Whether you're an entrepreneur looking for investors for your small business or the CEO of a large corporation, an executive summary can help you succeed and is a critical component for long-term growth.
A short, attention-grabbing executive summary is an essential part of your business plan. Done correctly, it will ensure your company becomes or remains a key player in your industry. In this post, you’ll learn what an executive summary is and how to write one that engages investors, customers, and general audiences.
Essentially, an executive summary is the front cover of your business plan, convincing readers that it's worth their time to read the whole thing.
A business plan includes a company overview, your company's short-term and long-term goals, information on your product or service, sales targets, expense budgets, your marketing plan, and a list including each member of your management team. However, a CEO or investor might not have the interest or time to read your full business plan without first getting the general gist of your company or goals through an executive summary.
Ultimately, the executive summary is meant to inform readers of the most important information in your business plan, so they don't have to read it all and can get caught up quickly.
To write an impressive executive summary that effectively embodies all the important elements of your business plan, we've cultivated a list of necessary components for an executive summary, as well as an example to get you started.
1. Tell your story.
When investors or CEO's read your executive summary, they should understand what your business is about. This is one of the first elements of your business plan, so it should set the tone.
In your executive summary, be sure to tell your story. What does your company do and why do you do it? Who's involved in your company? Answering these questions will help readers get excited about your company and eager to read the rest of the business plan.
2. Do your research.
An executive summary, while short, should include plenty of research. For example, your summary will include financial considerations and a competitor analysis.
While your business plan will flesh out the details, it's important to include your key findings in your executive summary. Think of this like an elevator pitch. If someone stopped reading and you only had the executive summary to explain your company, what information would you include?
3. Pay attention to your tone.
The tone of your writing tells a story itself. When you're writing anything, but especially a business document, make sure that the tone tells the story of who you are. Are you formal or more informal?
Ultimately, your tone should not only represent who you are as a company, but your target audience as well. What style of writing will represent your audience?
As you write an executive summary, don't forget to consider what your tone and writing says about you and your audience.
4. Avoid cliché language.
With any style of writing, it's best to avoid clichés. Clichés can convey the wrong message or be misunderstood, which is something you want to avoid when someone reads your executive summary.
Additionally, clichés tend to overpromise and under-deliver. For example, including something like “The Best Restaurant in Town” isn't true because you're untested as a business. Your executive summary should reflect the truth and who you are as a company.
5. Write it after completing your business plan.
An executive summary is a summary of your business plan. However, it's hard to write a summary when you haven't written your business plan yet. That's why you should write your executive summary last, so you know what you want to include.
If you don’t have a business plan yet, don’t worry; we have a comprehensive business plan template to help you create one quickly and effectively.
Featured Resource: Business Plan Template
Now that you know how to write an executive summary, let's dive into the details of what to include.
What to Include in Your Executive Summary
Your business plan should convey your company's mission, your product, a plan for how you'll stand out from competitors, your financial projections, your company's short and long-term goals, your buyer persona, and your market fit.
An executive summary, then, should be a short, maximum two-page synopsis of the information provided in your business plan.
Ultimately, an executive summary should provide a preview for investors or CEO's, so they know what to expect from the rest of your report. Your executive summary should include:
- The name, location, and mission of your company
- A description of your company, including management, advisors, and brief history
- Your product or service, where your product fits in the market, and how your product differs from competitors in the industry
- Financial considerations, start-up funding requirements, or the purpose behind your business plan — mention what you hope the reader will help your company accomplish
Feeling at a loss? Download a free template below that will take you through the executive summary creation process.
Executive Summary Template
In this free executive summary template, you’ll be able to outline several pieces of information, including:
- Introduction: Explain what your executive summary contains.
- Company & Opportunity: Explain who you are and your biggest opportunities for growth.
- Industry & Market Analysis: Explain the state of your industry and your target market.
- Management & Operations: Explain who your key leaders are and their roles.
- Implementation & Marketing: Explain how you plan to deploy your product to the marketplace.
- Financial Plan: Explain your company’s finances. Change the verbiage depending on whether you’re writing to investors or a general audience.
- Conclusion: Summarize what you’ve covered.
To understand more tactically how an executive summary should look, let’s review a few examples.
Executive Summary Examples
Connected’s executive summary immediately grabs your attention with its headline, which describes what the company does in a succinct, clear way. Even if you don’t read the rest of the summary, you’ll understand what Connected does from the heading alone. The company then goes into its history, mission, and values at length.
Try It Yourself
Use the heading of your page to immediately describe what you do, as opposed to using “About Us” or “Executive Summary” as the title. Give readers the opportunity to get what they need above the fold and the option to read more. Note that this would not apply in an executive summary in a business plan.
Events Industry Council’s executive summary is short and sweet, yet provides plenty of information for readers to understand what the organization does and which products it offers. Note the brevity in the mission, vision, and values sections — that demonstrates that there’s no need to go on at length if it doesn’t suit you. The “Who we are” section has the most emphasis here, which is a powerful technique to draw readers’ attention.
Try It Yourself
Spend more time in the section that you feel your audience will care most about. If you’re pitching to investors, you might spend more time on the Market Analysis and Financials sections. If you’re writing for a general audience, you might focus on your company background.
One of the first things you see when visiting Company Shop Group’s About Us page is its subheading: “Company Shop Group is the UK’s leading redistributor of surplus food and household products.” Like Connected, Company Shop Group includes what it does above the fold, so that readers have the option to either keep reading or walk away knowing what the company is about. The organization also includes multimedia to engage visitors and explain its business model in a more digestible format.
Try It Yourself
Include what you do above the fold and add multimedia elements to provide an alternative way for readers to learn more about you. Videos, images, and headings can make it much easier to scan your executive summary, but be careful to only use this method for the right audience and through the right medium. (You might not include images inside a formal business plan, for instance.)
FirstEnergy’s executive summary is great inspiration if you’re a more corporate, formal brand. The company’s executive summary covers its mission, subsidiaries, operations, products and services, corporate responsibility values, and strategic plan goals. This is useful information for potential investors, as the company is publicly traded.
While it’s comprehensive, the executive summary remains short, using bullet points and images to break up the information and giving readers the opportunity to explore more with a sidebar menu.
Try It Yourself
Be conscious of the status of your company when writing your executive summary. If it’s publicly traded, you’ll want to include more information, such as your strategic plan and expansion opportunities. If you’re publishing your executive summary on your website, use a sidebar to allow readers to jump from page to page without leaving their place.
Start Your Executive Summary
An executive summary should be short and concise, but it should still convey who you are as a company. If you're starting a company, remember to tell your story, while also including important background and financial information. A strong executive summary will pave the way for more investors to invest in your business and more customers to trust in your brand.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.