PSU Insight

Writing Your Business Plan

Your Business Summary

Your Business Summary describes your business operation as a general overview. (In formal business plans, this is commonly called the “executive summary.”) It might surprise you that you should write your summary before you write your plan.

Since the Business Summary condenses your entire business plan, it might seem that it should be the last item written. Actually, though, I recommend that you write this part first, before you attempt to create the rest of your business plan.

There are several reasons for this. For one, if you’ve never written a business plan before, you might be a little intimidated by the magnitude of the project. Many speakers start writing their business plans, only to become overwhelmed and quit. Since the Business Summary is like a mini-business-plan, you will be able to quickly define your overall business by writing your Business Summary before you tackle the rest of your business plan.

Another reason for writing your Summary first is the time required to develop your business plan. Working at it part-time, it can easily require weeks — or even months — to write an effective, functional business plan. But you can write your Business Summary in just a few hours, so you have the beginnings of a business plan which you can use while you’re developing your detailed plan. You can then develop the remainder of your business plan gradually as your schedule permits.

As with anything in your working business plan, you can write your Summary in any format you like; however, I recommend that you write your Business Summary as a friendly letter. This avoids the stilted language that people sometimes tend to use when they’re writing a “plan”. Written as a letter, your Summary should be easy to understand, and it shouldn’t require more than ten minutes for the average person to read.

Consequently, your Business Summary should be one or two pages of single-spaced printed copy. (If you can’t come up with one page of summary, then you probably haven’t thought enough about your business. But if you write more than two pages, you’re going into too much detail.)

If you don’t know how to start, just pretend that a distant relative — your dear Aunt Sally, who’s a savvy lady but who knows nothing about the business of speaking — is rather wealthy and is considering loaning you a sizable amount of money.... but only if you can explain to her why you need it, what you’ll use it for, and when you’ll be able to pay her back.

So write her a letter, explaining what your business is, who you will speak to, what you speak to people about, how much money you expect to make this year, how much money you need to spend, and so on. That’s all you need to do to write your Summary.

Your Business Summary should be specific, but not detailed. That may sound contradictory, but it’s not. For example, if you say “I will present my programs to lots of people”, that’s not specific enough. “Lots of people” is way too general and doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve thought enough about your business.

But if you say “I will present 14 training programs over the next year, one program per month (except for December when I won’t present a program, and June, September and October when I’ll present 2 programs each month) to an average of 27 people per engagement”, that’s certainly specific, but it’s far too detailed. That degree of detail belongs in other parts of your business plan, not your Business Summary.

Instead, it would be better to say something like “I will present about a dozen training programs over the next year in the local area, with several dozen people in each audience.” That’s fairly specific, but doesn’t go into unnecessary detail.

Now it’s quite possible that — right now — you don’t know the specifics of some areas. That’s OK. Be as specific as you can, but if you don’t know something, write it down that you don’t know. When you eventually develop answers to those presently-unknown areas, you can go back and update your Summary.

(This illustrates a big difference between a formal business plan and a working plan. In a formal plan, you should usually not admit that you don’t know something. But in a working plan, it’s OK to admit that you don’t know something — as long as you “red flag” it as something that you need to determine in the future.)

If you don’t have any “blanks” in your Summary, you’re faced with a different challenge. Since you’re writing your Business Summary before you write the rest of your business plan, it’s quite possible that your Business Summary will change — possibly substantially — by the time you finish your plan. That’s OK too. Just give it your best shot for now, and expect to make changes or additions later.

Once you have your Business Summary written (or at least a first draft), you can start writing the different sections of detailed information. As I mentioned earlier, these sections (or plans) can be written in any order, and you don’t need to finish one section before you start another. Develop your business plan in whatever manner works for you.

My suggestion, though, is that you write the ‘company history’ section next. It’s usually relatively easy to write, and this enables you to get started on your overall plan with a feeling of accomplishment.