The executive summary introduces your company, explains what you do, and lays out what you’re looking for from your readers. Structurally, it is the first chapter of your business plan. And while it’s the first thing that people will read, I generally advise that you write it last. Why? Because once you know the details of your business inside and out, you will be better prepared to write your executive summary. After all, this section is a summary of everything else, so start writing the Opportunity section first and come back here last.
Ideally, the executive summary can act as a stand-alone document that covers the highlights of your detailed plan. In fact, it’s very common for investors to ask for only the executive summary when they are evaluating your business. If they like what they see in the executive summary, they’ll often follow up with a request for a complete plan, a pitch presentation, and other data about your business.
Because your executive summary is such a critical component of your business plan, you’ll want to make sure that it’s as clear and concise as possible. Cover the key highlights of your business, but don’t into too much detail. Ideally, your executive summary will be one to two pages at most, designed to be a quick read that sparks interest and makes your investors feel eager to hear more.
The critical components of a winning executive summary:
One sentence business overview
At the top of the page, right under your business name, include a one-sentence overview of your business that sums up the essence of what you are doing.
This can be a tagline, but is often more effective if the sentence describes what your company actually does. This is also known as your value proposition.
Summarize in one or two sentences the problem you are solving in the market. Every business is solving a problem for its customers and filling a need in the market.
This is your product or service. How are you addressing the problem you have identified in the market?
Who is your ideal customer? How many of them are there? It’s important here to be specific.
If you’re a shoe company, you aren’t targeting “everyone” just because everyone has feet. You’re most likely targeting a specific market segment such as “style-conscious men” or “runners.” This will make it much easier for you to target your marketing and sales efforts and attract the kinds of customers that are most likely to buy from you.
How is your target market solving their problem today? Are there alternatives or substitutes in the market?
Every business has some form of competition and it’s critical to provide an overview in your executive summary.
Provide a brief overview of your team and a short explanation of why you and your team are the right people to take your idea to market.
Investors put an enormous amount of weight on the team—even more than on the idea—because even a great idea needs great execution in order to become a reality.
Highlight the key aspects of your financial plan, ideally with a chart that shows your planned sales, expenses, and profitability.
If your business model (i.e., “how you make money”) needs additional explanation, this is where you would do it.
If you are raising money to start or grow your business, you must include the details of what you need in the executive summary.
Don’t bother to include terms of a potential investment, as that will always be negotiated later. Instead, just include a short statement indicating how much money you need to raise to get your business off the ground.
Milestones and traction
The last key element of an executive summary that investors will want to see is the progress that you’ve made so far and future milestones that you intend to hit. If you can show that your potential customers are already interested in—or perhaps already buying—your product or service, this is great to highlight.
Have you already started a business? Please tell us what the hardest part was.
Oliver & Kim