Tips to Writing the Most Powerful Executive Summary Ever
The executive summary is basically your preface to your report. It is a critical part of your business plan or investment proposal which enables your readers to know what you are proposing to do and why she or he should spend more of their precious time on reading your in-depth proposal or report. Basically, it is the document that advertises your intent and will grab their attention and get them interested in your proposal.
While considering and analyzing whether to fund your project at the initial stages of the project, the executive summary may be the only document that the investors read. So it must capture the essence of your business. By discarding unnecessary details (that are already covered in your in-depth report) and focusing on the essential part of your story, you get a better idea of what your plan is and how to sell it.
1. Why Is An Executive Summary Required?
Your target audience (lenders, investors, CEOs, executives or managers) are busy people. Time is of the essence. If you start by handing over a thick manuscript with all in-depth analysis of your proposal, more often than not it will stay at their desk unread for eons (if at all you convince them to take it).
What gets you invited for a meeting to talk about your business plan and take your report is your executive summary. It gives them a brief idea and helps them in considering whether reading your full report is worth their time. So the stronger your executive summary is the higher chances of you getting their funding is. A poor executive summary will take you nowhere.
2. The First Paragraph
A strong hook is required to get your audience’s attention. Think of how most magazine articles commence with a funny story or how a book starts with a chase sequence. The first paragraph is of utmost importance as it is basically the executive summary of your executive summary. Do not start with a story, get straight into the crux of the matter- what you do and what your proposal is.
Include whatever wow factor is in your plan (may be you are proposing something innovative that caters to a market requirement). Do not underestimate the value of your reader’s time. This is probably getting read at the back of the car on their way to a business meeting. If the first paragraph fails to catch their attention, they might not even read the rest of your summary, forget the plan.
3. The Nuts and Bolts
With no set structure for writing executive summaries, the world is your playground. But keeping in mind your reader’s time constraint, keep it precise and concise. Remember, brevity is the key here. Use bullet points to put forth your ideas and to draw attention to your core strengths. Focus on your selling points- what features you already possess that give you an upper edge over your competitors in the market (a special marketing strategy, few patents under your belt, a knock-out tea, etc). Basically, explain what makes you the winning horse.
After the first paragraph, you can write the subsequent paragraphs based on the content of your in-depth report. Do not include too many details of your report (like numbers, charts, analysis, etc). Just highlight the major points of your report.
A general format for writing an executive summary is as follows:
- A Company Description Summary
- The Problem
- Your Solution
- Why Now
The Why Now category gives your plan an urgency which will make the readers want to read the business plan and start acting on it now.
- Financial summary
In this segment include the valuation of the deal to give your reader an idea of the risks involved and the expected returns.
4. In Which Tone to Write Your Executive Summary
Depending on your target reader you need to tweak your executive summary accordingly. Due diligence is required in this case. Write in a way that caters to their background. Keep it precise and professional. Write confidently. Use “we”, “our” instead of “the organization”. It gives your investor a personal connection with you and your plan.
5. The Length
Generally, one to four pages is the limit you should stick to while writing an executive summary. The overall length shall be directly proportional to the length of your business plan. Though it is a summary it should be able to convey your plan clearly to your reader. So do not omit any important part. Instead, make do with smaller fonts, both-side prints, and shrunk images, etc. Remember the back of the car situation. You need to keep things minimal but you need to put your idea through as well.
6. Avoid This
While writing an executive summary, restrict the usage of clichés and claims that cannot be backed up. Words like “cutting-edge", “ground-breaking” and so on lose their meaning to your readers as they see them regularly in proposals such as yours. Keep in mind that the goal of your executive summary is to grab their attention enough to make them want to dig deep and read your business plan. It is not to make them want to invest immediately.
In a nutshell, write your executive summary in a clear, concise, professional manner that highlights the pros of your idea and conveys to your reader why this is going to be successful. Make sure to read and re-read (making adjustments as you go) before submitting to a prospective investor. Your executive summary should be self-explanatory and comprehensible even to a 12-year old. If your story gets across to your niece without your intervention, your summary is good to go.