10 Best Practices for Writing Executive Summaries

Executive Summary puzzle
Executive Summary puzzle

Start-ups and emerging companies write executive summaries to distill the key facts (business description, products/market fit, business model, etc.) for venture capitalists, angel investors, and others from whom they’re looking for financing. Including all this information in one page, the almost universally-accepted page length, is quite a challenge. What follows are 10 best practices for writing executive summaries.

  1. Don’t start from scratch; use a template.
    Many websites such as Entrepreneur.com and Inc.com have executive summary templates and examples. Just Google and you’ll be on your way.
  2. Make the content your own.
    Don’t follow the template lockstep. The content and organization of the Executive Summary have to reflect your company first and foremost. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the template if it suits your purpose.
  3. Know your audience.
    Create a portrait of the intended audience for the Executive Summary. VCs and potential investors will know very little about your technology and value proposition. They may be familiar with your target markets and competition. Assume the audience knows very little, but don’t “dumb down” the content.
  4. Avoid jargon.
    Write in clear, concise language and avoid industry jargon that is unknown to the target audience. Write in the active voice (subject-verb) and in simple, direct sentences.
  5. Introduce objective data.
    Including key data points, statistics, or proof points from objective and reliable third-party sources in the Executive Summary can improve the validity of your overall business case. Cite the sources.
  6. Focus on benefits not features.
    When describing your technology and special sauce, focus on the benefits to your target markets, not the minutiae of your technological advancement. Most readers of the Executive Summary won’t understand the technical details and they don’t care about them either. They might say ‘So what?’ when they really want to know ‘Are you going to make money?’ ‘When do I get my payoff?’
  7. Stay positive.
    Tell the target audience what your company and its products will do. Only state what the company will not do if it clarifies your business model, technologies, and markets.
  8. Be realistic.
    Do your homework to determine exactly how and where your company fits into the competitive marketplace, and what your key differentiators are.
  9. Be consistent.
    Refer to your company and product names consistently throughout the Executive Summary. If you use a shortened form, use it throughout. For example, if your full company name is Acme Solar Photovoltaic, Inc. and you shorten it to Acme Solar, use the full name on first instance and the shortened name in all other instances.
  10. Proofread the final Executive Summary.
    If the founders are writing the Executive Summary, they’re too close to proofread the final content. Have an objective third party who has no prior knowledge of your company do this final review prior to distribution to potential investors.

Have you written an Executive Summary for your business? What were its keys to success?

Let me know, Tim