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Writing an Effective Executive Summary

Writing an Effective Executive Summary

Typically, all proposals in response to RFPs have an Executive Summary that briefly describes your company and what you are bidding on.

While it is true that the Executive Summary is rarely, if ever, evaluated in a written proposal, you cannot ignore the importance of it. The Executive Summary is normally the first item read. The goal of the Executive Summary is to set the tone for the proposal – positive, enthusiastic and interested in the subject of the bid. It is the start of the written communication with the customer.

Evaluators are human. In spite of all efforts to the contrary, some subjectivity will enter into the evaluation. If the Executive Summary creates a favourable impression, that impression will be carried into the evaluation. While it may not increase your evaluated score, it certainly will help with how the proposal is read.

It should also be short, normally a maximum of only one or two pages, so that it does not conflict with or overwhelm the message that you convey in the rest of the proposal. Proposals that have a long Executive Summary lose the focus and the message that you want to convey.

 When to Write the Executive Summary:

 There are three schools of thought on when the Executive Summary should be written.

 The first is to write the Executive Summary immediately before you start work. This forces you (while the proposal is being written) to focus on what you are going to say. When you do this first, it helps the proposal team by providing a clear vision and rationale for your proposal. You are writing the Executive Summary from this vision, not from knowledge.

The second school of thought is to write the Executive Summary last. As you write a proposal, you learn what you can or cannot do as a company. The Executive Summary written after the proposal is prepared will reflect what has been written in the proposal, not what you intended to write. You are writing the Executive Summary from knowledge, not from a vision.

The third school, most common and the one that I normally recommend, is a blending of the above two approaches. First create a draft Executive Summary. It is subject to change, revision or deletion depending on how the proposal develops. This gives the vision for the development of the You can change the Executive Summary as you write. Finally, at the end, the Executive Summary is revised to account for innovations and changes. With this method the probability of a poorer proposal being developed and causing critical time delays in writing, while various alternatives are explored, is reduced.

However, the best approach is for you to determine what works for you as a team or a company and what suits your circumstances.

What should be in the Executive Summary?

The Executive Summary Checklist should be customized to the needs and requirements of your firm but should be focused. It is an overview of your proposal and gives you the opportunity to introduce your company, your solution and why your company should be chosen (the need).  Remember, your focus is on the customer.    Space permitting, you can briefly describe the customer’s vision, challenges to be met in fulfilling this vision and potential solutions.

Much more can be said about elements of the Executive Summary but that would form the basis of another article.