Executive Summary Tips

December 17, 2011 in Entrepreneurship, Financing, General, Starting up by Nicolas Rouhana

An Executive Summary is like a “sales pitch” of your idea or project that should wet enough appetite to attract interest to learn more, pretty much like a trailer does to a movie. So not getting your Executive Summary right could lead to your message not going through and hence to missed opportunities. This post gathers general instructions for coming up with a successful Executive Summary, and contains also a downloadable written example at the end.

  • Less is more: An executive summary should be short, typically 2-4 pages. Remember what they say in the business world: the Executive Summary is the first thing, and most probably the only thing, read by an investor in a business plan !
  • Write it last: If an executive summary is prepared to help solicit investments, it is important to realize the very few investors decide to invest purely based on the executive summary. More often, the goal of executive summary is to whet the appetite of the potential investor and set the stage to a meeting. Thus, it is not important to try and summarize every aspect of the business in the executive summary.
  • Tell a good-enough story: Even though the exec summary is short, it is prudent to assume it will be read quickly. Imagine someone skimming it the following way: reading the entire first paragraph and then reading the first sentence of every paragraph.
  • The first paragraph is particularly important, as it may determine whether the rest of the document actually gets read. A good way to think about the first paragraph is to make sure it covers the “elevator pitch” components in Geoffry Moore’s ‘Crossing the Chasm’ book, though it does not necessarily need to cover them in this order:
    • For … (target customers)
    • who are dissatisfied with … (the current market alternative)
    • our product is a … (new product category)
    • that provides … (key problem-solving capability).
    • unlike … (the product alternative),
    • our product … (describe the key product features).
  • Make it look professional. Typos, grammar mistakes, badly-formatted areas are all inexcusable. Keep sentences clear and fairly short. It sometimes pays to have the exec summary professionally laid-out after you are 100% comfortable with the text.
  • Pictures can help in getting points across. Examples could be: customer logos, a product photo, a photo of an award the company won.
  • Avoid superlatives or wishful-thinking statements. Saying “we will provide superb customer service” may be true, but many companies want to do this, so skip it unless this is a critical part of the business.
  • Make sure the exec summary answers the basic “who, what, why and how” questions:
    • Who is on the team?
    • What do you sell and to whom?
    • Why do (or why will) your customers buy your products or services?
    • How much money is required and where does it get you?

    An example exec summary can be downloaded at ETC sample exec summary.