How To Write An Executive Summary For A Proposal

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By Tyra Delos Reyes

Don’t let the “executive” in the word fool you–writing one for your proposal might be easier than you think. 

An executive summary is simply a concise, engaging overview that highlights the most critical aspects of your proposal. Think of it as a snapshot that gives your readers a clear picture of what to expect. 

Let’s dive right into how to write one. 

So what is a proposal executive summary?

The executive summary is a concise, comprehensive overview of your proposal. The length depends on the complexity of your proposal, but it’s ideally 1 to 2 pages long. This section is designed to provide readers with a quick yet thorough understanding of your proposal’s key points.

Depending on the type of proposal you’re sending, you might focus on different things. 

For instance, grant proposals might emphasize the social impact and alignment with the funding organization’s mission. Whereas a business proposal would prioritize financial benefits and return on investment.

By tweaking your executive summary to fit the type of proposal, you’ll make sure it hits home with your audience and highlights the most important parts of your plan. 

In this article, we’ll be talking about general tips on how to write an executive summary. If you’re looking for writing tips specific to the type of proposal you’re writing, you might want to check some of our stuff below: 

How to write an executive summary

Know who you’re talking to 

Understanding who you’re talking to is the golden rule of sales; writing executive summaries are no exemption. 

The best executive summaries frame their story around what matters most to the intended audience: are they interested in cost savings? Is improving efficiency their priority? 

Your goal is to make sure the language they use is clearly reflected in your executive summary. 

What if you’re not familiar with their industry/language?

There are a couple places you can look into to become more familiar with your audience’s verbiage and ecosystem. 

Consider looking into: 

  • Key opinion leaders on LinkedIn
  • Facebook groups, niche-specific subreddits, private Slack channels and other community-run groups 
  • Industry reports and trends, PR reports 

Write it at the end 

The executive summary should be the last thing you write when drafting a business proposal. 

It sounds counterintuitive at first, but we found this is the best way to actually create an effective one. It’s easier to present a coherent, comprehensive overview when you already know the contents of your proposal. 

Show that you understand their business

According to a respondents from a LinkedIn survey, the #1 way to increase your chances of converting is by demonstrating a clear understanding of the client’s business needs. 

Think about it this way: business agreements are a lot more intimate and personal than we’d like to admit. 

At the end of the day, it’s not about having the best solutions on the market–it’s about making prospects feel that you truly know what it’s like to be in their shoes. And that gives you advantage over someone who has a one-size-fits-all proposal.

You can show you understand them by:

  • Talking about the business in the context of their main competitors: what are their strengths and weaknesses? 
  • Mentioning their ideal customer profiles and target audience 
  • Reflecting back industry news and insights to show a deep understanding of their industry 
  • Referencing customer testimonials or their brand presence online to show that you’ve done your homework

Use the problem-solution-benefits framework

Because the executive summary serves as an overview of the entire proposal, you definitely want to go over its meatiest sections: the problem, solution, and the benefits. 

Here’s an example: 

  • Problem: “BrightTech’s customer support team is struggling with over 1,500 daily inquiries, resulting in a 1-hour average response time and a 20% decline in customer satisfaction.”
  • Solution:” “We are proposing the adoption of Frienddly, an advanced AI tool designed to manage routine customer inquiries efficiently. Frienddly leverages natural language processing to provide instant responses to customer tickets.”
  • Expected benefits: “By integrating Frienddly, BrightTech can reduce response times to under 5 minutes, improve customer satisfaction scores by 30%, and achieve annual cost savings of $200,000 through enhanced operational efficiency.”

Reiterate their pain points–and its possible consequences 

After discussing the expected benefits, quickly summarize what would possibly happen if their key problems are left unaddressed.

Using the same example, you can write something like:

“Delaying to adopt a more robust customer support system can lead to increased customer churn. BrightTech’s top competitor, TechCo., currently boasts a 5 star rating. They have recently implemented an AI-assisted customer support system, which makes it easier for their customers to get the support. We predict that, without action, TechCo. can end up acquiring BrightTech’s market share.“

Know when to use jargon

Jargon isn’t inherently evil, especially in the context of more technical, niche fields. If anything, using the right jargon can make you look like a specialist or an industry expert. 

So when shouldn’t you use jargon?

  • You’re presenting a technical solution to a non-technical audience
  • You are presenting to a decision maker who doesn’t specialize in the specific field
  • The jargon is irrelevant and does not add anything to the discussion 
  • The jargon has multiple meanings within the industry and can lead to miscommunication

Proofread and polish

Finally, review your executive summary. Make sure the problem-solution-benefits section is unambiguous and crystal clear. 

We recommend asking a colleague to review the executive summary and answering the following questions:

  • What are the key problems?
  • What is the solution?
  • Why is it important to address the problem? 

Better yet–ask someone who has no idea what the project is about to test if the executive summary is written concisely. If they can answer each point in 3 to 5 sentences, then your work here is done.

3 Executive summary templates [free] 

Still not sure how to write one from scratch? Here are some templates you can follow or get inspiration from:

Executive summary for a funding proposal

 executive summary template
Source: Forbes

Forbes’ executive summary template is ideal for quickly bringing investors up to speed. The sections are clearly marked, which makes it easier for readers to follow the organic storytelling flow. 

How to replicate this: 

  • Be specific when you’re talking about the market size 
  • Keep the “about the team” section concise. Talk about years of experience but keep all information relevant to the proposal
  • Instead of a problem statement, consider a mission statement if you’re seeking funding 

Executive summary for a new product line

executive summary template
Source: Asana

This example from Asana is a great executive summary template if you’re proposing a new venture, such as launching a product. 

How to replicate this: 

  • Support your claims with solid data, whether from your own company reports or by doing competitor analysis 
  • Talk about ROI 
  • Address objection points to de-risk your proposal 

Executive summary for a strategic business initiative 

executive summary template
Source: Venngage

This editable template from Venngage highlights the problem statement front and center. It’s great for drawing your reader’s attention to what really matters. They also color for the solution section to make it pop, making it eye-catching for stakeholders. 

How to replicate this: 

  • Add photos best representing your customer profile to personalize your proposal
  • Prominently highlight the opportunity, which can be separate from the benefits/value section

The 4 Ps of a winning executive summary

If templates aren’t your thing, consider writing your executive summary with a cheat sheet in mind. We like to think that the secret to standout executive summary lies in the 4 Ps: Purpose, Problem, Proposal, and Proof. Think of it as your roadmap to success, where you paint the why, tackle what’s wrong, offer your brilliant fix, and back it all up with solid evidence.

  • Problem: what we are solving. This section identifies the core issue or challenge that your audience is facing. It sets the stage for why your proposal or plan is necessary.
  • Proposed Solution: how we are solving it. The proposed solution is the centerpiece of your executive summary. It shows that you have a practical and effective way to solve the problem. This is the key to gaining buy-in from stakeholders. 
  • Proposition: why it’s important to solve it. The proposition ties everything together by showing the return on investment and justifying the resources required. It helps stakeholders understand the long-term value and strategic importance of your proposal.
  • Proof: why you can trust me to solve it. It shows that your problem statement and proposed solution are based on solid evidence and that you have the capability and track record to successfully implement the solution.This could include citing previous successful projects, expert endorsements, industry certifications, and relevant statistics.

Executive summary: what it is and what it isn’t 

Executive Summary in Proposal vs. Business Plan

Executive Summary in a ProposalExecutive Summary in a Business Plan
PurposePersuade the reader to accept the proposal

Summarize the key points of the proposed solution

Highlight benefits and outcomes for the client
Provide a comprehensive overview of the business

Attract potential investors or stakeholders

Outline business objectives and strategies
Content FocusProblem statement and proposed solution

Objectives and expected results

Implementation plan and timeline
Business description and market analysis

Financial projections and funding requirements

Organizational structure and key team members
Target AudienceClients or decision-makers evaluating the proposalInvestors, stakeholders, or partners
Length and DetailConcise and to the point, usually 1-2 pagesMore comprehensive, usually up to 10 pages

Executive Summary vs. Cover Letters

Executive Summary Cover Letter
PurposeSummarize the key points of the proposed solution

Highlight benefits and outcomes
Introduce the accompanying document (proposal, resume, etc.)

Personalize and tailor the introduction for the recipient
Content FocusProblem statement and proposed solution

Objectives and expected results

Implementation plan and timeline
Purpose of the document

Brief background or context

Specific points to draw the recipient’s attention to
Target AudienceClients or decision-makers evaluating the proposalSpecific recipient such as a hiring manager or client
Length and DetailConcise and to the point, usually 1-2 pagesUsually 1 page

Executive Summary vs. Mission Statement

Executive Summary Mission Statement
PurposeSummarize the key points of the proposed solution

Highlight benefits and outcomes
Define the organization’s core purpose and values

Communicate the primary goals and direction of the organization
Content FocusProblem statement and proposed solution

Objectives and expected results

Implementation plan and timeline
Core purpose and philosophy

Organizational values and vision

Target AudienceClients or decision-makers evaluating the proposalEmployees, customers, partners, and the broader community
Length and DetailConcise and to the point, usually 1-2 pagesUsually a short, succinct statement (1-2 sentences)

Executive Summary vs. Company Description

Executive Summary Company Description
PurposeSummarize the key points of the proposed solution

Highlight benefits and outcomes
Provide an overview of the company’s history, mission, and operations

Explain what the company does and its key characteristics

Introduce the company to stakeholders and potential investors
Content FocusProblem statement and proposed solution

Objectives and expected results

Implementation plan and timeline
History and background of the company

Mission, vision, and values

Products, services, and market served
Target AudienceClients or decision-makers evaluating the proposalPotential investors, partners, customers, and employees
Length and DetailConcise and to the point, usually 1-2 pagesTypically 1-2 pages, comprehensive but focused

How to write an executive summary: FAQ 

How long should a proposal executive summary be?

A proposal executive summary should typically be 1-2 pages long. It needs to be concise while effectively summarizing the key points of the proposal.

Do I need to include a lot of technical jargon?

No, you should avoid including a lot of technical jargon in an executive summary. The goal is to make the summary accessible to a broad audience, including decision-makers who may not have technical expertise.

What are some common mistakes to avoid in an executive summary?

Common mistakes to avoid in an executive summary include making it too lengthy, using technical jargon that may not be understood by all readers, failing to highlight the benefits and value of the proposal, and not tailoring it to the specific audience.

What are some resources that can help me write a strong executive summary?

Resources that can help you write a strong executive summary include business writing guides, online templates and examples, feedback from colleagues or mentors, and professional writing services. Additionally, resources like the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) and business writing books can provide valuable guidance.

Where to next?

If you’re looking for specific tips on how to write business proposals from scratch, we’ve got a couple that do exactly that. Here’s a shortlist of the next resources you can read to continue your learning:

At Proposally, our dream (cheesy, but true) is to help businesses and freelancers scale their conversion game.

Our end-to-end proposal software makes it easier for any business owner to create, customize, send, and track proposals. 

Unlike most proposal software, we know exactly how important it is to present data with your proposals. Our editor lets users add data visualization tools such as timetables, flow charts, and graphs that you can autopopulate with CVS imports. You can then send and track your proposal’s opens, views, and shares of your existing proposals.

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