Sunday, July 27, 2008

Writing an Executive Summary!

By Tim Berry,

The executive summary section of a business plan is a summary of the highlights of your business plan. Even though the topic appears first in the printed document, most business plan developers leave the writing of the executive summary until the end. This summary is the doorway to the rest of the plan. Get it right or your target readers will not go further than the executive summary.

What should an executive summary include?
For a standard business plan, the first paragraph of the executive summary should generally include:

Business name
Business location
What product or service you sell
Purpose of the plan
Another paragraph should highlight important points, such as projected sales and profits, unit sales, profitability and keys to success. Include the news you don’t want anyone to miss. This is a good place to put a highlights chart, a bar chart that shows sales, gross margin, and profits before interest and taxes for the next three years. You should also cite and explain those numbers in the text.

Different plans require different summaries
An internal plan, such as an operations plan, annual plan, or strategic plan, doesn’t have to be as formal with its executive summary. Make the purpose of the plan clear, and make sure the highlights are covered, but you don’t necessarily need to repeat the location, product/service description, or other details.

Never waste words in a summary.

If you’re looking for investment, say so in your executive summary, and specify the investment amount required and the percent of equity ownership offered in return. You should probably also add some highlights of your management team and your competitive edge.

If you’re looking for a loan, say so in the executive summary, and specify the amount required. Leave loan details out of the summary.

How long should an executive summary be?
Experts differ on how long an executive summary should be. Some insist that it takes just a page or two, others recommend a more detailed summary, taking as much as ten pages, covering enough information to substitute for the plan itself. Although 50+ page business plans used to be common, investors and lenders these days expect a concise, focused plan.

The best length for an executive summary is a single page. Emphasize the main points of your plan and keep it brief. You are luring them in to read more of the plan, not explaining every detail.

Don’t confuse an executive summary with the summary memo. The executive summary is the first chapter in a business plan. A summary memo is a separate document, normally only 5-10 pages at most, which is used to substitute for the plan with people who aren’t ready to see the whole plan.

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