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How to write an executive summary: a simple guide

3-minute read

Lauren Hellicar

5 March 2020

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The executive summary can be the hardest part of a business document to write. If you’re experiencing writer’s block, we’ve pulled together some tips to get you started, including an executive summary example.

What is an executive summary?

An executive summary is usually the first section in a longer business document, or it can be a short document in its own right. It gives readers a brief but comprehensive overview of a more detailed document or report without them having to go through the whole thing.

When should I write an executive summary?

There are several examples of documents for which a small business owner might need to write an executive summary, including but not limited to:

  • a client report
  • a pitch for a new project
  • a business plan
  • a marketing plan

If it’s a customer-facing document, your executive summary is your chance to hook them in to your idea. You could even say it’s the most important section of your document.

Executive summary format

Your executive summary is your chance to pull out the key selling points of your business document for your readers to see at a glance.

With this in mind, you’ll need to have the rest of the document written before you can pick out its top highlights.

Rule number 1: write your executive summary last.

What to include in an executive summary

Start strong

Capture your reader’s attention from the start by including an attention-grabbing statistic or research finding in the first line of your executive summary.

Back up your claims

If you’re making claims about your business or project, make sure you back them up with research, and reference it in the footnotes for added credibility.

How long should an executive summary be?

Keep it brief

Your executive summary should contain only the most important points from your wider document. This lets your readers quickly understand and buy into your ideas.

Keep it positive

While the risks and challenges relating to your proposal are important points to include in your wider document, it’s best to limit the executive summary to the plus points. This way your reader won’t be put off before you've had a chance to explain all the positives.

Executive summary template

Keeping the above points in mind, you can write an effective executive summary by following this six-point plan.

Paragraph 1: your business

This is your chance to tell your reader about your business, including its name and what it offers. You should include any insights into your industry that back up the aim of your document.

Paragraph 2: what sets you apart

You can then go on to talk about your target market and competition. Tell your reader about the problem your idea will solve. Explain what your competitors do and what sets your business apart from them.

Paragraph 3: how you'll market your ideas

You can then move on to describe the two or three main ways you’ll market your idea to your target audience to pique your reader’s interest. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to delve into your marketing strategy in more detail later on in your document.

Paragraph 4: how you'll operate

Next, describe where and how you’ll operate for this project. This includes a description of your business structure and where you carry out your business activities.

Paragraph 5: your projections

Your reader will want to see how successful your project is likely to be. Show them using sales projections for one and two years into the future. Explain how you’ll know when you’ve broken even and when you expect to turn a profit.

Paragraph 6: the money you'll need

This is the place to talk about any money you’re asking for – how much do you need to get your project off the ground? Make sure any number you include here tallies with your calculations in paragraph 5.

Do you have other tips for writing an executive summary? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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