How to Format an Executive Summary

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An executive summary is typically the first section of a business plan, report or project, and serves to summarize all of the content in the project, highlighting the key points. Once you have determined what is the most essential information in your business plan or report, you must format that information in a clear, concise way. The end result should be an executive summary that serves as an introduction to your report, but that can also stand on its own as an overview.

Like executive golf courses, which are shorter and take less time to play than traditional courses, an executive summary is the shortened form of the long report you've written. That doesn't mean it's any less important, however. To be most effective, it should follow a specific executive summary format. Your executive summary will be read by people who don't have a lot of available time. It needs to grab their attention and hold it through all the vital points you want them to know and, when they're done, be excited to hear more.

The Executive Summary Definition

An executive summary is the mini version of any important document you write. As such, it should touch on everything in your report. Like your main, larger document, the executive summary is formal because it accompanies formal reports. It should be written in the third person as if someone is telling others about your business. In just one-to-three pages, it needs to explain what your business does, who its target market is and how your business is superior to other businesses of its kind.

However, an executive summary should not be too sales-oriented. It's not a marketing piece. Keep the tone informational, but don't exaggerate the facts. The executive summary should be able to stand on its own so that, after reading it, the reader will have a complete, though shortened, picture of your business and the purpose of the report.

When to Use an Executive Summary

Writing an executive summary for any formal report is a smart strategy for getting your long report ultimately read. That doesn’t mean you always need one, however. You may spend days working on a budget, which, of course, is important and could be considered formal. But you don’t need an executive summary to accompany it. Executive summaries are for complex, lengthy documents that people might not read entirely.

Reports that are written to attract investors, obtain loans or encourage partnerships are often lengthy. Before any individual, bank or venture capitalist will agree to invest or partner with you, they’ll want to know everything about your business. That requires a lengthy document from you. But they don’t have time to read every long report that crosses their desk.

They will scan the executive summary, though. If it looks interesting and is easy to comprehend, they will read the whole summary. After reading it, they should have a complete snapshot of your business, your goals and what you’re asking of them. Then, they may look at the pages of the report itself for the fuller version of whatever caught their interest.

Executive Summary Template

The executive summary should follow the order of your larger report. That format makes it easy for readers to find the information they’re interested in learning more about. A sample executive summary template to follow is:

Purpose of the report: This can be one sentence or a short paragraph.

Company description: Full company name, the purpose of the company, brief history (i.e. Founded in 2017 to…) and what the business is known for.

Target market: Who uses your products or services now, and who do you want to use them in the future.

Organization of the company: Brief description of C-level and other team members integral to this report.

Description of products or services: Brief outline of product lines or service categories. Highlight the major, well-known or most profitable products or services. Describe new products or ideas you want to introduce if that’s a goal or a reason for requesting financing.

Marketing efforts: Summary of how you have been marketing the company, including all avenues such as advertising, PR, events and sales team. What you want to change or enhance.

Problems/solutions: Overview of problems encountered, solutions so far and proposed solutions after funding.

Financial snapshot: Description of your current financial situation and projections of future with funding, anticipated growth and long-term goals.

Wrap-Up: Summarize, in a few sentences, the conclusions from the report.

Obtain Outside Opinions

Ask other business people, whose opinions you value, to proofread your executive summary for grammar, typos, other errors and overall clarity. Ask for any advice they have to make it better. Keep an open mind and don’t take advice or criticisms personally.

Modifying for Specific Purposes

Consider having slightly different versions of the executive summary for different purposes. For investors, focus on why it would be worthwhile to invest in your company. For loans, talk more about what you’ve accomplished with past loans and your creditworthiness. For potential partners, note what the two of you can accomplish together.

References

About the Author

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. She has written on business topics for afkinsider.com, smallbusiness.chron.com, Harbor Style Magazine, the Charlotte Sun and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards in B2B and B2C marketing.

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