The Importance of the Executive Summary

executive summaryExecutive summary (or management summary) is a short document or section of a document produced for business purposes. It summarizes a longer report or proposal or a group of related reports in such a way that readers can rapidly become acquainted with a large body of material without having to read it all.

An executive summary differs from an abstract in that an abstract will usually be shorter and is typically intended as an overview or orientation rather than being a condensed version of the full document. Abstracts are extensively used in academic research where the concept of the executive summary is not in common usage.

Structure

Typically, an executive summary will:

— be approximately 5-10% of the length of the business plan
— be written in language appropriate for the target audience
— consist of short, concise paragraphs
— begin with a summary
— be written in the same order as the business plan
— only include material present in the business plan
— make recommendations
— provide a justification
— have a conclusion
— be readable separately from the business plan

Importance

Executive summaries are important as a communication tool in both academia and business. For example, members of Texas A&M University Department of Agricultural Economics observe that an executive summary is an initial interaction between the writers of the report and their target readers: decision makers, potential customers, and / or peers. A business leader’s decision to continue reading a certain report often depends on the impression it gives.

Length

A general rule of thumb is that executive summaries should be about 5% as long as the primary document. At very most, they can run up to 10% in some cases. The goal is to convince without losing attention, so the shorter it can be, the better. Most funders spend about 8 minutes reading an executive summary, so if yours is, for example, 12 pages long, it will never be read.

Summary

The most important part your summary is the first paragraph that clearly explains what your company does. Most business plans start with a story that tries to create excitement, and this doesn’t always work. A strong summary will help achieve your goals, whereas a poor summary will not.

Investors, lenders, executives, managers, and CEOs are busy people, consequently your executive summary is an essential gateway for your business plan to be read. Investors will read your executive summary to decide if they will even bother reading the rest of the business plan. It is rare for an investor or lender to read an entire business plan, at least in the initial stages of analysis and consideration for funding, so having a strong executive summary is key.

Finally, never send a funder / investor what you think they want to see. Always send them precisely what they ask for.

 


 

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