All you need to know about writing persuasive and informative executive summaries in one place. Read more for actionable tips and sample executive summaries for different use cases.
6 minute read
An executive summary is a short section at the beginning of another document, usually a business plan, proposal, or report. As the name suggests, the executive summary summarizes the rest of the document. Its purpose is to inform readers about all the key points of your document without making them read it in full.
Typically, an executive summary consists of the statement of the problem, background information, proposed solutions, abbreviated analysis, and main conclusions.
An executive summary is a very important document for your business. It’s the first part of your proposal or business plan that will get read. If it doesn’t convince the stakeholders that reading the whole thing is worth their time, you can kiss that deal or investment goodbye.
If you’re creating your summary for a business proposal, read our in-depth guide to writing every part of a deal-landing business proposal here: How to Write a Killer Business Proposal.
In this article, you’ll find tips for creating an executive summary that gets the attention your company deserves, plus sample executive summaries for different scenarios and use cases.
But first, think about this—
What you say matters just as much as how you say it. If your business plan or proposal is a plain, boring PDF, investors and customers will forget it in a matter of minutes.
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Executive summaries are aimed at executives. And they are a busy bunch. Most likely, they don’t have the time to read a 100-pages-long project overview or a detailed financial analysis. They need a shortened version to help them understand the most important issues and decide whether or not to do business with you.
And this is exactly what you should have in mind when writing the summary: imagine it’s the only part of your whole document that will get read. Make it compelling and comprehensive enough to let people make a decision based solely on it.
Of course, every executive summary is different and there are many factors that determine its ideal shape. For reference, you can refer to these two (very general) examples of executive summaries for two most common use cases.
Note that these examples are for fictional businesses and have been abbreviated for better readability. You can’t just copy and paste a sample executive summary or base yours fully on a template.
A vast majority of mass produced dog food is a product of highly-processed food waste which has not been used in the production of food for human consumption. Dry or canned dog food is filled with unidentifiable chemicals such as preservatives, gelling agents, or other food fillers. Because of a poor diet, many of our four-legged friends suffer from various health complications.
At Dog’s Buffet, we believe dogs deserve better. We know that proper nutrition is key to overall health so we decided to challenge the status quo. In cooperation with top veterinary dieticians in the UK, we developed dog meals containing the proper mixture of all the necessary nutrients. We produce our food from fresh ingredients with no artificial additives.
We provide dog food to our customers in a subscription model. Every two weeks, they get a new pack from us containing all the food
Our surveys found that 83% of dog owners would like to feed their pets with meals cooked from fresh ingredients yet only 12% do. When asked why, most people (71%) pointed at their lack of time to cook for their furry friends by themselves. Only 7% of our respondents said they knew about companies providing freshly-cooked dog food. 64% of all dog owners said they would be interested in subscribing to our program at a price of 2.50 GBP per meal.
Based on the pricing point of 2.50 GBP per single meal and our production capacity, our sales projections for the upcoming year are at 170,000 GBP. Our projected annual growth rate is at 80% for the first three years.
This proposal outlines a detailed plan of action aimed at maximizing the profits of XYZ Real Estate by boosting your social media presence with the strongest focus on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Our market research has shown that between 20% and 25% of leads in real estate in your area come from unpaid (organic) social media marketing efforts. Improving your visibility on two of the key platforms for real estate—LinkedIn and Facebook—will result in an increase of new monthly leads of around 15% in the first three months, boosting your monthly revenue by an estimated $220,000.
XYZ Real Estate is lagging behind its key competitors in social media engagement metrics: reactions, clicks, comments, and shares, despite having a similar number of relevant followers. This is mostly due to the irregularity of your updates resulting in penalization of your content by automated algorithms, as well as the lack of appropriate visuals. Improving your posting schedule and creating professionally shot images of your properties will result in a dramatic increase of audience engagement and, as a consequence, viewings of your offer.
There’s no one template for executive summaries you can just copy and fill out. Depending on what your key selling points are, you’ll need to structure each of your executive summaries differently (much like you’d create different versions of project proposals, case studies, or business reports for different audiences).
The main (common) elements of a good executive summary are the following:
Your company’s description. Depending on the case, it could be focused on your history, vision, or mission statement. Think of this part as a semi-formal introduction or an answer to the “so… what do you do” question.
Problem statement. Identify the problem your customer is facing or an overall issue on the market. Explain what makes this problem important and why it’s crucial to fix it.
Your solutions. Once you’ve agitated your reader, time to offer a solution. When writing to a particular customer, make sure to offer a solution 100% tailored to their situation. Make them realize that if they don’t do business with you, their world will burn. If they do, in turn, not only will it not burn but be turned into an ever-blossoming utopia.
Description of your products or services. A more technical explanation of what you do, and how it solves the overall problem. This is a place to talk more about your methodology, timelines, and expected milestones.
Your achievements and social proof. Any milestones that legitimize your business’ success: revenue growth, customer satisfaction, testimonials, awards, or other signs of recognition.
Financial overview. If it’s a business plan, map out how much money you’ll need and what you’re planning to spend it on. If you’re writing a summary for a proposal, explain your pricing here and tell them how much working with you will cost.
Next steps. No matter what the ideal outcome is from your perspective, make the next steps obvious for your reader, whether it’s booking a demo, an in-person meeting with you, signing a deal, or offering you financing.
For the (almost) final word—
If I could only tell you one thing about writing executive summaries it would be this: there’s no single winning approach to writing those.
Every time you sit down to write an executive summary, you have to reinvent the wheel and make it 100% tailored to that one customer, that one investor, or that one board member.
That said… There are some general tips you should always have at the back of your mind.
Personalize, personalize, personalize.
Write it last.
Avoid cliche phrases.
Use the right language.
Keep it as short as possible (but not shorter).
Thanks for reading my executive summary 101. I hope it helped straighten out any doubts or questions you might have had. Good luck writing yours!
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