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One Page to Guide You

The one page executive summary is the most important document a company will ever write. It will be their guiding light and their pitch to the world.
A business writer an fully qualified British journalist, Dominic worked on The Scotsman before going freelance. His aim is to bring great writing to business and finance.
A business writer an fully qualified British journalist, Dominic worked on The Scotsman before going freelance. His aim is to bring great writing to business and finance.

The early years are the most important for any business: survival is on the line and early decisions will define the company you eventually create. You should take charge of that process by consciously working to define your goals and lay them down in a clear, concise executive summary.

It’s not that you can’t make mistakes as a start-up – you can and will. But as you battle through the meetings, rejections, experiments and sales pitches, you will want to refine your ultimate aims and goals rather than being distracted from them. Your executive summary will evolve, but it shouldn’t change with every meeting: as a start-up leader, you need to know who you are.

An entrepreneur friend of mine recently said that the ‘one-pager’ I wrote for him to pitch at investors actually helps him remember what his start-up is really about.

“It really helps me keep focus on the key things,” he said. “At a time when so many advisors and potential investors tend to talk at tangents, think outside the box and throw up new possibilities, it’s important to know what your core values and markets are.”

There are too many things going on around an entrepreneur to simply keep these values your head. You need to write them down in one simple document for yourself and others to understand. The same powerful pitch you use to investors, potential suppliers, bank managers and customers is also a reminder to you of what you are trying to sell, build and achieve.

What Should Be in Your Executive Summary

The executive summary is a one-page explanation of the founders’ business plan, ambitions, target market and unique abilities. One page that has to grab investors, incubator admissions tutors, prize judges and early commercial partners. One page that also has to fit in plenty of relevant facts to show it isn’t just fluff, and showcase big ambitions without them looking fanciful; give some details to make the founders look enthusiastic but not naive, and highlight some successful near competitors that aren’t a direct threat…

It’s a challenge to pack all this information into about 400 words. It helps to divide your summary into sub-headings such as Aims, Plan, Projections, and Leadership Team – although you might then change those titles to something more compelling such as ‘What xxx Inc. is about’ or ‘why we can deliver’.

There is plenty of good advice on how to lay out your executive summary, and the exact headings you choose will depend on the strengths of the start-up. But what about the actual words? In a recent blog on this subject, I talked about how I approach an executive summary as I would a big news story, and some of the writing tricks I use to make the text compelling throughout.

First of all you need a punchy intro that not only grabs the attention, but also makes clear to the reader that this is a major opportunity. Because yes, even a one-pager won’t get read if people don’t think it’s worth it.

After the intro, you need to lay out the facts in a way that flows and continues to entice. Each characteristic needs to sound as awesome as it possibly can – without ever overstating things or being untrue. And you need to fit in a lot of key points, without the whole thing ending up looking like a list.

I don’t think you need a conclusion: the final part will be about yourself and any co-leaders, and will concentrate on why you are the people to make this unique idea work. That is a fitting finale for a pitch, and a reminder to yourselves as to why you’re in this business.

Powerful Words Will Flow Through Your Business

Once you have a first draft, you need to polish your one-pager thoroughly. Read through and edit. Clip sentences down; inject simple, powerful words instead of jargon; kill cliches; and bring the most interesting and best snippets to the fore of paragraphs.

Then read it out loud, get someone else to read it, and do it all again. Because the executive summary is the most important piece of writing your little company will ever produce.

I have found that certain power words tend to emerge from this process, and that these in particular are a useful tool to drive the enterprise forward. These words will be valuable in marketing campaigns and branding, and also help the entrepreneur remember the pitch, so that he or she can recite all the main points around them without sounding scripted.

In building the perfect single-page pitch, you will discover the very core of your business and become clear about what you are trying to build. After polishing the script enough, some words and phrases will perfectly encapsulate your brand, and that is very useful and powerful.

The executive summary ‘one-pager’ is the most important piece of writing a company will ever produce or commission. What comes later will be dictated by this, because it’s a promise you’re making to partners, investors, customers… and yourself. Make it good, and keep working on it.

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