executive summaries are arguably one of the most critical sections of a business plan—and they're also one of the trickiest to write. The executive summary is the first part of your complete business plan that someone will read, so it needs to be compelling in order to convince someone to read the whole thing.
But here’s the catch: 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds actively reading content, based on data published in Time Magazine. This means the limited window of time you have to convince someone your business plan is worth their attention depends on a strong executive summary. No pressure or anything.
For that reason, it’s important to know how to draft a concise executive summary that makes an impact and communicates the goals of your small business. But have no fear, just read on to learn how!
What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is essentially an outline of your business plan. If your full business plan is a roadmap, your executive summary is your roadmap's roadmap. It gives your readers a heads up about what you'll talk about in the rest of your business plan. For all intents and purposes, your business's executive summary is your elevator pitch.
The purpose of an executive summary
If there's one section of your business plan everyone is going to read, it's the executive summary. Your business plan's executive summary exists to give readers an overview of the entire document. It should outline what they can expect to learn and motivate them to keep reading on.
“Investors will read the executive summary to decide if they will even bother reading the rest of the business plan. It’s rare for an investor or lender to read an entire business plan, at least in the initial stages of analysis and consideration for funding,” says Eric Markowitz, Inc.com Staff Writer.
Keep your goals and purpose in mind when writing your executive summary.
If your business is a startup, the purpose of your business plan (and executive summary) will likely be to get banks or investors to provide you with financing. So, when writing your executive summary, highlight the financial requirements of your business and why your business is worthy of funding.
If you're a more established business owner, then your executive summary will talk more about your achievements, evolution, and goals for the future.
How to write an executive summary for a business plan
Your business's executive summary should be as short as possible, ideally only one or two pages long.
Remember that you're vouching for yourself and your business in your executive summary, so make sure your language is confident and positive!
Bad example: We might not be the best or the most established protein powder brand, but we probably have the most passion and love out of all our competitors.
Good example: With some vegan protein powder products on the market currently, we expect mild competition and are confident we will be able to build a strong market position.
It's best practice to avoid talking about more fluffy, subjective points and cliches (like passion, hard work, etc.) so you can focus more on the practical information and facts your readers want to know about (like why they should actually invest or partner with your business). You also want to seem confident in yourself and your business, so avoid words like "might," "maybe," or "could" and opt for more definitive words, like "will"!
Remember that your executive summary should fill in the blanks for your readers. Keep your target audience in mind and try to answer their questions, rather than create new ones, or they may get confused and stop reading. Give them a reason not to go back to checking their current value of Bitcoin.
"Put yourself in the business plan reader's shoes and think about what you would like to know in the report," Marius Thauland, business strategist at Leiekontor, told Business News Daily. "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."
There's no specific way to order the different sections of your executive summary, but you'll want to put the most important information or your strongest points first. The first sentence and paragraph of your executive summary is especially important, since these are what will reel your readers in.
We'll give you an idea of how to do this below.
What to include in the executive summary of your business plan
Despite being the first page of your business plan, it’s a good idea to write your executive summary section last. This trick allows you to get a clear picture of what specific material from the full business plan you need to introduce in the executive summary. So if you haven't written the rest of your business plan yet, stop, maybe check out our articles on writing a business plan (wink wink nudge nudge), and come back here once you're done.
Since the goal of a business plan is to persuade the reader to invest in your business, your executive summary needs to demonstrate why this investment would be a smart financial decision. The kicker is: you need to do all of this in 1-2 pages.
To get started, The Balance Small Business suggests including the following eight sections. Choose the topics most relevant to your business and write one or two sentences about each of them. And remember to order them from most important to least important!
1. Business opportunity
What demand or need is there for your business and how will you meet this demand? Talk about a problem or a gap in the market, and why your business alone has all the answers.
2. Target market
What demographic do you intend to reach as your customer base? Who's going to be buying your product?
3. Business model
Use this part to give more juicy details about your business idea. What products or services will your business offer, and what makes them desirable?
4. Marketing/Sales strategy
What will your methods be to create brand recognition for these products or services? You might want to consider marketing techniques like social media, paid media, or email marketing.
Give your readers the low-down of your industry. What businesses will you compete with for market share, and what does your business offer that your competitors do not? How big and competitive is your industry? How will you stand out against other small businesses? Are there any industry trends you should bring up?
6. Financial analysis
Investors and banks will be especially interested in this part. What is your plan to manage your business finances, and what is your projected revenue for the first three years of your business? You should go into detail about how you will distribute your funding and spell out what your investors will get out of it.
In this section, you can give a brief overview of your business's history. Who are the owners and lead staff members of your business and what important skills or credentials do they bring?
8. Implementation plan
What is your framework and timeline to move from a concept to launching an actual business?
Effective executive summary examples
Sitting down to start writing an executive summary and putting all the pieces together can be challenging.
To think about it differently, you might consider grouping the above details into a few specific categories:
What are the core values and central purpose of your business?
What products or services do you offer, how long has your business been in operation, who are the owners and lead staff members, and how many business locations do you manage?
What is the current and projected state of your finances and do you need an investor to help you expand?
What objectives or projects will this financial investment be used for?
Keep in mind that, as you write your own executive summary, you should consider the industry and market that you are entering, the customers you’ll be interacting with, and the things your business will need to succeed (financial backing, upfront costs, additional workforce, etc). Here’s an example of a good executive summary template to guide you as you embark on writing your own executive summary.
Executive summary/business plan example: Vegan Protein Blitz
Company: Vegan Protein Blitz: Animal-free protein powder
Vegan Protein Blitz: Animal-Free Protein Powder offers 25 grams of protein per serving without any use of animal protein—similar to, and in many cases, more than, the average amount of protein in similar products. We intend to appeal to those within the fitness community who are looking for a great-tasting protein powder without compromising on the amount of protein per serving. With some vegan protein powder products on the market currently, we expect mild competition and are confident we will be able to build a strong market position.
The Company and Management
Vegan Protein Blitz: Animal-Free Protein Powder was founded in 2018 by Sarah Bailey, a certified personal trainer and former food scientist, who couldn’t find a vegan protein powder that tasted good and provided the amount she needed to fuel her fitness routine. Her kitchen is based in San Diego, California, where she employs two full-time employees and three part-time employees.
Along with Sarah Bailey, Vegan Protein Blitz: Animal-Free Protein Powder has a board of advisors. The advisors are:
- Laura Henry, partner at Food Inc.
- Kristin Smith, CEO of Just Nuts Vegan Health Bars
We offer animal-free protein powder that is made with all-natural sugar sources and no preservatives. Our customers are health-conscious and serious about fueling their bodies with animal-free whole foods. We plan to grow quickly, with an initial goal of building a full-time marketing team of fitness advocates and professionals who understand the industry and our customers’ needs.
Our Competitive Advantages
While there are other vegan protein powders on the national market, there are none that are made with all-natural sugar and with a comparable amount of protein as that of an animal-based powder. With the expertise of our founder Sarah Bailey, we also stand out as a company that truly understands the audience. Please see our market research (Section 3) for more information on why consumers are demanding this expertise.
Our sales projections for the first year are $600,000 with a 10% growth rate over the next two years. By year three, we project 55% gross margins and will have ten full-time employees. The salary for each employee will be $60,000 USD.
Startup Financing Requirements
We are seeking to raise $250,000 in startup funds to finance the first year. The owner has invested $40,000 to meet working capital requirements, and will use a loan of $80,000 to supplement the rest.
More executive summary templates
Need more business plan examples, or ready to create your own executive summary with a template? Here are a few we found around the web:
Final tips for writing an executive summary
Earning investor interest in your business is critical to getting access to the things your business will need to succeed, and a solid executive summary can help you do that. Writing your full business plan first can help you get clarity on the strongest key points of your business proposal, which you can use to build out your executive summary.
Most importantly, keep this section of your business plan straightforward and concise, making it easy for the reader to understand what you’re doing and why it matters.
Brush up on your writing skills
You're an entrepreneur, and you probably didn't start your business to write business plans. Free online editing tools and resources like Hemingway and Grammarly can help you punch up and polish your writing. Just copy and paste your executive summary into the software, and it will let you know where your writing needs to be more clear.
Get to the point
Remember what we said about keeping it short? We mean it. Even if there's a really clever sentence that you're super proud of, it's gotta go if it doesn't contribute to your summary. You don't want to give too much detail (that's what the rest of your business plan is for!) or repeat yourself.
Always proofread your work a couple of times before calling it a day! Reading your executive summary out loud can help you identify awkward phrasing and catch any typos you might have missed. Another idea is to copy and paste it into a text-to-speech program to hear what it sounds like out loud. It also helps to print out your executive summary and edit the physical document, which helps you see it from a fresh perspective.
If you have a kind friend, family member, or fellow business owner, you should ask them to take a look at your executive summary/business plan and give their constructive criticism. If they understand your goals and plan and seem excited about your idea, that's a good sign! If they give your business plan back to you with a bunch of red marks and a confused look on their faces, that's probably a sign for you to make sure your executive summary flows more logically.
The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.