From business plans to reports to press releases, you can’t underestimate the power of a good executive summary. A well-crafted executive summary will help encapsulate your ideas, engage your audience, and “sell” your ultimate goal.
While it may seem like a no-brainer, you’ll want to approach your executive summary with a strategic mindset and attention to the “bigger picture” of what your document is trying to convey.
In this article, we’ll look at what to consider when writing an executive summary for different types of documents, as well as tips for how to make an impact and draw your readers in.
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What is an executive summary?
An executive summary is a pared down version of a larger document, such as a business plan. It provides a quick overview of your business strategy, with details like the description of your company, market research, and financial information. Preparing an engaging executive summary can help potential stakeholders connect with your business, giving you the opportunity to engrain them in your mission and vision.
For your executive summary to be effective, you need to focus on your audience—think about who’s actually reading it and what information is most important to them. Then tread accordingly. For instance, if you’re writing an executive summary to share with your company’s shareholders, the information should be focused on how healthy your revenue has been and is projected to be. If you’re writing a press release, you’ll want your executive summary to focus less on numbers and more on your brand’s positive impact in the industry.
How to write an executive summary
There’s no best approach to writing an executive summary, but here are some common steps entrepreneurs take to craft an abstract for their business plan.
1. Introduce your business
The first paragraph of your executive summary should grab the reader’s attention and make them excited about reading the rest of your business plan. It should be relevant to your industry, as well as give readers insight into your short-term and long-term goals. Ideally, an investor or potential partner should be able to read your executive summary and get an instant insight into what your business is about.
Key things to highlight in the executive summary introduction:
- How you started your business and what inspired you
- Your company’s traits and values (sustainable, charitable, employee-centric)
- The industry or niche you’re operating in
- Products and services your company provides
2. Describe the pain point or problem that needs solving
People are interested in knowing whether you can positively contribute to their lives and impact the environment. You can demonstrate your potential by mentioning the pain point your company will solve. Highlighting a pain point in your executive summary shows you’ve researched your target audience and generated a business idea based on a need in the market.
For maximum impact, learn who your customer is and the biggest pain point they’re facing. Send a survey or interview them to get better insights. The more information you have about the problem you’re going to solve, the better you’ll be able to reiterate why it is important and why your company matters.
3. Outline the solution
In this section, you’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how your solution will address the problem you highlighted in the previous paragraph. What results should the audience expect? How is your offering different from the other solutions available in the market? Be as specific as possible about what makes your solution unique.
Case studies, facts, and influencer endorsements can be excellent ways to demonstrate the feasibility of your product or service.
4. Include information about your competitors
Your readers will want to know who you’ll be competing against and how you plan to capture the market. Include brief details about your main competitors and how you differ from them—that is to say, you should highlight the unique aspects of your offering to make people want to learn more about your company.
You can even use a few sentences to talk about your business in a delightful way. Focus on your business’s strengths and achievements, whether it’s high market share or having a positive environmental impact. Mention these triumphs in your executive summary so your readers know that you’re capable of winning.
5. Offer a financial overview
Most executive summaries include some financial information intended to demonstrate a potential return on investment for interested parties. Your financial overview may come in the form of a table, showing how much you expect to spend on your company per month or per annum and how much you expect to earn from your various sales strategies.
When mentioning your numbers, make sure to include your projections for the coming years. Generally, it’s a good idea to highlight what you expect to earn in the next three to five years. Share insights on how you plan to grow your revenue, so readers know what developments and ROI to expect in the foreseeable future.
Executive summary examples
If you’re looking for inspiration to write your executive summary, here are some great examples:
Footwear and apparel brand Allbirds uses an executive summary to describe its vision and mission statement. With sustainability being the company's key focus, Allbirds highlights through the summary the environmentally conscious initiatives it has been working on. Not only that—the brand takes a subtle dig at its competitors, noting how the global footwear industry contributes to environmental damage.
Allbirds further mentions that it operates its certified B Corporation in a sustainable way, knowing consumers are likely invested in this area. Those interested in the company’s environmental impact can learn more by reading its annual sustainability report.
Soap brand ORRIS has an executive summary on its About page to shed light on its ethos of using the finest plant-derived ingredients to create skin care products.
The brand also highlights the ingredients it doesn’t use—something good to mention upfront, especially when it’s a skin care item—touting its products are free of surfactants, sulfates, parabens, and synthetic fragrances.
Furthermore, the executive summary provides insight into ORRIS’ vision of addressing particular skin concerns through the unique therapeutic and sensuous qualities of its natural ingredients.
Outdoor gear brand Cotopaxi publishes an annual impact report highlighting its contribution toward sustainable and social change. Here’s what shows up as an executive summary in its 2020 report:
The summary—titled “Overview”—focuses on the brand’s mission and internal principles. It also discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and mentions the company has taken steps to support affected stakeholders and teams. This sets the stage for the rest of the report by telling readers that they’ll learn more about Cotopaxi’s new principles and how it’s stepping up to the plate to assist stakeholders in combating the challenges posed by COVID-19.
A good executive summary is all about your strategy
Hopefully by now you have a better idea of how to use an executive summary to your advantage, what to consider when writing one, and how to make sure you’re getting your point across in an effective, concise, and compelling way.
When you can master these elements, you’re well on your way to accomplishing your personal and business goals.
Executive summary FAQ
What is the main purpose of an executive summary?
An executive summary is often written to provide a snapshot of the key elements present in a company’s business plan. It is aimed at individuals who don’t have time to read an entire document or report. When written well, an executive summary can convince readers to place their trust in the company.
When should you write an executive summary?
Although the executive summary is the very first section of your business plan, it should be written last. Writing it before you complete other sections of the document can result in a summary that doesn’t align with your mission and vision. Work on the core body content first, then craft a bullet-point list of all the key parts you can summarize to share with the audience.
How long should an executive summary be?
The length of your executive summary will depend on the document you’re summarizing and how you plan to use it. For a start, keep your summary at one to four paragraphs, but stay open to extending its length if the need arises. An effective executive summary for a business plan is typically one to two pages long, for instance.
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