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






Seven Best Practices for Crafting Customer Success Stories

Video01Many companies write customer success stories and fail. Why?

Because they focus on themselves—their company, their product, or their service—and not on their customer. The proverbial spotlight is on the wrong actor.

Writing a customer success story is a delicate blend of art and science. It requires crafting a good story based on a real business challenge faced by a real customer. How can you bring your customer’s voice into the success story?

I recommend following these best practices:

1. Tell a good story. Like a journalist, find a “hook,” something about the customer’s situation that will resonate with others. You want the reader or viewer to identify with the customer. Pay attention to the details.

2. Ask good questions. Identify significant business challenges the customer faced, discuss how they negatively affected their business, and explore how the customer overcame these obstacles. Provide facts and figures where possible to bolster the quantitative side of the story.

3. Name a real company. Be as specific as possible when profiling the customer’s company. This authenticity makes a stronger business case and helps increase the connection with the reader or viewer.

4. Use real quotes. Let your customer’s personality shine through using their own words. Don’t script what they say into “corporate-speak;” it sounds formal, unnatural, and forced.

5. Be creative. Customer success stories provide information but don’t have to be boring. With inexpensive digital video and audio technology, you can inform and entertain. Videos, podcasts, and one-page documents all work. Of course, finding the right medium and achieving the right balance are key.

6. Demonstrate ROI. One ingredient in a successful customer story is being able to take a business issue and turn it into math. If you can create quantifiable Return On Investment, the story and lessons learned within it will have more impact and be more memorable.

7. Create a Call To Action. Enable the reader or viewer to take some action at the end of the customer success story. Provide a way to contact the company for more information. Websites, phone numbers, email addresses, and social media contacts are the most common.

Go Ahead and Brag: How to Leverage Your Customer Profiles and Case Studies

10 Tips for Successful Grant Writing

Grant dollars are shrinking
Grant dollars are shrinking

In the world of ever-shrinking federal, state, and private dollars in the USA for research and education, it’s more critical than ever to identify and win foundation support. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, has cut funding 8.2% because of the United States federal budget sequester. And cuts like these are not alone.

Follow these 10 tips for success in grant writing.

  1. Be prepared. Many researchers don’t start working on a grant application until they hear about a deadline. If you do, it will too late; there is too much to do and not enough time. Write up your proposed ideas—even if they’re only in draft form—so you’re ready and can act on vs. react to the deadline.
  2. Research foundation sources. Most scientific disciplines have funding sources that “everyone knows about.” As a result, there is a lot of competition for these research dollars. Try to identify smaller foundations that provide grants in your discipline. While the amount of the awards might be smaller, there is often less competition, therefore increasing your chance for success.
  3. Use professional and personal contacts. Once you know the foundation sources, share the names of the trustees and foundation staff by your board. They often run in the same circles, and one phone call can help put your grant proposal on the top of the pile.
  4. Contact the foundation and ask clarifying questions. Foundations almost always post their applications on their websites. Typically the procedures for submitting a proposal are clear, but sometimes they are not. When in doubt, contact the foundation and ask any questions you have to clarify their submission procedure. You don’t want to not understand or miss an important step when you’re about to press Submit.
  5. Obtain and review the grant application. Once you have the grant application in hand, review the guidelines. in detail If you have any questions about any of the content that is required, contact the foundation again. Because of your pre-existing relationship (see step #3), it’s likelier you’ll get a faster response which will enable you to keep the grant writing process alive.
  6. Identify and assign sections of the grant application to subject matter experts (SMEs). “Many hands make light work,” the adage says. The same is true for success in grant writing. The most successful grants are written by SMEs who contribute their expertise to one or more sections. Depending on the size of your organization and your budget, SMEs may be internal or external. Recruit the right people who have the time to contribute.
  7. Complete the draft grant application. SMEs are experts in their fields. Individual sections will most likely require independent reviews. However, it is important that every section of the grant proposal is completed before a single, complete draft can be reviewed.
  8. Develop metrics and assessments. You need to determine metrics and/or key performance indicators that can be measured. And, once these data are collected, you need to describe what they mean and how they will be assessed. Don’t load up your grant proposal with “big data”; fill it with big results you expect to achieve if the grant proposal is accepted.
  9. Review the grant application. Successful grant proposals need an über alles grant writer or project manager. This person can be an in-house resource or an independent third party. This person must recognize the inconsistencies in style, tone, depth and breadth of the presentation written by the SMEs and smooth them out. A successful grant proposal has a single voice not many disparate voices.
  10. Revise and submit the final grant proposal on schedule. This is one of the most critical steps that determines whether your grant proposal will be awarded. Give yourself enough time to do a quality revision and don’t rush. If you, your haste will be obvious to any reviewer and your proposal will be summarily denied. And never, ever miss the deadline.

The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center: A Dream Internship for Both Students and Employers

MLSC Internship Challenge

Many students around the country struggle to find an internship before graduation to gain “real world” experience in their field of study. Likewise, employers can sometimes struggle to find the perfect internship candidate for their company. The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center is breaking the ice by implementing their 2012-2013 Internship Challenge. Focusing on “enhancing the talent pipeline in Massachusetts life sciences companies” in addition to providing a paid hands-on internship for students in the life science fields, the MLSC has provided over 550 interns with 200 internships around the state over the past three years. This paid internship program is sponsored through a grant so employers do not need to pay their intern out of pocket.

Here at TRA360, we have a personal connection to the MLSC Internship Program through past-intern-turned-social-media-manager, Ryan Connors. Check out this short Q+A about the MLSC Internship Challenge and how it helped shape Ryan’s career path.

Q) How did you first hear about the MLSC Internship Challenge? Why did you decide to apply?

Ryan) I first heard about it in one of my classes at U. Mass. I decided to apply as soon as I heard about it because I understood the difficulty of finding quality paid internships and their importance to my future. Many ideal jobs require experience and most recent or soon-to-be grads have none.

Q) What was the procedure like after you applied? Were you able to decide who you interned for? How did you start working with TRA360?

Ryan) I applied and it seemed like my name was pulled out of a hat by TRA360; I’m very fortunate for that. I went in for an interview, liked the people, they liked me, and offered me a job that day. I knew going in that I wanted the job. As soon as I left, I wanted it that much more.

Q) Tell us a little bit about what you accomplished for TRA360 in the first few months of your internship.

Ryan) The first few months were great. I got some real hands-on experience with online marketing and started developing my knack for social media. I had no idea how important the online space was becoming and I felt that it was exactly where I wanted to be. Looking back, I couldn’t be happier with that decision.

Q) Would you recommend the Massachusetts Life Science Internship program? If so, what types of students would the program benefit?

Ryan) Absolutely! Any student can benefit from the program. I’m genuinely surprised that more people don’t know about it. So many qualified students are working less-than-desirable jobs when they could be starting their careers instead. There’s nothing to lose by applying but there is a world to gain.


Have you heard of the MLSC Internship Challenge? Let us know and comment below!