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Writing a business plan: The executive summary

Get it right or your target readers will go no further

This is a summary of the main highlights of your plan. Even though the topic appears first in the printed document, most business plan developers leave it until the end.

This summary is the doorway to the rest of the plan. Get it right or your target readers will go no further. As a general rule, for a standard plan, the first paragraph should 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 which shows sales, gross margin, and profits before interest and taxes for the next three years. Normally you should mention those numbers in the text.

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 you 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.

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 10 pages, covering enough information to substitute for the plan itself.

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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