When it comes to writing your business plan nothing is more important than your Executive Summary. The Exec. Summary is the lead-in. It’s where you introduce the lion’s share of your idea for investors and management. In short, your Executive Summary is your chance to make a good first impression and since first impressions never happen twice, putting your best foot forward is the only way to go. In that vein, here are a few pointers to help craft that excellent and fleeting first impression.
Brevity is your ally. If you have the option of expressing your point in 10 words when 2 will do, then use 2. Think of it from the perspective of an investor who reads hundreds of business plans per year and is used to seeing boiler-plate business plans, half written by business plan writing software. I would compare it to a resume. Pitching yourself to an employer can be paralleled to pitching yourself to an investor, keep it under a page and only include the top “selling points” to the business. Exclude superfluous details. If you only need a paragraph, then good for you–most people have difficulty with a two minute elevator pitch.
Brevity not only helps you to get the point across quickly but it can also help you stand out. Because your Executive Summary is somewhat comparable to your elevator pitch, you will knowingly understand that what you say matters. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Winston Churchill’s address to the Harrow School are two examples of short speeches that drove home the point. Be brief.
Focus on Clarity
Be direct, be clear. Clarity is altogether different than brevity. Being clear means not having to say the same thing twice. It means driving a point home and explaining your idea to any party that may get its hands on the business plan. If I can put it another way, make your business plan easy enough to understand that a 10 year old girl could read it and “get it” right away. While there is a happy medium where watering things down too much can actually hurt your plan, there are far more plans that get too far into the weeds for the layperson. Don’t leave out main essentials, but save the weeds for page 45 and Appendix C, don’t put it in the Executive Summary.
Clarity is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. I am often reminded of the woman who thought her neighbor’s clothes on the line were dirty when the reality is that her own windows that needed cleaning. Being clear in your Executive Summary often requires outside assistance from multiple people. What you and internal management may think is clear and legible, may be utterly Greek to someone on the outside. Have a wife or a non-technie and non-industry take a look at your summary and give input. If it’s not clear to the layperson, it may not be clear to the finance-minded executives.
Business plans are as diverse as the people and businesses they represent. Before you write the summary, first determine the purpose of your plan, the audience it will target and write accordingly. Your summary will look 180 degrees different if it is written for investors vs. focused on convincing upper-management or other company employees. Know your audience and write accordingly.
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