The Executive Summary is a brief outline of the company's purpose and goals.

While it can be tough to fit on one or two pages, a good Summary includes:

  • A brief description of products and services
  • A summary of objectives
  • A solid description of the market
  • A high-level justification for viability (including a quick look at your competition and your competitive advantage)
  • A snapshot of growth potential
  • An overview of funding requirements

I know that seems like a lot, and that's why it's so important you get it right. The Executive Summary is often the make-or-break section of your business plan.

A great business solves customer problems; if your Summary cannot clearly describe, in one or two pages, how your business will solve a particular problem and make a profit, then it's very possible the opportunity does not exist--or your plan to take advantage of a genuine opportunity is not well developed.

So think of it as a snapshot of your business plan. Don't try to "hype" your business--focus on helping a busy reader get a great feel for what you plan to do, how you plan to do it, and how you will succeed.

Since a business plan should above all help you start and grow your business, your Executive Summary should first and foremost help you do the following.

1. Refine and tighten your concept.

Think of it as a written "elevator pitch" (with more detail, of course). Your Summary describes the highlights of your plan, includes only the most critical points, and leaves out less important issues and factors.

As you develop your Summary you will naturally focus on the issues that contribute most to potential success. If your concept is too fuzzy, too broad, or too complicated, go back and start again. Most great businesses can be described in several sentences, not several pages.

2. Determine your priorities.

Your business plan walks the reader through your plan. What ranks high in terms of importance? Product development? Research? Acquiring the right location? Creating strategic partnerships?

Your Summary can serve as a guide to writing the rest of your plan.

 

3. Make the rest of the process easy.

Once your Summary is complete, you can use it as an outline for the rest of your plan. Simply flesh out the highlights with more detail.

Then work to accomplish your secondary objective by focusing on your readers. Even though you may be creating a business plan solely for your own purposes, at some point you may decide to seek financing or to bring on other investors, so make sure your Summary meets their needs as well. Work hard to set the stage for the rest of the plan. Let your excitement for your idea and your business shine through.

In short, make readers want to turn the page and keep reading. Just make sure your sizzle meets your steak by providing clear, factual descriptions.

How? The following is how an Executive Summary for a bicycle rental store might read.

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Introduction

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will offer road and mountain bike rentals in a strategic location directly adjacent to an entrance to the George Washington National Forest. Our primary strategy is to develop Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals as the most convenient and cost-effective rental alternative for the thousands of visitors who flock to the area each year.

Once underway we will expand our scope and take advantage of high-margin new equipment sales and leverage our existing labor force to sell and service those products. Within three years we intend to create the area's premier destination for cycling enthusiasts.

Company and Management

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals will be located at 321 Mountain Drive, a location providing extremely high visibility as well as direct entry and exit from a primary national park access road. The owner of the company, Marty Cycle, has over twenty years experience in the bicycle business, having served as a product manager for ACME Cycles as well as the general manager of Epic Cycling.

Because of his extensive industry contacts, initial equipment inventory will be purchased at significant discounts from OEM suppliers as well by sourcing excess inventory from shops around the country.

Due to the somewhat seasonal nature of the business, part-time employees will be hired to handle spikes in demand. Those employees will be attracted through competitive wages as well as discounts products and services.

Market Opportunities

460,000 people visited the George Washington National Forest during the last twelve months. While the outdoor tourism industry as a whole is flat, the park expects its number of visitors to grow over the next few years.

  • The economic outlook indicates fewer VA, WV, NC, and MD cycling enthusiasts will travel outside the region
  • The park has added a camping and lodging facilities that should attract an increased number of visitors
  • The park has opened up additional areas for trail exploration and construction, ensuring a greater number of single-track options and therefore a greater number of visitors

The market potential inherent in those visitors is substantial. According to third-party research data, approximately 30% of all cyclists would prefer to rent rather than transport their own bicycles, especially those who are visiting the area for reasons other than cycling.

Competitive Advantages

The cycling shops located in Harrisonburg, VA, are direct and established competitor. Our two primary competitive advantages will be location and lower costs.

Our location is also a key disadvantage where non-park rentals are concerned. We will overcome that issue by establishing a satellite location in Harrisonburg for enthusiasts who wish to rent bicycles to use in town or on other local trails.

We will also use online tools to better engage customers, allowing them to reserve and pay online as well as create individual profiles regarding sizes, preferences, and special needs.

Financial Projections

Blue Mountain Cycle Rentals expects to earn a modest profit by year two based on projected sales. Our projections are based on the following key assumptions:

  • Initial growth will be moderate as we establish awareness in the market
  • Initial equipment purchases will stay in service for an average of three to four years; after two years we will begin investing in "new" equipment to replace damaged or obsolete equipment
  • Marketing costs will not exceed 14% of sales
  • Residual profits will be reinvested in expanding the product and service line

We project first-year revenue of $720,000 and a 10% growth rate for the next two years. Direct cost of sales is projected to average 60% of gross sales, including 50% for the purchase of equipment and 10% for the purchase of ancillary items. Net income is projected to reach $105,000 in year three as sales increase and operations become more efficient.

***

Keep in mind this is just a made-up example of how your Summary might read. Also keep in mind this example focused on the rental business, so a description of products was not included. (They'll show up later.) If your business will manufacture or sell products, or provide a variety of services, then be sure to include a Products and Services section in your Summary. (In this case the products and services are obvious, so including a specific section would be redundant.)

Bottom line: Provide some sizzle in your Executive Summary... but make sure you show a reasonable look at the steak, too.

Now let's look at another main component in a business plan: your Business Overview and Objectives.

More from this series:

  1. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Key Concepts
  2. How to Write a Great Business Plan: the Executive Summary
  3. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Overview and Objectives
  4. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Products and Services
  5. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Market Opportunities
  6. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Sales and Marketing
  7. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Competitive Analysis
  8. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Operations
  9. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Management Team
  10. How to Write a Great Business Plan: Financial Analysis

 

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