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Starting A Business

How to Write an Executive Summary in 6 Steps

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When you’re starting a business, one of the first things you need to do is write a business plan. Your business plan is like a roadmap for your business, so you can lay out your goals and a concrete plan for how you’ll reach them.

Not only is a business plan essential for any business owner, but it’s also a requirement if you decide to apply for small business funding or find investors. After all, before a bank or individual hands over any money, they’ll want to be sure your company is on solid ground (so they can get their money back).

A business plan consists of several pieces, from an executive summary and market analysis to a financial plan and projections. The executive summary will be the first part of your business plan.

If wondering how to write an executive summary has kept you from completing your business plan, we’re here to help. In this guide, we’ll explain what an executive summary is and provide tips for writing your own so your business plan can start strong.

What is an executive summary?

An executive summary is a short, informative, and easy-to-read opening statement to your business plan. Even though it’s just one to two pages, the executive summary is incredibly important.

An executive summary tells the story of what your business does, why an investor might be interested in giving funds to your business, why their investment will be well-spent, and why you do what you do. An executive summary should be informative, but it should also capture a busy reader’s attention.

Why write an executive summary?

Anyone you’re sending your executive summary and business plan to is likely busy—very busy. An entire business plan is long, involved, and deals with a lot of numbers.

Someone busy wants to get an understanding of your business, and they want to do it quickly, which is to say not by diving into a complicated, 80-page business plan. That’s where your executive summary comes in.

An executive summary provides just the opportunity to hook someone’s interest, tell them about your business, and offer a clear selling point as to why they should consider investing in your business.

Your executive summary is your chance to sell your business to potential investors and show them your business is worth not only their money but also their time.

What to include in an executive summary

By its nature, an executive summary is short. You must be able to clearly communicate the idea of your business, what sets you apart, and how you plan to grow into a successful enterprise.

The subsequent sections of your business plan will go into more detail, but your executive summary should include the most critical pieces of your business plan—enough to stand on its own, as it’s often the only thing a prospective investor will read. Here’s what your executive summary should include—consider it an executive summary template from which you can model your own.

1. The hook

The first sentence and paragraph of your executive summary determine whether or not the entire executive summary gets read. That’s why the hook or introduction is so important.

In general, a hook is considered anything that will get a reader’s attention. While an executive summary is a formal business document, you do want your hook to make you stand out from the crowd—without wasting time.

Your hook can be sharing something creative about your company, an interesting fact, or just a very well-crafted description of your business. It’s crucial to craft your hook with the personality of your reader in mind. Give them something that will make your company stand out and be memorable among a sea of other business plans.

Grab their attention in the first paragraph, and you’re much more likely to get your executive summary read, which could lead to an investment.

2. Company description summary

Now that you’ve hooked your reader, it’s time to get into some general information about your business. If an investor is going to give you money, after all, they first need to understand what your company does or what product you sell and who is managing the company.

Your company description should include information about your business, such as when it was formed and where you’re located; your products or services; the founders or executive team, including names and specific roles; and any additional details about the management team or style.

3. Market analysis

Your market analysis in the executive summary is a brief description of what the market for your business looks like. You want to show that you have done your research and proven that there is a need for your specific product or services. Some questions you should answer:

  • Who are your competitors?

  • Is there a demand for your products or services?

  • What advantages do you have that make your business unique in comparison to others?

To reiterate, stick to the highlights of your market analysis in your executive summary. You’ll provide a complete analysis in a separate section of your business plan, but you should be able to communicate enough in the executive summary that a potential investor can gauge whether your business has potential.

4. Products and services 

Now that you’ve established a need in the market, it’s time to show just how your business will fill it. This section of your executive summary is all about highlighting the product or service that your company offers. Talk about your current sales, the growth you’ve seen so far, and any other highlights that are a selling point for your company.

This is also a good time to identify what sets your business apart and gives you a competitive advantage. After all, it’s unlikely that your business is the first of its kind. Highlight what you do better than the competition and why potential customers will choose your product or service over the other options on the market.

5. Financial information and projections 

In this section of your executive summary, you want to give the reader an overview of your current business financials. Again, you’ll go more in-depth into this section later in your business plan, so just provide some highlights. Include your current sales and profits (if you have any), as well as what funding you’re hoping to acquire and how this will affect your financials in the next few years.

This is also where you can explain what funding, if any, you’ve received in the past. If you paid back your loan on time, this is an especially bright selling point for potential lenders.

6. Future plans

While asking for what funding you need is essential, you’ve also got to make clear what you’re going to use that funding for. If you’re asking for money, you want the person to know you have a plan to put those funds to good use.

Are you hoping to open another location, expand your product line, invest in your marketing efforts? This final section of your executive summary should detail where you want your business to go in the future, as well as drive home how funding can help you get there.

Tips for writing an executive summary

Even if you include each part of a good executive summary, you might not get noticed. What is written can be just as important as how it’s written. An executive summary has to strike a delicate balance between formal, personable, confident, and humble.

1. Be concise

An executive summary should include everything that’s in your business plan, just in a much shorter format. Writing a concise executive summary is no easy task and will require many revisions to get to the final draft. And while this is the first section of your executive summary, you’ll want to write it last, after you’ve put together all the other elements.

To choose your most important points and what should be included in the executive summary, go through your business plan, and pull out single-line bullet points. Go back through those bullet points and eliminate everything unnecessary to understanding your business.

Once you have your list of bullet points narrowed down, you can start writing your executive summary. Once it’s written, go back in and remove any unnecessary information. Remember, you should only be including the highlights—you have the rest of your business plan to go into more detail. The shorter and clearer your executive summary is, the more likely someone is to read it.

2. Use bullet points

One simple way to make your executive summary more readable is to use bullet points. If someone is reading quickly or skimming your executive summary, extra whitespace can make the content faster and easier to read.

Short paragraphs, short sentences, and bullet points all make an executive summary easier to skim—which is likely what the reader is doing. If important numbers and convincing stats jump out at the reader, they’re more likely to keep reading.

3. Speak to your audience

When writing your executive summary, be sure to think about who will be reading it; that’s who you’re speaking to. If you can personalize your executive summary to the personality and interests of the person who will read it, you’re more likely to capture their attention.

Personalizing might come in the form of a name in the salutation, sharing details in a specific way you know that person likes and the tone of your writing. An executive summary deals with business, so it will generally have a formal tone. But, different industries may be comfortable with some creativity of language or using shorthand to refer to certain ideas.

Know who you’re speaking to and use the right tone to speak to them. That might be formal and deferential, expert and clipped, informal and personable, or any other appropriate tone. This may also involve writing different versions of your executive summary for different audiences.

4. Play to your strengths

One of the best ways to catch the attention of your reader is to share why your business is unique. What makes your business unique is also what makes your business strong, which can capture a reader’s interest and show them why your business is worth investing in. Be sure to highlight these strengths from the start of your executive summary.

5. Get a test reader

Once you’ve written and edited your executive summary, you need a test reader. While someone in your industry or another business owner can be a great resource, you should also consider finding a test reader with limited knowledge of your business and industry. Your executive summary should be so clear that anyone can understand it, so having a variety of test readers can help identify any confusing language.

If you don’t have access to a test reader, consider using tools such as Hemingway App and Grammarly to ensure you’ve written something that’s easy to read and uses proper grammar.

How long should an executive summary be?

There’s no firm rule on how long an executive summary should be, as it depends on the length of your business plan and the depth of understanding needed by the reader to fully grasp your ask.

That being said, it should be as short and concise as you can get it. In general, an executive summary should be one to two pages in length.

You can fudge the length slightly by adjusting the margin and font size, but don’t forget readability is just as important as length. You want to leave plenty of white space and have a large enough font that the reader is comfortable while reading your executive summary. If your executive summary is hard to read, it’s less likely your reader will take the time to read your business plan.

What to avoid in an executive summary

While the rules for writing a stellar executive summary can be fuzzy, there are a few clear rules for what to avoid in your executive summary.

Your executive summary should avoid:

  • Focusing on investment. Instead, focus on getting the reader to be interested enough to continue and read your business plan or at least schedule a meeting with you.

  • Clichés, superlatives, and claims that aren’t backed up by fact. Your executive summary isn’t marketing material. It should be straightforward and clear.

Avoiding the executive summary no-nos is just as important as striking the right tone and getting in the necessary information for your reader.

Executive summary examples

Sometimes the best way to learn is to see how other people are doing it. The U.S. Small Business Administration has multiple business plan examples; you can flip to the executive summary to help you write your own executive summary. For more inspiration, here is an example from Harvard Business School:

Executive summary template

After all the information we threw your way, you’re probably itching to get started. If you’re ready to apply what you just learned, download our free business plan template. Our template will not only make it easier to write your executive summary; it will also guide you in writing the rest of your business plan.

The bottom line

While an executive summary is short, it’s challenging to write. Your executive summary condenses your entire introduction, business description, business plan, market analysis, financial projections, and ask into one to two pages. Condensing information down to its most essential form takes time and many drafts. When you’re putting together your business plan’s executive summary, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to write it and to seek the help of friends or colleagues for editing it to perfection.

However, some tools make crafting a business plan, including your executive summary, a simpler process. A business plan template is a great place to start, and business plan software can especially help with the design of your business plan. After all, a well-written executive summary can make all the difference in obtaining funding for your business, so you’ll want all the help you can get.

This article originally appeared on JustBusiness, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.

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10 Software Tools to Keep Your New Business Documentation Organized

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When it comes to documenting SOPs, training materials and other important internal business processes, what’s one tool or software (not your own) that you would recommend new business owners use, and why?

These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

1. Google Docs

Stay simple and use Google Docs. With direct edits and commenting features, it’s easier than ever to constantly improve upon your living documents. That way, your SOPs can continue to evolve along with your business.

Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep Mattress

2. Loom

You can use Loom, or a similar screen-recording software, to record short videos for your team and create sections within the platform to optimize your SOPs and onboard new hires. Video information is easier to retain for most and is also easier to look up again and parse out. Certain processes are timeless and can also be used if someone needs to take over a process in an emergency.

Matthew Capala, Alphametic

3. GitBook

Although Google Docs is an elegant and convenient resource, I think GitBook might be the next best thing. It’s far more functional than a simple Google Doc, since it allows you to structure your SOP more like a wiki page or a full website instead of a handful of files in a folder.

Bryce Welker, Testing.org

IT documentation

4. JobRouter

JobRouter is one tool that I love using for documentation purposes. It helps you manage your documents from creation, editing, approval, release and distribution. It also integrates beautifully with Microsoft Word for ease of use.

Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster

5. Process Street

When documenting SOPs, Process Street is a great option. It’s a user-friendly process management software that allows you to create, track and schedule workflows. It also lets you create checklists, collaborate with your team, capture data and more so you have full control over your processes.

Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

6. Trainual

Trainual is a software that helps business teams run internal processes faster, better and smoother. A pain businesses face is maintaining performance as teams are assembled, grow, mature and are refreshed. The onboarding process is one process that plays a significant role in growing and refreshing teams but, if botched, organizational performance suffers. Trainual focuses on that onboarding.

Samuel Thimothy, OneIMS

7. Trello

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for distributing official materials, an excellent system for organizing, commenting on and discussing internal documents among multiple teams is Trello. Trello allows you to share, sort and comment on documents in an easy-to-manage system. With their team functions, you can also ensure only those who need the materials will have unrestricted access.

Salvador Ordorica, The Spanish Group LLC

IT project management

8. systemHUB

One tool that I love using for any documentation purpose is systemHUB. It lets you integrate your existing project management software and continue working on it. You can replicate the existing documents or start from scratch as per your requirement. You can also share it with your team and do a lot more.

Josh Kohlbach, Wholesale Suite

9. ETQ

The most important thing about document control software is retrieving what you need when you need it. I like ETQ because it streamlines the entire process from document creation through retrieval and training. ETQ lets you set up permissions for employees to access the information they need and automation to notify employees of upcoming/pending training.

Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

10. Your Own Internal Wiki

Create your own internal wiki. There are many plug-and-play WordPress templates that are easy to use and pre-built to act as an internal wiki. Allocate a login to each employee, categorize content and use hashtags to make your SOPs and other processes easily searchable.

Chase Williams, Market My Market

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How Startup Studios are Bringing New Ideas to the Startup Space

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By Startup Studio Insider

Even as businesses have struggled through COVID-19, investors have been eagerly bringing capital to startups with the hope that new and fresh businesses will catch on and become the latest and greatest success. This influx of capital is primarily due to the exponential growth of new investment models that have exploded into the mainstream in the last five years. It is these new funding models that are helping connect entrepreneurs with investors who fit their wants and needs.

This new phenomenon of the ‘perfectly matching’ entrepreneur is a beautiful symbiosis capable of helping startups avoid risk, increase efficiency, and continue business development in a forward trend.

In this explosion of entrepreneur-startup matching, startup studios have developed almost a cult following. As many entrepreneurs have strong ideas, but lack the experience, finances, or team to bring them to fruition, studios provide a sort of safety net, capable of helping entrepreneurs deal with business and operational aspects, leaving them the time necessary to focus on ideas. With this initial investment, the special teams behind startup studios are mobilizing to mitigate risk for new businesses and help entrepreneurs focus on what matters most.

Startup studios are a critical competent of the startup and entrepreneurial space due to their capabilities to usher new ideas and practices into the industry. As this model continues to change the startup space as we know it, take a look at the list below to learn more about how a startup studio can single-handedly turn any entrepreneurial project into a juggernaut.

A Concrete and Singular Vision

Startup studios are built to do one thing and one thing well: build companies from the ground up. As this is the core initiative of these studios, they are better equipped than any other organization to take an entrepreneur from initial idea stages all the way to launch and beyond.

Because of this singular focus, startup studios are in the business of churning out these business over and over again. What this means is that they have not only repeated the process many times, but also standardized it down to a science. They’ve experienced every step of the process, and can often forewarn against roadblocks or concerns inexperienced entrepreneurs would plow headlong into.

Complete Operational Guidance

With the repetition behind the core of startup studios, they have a layer of shared resources which allow for a more rapid development and faster growth process than many other incubators or accelerators. From strategy playbooks to cross-collaborative teams, processes, and backing, these resources have allowed companies to take their development to the next levels.

Additionally, startup studios are invested in the process of developing a product beyond its launch. As such, many studios have developed programs to share resources and guidance beyond the launches from the startup studio and into the spaces beyond them.

Startup team doing planning

Oversight on Strategy

As startup studios are deeply entrenched in the day-to-day operations of their projects from the very start, especially when compared to incubators and venture capital firms, they are more capable of providing strategic oversight than other investment styles.

By utilizing a repeated process, as well as the experience of the entire team, these studios are capable of developing plans from the start, and imparting wisdom and experience onto younger entrepreneurs. This strategic guidance has been cited by many who’ve gone through the startup studio ecosystem as one of the most essential tools they’ve taken away from their experiences.

While the startup studio model is not for everyone, it is a true partnership that provides more than just financial backing. A studio is a great model for entrepreneurs who thrive off of teamwork and collaboration, and who may be looking to deepen their experience and learnings. While they can require flexibility and trust in their studio’s guidance, they are often a critical tool in pushing startups to the next level.

As the old adage goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. If you want to truly take your idea to the next level, consider developing it under the help and guidance of a startup studio. For more on startup studios, be sure to check out Startup Studio Insider, the newest journal providing daily insights into the startup studio space.

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5 Mistakes Business Owners Make When They Open a New Dental Clinic

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Starting a dental clinic is a daunting task, especially for young, budding entrepreneurs. The medical equipment can be pricey, putting the owner at great financial risk. Because of that, planning is a crucial step of the process that can save you a lot of money and stress down the line. Luckily, even if you don’t have experience running a business, you can learn most of these things.

photo credit: Tima Miroshnichenko / Pexels

With that in mind, here are the five mistakes business owners make when they open a new dental clinic:

1. Hiring Too Quickly

Due to high expenditures, business owners tend to rush the initial processes when opening a clinic. Hiring the right staff is crucial for your success, but unfortunately, some entrepreneurs make a decision for all the wrong reasons.

As a way of cutting expenses, lots of owners will hire young professionals straight out of school. Sometimes, they will put them on probation even if they have experience. When the time comes to hire them as full-time employees, they might not have enough loyalty to stay with your organization.

Having enough experience is crucial for dentists, but you also need to consider if this person is the right fit. Business owners neglect long-term plans and team suitability for short-term financial goals. Hiring a reputable professional is usually a better idea as it will bring stability to your team.

2. Not Creating a Beautiful Website

Word-of-mouth marketing was always crucial for companies, and it is especially important for small businesses such as dentistry. Unfortunately, getting those first clients is always a choir.

Many owners neglect the power of promotion, thinking that it’s enough to have a good service. However, unless you’re able to attract those initial patients, you will never be able to scale the business.

Having a great website is important as it sets up the basis for search engine optimization. Down the line, it will help you reach more people through Google. But it also works as a digital business card. Like your clinic, the website needs to be clean and to instill confidence in potential patients.

3. Ignoring Search Engine Optimization

Performing search engine optimization or SEO is a time-consuming job. However, small local companies can achieve great results in just a few months.

According to several professionals that conduct dental SEO by Dental Marketing Guy, local search engine optimization is an ideal way of promoting dental services to your local community. When a person looks for medical experts in their home city, your clinic should appear at the top of Google search pages. By investing some money in this promotional activity, you can get thousands of new clients in a short time.

Among others, search engine optimization is great for branding. Unlike other digital marketing activities, such as pay-per-click, the SEO results will remain even when you stop paying for the service.

Dental assistant working on a laptop

4. Not Having a Stellar Customer Service Plan in Place

We can argue that customer service is more important for dental clinics than most other businesses. This is because lots of patients are anxious before treatments and exams. Like with any other medical procedure, a person wants to be certain they’re in good hands.

Most patients are willing to pay extra for premium dental services. However, if you have poor customer service, it can dissuade them from giving you a chance. Even if they visit your clinic once, they might not return.

Retaining a patient is especially important in dentistry. Like with some other services, a patient is willing to travel long distances to perform an exam at the same clinic. Once a person chooses a dentist, they will likely return to the same person for most of their lives. And the lifetime value of one patient can be high.

5. Not preparing for the unexpected

Similar to other businesses, dental practices are subject to inherent business risks. For example, an equipment malfunction can set you back for months. In some situations, it might take weeks before you can get back to business. Losing a staff member can also be a major problem.

Although you cannot avert some potential issues, you need to have a contingency plan. First off, a business owner needs to have a healthy cash flow to cover any unexpected expenditures. Having debt is normal for dental offices, but you need to reduce liabilities as soon as possible.

One way to protect yourself is by getting insurance. Certain policies can cover dental practice overhead and provide you with income when you go on a hiatus.

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