What you need to know to write a compelling executive summary

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We’ve devised this handy guide to writing an executive summary that’s going to convince the reader to make those all-important business decisions.

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An executive summary is more than simply a document that’s written to provide information. It’s an essential business document that’s part and parcel of just about every big decision a company has to make. Whether it’s for potential investors, partners or senior members of staff, a concise and compelling executive summary is usually the initial contact you’ll have with this audience – so it’s vital that it makes a first impression that counts.

The window to get the interest of whoever’s reading your executive summary is small, so there’s a need to say the right things without unnecessary, superfluous information weighing things down. Simply put, investors and senior members of staff want evidence of what you can do and how. If you’re struggling to find the right words, we’ve devised this handy guide to writing an executive summary that’s going to convince the reader to make those all-important business decisions.

Make an impact

Your opening gambit needs to be one that sets the tone for the rest of the summary; a short salvo that’s direct and specific in a way that ensures the investor keeps reading. It’s an elevator pitch that should get to the core of the matter. Avoid history and needless amounts of background information; you have a unique solution to a problem and the opening is going to make that as clear as possible.

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Front-loading this part with impressive credentials, companies you’re working with, or big-name investors who are already involved is a good idea; don’t save them for later, as the reader might not make it that far. The key messages should be here as opposed to further into the body of your summary.

Describe the problem or goal

What is the problem that you’re going to solve? In one or two sentences, make it clear here. State your value proposition and how you plan to increase revenues, reduce costs, increase reach, get rid of inefficiency and other assorted plus points. Though it’s a summary, make sure to provide the salient details; a thorough understanding of the situation will serve as an assurance to the reader that you know what’s going on.

Provide the right solution

How exactly are you going to solve this problem? The reader wants to know and you’re going to show them how, so use commonly used, concrete terms to make things as clear as possible.

Detail your competitive advantage

If you have patents or intellectual property, then mention them in your summary as they’re a huge competitive advantage for a startup. Bring up your competition, otherwise, you stand to lose credibility by asserting you have no businesses competing with you. To the reader, it either looks like you haven’t done the appropriate research or there’s no market. Make sure you provide a summary of the market in terms of segmentation, targeting and positioning whether your document is problem or opportunity-focused.

Sum up the business model you’ll use

Whether it’s an investor or senior staff who will be reading the summary, detail and quantify the key elements of your plan. How are you going to generate revenues and where from? What will the critical metrics on which you evaluate things be – customers, units, revenues, margins? Include here the levels you intend to reach in the timeframe too.

Detail the team’s experience and credentials

As well as your solution, you’ll need to sell the people who will be working on the project, too. Let whoever’s reading know why your team is qualified and provide hard evidence of their qualifications and credentials. Explain how they fit into the project and what they can provide as part of it.

Outline potential investor return

Ultimately, this business decision should pay-off handsomely for the organisation. The level of success will ideally exceed the capital that’s required to do that, and make the company a lot of money as a result. Show what the potential return might be; highlight a similar company payback to the reader and provide believable, feasible financial projections including future revenues, expenses, losses/profits and cash.

What to do when writing an executive summary

Use simple sentences that are easy to understand. The summary should make things as clear and simple as possible. Long compound sentences may result in confusion and ambiguity.

When stating your value proposition and competitive advantage, do so in positive terms. It’s what you can do, as opposed to what others cannot do, that’s important here.

Proofread your document for mistakes, and don’t be afraid to delete any superfluous sentences that don’t add anything to the document. You want this to be as tight and concise as possible.

What not to do when writing an executive summary

Use cliched business phrases and adjectives that sound impressive but aren’t substantive in any way. Words like dynamic, disruptive and intelligent are trite and unappealing, plus your audience has likely seen them used plenty of times before.

Don’t use broad, sweeping statements. Narrow the focus; providing a big solution to a small market is far preferable to incremental improvements to an established one.

Don’t lie. Yes, that might sound obvious, but in your effort to convince the reader, you might be tempted by the odd over-exaggeration. There’s a fine line between selling your skills and misrepresenting them, so tread lightly.

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