How to nail the executive summary of your business plan » SMEInsider

How to nail the executive summary of your business plan

When you present your business plan to potential investors, funders or partners, you will need to make an excellent first impression that gets them hooked straight away. If your executive summary sucks, the rest of the plan is unlikely to win them over.

So, what are readers of your business plan looking for?  Take a look at this indispensable advice from four seasoned experts.

Clive Lewis, Head of Enterprise, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

As Lewis puts it, if the business plan is the main meal, the executive summary is like the perfect hors d’oeurve – not overwhelming, just enough to pique the interest and capture the flavour of the overall plan. But, he says, it’s important that the logical structure of the executive summary is borne out through the whole plan, so that readers don’t get lost, or begin to question the rationale.

Don’t forget that people who decide on financing applications are, underneath the pinstripes and crisp collars, people. A little psychology goes a long way. The executive summary should follow the same pattern as the plan and highlight the key areas in that order,” says Lewis. “People like patterns, order. If they see none, they make up their own. They presume that X equals Y as it does in their world and if that doesn’t add up for them, they dislike it and reject it.

Danny Waters, CEO, Enterprise Finance and Daniel Callaghan, Co-Founder and CEO, MBA & Company

For businesses that are already established, the executive summary is an all-important space for explaining what you’ve achieved, where you’re going, and how the business plan you’ve outlined will help you get there, says Waters.

You need to summarise in the business plan every detail an investor might need to make a decision. That includes everything from a mission statement, which tells investors in one short paragraph what your business is about, to general company information such as names and roles of founders, numbers of employees and an overview of what the company actually does,” he says. “It’s also important to show how the company has performed, so include general financial information with particular emphasis on growth periods when the company has performed particularly well.”

So that’s how to approach the summary if your business is already making headway, but what if you’re just starting out?

 “At the beginning of your business plan, you need to demonstrate succinctly the validity of your concept and market,” says Callaghan. “You’ll need to show how thorough market research led you to identify a gap in the market, the market opportunity and how the solution or product you are pitching will fill this gap.”

Whilst a new start-up will not yet have financial information and growth figures that can help bolster an executive summary, it’s still a good idea to discuss projections, as well as past successes, experience in the field and personal strengths that back up your credibility. “You should also mention the key differentiators of your offering and why you have what it takes to succeed,” says Callaghan.

Matt Connolly, serial entrepreneur & Founder of myLovelyParent

Scrap the template structures, be different and be interesting, says Connolly – this is one chance to stand out.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus on your reader, says Matt: “consider the audience – are they a potential investor or a member of your team? What are they looking for? What is their focus?” But it’s important that your voice doesn’t get lost in the process. “Give time to both your content and presentation and make sure your brand’s personality pours through in everything you do. Playing it safe won’t cut it,” he says. “The result will be a highly readable, engaging executive summary which conveys personality, interest and of course also acquaints the reader at a high level with your business plan.”