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Guide To Writing An Effective Executive Summary

executive summary example

In condensing larger reports (whether quarterly or annual) an executive summary does exactly what it says on the tin. As an addendum to a broader document, the summary briefly outlines the information presented. 

An executive summary is more intricate than a cut-and-dry list, but it does serve as a snapshot of the larger document’s contents. Crafting an eye-catching and interesting summary is the key to a great first impression.

This is the first item on the agenda when presenting your project or idea, and will detail the contents of the showcase to follow.

Read on for a breakdown of how you can go about drafting the most versatile and well-formatted executive summary you can.

What Exactly Is an Executive Summary?

The executive summary is a short form list of the contents of a larger presentation. It breaks down a business plan to its key elements, presenting them in easily digestible chunks to potential clients and business partners. This can include critical talking points like data analytics, financial plans or even a general description of your company and strategies.

You could almost think of the executive summary as the cover letter for your business. Often combined with pitch decks (a presentation detailing products, services and goals) the summary must include relevant information on the functions and form of your company, a short and sweet analysis of the proceeding contents and the strategies you will employ to combat the proposal or need your company will fulfil, and a final statement.

This is not dissimilar to – but fundamentally different from – an abstract, which is a simple overview more frequently seen in academic circles. These summaries justify research and frame an academic proposal rather than detailing the inner workings as an executive summary does.

A summary, critically, will be shaped by the documentation to which it is attached, which could be anything from a project proposal to a pitch deck or research case. It can be easier said than done to completely condense the various strategies, projects and investments all under one banner, and it’s important to remember that the executive summary.

It’s crucial while making sure it summarises the contents succinctly and effectively, that you also tailor this document to the stakeholders and clients who will be in the room.

Length of Executive Summary

Several sources, from training course surveys to the mandates of professional speakers in the business world, agree that the consensus on an executive summary’s length is around 5-10% of the accompanying document’s full length.

Use Appropriate Language

As mentioned, tailoring the summary to the target audience is essential. Are your clients potential stakeholders with a limited understanding of the technical terms related to your business? Or will the presentation be attended by experts in their field? The terminology you employ will depend on the audience’s knowledge, from layman to professional.

This can mean several aspects to consider. Word choice and vocabulary will vary, but so will the content. Focus on the wrong data or aspect of the company and the summary will not reflect the key elements you want to quickly and precisely draw attention to.

Brief Introduction

It’s often said that if a book doesn’t hook you in the first few lines, it fails as an opening. The exact same can be said for business summaries.

Employ an icebreaker if necessary, but be sure to keep it appropriate and on-topic (a hard balance to strike, but greatly effective if you can pull it off with aplomb). Regardless, your first words are the most important and will either draw the attention of everyone or alienate and bore them.

Interweave this introduction with a basic outline of your skills and workforce, along with what sets your key principles apart from the competition. Include contact information such as email and links to your social profiles or portfolios, and tie this together with why your skill set and expertise make you the perfect fit to deliver this proposal.

Important Details

It can be tempting to try to impress the reader with intriguing ideas and new strategies, but unless these relate to the topics at hand, it could set unrealistic expectations that will hurt your presentation going forward.

See a need, fill a need – identifying the problem your business will solve is key to moving on with the presentation and setting yourself up to suggest a solution that will impress investors and clients, demonstrating the problem before presenting the answer.

What sets your company apart from the others which will be presenting similar reports?

Detail the answer in your executive summary. This is the place to immediately put yourself ahead of the pack with an intricate response plan with evidence to support it. Is your proven track record exemplary? Based on customer satisfaction and performance, prove that your company is distinct and the most worthy choice while demonstrating why this methodology is the right fit for the clients and investors you’re presenting to.

What Should An Executive Summary Contain?

Make sure you’re not deviating from the content which will follow the summary. Set reasonable expectations while you wow potential stakeholders. Let’s look at some examples of executive summaries to find out how you can strike that delicate balance.

How To Write A Business Plan Executive Summary

As executive summaries appear at the start of the process of involving investors and stakeholders, a lot is riding on them. It’s your responsibility to effectively break down the methodology and objectives of your business to pitch your service or products to potential investors.

The following are the most often utilised business plan sections:

  • Business description
  • Goods and Services
  • The SWOT Analysis
  • Market Research
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Financial Management
  • Request for Funding

If you’re breaking down the components of a particular plan or project with the help of an executive summary, there are a few key elements to consider.

How To Write A Project Proposal Executive Summary

Remember, your executive summary will be investors’ first exposure to the cornerstones of your business strategy and company outlook.

  • Introduction: What is your project’s goal?
  • Company description: Explain why you’re the best team for the job.
  • Need/Problem: What is the problem that it is attempting to solve?
  • One-of-a-kind Solution: What is your value proposition and what are your project’s primary selling points?
  • Evidence: Evidence, research, and feasibility studies that demonstrate how your organisation can solve the problem.
  • Resources: Describe the resources required for the project.
  • Return on Investment/Funding Request: Describe the profitability of your idea and what the investors stand to gain.
  • Market/Competition Analysis: What is your intended market? What are your rivals’ names? What sets your company apart from the competition?
  • Marketing Plan: Create a marketing plan that outlines your company’s marketing strategy, sales strategies, and collaboration plans.
  • Budget/Financial Planning: What is your budget baseline for your project plan?
  • Timeline: What is the projected completion date for the project?
  • Team: Who are the members of the project team, and why are they qualified?
  • Conclusions

So, put all of that material together and you should have a noteworthy executive summary.

Keep in mind that the order or content of your summary may vary depending on the audience or the reason for your proposal, but these fundamental points will be the backbone of any successful executive summary.

Just to recap what you need to include:

  • Introduction, be sure to know your audience
  • A bulleted list serves as the table of contents.
  • Explain the company’s role and identify strengths
  • Explain the need, or the problem, and its importance
  • Recommend a solution and explain its value
  • Justify said solution by explaining how it fits the organization
  • A strong conclusion that once more wraps up the importance of the project

What to Do After Writing an Executive Summary

The drafting process will be a great opportunity to get your ideas down on paper and start to shape the content and direction of your executive summary. As with all drafts, this can be rough; everything can be finalised later, but this is the stage to experiment with how you present your data and business model.

Once you’ve found a formula which fits, you could try a trial run-through or mock presentation. If the main talking points seem to have been fulfilled and the focus matches the client or partner you will be addressing, you can move forward to the editing process.

Proofread for Style & Grammar

Now you can really nail down the prose. This is a summary and will be read through quickly to gain a quick and efficient understanding of your project proposal, but it won’t be glossed over. Any repeated information and borrowed phrases will be an immediate red flag, viewed as an indication of the quality investors can expect from the rest of your business plan.

It can be hard to judge the tone of your writing, but a surefire way to hit all bases is by balancing the formal data and information about your business with a warm and natural style. Depending on the audience, a more formal tone could either present you as appropriately learned and knowledgeable, or as a stuffy and conservative business partner. Judge the mindset of your investors and clients, focusing on a laid-back or formal measure accordingly.

Finally, the proofreading can begin. This can even mean employing or contracting a copy editor or professional proofreader to ensure they catch any glaring errors you might have missed.

Grammatical or spelling mistakes at this stage, in the document which will act as the launchpad for your presentation, could spell disaster if it is seen to reflect a lack of quality in the finer points of your business plan. A keen eye for detail won’t go unnoticed by potential stakeholders, and will demonstrate an appropriate level of expertise and care.

Summary

Everything we’ve detailed in this article shows just how hard it can be to write an effective executive summary, despite the many strategies for doing so. There are several factors to consider and assess against one another.

How formal your language and tone should be must also be evaluated alongside the complexity of the project, while at the same time making sure you’re not just repeating everything the clients are about to read.

A good litmus test of an effective executive summary is whether it truly does summarise your business or proposal. Some busy investors will only have time to read the summary itself; if yours truly encapsulates your company’s methods and ideas well, with appropriate data to back it up and a stand-out presentation, the reader will be drawn in to consider the rest of the document’s contents.

Executive summaries often represent the make-or-break of a business proposal or project plan. The pitfalls are many: the failure to effectively outline your goals, misjudgement of the appropriate tone for your target audience, or the temptation to get bogged down in too much detail and defeat the point summary are all common slip-ups.

Avoid these and follow the outline we’ve presented, and your clients will be provided with the information they need most concise and intriguing way possible.

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