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Last updated on 2/6/20

Write an executive summary

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We’re now ready to explore one technique that will help you write an executive summary. This is a brief overview that captures the essence of your entire business plan.

Although this is the first section of your business plan, it’s always a good idea to write it last. This is because you’ll have a much clearer idea of what to include once you’ve written everything else.

In large businesses with long and detailed business plans, the executive summary can itself be pages long which can defeat the purpose. Few people nowadays are prepared to read anything too long so keep your summary short, and people will have time to read it.

Your executive summary needs to be just a few paragraphs long – one to two if at all possible. There are four steps to help you achieve this:

1. Use plain English

‘Plain English is a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise.’ Plain English Campaign

Plain and simple English will help readers quickly understand the idea behind your business. When faced with official documents, people often use a more complex style of writing which includes longer, more formal words and sentences hoping to impress readers. However, it actually ‘muddies the water’ (ie making a clear message, unclear).

Here’s an example from an executive summary for a mobile coffee business:

Example A
Our intention is to redefine the common misconceptions often associated with catering businesses conducted utilising mobile premises.

This sentence uses lots of long words so the reader is just figuring out the meaning of one when they stumble onto another. It’s also a long sentence that further obscures what should be a very simple message.

This kind of writing lacks clarity. It’s over-long structure also makes it more difficult to read, which means you’ll lose your readers’ interest before you’ve told them what you want them to know.

Here’s the same message, but in plain English:

Example B
We want people to think differently about mobile coffee trucks.

Those long words we saw in the first example have been replaced by simpler ones. The same message has been achieved using 10 words instead of 17. It’s now a concise, impactful and emotive message.

Using plain English means:

  • Using simpler versions of words. Choosing ‘use’ rather than ‘utilise’ for example or ‘so’ instead of ‘therefore’. The Plain English Campaign's list of other alternative words can help.

  • ‘Chunking’ over-long sentences into more digestible shorter ones.

  • Ensuring you have just one idea per sentence.

2. Answer the seven key questions

News journalists are taught a very simple method to ensure they capture all the key elements when writing an article. They’re told to identify the 5 Ws (and possibly the one H). These are the six questions that, if answered, will give readers the gist of any story.

Who? What? Where?

Why? When? How?

And for the purposes of your executive summary, we need to add a seventh question:

How much?

It’s useful because it helps journalists get to the point of a story without unnecessary waffle. Which is exactly what we’re trying to achieve in an executive summary. Here’s how the seven questions relate to your business plan:

Who? Your company name, staff?
What? Your product(s) or services?
Why? Your company story. The problem you’re solving. Why you’re doing what you do.
Where? Your company location and where you’ll sell?
When? When will you launch, seasonal trends etc?
How? How will you market/promote your goods?
How much? Your financial projections. How much will you need/make?

This provides a useful template to start outlining your key points. The next step is to take these points and flesh them out a little. And to do this we’ll take inspiration from this social media platform:

Twitter logo
'Tweet, tweet...'

3. Sum up your idea in ‘tweets’

This is where you begin to focus in on your key points. And we’ll use Twitter’s original '140-character per-tweet' (including the spaces between words!) restriction to help us.

Write a tweet for each section of your business plan. Tweets are fantastic for encouraging you to be concise and to say only what needs to be said. They encourage you to veer away from waffle and get to the point.

The tweets you write here will be a little different though. Rather than use some of the usual characteristics of tweets (such as hashtags or name tags) instead use your character allowance to make sure each tweet succinctly outlines one of the key seven questions.

Let’s see how these might look for artist Dionne Ible, whose SWOT analysis we saw earlier:

Who? Qemamu Mosaics is run by artist Dionne Ible based in Bedfordshire who has trained with mosaic masters worldwide.

What? She creates hand-made mosaics inspired by the crafts and tradition of sub-Saharan Africa and is available for commissions large and small.

Why? Dionne was inspired by the lack of mosaic art reflecting her culture, so she made seven mosaics to represent seven Yoruba deities which quickly sold out.

Where? She sells her art through cultural festivals and shows. She also plans to launch her own website and work towards holding her first exhibition.

When? She will launch a new collection in October to honour Black History Month and follow up with a range of affordable goods that feature prints of her work.

How? She has an existing mailing list and will develop links with private collectors through exhibitions.

How much? Prices start at £300. At start-up, she has secured £5,000 for materials and to ensure she has time to finish her new collection.

Delete the questions and pull it all together and we now have a good first draft exec summary for Dionne's business plan in 980 characters - or thereabouts! 😁

4. Review (and perfect) your summary

Now that you have the first draft of your summary, you’ll need to edit it. Read it out loud. How does it sound? Get rid of anything that sounds repetitious. Shorten any sentences that may still be too long. Change long, complex words to shorter, simpler versions. Make sure you’ve covered all the key points from your business plan. The aim is to give an accurate summary of the entire plan.

Let's recap!

Congratulation! You've nearly finished. I strongly encourage you to validate what you've learnt by completing the final quiz and the activity at the end of this course.

You may also benefit from following the sister course to this one, Learn to freelance: daily management, where you'll learn how to plan your working days, manage your cash flow, identify the multiple roles you'll have and decide how much to charge for your services.

In any case, I wish you the best of luck in your professional endeavors! 😊

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement