What is an Executive Summary?
An executive summary is the first section of a business plan and is generally considered the most important. Typically 2-4 pages long, the executive summary is often written last, after the entire plan has been finalized. The executive summary then covers the highlights of all the other sections.
The Role of an Executive Summary
In a business plan being used to pursue funding from banks, venture capitalists, or angel investors, an executive summary is designed to intrigue the reader. Its goal is to provide enough information that the reader will want to dig in and read all the specifics within the plan itself.
It is not an introduction. You do not want to write an executive summary that is a lead-in to the plan as a whole. It needs to be more of a highlight reel.
In business plans that are meant more as internal guides, the executive summary is a good place to state objectives and goals.
While there is no set format for a business plan, there are guides to make the task easier. However, there are certain topics that should be addressed in an executive summary, including:
- Business description – Right up front, make it clear what the business does and the types of products and services it offers. Who is the target market? What problem does the company’s offerings address?
- History – After leading with basic information about the company, it’s time for a little history lesson. More detail about when the business was started, by whom, what their backgrounds and roles are, where it is located, and where the business stands now should be shared.
- Achievements – Since this section is meant to focus on highlights, be sure and reveal its revenue growth rate, customer growth rate, and any relevant milestones that speak to the company’s rising success.
- Product or service description – One or two paragraphs of the executive summary should go into more detail regarding the company’s products and/or services, how they serve a need, what their competitive advantage is, and why demand is growing for them.
- Financial overview – If the plan is being used to solicit financing, this section is critical. It should have top line projections as well as a run-down of how much money is needed and how it will be used.
- Future plans – Where is the business headed? What expansion plans exist? What will it look like in 3-5 years? Those should all be addressed in the last paragraph or two of the executive summary.
At the conclusion of an executive summary, the reader should have a good sense of the type of business being described, its level of success so far, and what kind of money is needed for the company to ramp up its growth and expansion.