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How to write an executive summary: a simple guide

3-minute read

Woman writing notes with cup of coffee
Lauren Hellicar

Lauren Hellicar

12 October 2021

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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 and free template.

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.

Executive summary examples – and when to write one

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
  • investment proposal

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

Executive summary template

Our article below explains how to write an executive summary. Why not download your free executive summary template, which you can fill in as you read our tips?


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.

Top tip: as an executive summary is an overview of a wider plan or report, it’s common to write it last.

What should be included 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.

Think about your core selling points

At this point it might be helpful to do a SWOT analysis to really dig deep into what makes you stand out as a business. Use bullet points to summarise areas that would capture your audience’s attention, for example:

  • any partnerships
  • your marketing strategy
  • innovative technology
  • customers

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 short and concise

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.

Tailor it to your audience

Think about who’s going to be reading your executive summary and tailor it for them. If it’s part of a client report, for example, you’ll want to give an overview of performance and key wins. Whereas if it’s for a potential investor, you’ll want to highlight how your business is going to succeed and what’s in the opportunity for them.

Top tip: spend time reading and refining your summary as it’ll be the first thing your readers will read.

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How to write an executive summary – a six-point plan

Keeping the above points in mind, you can use the executive summary template below to write an effective document for your business. Each point below can represent one paragraph of your executive summary.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 section 5.

Looking for financial investment for your business?

As we mentioned, an executive summary is useful if you’re looking for financial investment. If you’re not sure what options are available to you, take a look at some of our business finance guides below:

More useful guides for small businesses

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

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Photograph: Lek/
Lauren Hellicar

Written by

Lauren Hellicar

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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