An executive summary is a short, sharp snapshot of the key points contained in a document. It reflects the content of your detailed business plan and makes it easier for the reader to gain a good understanding of what the rest of the document will cover.
In order to prepare an effective executive summary, you will first need to write your business plan. And whilst there are many ways you can go about doing that, such as using software, writing it from scratch or using a business planning template, you will need to keep one key point at the top of your mind during the process – who the reader is. Without readily knowing who will be reading your plan, and basing decisions on what you include, then your document and executive summary may be quite confusing.
To help get this clarity up front, think about the purpose for writing your business plan. Is it for a banker or investor to review and consider loaning you money for your business? Is it for your staff so that they have a clear understanding of what the business will do in the next 1-3 years? Or is it for you, helping to shape your ideas and strategies for business establishment and growth?
Even though your plan should be applicable for all three types of readers, once you have determined who the audience is then you can shape your executive summary to highlight those areas of the plan that matter most to the reader.
For example, if your reader is a banker who you are asking for a loan, then they will want to know that the plan outlines the ways in which the business will make a profit and how you have come to your conclusions (such as market research and testing). They will also want to know how well you have captured the current and planned expenses of the business, and the projected income from the products/services you intend to sell. Including a budget in your plan will also help show the details of your financial projections which you can then refer to in your summary.
The bottom line is that an executive summary is a top-level outline of what the rest of the document is about. A good summary will mean that someone can read it and get a reasonable understanding of what you want to communicate, and then choose to dig into the plan for the areas that most interest them.
It needs to be engaging, succinct and to the point. No rambling sentences and repetition. Keep it short and sharp. As long as it communicates the essence of the plan, then it will be fine. It may help to structure your executive summary before you write it. Think about the major aspects of your plan and structure the summary in a way that each points leads to the next and builds a good understanding in the mind of the reader. You may also want to try explaining to someone what the plan is about and ask that person to write notes as you talk. Then, you can use these notes as the basis of your summary.
Your executive summary in the business plan will not be as long as the rest of the document, but it is probably the most important aspect of the entire plan. Without a good, clear and direct summary, your reader won’t get past the second page.