Your executive summary is the doorway to your business plan—this is the time to grab your reader’s attention and let them know what it is you do and why they should read the rest of your business plan or proposal. We’ll show you how to write an executive summary that sets your business plan apart from the stack.
Your executive summary is your pitch. You’ve heard of—and probably even given—an “elevator pitch”; write your business plan’s executive summary like it’s an elevator pitch that you’ve had the time to edit to perfection. It should introduce you, your business, and your product, but the purpose of writing an executive summary is also to deliver a hard sell. Convince your reader here that you have a great idea they should invest their time and money in.
Write it last. Even though the executive summary is at the beginning of a finished business plan, many experienced entrepreneurs (including me) choose to write the executive summary after they’ve written everything else. Ideally the executive summary is short—just a page or two—and highlights the points you’ve made elsewhere in your business plan, so if you save it for the end, it will be quick and easy.
In a standard business plan with a standard executive summary, the first paragraph of your executive summary should generally include your business’s name, its location, what product or service you sell, and the purpose of your plan.
Basically, the first paragraph is an introduction to what you—and your business plan—are all about. Another paragraph should highlight important points, such as projected sales and profits, unit sales, profitability, and keys to success. Include the news you don’t want anyone to miss. This is a good place to put a highlights chart—a bar chart that shows sales, gross margin and profits (before interest and taxes) for the next three years. You should also cite and explain those numbers in the text.
If you’re looking for investment or a loan, say so in your executive summary. Specify the amount required, and in the case of an investment, specify the percent of equity ownership offered in return (leave loan details out of the executive summary).
And if you’re shopping around for capital, your executive summary should be persuasive. Make your prospective investor want to keep reading; convince them to invest in your new business idea.
For an internal plan, operations plan, or strategic plan
An internal plan—such as an annual operations plan or a strategic plan—doesn’t have to be as formal with its executive summary. Make the purpose of the plan clear, and make sure the highlights are covered, but you don’t necessarily need to repeat the business location, your product or service description, your team’s biographies or other details.
Every business plan begins with an executive summary. Take advantage of Bplans’ more than 500 examples of good business plans—all available online for free—to search for the sample plan that best fits your business’s profile, and then use that plan’s free example executive summary as a guide to help you through the process of writing your own.
- Never waste words in an executive summary. Experts differ on how long an executive summary should be—some insist that it takes just a page or two, others recommend a more detailed summary, taking as much as ten pages, covering enough information to substitute for the plan itself—but although 50+ page business plans used to be common, investors and lenders these days expect a concise, focused plan.
- The best length for an executive summary is a single page. Emphasize the main points of your plan and keep it brief. You are luring your readers in to read more of the plan, not explaining every detail of your business. A helpful exercise in writing concisely is to try to make every point you want to make—such as the seven key elements of a pitch—in three sentences or fewer.
- Don’t confuse an executive summary with the summary memo. The executive summary is the first chapter in a business plan. The summary memo is a separate document, normally only five to 10 pages at most, which is used to substitute for the business plan with people who aren’t ready to see the whole plan yet.
The standard executive summary format is about a page of writing, followed by easy-to-skim subsections that highlight your main points. These subsections are usually your financial chart—a bar chart that shows sales, gross margin and profits (before interest and taxes) for the next three years—followed by your main objectives (a numbered or bulleted list is best), your mission statement and your keys to success (i.e., what makes your business stand out from your competitors).
Don’t make common mistakes. I’ve seen thousands of business plans, good and bad, and I can tell you that avoiding these common business planning errors will put you far ahead of the curve.
More business planning resources
Sample business plans: Over 500 free sample business plans from various industries.
Business plan template: This fill-in-the-blank business plan template is in the format preferred by banks and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
How to start a business: An easy-to-follow six-step process for starting a new business.
LivePlan: Easy, cloud-based business planning software for everyone. This online software includes expert advice, built-in help, and more than 500 complete sample business plans.