Business Plans - Writing the Executive Summary

Writing the Executive Summary

Businesspeople using digital tablet together
••• Morsa Images / Getty Images

The Executive Summary area that's included in formal business plans, is a high-level overview of the business plan document that includes a summary of information about:

  • The history of the business
  • The objectives of the business
  • The products or services the business offers
  • An overview of the market for those products or services
  • The competitive advantage enjoyed by the business that makes it likely to succeed against its competitors
  • Projected growth
  • The key members of the business
  • Funding requirements for the business

The end of the Executive Summary section should be a few convincing sentences on why the business is a winning idea and why it is bound to be successful.

Where Executive Summaries are Placed in Business Plans

A business plan's Executive Summary should be the first thing in the business plan, after the Table of Contents (although some writers of business plans place the Executive Summary before the Table of Contents). Although the Executive Summary comes first in business plans, it's important that it be written last - after all, the supporting information has been developed. It's next to impossible to effectively summarize business plans when you're not really sure what they contain.

Additionally, business plan writers often make several important discoveries as business plans are being written. That's why the Executive Summary should be written last. It's difficult to summarize anything if you don't know for certain what you are summarizing.

Why Is It Called the Executive Summary?

Executive summaries are present in many formal documents. They are known as executive summaries because the section is supposed to provide a high-level view of what's contained in the document, under the theory that busy executives don't have time for all the details, but if something strikes their curiosity while they are reading the summary, they know they can get more information by reading the corresponding section of the document that contains the details, without taking the time to read the entire document.

Keep the Executive Summary Polished

Using a few sentences from each section in your business plan is often a good way to build your executive summary. However, keep in mind that this one section may be the most important section in the document when it comes to high-level decision makers deciding to invest in your business. It also acts as an enticement to learn more about the details contained in the business plan.

Strive to keep the executive summary brief and to the point. You'll probably want to re-write this section several times to get it just right. It should be highly polished, professional and to the point. It can be a good idea when writing executive summaries of business plans to have the section reviewed by someone else. Can they understand what the document is about and why the business is a winner? Such feedback can be invaluable.

What Other Purposes Does the Executive Summary Serve in Business Plans?

An Executive Summary can also be helpful for anyone who reads a business plan and then needs to come back to the business plan later. At a glance, the Executive Summary can help jar the memory of someone who may be responsible for the business plans of multiple businesses.

How Long Should a Business Plan's Executive Summary Be?

Executive summaries for business plans should be no more than two pages, and ideally, one page. In essence, it should be no longer than absolutely necessary to get the point across and should either be able to stand alone in getting you the necessary funding for your business or compel the reader that the business is so promising it's worth taking the time to find out more.