How to Write an Executive Summary [20+ Tips]

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The executive summary also referred to as management summary (an older term), is a short document that accompanies a larger document such as a business plan proposal, or a growth strategy plan. Usually, it summarizes the key points of a business plan or project report.  It helps the reader get all the necessary knowledge without reading the whole document. On most occasions, it is inseparable from the original larger document.

Purpose of the Executive Summary

Its main purpose is to summarize the key concepts of a longer, more extensive document so that the reader can get acquainted with it in a short amount of time. Generally, when writing a business report or a long project report, most of the stakeholders (the guys that need and want to know what’s going on), will not have the time to read it. In some cases, they will read it only if the executive summary catches their interest.

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In fact, the executive summary is regarded as the quintessential part of the business plan because it is the document that aids managers in making decisions.

What it contains

The executive summary contains the following main parts which can be further broken down depending on the type of report and on the type of business.

2 Types of Executive Summaries

Depending on the type of business, the executive summary will be shaped up differently. A startup generally aims at gaining more funds through investments or bank loans. As a result, their goal will be to convince venture capitalists, investment bankers or angel investors to invest in the startup.

An established business, on the other hand, could probably use an executive summary to inform the already existing stakeholders regarding past achievements, new projects to be undertaken, etc.

How to write an executive summary for a startup

If you are managing a startup, you are probably constantly looking for investors. Investors and executives are generally always busy and are not going to read your business plan proposal. However, they are willing to read a 1 or 2 page summary of your proposal. If you play your cards rights, you might get them interested enough and they will ask for a more inclusive report (your business plan).

Bottom line? Your executive summary needs to answer, or at least provide some information to all possible questions that can come up in an investors mind when looking for a company to invest in.

Below we have provided a list of sections that should be in almost every executive summary for a startup:

Startup Executive Summary Outline

Real-Life Example…
If you are trying to get funding from a financial institution, they will be looking at this section very attentively. It’s important to show them that you have a long-term sustainability strategy (i.e: how do you intend to continue making money after 5, 10 years?). Try to include a three to five-year financial plan. The information needs to be neatly presented in a table. No banker will prefer reading a paragraph when he could analyze an excel table.

Real-Life Example…
If you are running an HR related startup in France, most of the direct competitors will also be based in France. However, once you decide to allocate capital for a content marketing campaign, the competition circle might either enlarge (if the existing direct competitors are also competing through SEO), or it might shift to a different set of competitors which might be based in the US mainly.

How to write an executive summary for a well-established business

There are some clearly visible differences in the executive summaries of startups and well-established businesses. Generally, an already established business is not avidly looking for funding (unless it’s for a specific project). Most business plans would be reflecting information related to past achievements, new growth strategies or plans, general financial and managerial highlights, new projects to be undertaken, and so on.

As a result, the executive summary has no choice but to express the above, in a more concise manner. So, what to include in an executive summary for a well-established business?

Established-Business Executive Summary Outline

Executive Summary Best Practices

If you compare your business plan outline with the components that an executive summary should include, you will notice that most of them coincide. That is true regardless of whether you are a startup or a well-established business.

The most commonsensical way to write an executive summary is to take each section mentioned above and find the respective required information within the business plan. After that, try to summarize the key concepts for that sub-topic in 2 or 3 sentences maximum.

Try to replace any block of sentences or paragraphs with a visual representation such as a diagram, chart, or table if you can. Whoever is reading the executive summary will appreciate it because it saves him/her time, which is the main purpose of the executive summary.

Conclude the business plan’s executive summary with a captivating sentence. Something that will push him/her into reading the whole business plan. Or at least the sections that fall under his/her domain.

Common Characteristics of all Executive Summaries


Certainly, the above-mentioned outlines describe only the general structure of a typical executive summary. Depending on the business and industry you are working, the business plan or business report you are trying to summarize will include several other distinct sections (that we didn’t mention). For example, a cryptocurrency based startup will include more sections on the technology being used to implement the project, how secure it is and so on.

Nonetheless, the outlines described above should give you a good initial structure to base your executive summary on. After that, you can customize it on the go. Ultimately, you can always refer to the Common Characteristics of Executive Summaries section, regardless of the type of business, industry, or project you are in.

We will try to keep this content up to date as new trends or reporting methodologies arise. However, we also value our readers’ opinion and would love to hear from you. If you think that we might have missed something, or you want a deeper clarification on some terms and concepts, let us know in the comments section below. We will be happy to help!

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