Writing an executive summary can be daunting—while typically found at the beginning of a business plan, they’re actually the section you should write last.
This is because an executive summary is essentially an introduction to everything that follows in the remaining 10, 20, or 30-plus pages of the business plan.
Depending on how well the executive summary is written and received, the readers will either be excited to know more and continue on with the plan, or lose interest and stop reading entirely.
In this way, an executive summary is more than just an overview.
It’s the first step in effectively selling a business or concept to your intended audience.
This post will help you write the best executive summary possible by breaking down all the included parts and giving an example that can guide you through the writing process.
Parts of an Executive Summary
There are three main parts to an executive summary — the introduction, the body, and the financial projections and requirements (basically, the reason why you wrote the business plan).
The following sections first describe the purpose of each part and then provide an example, using a fictional bakery startup called Nosh.
The first few paragraphs should provide a quick introduction to your business, what it does, and any future plans and developments.
Don’t try to include everything — this is a high-level section for readers to immediately know if the business plan or project is one that they would be interested to invest in.
Founded in 2017, Nosh, LLC, has been offering its specialty selection of gluten-free, vegan baked goods during weekend markets and through its social media accounts.
It has since generated $250,000 in gross sales each year and is currently seeking financing of $75,000 to further grow its business and establish a fixed, standing coffee shop and bakery.
Nosh is currently run by its founder, seasoned baker Justin Lang, and a management team of three other employees.
After the introduction, the executive summary moves on to the body, where it shares details of its business, services, market, and finances.
This is your chance to share important information about your company in a few concise paragraphs.
Make sure to include everything from the company name, legal structure, location, and stakeholders to the target market, competition, and of course, main products and services.
At the end of this section, readers should know exactly what the potential investment is for and who (whether the founders or shareholders) they will be investing with.
Business Description Example
Nosh, LLC, is a small business that provides baked goods.
It’s registered and headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.
Nosh was founded by Justin Lang, a formally trained baker who’s been active in the industry for over a decade.
His professional experience includes working in bakeries around the globe, from Boulangerie Utopie in Paris to Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco.
Justin has spent the last three years building Nosh into a beloved market stall that consistently sells out every weekend.
Business Services Example
Nosh’s customers are those who enjoy its vast selection of gluten-free, vegan baked goods, either for health reasons or personal preferences.
Every item is baked fresh daily and focuses on local, seasonal ingredients.
Currently, its product selection includes:
Target Market Example
Vegan and gluten-free eating is reaching an all-time high, not just for those with allergies or health concerns.
These specialty products have grown from niche spaces in select health food stores to a wide presence in every grocery and food establishment.
The latest market research shows that more than 65% of people have purchased a vegan or gluten-free baked product, and about 45% do so on a consistent basis.
Competitive Advantage Example
Nosh is aware that the market for vegan and gluten-free food is highly competitive.
In the weekend market space, its main competitors are Toasted Oven and Sweet and Spice.
As a way to stand out in the market, Nosh intends to focus on specialty baked goods that make use of seasonal, local ingredients.
These will not only provide a consistent rotation of products to keep customers coming back, but also open opportunities to collaborate with other local, like-minded brands.
This is the final section of your executive summary where you’ll tie your company details and target market in with the essential financials.
Present your financial forecasts, assumptions, key findings, and all the past data that supports these figures.
Of course, do what you can to show that your company is profitable and your cash flow is positive.
And finally, present your funding requirements and explain how you intend to use this investment to help grow your company.
(If you need further help with the financial section of your business plan, this is a good source to get you started.)
Financial Projections Example
Based on Nosh’s previous sales and consistently growing customer base, the company projects to increase its sales by 15% each year for the next three years.
At this rate, assuming that food and operation costs remain consistent, Nosh plans to open a fixed, standing coffee shop and bakery by its fifth year of business.
It plans to hire two more employees to help facilitate operations, as well as contract an independent sales and marketing manager to help launch a marketing plan and campaign.
Financing Requirements Example
Nosh is currently seeking an investment of $75,000 to further grow its business, engage in product development, and establish a fixed, standing coffee shop and bakery.
The investment will go toward rent, equipment, hiring of employees, and furthering its online and ecommerce presence.
Tips for Writing an Effective Executive Summary
Now you know what important elements go into an executive summary template.
But before you go about writing one for your own business plan, here are a few main points to keep in mind.
Write With Your Reader in Mind
Put yourself in the shoes of an investor or creditor — their time is likely very precious.
Why would they want to read through a thick stack of pages?
This is the question you should focus on answering in your executive summary.
Be sure to emphasize the key points that will catch the reader’s attention and keep them holding on to your business plan.
Be Mindful of Length
The general rule of thumb is to keep an executive summary at about 5-10% of the entire business plan.
To put this in page numbers, an executive summary should be one page for a 10-page plan, two pages for a 20-page plan, and three pages for a 30-page plan — three pages should be the maximum number, even if your full business plan goes longer.
Keep It Short and Concise
All the content itself — sentences, paragraphs, and sections — should be short and to the point.
Once you’re done writing your executive summary, read it over a few times, break down any long sentences into shorter ones, and divide chunkier text into smaller paragraphs.
Include the Right Amount of Information
It can be hard to know if your executive summary contains too little or too much information.
And honestly, going into a lot of detail can be a slippery slope when trying to prove that your company is worth investing in.
However, if you stick to the recommended section length and have a friend or colleague (someone not in the business is best) read through the section, this should be enough to keep the section in check.
Make Sure Your Executive Summary Can Stand Alone
Think of the executive summary as a condensed version of your business plan.
It should be able to stand alone and be easily understood, even when separated from the rest of the document.
The goal is to make the introductory section an easy read.
If you reference any data or figures, make sure to include them in the actual section as well.
To Sum Things Up
No matter what industry you’re in, a strong executive summary is important to any business plan.
It not only encompasses the essence of what your company does, it also helps you, as a founder, consider things from an outside perspective and see your business from a place of growth.
Use this article as a guide for writing your own executive summary — one that effectively introduces your business and leaves readers eager to learn more.