Pro Tips for How to Write an Executive Summary for a Proposal ✍️

  • Remote Working & Freelancing
Contra Tips
· 8 min read

Learn how to write an executive summary for a proposal. Plus, discover exec summary examples, benefits, and common mistakes to avoid while writing one.

Setting up your business for success requires not only innovative ideas but also the ability to present them succinctly. And at the forefront of any impactful proposal lies the executive summary, a tool that can make or break your project's impression. 

In this guide, we'll explore the art of crafting compelling executive summaries. From understanding its significance in the business world via real-world examples to differentiating it from project plans and overviews, here's your roadmap to refining that all-important first impression with an incredible executive summary format.

What is an executive summary, and why is it important? 🧐

An executive summary is a brief section at the beginning of a document that provides a concise overview of the content, giving readers a quick preview of what to expect. In business, it's often likened to a movie trailer –– captivating, engaging, and giving just enough to spark interest without revealing everything. It primarily aims to encapsulate the main points of a larger document, allowing decision-makers to understand the essence without diving deep into details.

One of the most pivotal aspects of an executive summary is that it's an opportunity to showcase how your business addresses the client's challenges and pain points. When written effectively, it can be the compelling factor that convinces a prospective client or stakeholder to engage further with your business or proposal. It sets the stage, defines the narrative, and underscores the value proposition.

Parts of an executive summary 🗒️

  • Introduction: A brief section that states the document’s purpose and provides a little background
  • Objectives or goals: Highlights what the document or project aims to achieve
  • Methodology or approach: Describes how a team will achieve the goals or objectives
  • Main findings or highlights: Summarizes the primary results, discoveries, or value propositions
  • Conclusion or recommendations: Offers a brief wrap-up or suggests next steps based on the content 

Types of documents that include an executive summary 🗃️

  • Project proposals 
  • Project plans and job proposals
  • Business proposals and plans
  • Research cases and documents 
  • Market surveys
  • Environmental research and studies

What is an executive summary in project management? 🤔

In project management, an executive summary provides a high-level overview of a project's scope, goals, resources, timeline, and anticipated outcomes. It’s a condensed version of the project's main points, designed to give stakeholders a quick glimpse into its essence without diving into intricate details.

However, to understand it deeply, distinguishing this from another commonly known type of executive summary is essential. The main difference between a conventional executive summary in a business plan and an executive summary in project management is timing. While the former is typically forward-looking, setting out future visions and objectives for a business, the latter is often produced both at the beginning and the end of a project. 

How long should an executive summary be? 📜

Your executive summary’s length and scope largely depend on the entire document. In general, it can be anywhere from one to two pages or about 5–10% of the whole document.  

Also, use language that’s most appropriate for target readers. Write professionally and cater to the audience using a friendly tone, common words, and context. 

How to write an executive summary: 5 steps 🪜

Writing an effective executive summary is about summarizing your document, persuading your audience, and setting the stage for details. Here are five steps to writing an excellent executive summary:

1. Craft a strong opening 📖

Begin with a compelling statement or fact that grabs attention. This should encapsulate the problem your proposal aims to solve or the opportunity it seeks to exploit.

2. Highlight the problem and solution 🤠

Clearly define the problem or challenge your proposal addresses. Follow this by outlining your proposed solution, ensuring it's concise yet comprehensive.

3. Showcase the benefits 🖥️

List the advantages or positive outcomes that will result from implementing your proposal. This is your chance to emphasize the value and impact of your suggested approach.

4. Include key details 📝

Incorporate essential figures, facts, and timelines that support your proposal. This could be the project's cost, duration, or expected return on investment (ROI). But remember, keep it brief.

5. Conclude with a call-to-action (CTA) 🤩

End your executive summary by guiding your readers on the next steps. This could be a meeting, further discussions, or any immediate action you'd like them to take after reading.

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Examples of executive summary 🌟

Before creating an effective executive summary, it's valuable to learn from exemplary examples. Let's walk through some real-world-inspired executive summaries and break down what makes them stand out:

1. E-commerce website overhaul 📦

Executive summary example

This summary emphasizes the project’s importance by citing revenue statistics, provides clear outcomes (boost sales and reduce cart abandonment), and sets clear expectations within a timeframe:

With digital sales constituting 70% of XYZ Retailer's revenue, optimizing our e-commerce platform is vital. This proposal presents a website redesign to enhance user experience, boost sales by 20% within a year, and decrease cart abandonment rates by 15%. Partnering with renowned web design firm, WebMasters, we ensure a seamless, mobile-optimized, and user-friendly shopping experience. The anticipated completion timeframe is six months, promising a refreshed digital storefront ready for the peak holiday season.

2. Employee wellness program 🧘

Executive summary example

This summary provides a clear problem statement, offers a holistic solution addressing various aspects of employee well-being, and aligns the proposal with company values:

Considering a 30% rise in sick leaves and a recent employee feedback survey highlighting work-life balance concerns, this proposal introduces a holistic Employee Wellness Program. By offering fitness memberships, mental health resources, and flexible working hours, we aim to enhance staff well-being, potentially reduce sick days by 15%, and improve overall job satisfaction by 25%. As a company that values its workforce, investing in their health and well-being is morally right and economically sound.

Benefits of an executive summary 🔥

An executive summary, though concise, can pack a punch when executed correctly. It’s the gateway to your detailed proposal and plays a pivotal role in decision-making processes. Let's delve into the core benefits of a well-crafted executive summary:

  • Saves time: Time is a precious commodity in business. An executive summary offers stakeholders a snapshot of your proposal, highlighting its value and significance.
  • Sets the tone: A well-structured executive summary sets the tone for an entire document. It gives readers an idea of the quality, professionalism, and thoroughness.
  • Facilitates quick decision-making: By presenting the core objectives, anticipated outcomes, and benefits upfront, an executive summary accelerates the decision-making process. Stakeholders can quickly gauge the project's relevance, viability, and alignment with organizational goals, allowing them to make informed decisions promptly.

Common pitfalls to avoid 💯

Creating a compelling executive summary is as much about what you include as it is about what you avoid. While an effective summary can captivate your audience, missteps can leave them disengaged or misinformed. Here are a few things to avoid:

  • Using unnecessary wordage: Everyone (all collaborators and stakeholders) should be able to understand your summary easily. Skip the jargon as much as possible. 
  • Not giving enough context: Make sure the summary can function as a stand-alone document. 
  • Giving too many details: Remember, this is a summary –– don’t bog down the reader with too many details of tasks. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible. 
  • Making errors: Always proofread to make sure there are no mistakes –– grammatical or factual. 

Executive summaries, project plans, project overviews: Key differences 🗝️ 

While executive summary, project plan, and project overview offer insights into a project, there are differences among the three.

An executive summary is a high-level document that condenses a proposal or report’s main points, focusing on the project's essence, goals, solutions, and anticipated outcomes. It appears at the beginning of a document.

A project plan, however, is a comprehensive document that outlines a project’s who, what, when, and how. It includes aspects like scope, milestones, resources, budget, risks, and timelines.

A project overview, on the other hand, is a project’s introduction, presenting the project's objectives, stakeholders, and high-level details without delving into specific tasks or timelines.

Craft clear proposals with Contra 🥳 

Ready to dive into the world of efficient project management and standout proposals? With Contra for Independents, you get a unique space to manage and showcase your services commission-free. And for businesses seeking to capture the attention of investors or streamline project operations, Contra is your gateway to top-tier independent project managers

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