Executive Summary

A business plan’s executive summary section provides a round-up of the main points of your business plan. Although the summary will appear at the top of the final printed piece, the majority of business plan developers do not write the executive summary until the last moment. The summary forms the gateway to the remainder of the plan. If you do not write it well, your target audience will not read beyond the executive summary.

What should be included in an executive summary?

When a regular business plan is being written, the following should usually be incorporated into the opening paragraph of the executive summary:

• The name of the business
• The location of the business
• The service or product being offered
• The aim of the plan

A further paragraph should underline significant points, for example projected profits and sales, profitability, unit sales, and keys to success. Give the details you need everyone to notice. This is also a sensible point at which to include a highlights chart, a bar chart depicting gross margin, profits before taxes and interest, and sales for the three years to come. These numbers must be explained and cited in the text.

Different summaries are required for different plans

Internal plans, for example annual or strategic plans, or operations plans, do not need such formal executive summaries. With such a plan, make its purpose obvious, and be certain that all the highlights are mentioned, but other details – such as the description of your service or product, and location – may not need to be repeated.

Be concise with your summary

If investment is what you are seeking, mention this in your executive summary, specifying the amount of investment required and the level of equity ownership that will be provided in return. It is also a good idea to include some highlights regarding your competitive advantage and your management team.

If it is a loan that you are looking for, say so in the executive summary, specifying the sum required. Do not include details of the loan.

What is the right length for an executive summary?

There are differing views from experts about the ideal length of an executive summary. Some recommend taking only one or two pages, while others suggest a more in-depth approach, with the summary lasting for anything up to ten pages and including sufficient information to be used instead of the full plan. Although it was once common to write business plans of 50 or more pages, today’s lenders and investors expect a more focused, concise plan.

A single page is the perfect length for an executive summary. Keep everything brief, emphasizing the major aspects of your plan. You are not trying to explain every last detail, simply piquing your readers’ interest about the rest of the plan and encouraging them to read further.

Be careful not to confuse a summary memo with an executive summary. The executive summary is the opening section of a business plan, while a summary memo is a distinct publication, usually running to no more than five or ten pages; this is intended as a substitute for the full plan for the benefit of those who are not yet in a position to read the full plan.