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The Effective Way to Write an Executive Summary

The Effective Way to Write an Executive Summary

Executive summaries are important when you’re looking for funding for an idea. Yes, you have to have a business plan or investment proposal that does into all the details, too, but an executive summary is meant to hit the highlights so that people reading it will quickly know whether yours is an opportunity they might be interested in.

Here’s how to write an executive summary that will get your idea noticed by the right people.

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Open Strong

You want to catch your reader’s attention. CEOs, investors, and others who might be reading your executive summary are busy. They want to know what’s in it for them right away. So start off with an interesting fact, hook, or problem that your company or product aims to solve.

Don’t start with a long story that’s going to take a few paragraphs to resolve. At best, your summary is probably going to be skimmed, so if the reader can’t get at your point right away they probably won’t read any further. But if you can surprise them or get them interested from the beginning they’re more likely to hang on to the meat of your proposal.

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Watch Your Tone

How you write your executive summary will depend a bit on the product or business you’re trying to launch, as well as who you’re targeting with your proposal. If your proposal is very technical, you’ll want your language to be more serious and technical than if you’re launching a clothing company or a toy line, for example.

You don’t want to slip too far into informality even if your tone is light, but it’s fine to show your passion, confidence and enthusiasm and to really try to sell your idea and yourself and your partners as the people to move the idea forward.

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Lengthy Matters

This is an executive summary, so you don’t want it to be too long. All the numbers and big details can be in your proposal. But you do need to include enough information to allow the reader to determine if he or she even needs to read more. A good rule of thumb is to keep it four pages or fewer, but it will depend on how complex your idea is how much detail you need to go into right off the bat.

In general an executive summary should include the following information:

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  • a description of the company,
  • the problem that your customers have,
  • how your product/offering solves the problem,
  • why now is the time to act, and
  • a brief overview of financials/estimated value of the deal.

What Not to Do

Remember that an executive summary is not an introduction to your plan, it’s a mini version of it that will allow readers to determine if they want more information and details. Don’t waste time and space with warm-ups or superlatives. Instead, you need to be able to have someone read your summary and know what it is you and your business are about.

You need to catch their attention, make them want to read more, and give them an idea of what they’ll see if they read your more detailed plan.

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Yes, It’s Hard

You probably have the sense that how to write an executive summary is not an easy thing. It’s hard to write concisely about something you’re passionate about, to include the right details but leave out the things that don’t really belong. If it helps, go ahead and write a long summary to start with, then pare down to the essentials. Include only what a person really needs to know about your business.

Give the summary to someone who doesn’t know anything about your business and see if they can explain what you do from reading it. If not, try again. It’s worth it to take all the time you need to get it right.

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Sarah White

Freelance Writer, Editor, Professional Crafter

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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